St. Charles Herald-Guide

Bernhard making rounds for governor

Special to the Herald-Guide - March 7, 2014

By Jeremy Alford and John Maginnis

Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015. According to three of those sources, Bernhard told them he will be a candidate, while another said Bernhard told him he is “strongly considering” the race.

Bernhard, who previously served as chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, would not comment when LaPolitics asked about his political future.

The Baton Rouge native and LSU graduate last raised the hopes of Democrats when he was said to be considering a challenge to U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2010. Nothing came of that, for at that time he was CEO of the state’s only Fortune 500 company, an industrial construction and engineering firm that he founded with two others with a $50,000 investment in 1987.

Political speculation about him recurred last year when The Shaw Group was sold to Chicago Bridge and Iron. Under the change-of-control provisions in his contract, Bernhard received $20.4 million in cash and $15.7 million in stock.

Later, he sold most of his stock holdings in the company for $46 million and still owns $7 million worth. On his departure, he also received $18.7 million in a retirement package and the use of a private plane for 10 years.  

After leaving Shaw, he and other members of his executive management team formed Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Baton Rouge.

The only political position Bernhard has held was a brief stint as Dem chairman in 2004 and 2005. One of his most interesting philanthropic gestures was to intercede after the Grambling football team refused to travel to an away game last year in protest of their dilapidated facilities.

He met with players and helped to raise money to upgrade the weight room, resulting in the team continuing its season.Not only his deep pockets, but his entrepreneurial and management record would hearten Democrats who are looking for a champion to resurrect the party’s decline in elections over the past decade. Not all who have spoken with Bernhard, however, believe he will follow through on his talk.

Yet his apparent interest in running for governor could be one more reason why the Super PAC supporting Vitter has asked a court to overturn Louisiana’s $100,000 limit on contributions to political action committees. There is no limitation on the check a candidate can write to himself.What’s next for Paul Rainwater?After announcing he would resign as the governor’s chief of staff, Paul Rainwater told one source that he planned to do consulting and lobbying work. It would be a natural and lucrative second career following his long, high-level management experience with local, federal and state governments.

According to state ethics laws, he would only be prohibited for two years from engaging in lobbying or transactions with the office of the governor, but the law is vague about how far that restriction extends into the executive branch.

Would he be able to represent clients in dealings with boards and commissions appointed by the governor? Would the ban apply to state agencies within the Division of Administration, which he headed up just over two years ago? It’s fair to assume some large firms might want him to represent them before the Department of Homeland Security, given his disaster and recovery management experience in running the Louisiana Recovery Authority and from being in the governor’s inner circle of crisis response.

Those might be questions on which the Board of Ethics will be asked to render opinions, depending on what Rainwater wants to do.

He would have no restriction, however, on doing what consumed much of his time as a top aide to the governor, which is lobbying the Legislature, where he earned much respect and did a lot of favors.Leger creates PAC for speaker bidThe race for Louisiana’s next House speaker got underway last month on Tchoupitoulas Street when pro tem Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, began accepting checks for his newly-created Third Coast Leadership PAC.

Leger told those gathered at Calcasieu that he plans on bankrolling candidates who “want to do the right thing” on coastal restoration, hurricane protection, intermodal transportation and jobs.

But the PAC also is a stepping stone to his bid for speaker in 2016.

“I envision I’ll use it to support legislative candidates,” Leger told LaPolitics. Only two months in, the PAC already has surpassed the $25,000 mark, he added.

In the developing race for speaker, other names have been floated over the past year, including Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and Criminal Justice Chairman Joseph P. Lopinto, R-Metairie.Cornering the numismatic donor baseNever before has the collectibles, currency and precious metals industry so favored a federal candidate out of Louisiana. And state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, has the spare change to prove it.

The California-based Gold and Silver PAC has endorsed his U.S. Senate campaign. Hollis, a rare coins dealer, already has benefited from a $5,000 contribution and Barry Stuppler, the PAC’s founder, has committed to helping him raise funds nationally.

“Paul understands the issues facing our industry and the millions of Americans who invest in tangible assets including gold, silver and numismatic coins,” Stuppler said. While many might peg it as a non-traditional issue, especially in Louisiana politics, Hollis cautions against selling it short.

“These investments in tangible assets are important to millions of Americans, many of modest means or on fixed incomes” Hollis said.