Breaux Bridge native Scott Angelle is positioned to influence the utilities landscape — and possibly the state’s political terrain as well.
Scott Angelle once served as parish president of his native St. Martin, home of Longfellow’s Evangeline and the legislatively recognized Crawfish Capital of the World, and he kept a glass gallon jug of Tabasco in his Baton Rouge office as secretary of natural resources. But he wouldn’t necessarily call himself a Cajun politician.
“I don’t think I describe myself as that, although I think others have,” says Angelle, who turned 51 in November. “I don’t want to limit myself or my background. I spent a lot of time in northwest Louisiana working in the Haynesville Shale, in central Louisiana working on a project for synthetic gasoline and in the southeast part of the state helping get levees built.”
While his worldview may stretch beyond the bayou, Angelle, a Democrat-turned-Republican, didn’t sell it to voters like that when he ran for the Public Service Commission this fall. One of his commercials replayed a passionate speech to a screaming crowd in the Cajundome.
In the spot, Angelle decried the drilling ban that was implemented after the BP oil spill and clearly played to the audience in attendance.
“This moratorium is not hurting the stockholders of BP or Exxon or Chevron,” he says in the clip, tempo and volume increasing. “This moratorium is hurting the Cheramies and the Cailliers and the Dupres and the Roberts and the Boudreauxes and the Thibodeauxes.”
It clearly resonated with the PSC’s 2nd District, which links the Bayou Parishes with portions of Acadiana and the capital region. The district encompasses all of East Feliciana, Iberia, Lafayette, Lafourche, St. Mary, Terrebonne and West Feliciana parishes. It likewise includes certain precincts in East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston, St. Martin and West Baton Rouge parishes.
Angelle carried 57 percent against four opponents, including a state representative from Baton Rouge. In his campaign finance report filed the week before the primary election, Angelle still had more than $340,000 in his war chest. Coupled with his close ties to Gov. Bobby Jindal, Angelle has evolved from a well-known cabinet secretary to an influential Cajun politician on the statewide scene.
It only took him eight years. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, originally appointed Angelle as natural resources secretary in 2004, a position he relinquished to run for the PSC. Blanco, who was born in Iberia Parish, may offer a good model for Angelle to follow; she served on the PSC as well.
Huey Long was a commissioner, too, which explains why many view the PSC as a stepping stone to the Governor’s Mansion. Angelle has never been shy about sharing his own ambitions to become governor one day, although not as candidly now that he’s in elected office again. (He was the first St. Martin Parish president, serving from 2000 to 2004, and prior to that he was an elected member of the parish police jury.) “When I was growing up I was a student of the game,” he says. “I just took it all in. I would sit down and read the encyclopedia just to learn more about Louisiana.”
His father, J. Burton Angelle, was a former state lawmaker and served as wildlife and fisheries secretary under former Gov. Edwin Edwards, another Cajun politician of note who’s part of the larger backstory. “I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately,” Angelle says of his father. “He was a businessman who served his church and loved his family. I was always proud of him.”
In 2010, Angelle was named the Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s “Professional Conservationist of the Year,” the same award his father earned in 1973. “In a lot of ways I’m following in his footsteps,” Angelle said at the time. “I’m putting public service first.”
But unlike Blanco and Edwards, and the rest of the band of iconic Acadiana pols like John Breaux and Dudley LeBlanc, Angelle didn’t stay put as a Democrat. He chose the GOP, siding with Jindal just as the governor’s own history was being weaved into popular political legend. In doing so, many believe Angelle has forsaken the African-American base of the Democratic Party, which traditionally carried politicians like Blanco, Edwards and Breaux into statewide office.
Then again, if a state can overwhelmingly support a man like Mitt Romney, it could in theory find favor in a Cajun conservative from Breaux Bridge as well. “That label, being a Cajun politician, it speaks to a person who has a flair for life, a passion for living. It’s someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously,” says Angelle. “People respond to politicians who keep it real, who understand hunting and fishing, who like football and cooking and faith and family. All of that, plus more, is what makes a Cajun.”
Angelle, in many respects, has tied his political boat to Jindal, who reappointed him as natural resources secretary. Jindal also tapped Angelle to serve as interim lieutenant governor for seven months in 2010 and as the executive branch’s legislative lobbyist. More recently, the governor appointed him to the LSU Board of Supervisors. The board gig will help Angelle expand his political brand, cultivate new donors and broaden his policy expertise.
During his time with Jindal, Angelle says valuable lessons were learned. “The governor always said, ‘We’re going to run out of time before we run out of ideas,’” Angelle recalls. “I share that urgency and dedication.”
Going from natural resources secretary, which regulates energy production, to the PSC, which regulates public utilities and motor carriers, is a “natural move,” Angelle says, and it further builds on his own background working in the oil and gas industry. “The Public Service Commission operates at the intersection of the three Es: energy, environment, and economy,” he says. “Its main function is to ensure that the public has access to reliable, low-cost energy. If we want to continue growing Louisiana’s economy, creating new and better jobs, we need both.”
During the PSC campaign he disagreed with some of the other candidates on whether the fees and penalties the PSC collects should be used for regulation and related operations or, as many lawmakers have argued, should be turned over to the state. Angelle says fine money should go into the state general fund, and legislatively created fees should go to the PSC.
As a commissioner, Angelle’s top priority will be to delve into the proposed transmission changes for Entergy, which the PSC will vote on shortly after the New Year. Entergy wants to transfer management of its transmission lines to an Indiana cooperative and possibly sell all of its interconnected transmission lines and substations in five states to a Michigan company.
Angelle says the vote will literally decide what consumers pay for electricity in the near future and how and when the electrical grids are updated. Above all else, he wants to make sure the money that has been put into the system by ratepayers has some kick of return on investment. “I want to look at the specifics and see how much money is involved and how much money the state and federal governments have spent,” he says.
To get to this new position of power, Angelle had to leave something behind. Most notably, he left behind a massive sinkhole in Assumption Parish, which DNR was saddled with managing as Angelle made his exit — a resignation that had been months in the making. As of mid-November, the sinkhole had swallowed more than 5 acres of land, forced evacuations in nearby communities, cost the state more than $3.5 million and was still a constant threat to the area due to underground methane gas.
During the PSC race, the Democratic Party used the sinkhole against Angelle, blaming him for a “cover up.” The Advocate also reported that DNR officials knew there were structural problems in the area as early as January 2011, but residents weren’t informed of this when problems were first reported. Angelle addressed the matter on the campaign trail, calling all such suggestions “falsities.”
With five children and two grandchildren, Angelle says he has plenty to do outside of politics. Still, for a “student of the game” raised inside political circles, he admits it’s difficult not to look into the future. But for now, he says the PSC is where he wants to be. In fact, early in the campaign he promised to serve out a full term, a vow that’s often made and sometimes broken by those in similar situations. “I’ve been wired to provide leadership, so I do ponder from time to time what my calling is,” Angelle says. “But I’m in a position where I can best serve now. I’m really excited about it.”