Legislature backs Jindal’s lt. gov. choice

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana’s natural resources secretary, Scott Angelle, will temporarily take over as the state’s lieutenant governor.

Gov. Bobby Jindal picked Angelle, a Democrat from Breaux Bridge, for the job. State lawmakers unanimously approved him Wednesday for the office left vacant when Mitch Landrieu became mayor of New Orleans earlier this week.

Lawmakers praised Angelle’s work leading the Department of Natural Resources under the Republican Jindal and his Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Blanco.

‘‘If you’ll use the same work ethic that you’ve shown over the last years that I’ve seen, you’re going to do a great job,’’ said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.

Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, said of Angelle, ‘‘He’ll do the job with a ton of energy, a ton of passion and a ton of love for the state of Louisiana.’’

The Senate voted 34-0 to confirm Angelle’s appointment, and the House agreed 100-0. Angelle will leave his job as natural resources secretary temporarily while he works as lieutenant governor.

Angelle said his priority when he takes control of the office will be as a pitchman for Louisiana’s tourism industry, to try to allay worries about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that might scare away visitors.

‘‘Hopefully, I can be a spokesman across America — with my natural resources background — to calm some of those fears,’’ he told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Angelle’s appointment will last until either a new lieutenant governor is elected or the office is abolished, as Jindal proposes. Louisiana’s lieutenant governor oversees the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and manages parks, museums, the state library and tourism efforts.

Angelle has been secretary of the Department of Natural Resources since 2004. Before that, he was president of St. Martin Parish. For Jindal, Angelle has worked in a dual role as DNR secretary and Jindal’s chief legislative lobbyist. Jindal said Angelle will continue as his legislative liaison even as he becomes the temporary lieutenant governor.

On the day lawmakers were backing Angelle’s appointment, a House committee rejected the governor’s push to strip the lieutenant governor of his responsibilities over museums, state parks and tourism and to dismantle the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9-8 against the idea Wednesday. It could be brought up again later this session.

The proposal by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, would shift tourism duties to the economic development department, move parks management to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and send museum oversight to the secretary of state. The lieutenant governor would be left in a mainly ceremonial role, second in line to the governor for succession.

Henry and Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack called the bill a government cost-cutting move that could save $25 million over five years and that would eliminate overlapping duties among state agencies.

But leaders of the agencies that would take over the lieutenant governor’s duties said they would initially need to receive the budgets associated with the tasks they would assume and weren’t sure how much savings could be expected long-term.

‘‘Unless you’re going to close those museums, the costs of running those museums are going to remain the same,’’ said Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who argued against Henry’s bill and who is running for the lieutenant governor’s job in the fall.

Dardenne said such a substantive restructuring of government should be done with caution and much more discussion.

‘‘This particular piece of legislation that eviscerates the power of a statewide elected official, in my view, is not the way to go,’’ he said.

Henry replied by saying he’s tired of endless government studies.

‘‘I think it’s time for us to accept the fact that we have some budget problems,’’ he said.

Lawmakers on the committee who opposed the bill said Louisiana’s tourism industry needs the attention of a statewide elected official.

After the bill was defeated, Henry shelved discussion of a second Jindal-backed bill to abolish the lieutenant governor’s job entirely.

If the post is abolished, it would disappear in January. If the constitutional amendment doesn’t pass, Angelle would leave the position when someone is elected to fill the rest of Landrieu’s term. The primary election to fill the seat will be Oct. 2, with a runoff Nov. 2.