Of all the major gubernatorial candidates, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle is the hardest to pinpoint.
Unlike his opponents, he’s never been a legislator, so he’s got no voting record to dissect.
While U.S. Sen. David Vitter built a reputation as a conservative Republican, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne did the same as a standard bearer for the GOP’s more moderate wing, and state Rep. John Bel Edwards led the House Democratic Caucus. Angelle has belonged to both parties and worked in Democratic and Republican administrations.
So the first question for Angelle is, where does he stand?
Actually, that’s really the second. The first already has come up in the campaign and will surely continue to do so: To what extent would Angelle emulate his most recent boss, deeply unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal?
His not-so-surprising response? Not much.
“I’m the only DNR (Department of Natural Resources) secretary to serve two governors,” he said in a recent interview. “That says my appointment was about competence more than anything.” Noting that his father had served in Gov. Edwin Edwards’ administration and in the Legislature, Angelle said he’d first run for office “before Gov. Jindal had a driver’s license.”
“Before you get to be a head coach, you’re an assistant coach. It doesn’t mean that you call the same plays that the head coach called, but you have an opportunity to learn,” Angelle said.
Angelle insists he’s learned from both governors he served, not just Jindal but Kathleen Blanco, whom he still counts as a friend. Asked to describe his relationship with Jindal, Angelle said he was “close from a standpoint of my opinion on how to deal with people was trusted. There’s no social relationship.”
Angelle praised Blanco for rebuilding the Superdome so soon after Hurricane Katrina and for “saying enough is enough” and putting New Orleans’ failing schools under the state Recovery School District. Jindal gets high marks in his mind for workforce development and for his support for school choice, including private school vouchers.
But when it comes to the governor’s failings, Angelle didn’t mince words.
“I think clearly in the last couple of years there’s been a loss of focus,” he said. “And the White House has become more important than your house. I think we’ve got to call it for what it is.”
Angelle said he’s always been a conservative on matters such as abortion and fiscal responsibility. He’s an unabashed cheerleader for the oil and gas industry he oversaw at DNR — so much so he attributes his own party switch, from Democrat to Republican, to the reception he got in Washington as Jindal’s point person in fighting the post BP-spill moratorium.
“It was abundantly clear that there was a bias against the energy industry, that anybody who was seeking hydrocarbons and bringing them to the marketplace just, there was no fit there. There was disdain. There was almost hatred for it, I found,” he said.
He, like his opponents, wants to get the “self-inflicted” budget mess under control by looking at the raft of tax exemptions on the books. In conversation, he repeatedly returns to his proposal for an independent analysis of the cost and benefit of these exemptions, like that provided by the Revenue Estimating Conference.
As a member of LSU’s Board of Supervisors, he said he did sound the alarm with the administration over drastically reduced funding but found himself up against Jindal’s presidential agenda.
“I think the Americans for Tax Reform pledge trumps everything,” he said.
Rather than policy matters, Angelle prefers to highlight a second role he played in the Jindal administration, that of emissary to the Legislature. After a contentious first legislative session, he said he was brought in not because he was like the Jindal crowd, but because his ability to understand legislators’ point of view made him “radically different.”
“I’m not a policy wonk,” he said. “I fundamentally believe that policy is about people, and if you don’t totally get that, then policy’s not sustainable.”
Indeed, Angelle’s politics are very much rooted in the personal.
There’s his story, in which he emphasizes a problem-solving approach he learned in his early days as St. Martin Parish president.
There are his Cajun roots, which he trumpets almost to the point of playing identity politics. Aside from his telltale accent, Angelle’s campaign has released an ad in French and is selling buttons with slogans such as “I’m with the Cajun” and “He’ll do Right Bayou.”
“I think this state is starving for a governor who is more than just competent,” he said. “Never, ever sacrifice competence, but you shouldn’t just settle for it. And clearly, I believe that Louisiana wants their governor to be more than a policy wonk. I think we want a little personality in the Governor’s Office.”