If you’re like me, you crave more from them – more industry, greater integrity and a little ingenuity. Sometimes, they surprise us by exceeding our low expectations. Too often, we get what we expect – cowardice and chicanery.
Within Louisiana’s political class, however, there are those who possess true talent. There are men and women gifted in the arts of idiocy, gutlessness, shallowness and overweening ambition — but also in courage and creativity. This year-end column is a tribute (or rebuke) to those “extraordinary” public officials of 2014.
I present here my winners for achievement in 10 categories. (Thanks to many friends and associates who responded to my call for nominations.)
Most Courage: Greg Albrecht, the chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, for challenging the Jindal administration on fiscal issues. In a Capitol building overflowing with individuals cowed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, few have exhibited more backbone than Albrecht. In October, for example, the well-respected economist said the Jindal administration misrepresented state employment data by boasting that Louisiana leads the South in job growth. More recently, he refused to echo Jindal administration officials in blaming sagging state revenues on lower oil prices.
Most Cowardice: The Democratic State Central Committee, for its endorsement of Edwin Edwards’ campaign for the 6th District congressional seat. These Democratic leaders aren’t cowards because Edwards intimidated them (he didn’t). Their endorsement of the felonious former governor revealed their fealty to the state’s corrupt past and their obvious fear of the future.
Shameless Ambition: As one friend told me, “This award should not only go to Bobby Jindal; it should henceforth be named in his honor.” Another colleague wrote, “Is this a trick question? Can there be any other choice than Bobby Jindal?” Enough said.
Most Embarrassing Statement: State Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, for her bizarre pronouncements about global warming. A friend who has been around the Capitol for decades told me that he has never known a legislator more ill-informed than Whitney. She proved my friend correct with her release of a ridiculous video claiming “global warming is a hoax.” In the video, Whitney, who ran for Congress this year, asserted that “any 10-year-old” could “invalidate” global warming with “a thermometer.” After interviewing Whitney in his Washington, D.C., office, David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report wrote, “never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse.”
Villain of the Year: Shared by Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmondson and state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who feigned ignorance about the origin of an amendment that provided Edmonson and one other state trooper a generous, unearned boost in retirement income. After refusing to admit authorship, Riser finally fessed up and admitted his role in the scheme. Edmonson insisted the idea originated with his staff.
Shrewdest Move: Joel DiGrado, who ran U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s Senate campaign. A top aide to U.S. Sen. David Vitter, DiGrado wisely limited Cassidy’s interactions with voters and the media. A less-astute hand might have given Cassidy — as awkward a candidate as I’ve ever known — some media training and thrust him headlong onto the campaign trail and into numerous debates. DiGrado, who managed Vitter’s public relations during the senator’s 2007 prostitution scandal, knew from experience that the Louisiana media would accept whatever access to Cassidy he allowed them. And he understood the real campaign was on TV, where Cassidy was totally scripted.
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