The man with the plan
Angelle has become “common denominator” on hot coastal issues
He took no pauses, never missed a beat, stuck to policy and was extremely animated in all he did. As a large Louisiana map framed his performance, Angelle, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, casually added he was somewhat of a workaholic.
Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall late last August, he has played a major behind-the-scenes role in the debate over levee board consolidation and legacy sites, as well as in the governor’s battles to increase offshore royalties and create new quasi-governmental groups.
“I’ve always felt that if my plate gets too full, I’ll just get another plate,” he said. “I don’t mind jumping in with both feet.”
Before being appointed two years ago by fellow Acadiana native Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Angelle served as president of St. Martin Parish. The two are perceived as quite chummy and rumors ran rampant during the recent regular session that Angelle was on the short-list for lieutenant governor.
He has swatted the assertion down in the past -- not too vigorously, though – and contends he pays little attention to rumblings about him running for other statewide office one day.
It is indeed a long way to go for a man who was once criticized by sectors of the oil and gas industry for not having enough experience and insight for the post.
“They didn’t want me in this job,” Angelle says.
That stigma, however, didn’t linger long, said Rep. Wilfred Pierre, D-Lafayette, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. Angelle revealed himself quickly as a hands-on bureaucrat and energetic spokesman, and he showed an innate ability to unite feuding parties.
“He has the personal demeanor and capability to handle major issues,” Pierre said. “He can be forceful and jovial and whatever it takes.”
Angelle added he is proactive to a fault sometimes and grows restless with things like studies, which are a necessary evil for coastal resources and big oil matters.
“I don’t like being on the defensive,” he said. “I’m an offensive player.”
That attitude proved difficult to maintain in the wake of Katrina and Rita, however, as Angelle flew around the state taking inventory of his devastated constituencies. As his duties became clear, Angelle had no choice but to react.
He was instrumental in forming the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which forced hurricane protection, coastal restoration and flood control under one umbrella. The CPRA also gave foundation to the efforts to consolidate levee boards in south Louisiana.
The merging of levee districts had become a war cry in months following the 2005 hurricane season. It was an emotional battle from both sides of the fence and lawmakers disagreed openly about their regions being included in the plan.
It was considered a top public policy issue by polls and editorial writers, but not all lawmakers saw it that way.
“Some days left you just standing there scratching your head,” Angelle said. “But I never though the legislation was doomed. I never thought we weren’t going to pass a bill. I just think there were people out there who were resistant to change.”
But with Mardi Gras, Angelle was back on the offensive. He spent the spring urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would force the clean up of huge fields polluted by oil companies.
It was a multi-layer issue that monopolized his time. Landowners wanted to get paid for the mess, trail attorneys wanted to make sure people could still sue, environmentalists wanted a stricter law and oil interests didn’t want to get taken advantage of.
Angelle operated a policy war room, leaving the arm-twisting to the Governor’s Office while his team hammered out the actual legislation, which changed several times during session.
Even though Angelle is long in the tooth, politically speaking, the so-called legacy debate served as a refresher course on what it is like to work with the Legislature.
“If you’re not sure about how something is going to be received by the Legislature, you will definitely find out during the process,” he says.
Angelle has also gotten involved with the governor’s battle to increase offshore royalties. Although the state contributes more than $5 billion to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, it only gets back about $39 million.
In order to boost the kickback, Blanco has threatened to refuse to sign off on the royalty tally for August. She calls it a “hardball” tactic that could force the matter into court. But Angelle’s office actually grants the consistency agreements that Blanco has been referring to and he is supporting the governor’s move.
Again, Angelle is wrapped up in what promises to be a barn-burner.
“He has been the common denominator on all of these issues,” said Sen. Reggie Dupre, D-Bourg, a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. “You can expect to see a lot of him.”
Furthermore, people like Dupre, Pierre and others believe Angelle is the most high-profile secretary in the department’s history.
Angelle recognizes this distinction as well, but refused to openly discuss if he wants to use the momentum politically. He only answers vaguely, with a coy smile.
“Let’s just say I have chosen to dedicate my life to public service,” Angelle said.
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