Washington, DC — Washington Mardi Gras is known for its boisterous parties, but there’s a serious side too — well, sort of. So acknowledged Sen. David Vitter, when he declared the annual economic development luncheon one of the most substantive events of the weekend, then added that “some would say that’s not a very high bar.”
Indeed, the Friday lunch was a boisterous affair as well.
There were plenty of laughs. Some were intentional, like when this year’s chairman, Rep. John Fleming, said that his king and queen took their roles so seriously that they endured “scepter lessons.” Some were unintentional, like Fleming’s gaffe in introducing Sen. Mary Landrieu not as the state’s senior senator but as “our senior citizen,” and his confessed befuddlement over a line in his apparently staff-written intro of the Air Force general on hand to deliver a keynote address.
“He’s from New Jersey, but has never ordered a traffic study,” Fleming said uncomfortably, before adding: “I don’t know what that means.” Who knew anyone in politics wasn’t following the Chris Christie saga?
There were frequent nods to the delegation’s bipartisan efforts to help the state’s economy, its success in preventing deep job losses at Fort Polk, and its energetic and monolithic support for the oil and gas industries.
There wasn’t much political maneuvering, although Landrieu, facing a serious challenge from Rep. Bill Cassidy, couldn’t help but slip in a little election-year messaging. Noting her new role as chair of the Senate’s Energy Committee, she threw in that “it’s taken me 18 years to step into this position.”
And there was indeed some serious discussion, although it drifted toward giddy excitement. Stephen Moret, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s economic development secretary, shared only good news and tons of it, of more new investment in Louisiana than even in Texas, of positive rankings on various business scales, and of huge growth in the natural gas, offshore drilling, maritime and tech sectors.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the future of Louisiana is incredibly bright, and it’s getting brighter every day,” said.
Okay, before everyone reaches for their shades, it’s worth remembering the many challenges to the business climate that merited only passing mention, from deep cuts to higher education to flaws in a bill to reform the National Flood Insurance Program that, if not remedied, could devastate much of the state’s real estate market.
Then there was this from the delegation’s newest member, Rep. Vance McAllister, who represents an inland, impoverished district that benefits little from the resource-reliant industries driving much of Moret’s good news.
“Let’s don’t forget about the 5th District,” he implored. “Let’s don’t forget about the runt of the litter.”
He also thanked his colleagues that voted for the recent, highly contentious farm bill, which does target one of his district’s main sectors. Never mind that only half the house delegation, McAllister and fellow Republicans Bill Cassidy and Charles Boustany, actually cast yes votes. (Democrat Cedric Richmond voted no because the cuts to food assistance were too deep, while Republicans Steve Scalise and Fleming said it did too little to control entitlements.)
“It’s a mess here, it really is,” McAllister said. “But you’ve got a great team in Louisiana.”