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5.9.16

Obscure issue illustrates return of good old boys

If you make a bluff, you don’t need to fold at the first hint of trouble. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon seems to know that as he continues to place obstacles in the way of giving the state’s citizens more control over one of its natural resources in the hopes of winning the hand.

H.R. 3094 by Republican Rep. Garret Graves would transfer authority to manage red snapper from the federal government to a consortium of states. Until earlier this year, every state stakeholder of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas supported the bill, which they called necessary to ensure more vigorous and inclusive management of the species.

Then Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards took office and named Melancon, a former Democrat congressman and lobbyist who runs in the same political circles as Edwards, to head up the agency. The secretary runs it administratively while the gubernatorial-appointed Wildlife and Fisheries Commission makes policy – which voted to support the bill that Edwards and Melancon then proceeded to announce opposition to it.


Perhaps not accidentally the other four state have Republican governors, and the bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee with only two Democrats in favor. Melancon’s official story as to his opposition claims the law would act as an unfunded mandate, even though a dedicated state fee already exists for saltwater fishery management.

In reality, his opposition stems from finding any justification for the Edwards Administration to raise taxes, Edwards’ backing of commercial interests that fear increased influence of recreational interests who complain about commercial fishers leveraging their quotas and short seasons despite record stocks, and general liberal ideology that prefers as much centralized government management as possible. Prior to his reinsertion into state politics, Melancon ran his own lobbying firm and it might be interesting to know whether something like the commercial industry’s Gulf of Mexico’s Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, which has allied with the Environmental Defense Fund, ever employed its services.

The July and August meetings of the LWFC have seen back-and-forth between Graves and Melancon as the latter tries to convince the LWFC to reverse its support of Graves’ bill. The next comes Wednesday, after its regular meeting last week, in what Melancon advertises as “informational” in nature – and apparently arranged without consulting bill proponents, including Graves. As a result, Graves will have to miss it as Congress reconvenes tomorrow – something Melancon from his past experience in it knows – as he works on matters related to relief for the recent record flooding in his district. This could reduce resistance of the panel – whose pro-bill members slowly but surely are being replaced by Edwards – to changing its mind.

Edwards and Melancon’s strategy is to dig in as long as possible to slow if not prevent any change in federal law, if not for ideological and special interest reasons then to use publicity of the issue as a piece of proof that state taxes must rise. It’s just another sordid reminder of how the election of Edwards sends Louisiana backwards in time to an era of good old boys who looked out first for their allies’ interests and considered the people’s interests an afterthought.

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