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Marionneaux may get hoisted on his own populist petard

Any future political career for state Sen. Rob Marionneaux has gotten a whole lot more complicated as he finds the shoe may be now on his other potentially tainted foot.

Marionneaux, preparing to serve his last year in the Senate, is one of the dying breed of populists – economic liberals and social conservatives who rail against profitable large businesses or wealth on behalf of the “working man” – who, by definition, sometimes acts beneficially but often in ways detrimental to wise policy-making. For example, he’s favored such things as increased liberty for the most vulnerable in society with a comprehensive smoking ban and in greater education flexibility for families through tax credits. But he’s also wanted to increase taxes on the petrochemical industry that would kill Louisana jobs and be passed on to consumers and resisted tax cuts that disproportionately favored higher earners, among other things.

Yet one ideological consistency he has had has been with the issue of sunshine, or lack of it, on politicians. Famously, he wanted to banish the media from floor access to legislative chambers when the press reported about his and other politicians having preferential access to Louisiana State University athletic event tickets. He also has complained that new media are unfair because they report things he and other politicians say and do. It turns out there may be good reason why he wanted his activities to stay in the shadows.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has forwarded to an Ethics Adjudication Board a complaint about Marionneaux that he did not report legal dealings with the state, a contingency-fee contract that could have resulted in an apparently huge payday for him. Few details have emerged because of the incomplete nature of the process and that almost all of the principals involved refuse to comment, Marionneaux included, but what public records requests have revealed is that officials at the heart of the matter on the other side of the case (Marionneaux was representing a corporation), from the LSU System and LSU, felt there was political pressure being exerted that they contended would settle the deal in a way very favorable monetarily for Marionneaux and expressed how he might use his position as a senator legislatively to make the potentially lucrative deal for him to happen.

Although the original case got settled in a way that apparently did not turn out as lucratively as it could have for Marionneaux, what makes it look worse for him is that he might well have been aware that it should have been reported. This past session, he succeeding in amending a bill to remove that reporting provision, which failed to pass the House, suggesting that might have been an impediment for him in any future dealings.

It will be months before this gets settled in this venue; whether additional criminal charges come may depend on that happening first. But if the communications among LSU officials are any indicator, it may go beyond just an ethics case. After a quarter century in academia on the instructing end, I can solemnly assure you that politics is so infused in the system that academicians can detect even the slightest hint of it and at the top its influence is omnipresent. If these guys perceived that somebody was trying to use his office as leverage, it’s a very real possibility that’s actually what was happening and providing a hypothetical reason as to why he did not report the activity.

None of this is good for Marionneaux’s political future, as he has before indicated ambitions in that regard after he leaves the Senate next year. Before Rep. Charlie Melancon stopped dithering and finally figured a longshot bid for the Senate was the optimal way to stay in elective office, Marionneaux had dropped hints that he would challenge as a Democrat incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter (about whom he has in the Senate often not had complimentary things to say: here’s a milder example). He also may have the Public Service Commission in his sights as at one time he vied to become its executive secretary.

An adverse EAB ruling would not help in any possible future electoral endeavors. If it goes beyond that into a corruption trial, regardless of the outcome his chances for other elective offices are significantly impaired. And thus Marionneaux, who has railed about all these big interests trying illegitimately to exert power at the expense of the little man, may find that the Louisiana public assesses that his rhetoric would have come from a charlatan trying to use his own power and privilege to extract wealth from the state’s citizenry.

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