State bar backs marijuana reform

LA Politics notebook by Jeremy Alford

Special to the Herald-Guide

July 04 at 8:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Feeling that lawmakers were ignoring them, marijuana advocates held a rally at the State Capitol last month to gain traction for their chosen issue.

Only they did so the weekend after the legislative session ended on June 2 — after lawmakers had gone home and barely anyone was at work in the building — which probably did little to dispel the perception that pot smokers can be forgetful. †

Luckily for them, the Louisiana State Bar Association was meeting in Destin, Fla., at the same time and adopted a resolution backing efforts to classify simple possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. Lawmakers failed to advance similar legislation by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, during the recent session, but this is an early sign that the proposal will likely be back up for debate in 2015.

Kelly Ponder, communications director for the bar, said, “There was a spirited debate and a number of people spoke both for and against the resolution.”

The measure was presented by Robert A. Kutcher and Thomas C. Cerullo, members of the bar from the 24th Judicial District. It also states that “appropriate incremental penalties for habitual offenders” should be included in any model legislation.

Greg Thompson, legal advisor for Louisianans for Responsible Reform, said it’s a major step forward after a session where lawmakers shut down every attempt to reclassify marijuana. “It goes to show the extent to which the issue is becoming more mainstream and not just a fringe issue,” he said. “There’s a broad coalition forming around these issues.” †Statewides enjoy high favorables, low negatives

According to results from the annual spring survey conducted by Southern Media and Opinion Research and released recently to LaPolitics, Louisiana’s treasurer, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner all share decent numbers heading into the final year of their current term, albeit some better than others. The crosstabs for these three positions were the only ones provided to LaPolitics.

After 14 years in the position, Treasurer John Kennedy posted the healthiest numbers with 68 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable and just 18 percent undecided. Out of the three Republican incumbents, he also ran best amongst black voters, with 69 percent favorable. But that can perhaps be chalked up to name recognition. Targeted direct mail pieces pointing to his GOP stances have knocked that figure down in a few of his previous races.

SMOR partner Bernie Pinsonat said the numbers posted by Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain are notable, with 59 percent favorable, 11 percent unfavorable and 29 percent undecided. That’s because Strain, who was elected in 2008, could be on a fast track to catching up with the kind of figures reserved for longer serving statewide officials.

“I see him all over the state at different events. Really, these statewide officials don’t always have to do that, but he does,” said Pinsonat. “He’s one of those 24-7 guys.”

A native of Covington, Strain actually polled best in north Louisiana, with a 62 percent favorable there. †

Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who took office in 2010, received 43 percent favorable, 15 percent unfavorable and 41 percent unknown. He had slightly higher favorables among both Republican and Democratic voters, but his undecided/unknown figures remained in the 40s in those categories.

Considering Schedler had a rather smooth transition after Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne vacated the post, and he has not yet been forced to introduce himself statewide in a real way, political observers see the numbers as a solid foundation to build on.Senate race already reaching to the parish level

While it may be too early to identify what the swing parishes will be in the developing U.S. Senate race, Republicans appear to be putting an early focus on St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes and, to a lesser extent, Washington, St. Helena and Livingston parishes.

Officials in St. Tammany, in particular, tell LaPolitics that the campaign of Congressman Bill Cassidy has invested in an extensive field operation in the area.

“That makes sense at first blush. That was also where we opened our first office outside of Baton Rouge this cycle,” said a source with the state GOP, adding they believe it’s an area where incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has “over-performed” in the past. “That’s a region where we saw a lot of people voting for John McCain for president and then also for Mary Landrieu.”

A Democratic operative said they’re eyeing the region as well, due in large part to the suburbanization of what used to be a landscape peppered with rural communities.

“The old style of politics there is falling by the wayside so there’s a void in that structure and we’re all trying to figure it out,” said the operative. “It’s also a major population hub. Those parishes have some big (precinct) boxes.”

Landrieu in 2008 gained ground in the GOP strongholds of St. Tammany and Tangipahoa, which together make up roughly 8 percent of the state’s population.

The 2008 Republican margin of victory in Tangipahoa was only three points, down from eight points in 2002. The margin in St. Tammany shrank from 36 to 24 points over the same period. Landrieu also managed to flip nearby Washington Parish in 2002 and narrowly maintained it in the last election.

Cassidy’s campaign was recently endorsed by the St. Tammany Republican Parish Executive Committee.Gallot gives up bid for judgeship †

After roughly six months on the campaign trail, state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, has withdrawn his candidacy for the open district judgeship in Lincoln and Union parishes. Even though Gallot walked into the 3rd Judicial District Court race with high name recognition, he said his heart wasn’t in it, and that included giving up his Senate seat and his private practice.

“I simply could not get my spirit and gut behind it. If I’d listened to my wife six months ago, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said laughing. “I really struggled during the last month of the session with the pros and cons and I concluded that I just didn’t want to run.”

For now, Gallot said he is committed to seeking two more terms in the Senate. Prior to his announcement that he was running for judge, Gallot was often mentioned as a potential candidate for attorney general or lieutenant governor. But he said those possibilities are far from his mind with the rest of summer ahead and two small children at home.

“I’m not going to rule anything out,” he added. “But right now all I want to do is take my kids to their swimming lessons.” They said it“You are about to find out just how moderate you are.”-House Speaker John Boehner to newly elected Majority Whip Steve Scalise, in Politico†“Naturally, liberals in the lame≠stream media became unglued and attacked me immediately.”-State Rep. Lenar Whitney, in a new web video, explaining what happened when she called global warming a “hoax”†“But perhaps the biggest clue, that this is all one big scam, was swept under the rug by the lap≠dog media.”-Whitney, again sticking it to the Fourth Estate




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