If, like me, you weren’t at the state Capitol during the many consecutive legislative sessions of 2008, then last week’s wrap-up from Acadiana’s delegation provided a useful snapshot of our squad at work.
The venue was Lafayette’s Petroleum Club. The packed crowd gathered at the invitation of the newly-formed Acadiana Regional Alliance, comprised primarily of chambers of commerce and economic development groups. The message: circle the wagons around Sen. Mike Michot because he has a powerful position in state government that can serve us well; put the pay raise issue behind you and move on.
It was hard to gauge whether the group had a pre-set game plan in defense of the dean of the delegation but judging from the applause meter, they scored well. Legislator after legislator shared a favorite war story with Michot at its core and the room was with him — at least at this point in the game. Rep. Don Trahan got the biggest crowd reaction when he quipped: “Oh, Mike has the power. Now if we can just get him to use it.”
Clearly, many in the community expected more from Michot to help relieve Acadiana’s crowded roadways when capital improvement dollars were doled out. If, for example, Baton Rouge could get more than $100 million to add a lane to I-12, why did Acadiana get a paltry $20 million to advance the cause of I-49 South by widening the Evangeline Thruway past the airport?
Kam Movassaghi, incoming chair of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and former state secretary of transportation, says capital outlay dollars were scarce this session because Jindal, like every new governor, inherited a small kitty. “Outgoing governors load up the capital outlay program before they leave,” he says. “Foster did it. Blanco did it.” Movassaghi urges patience with Michot: “The real tale will be told in the special session to determine where they will spend the billion-dollar surplus.” Movassaghi is keeping his eye on the rest of the team, too. “Mike’s getting good support from the House, but the other senators [in the region] need to step up.”
Surprisingly, Michot’s explanation of the legislative pay raise blunder played well at the luncheon. Even those legislators who opposed the increase in compensation resisted the temptation to remind the largely conservative crowd of their votes and urged universal amnesty for others who did. But freshman Rep. Fred Mills, a Democrat, new to the line-up and last to speak, walked away with MVP honors for the day. He compared Michot’s vote to the story of a local boy who, despite his career as a phenomenal basketball star, was always known in his hometown as the one who put the ball in the wrong goal in eighth grade. “Don’t let Mike be the boy who made the wrong goal,” he said. And the crowd went wild.