Let’s see if you can fill in the blank in this headline:
“Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s first 100 days filled with. ...”
You probably think it’s too easy, but, no, the answer is not “idiocy.” Before you guess again, let me explain that I was quoting Nungesser’s own news release, so the missing word is self-serving bunk. That’s right! It is “success.”
The release naturally made no reference to the stunts that dominated those 100 days, left high officials scratching their heads from Baghdad to Washington and provided ample grounds for impeaching Nungesser. No move was made to oust him, however, because everyone was too busy laughing.
Maybe that’s what he means by success.
Lord keep Gov. John Bel Edwards safe and well. For his part, Nungesser is evidently in fairly robust health, for, even after the extracurricular exertions required to make a total jackass of himself, he found sufficient time and energy to beetle all over the state and country doing his actual job. So, at least, his news release claims.
But it is as a sucker that he will be remembered. He fell for a yarn that was not only manifestly absurd but had been floated, and discredited, two years earlier.
Nungesser did not smell a rat when his buddy, state GOP Chairman Roger Villere, allowed a company called Alexandros, in partnership with Pelican Refining in Lake Charles, to almost sign a deal that would corner the market in Iraqi oil for 25 years. The Avondale shipyard would be reopened for the construction of supertankers capable of transporting 200 million barrels a month, creating 30,000 new jobs. There would be $1 billion in it for Louisiana charities.
As if that weren’t enough to indicate that this was all a fairy tale, Alexandros, according to its website, is in the medical technology business. Pelican, meanwhile, hasn’t processed crude oil in 10 years. Nungesser seems to have been so eager to take credit for a business coup that he did not pause to wonder how come those Iraqis were such trusting souls.
So he dashed off letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iraqi prime minister claiming that he was “the top economic development recruiter for Louisiana” and was working to close the imaginary oil deal at the behest of Edwards.
Nungesser was lying — Edwards had no clue what Nungesser was up to, and economic development has nothing to do with the lieutenant governor. He claimed he signed those letters unread, but, by that stage, nobody was taking his word for anything. Regardless, he had brought Louisiana considerable embarrassment, and a strong case could be made that Nungesser was guilty of the “gross misconduct” the state constitution says is grounds for impeachment.
It is by no means clear who stood to profit from circulating such a blatant tall story. In the end, the only damage was to Louisiana’s and Nungesser’s reputation.
A more sensitive type would have kept his head down after that, but Nungesser turned right around and tried to repair the damage by claiming success in his proper sphere, the tourism racket. The public relations industry must spend millions churning out news releases that will be promptly spiked, but the headline on this one was irresistible. It reveals that Nungesser has shown his dedication to our welfare by attending the Grammy brunch in Los Angeles, the Seafood Expo in Boston and the National Lieutenant Governors Association Conference in Washington, as well as visiting “every corner” of Louisiana. If being on the move equates to success, then Nungesser merits his headline.
He also boasts that exterior renovations are underway at the Cabildo and the Presbytere, a refurbished 1850 House Museum on Jackson Square has been reopened and a campaign to raise $2.5 million for a jazz museum in the old U.S. Mint is approaching its goal.
Certainly these projects rank as successes, but Nungesser inherited them when he took office. Still, if the activities detailed in the news release are accurate, what we have here is a public official doing the job he is paid for. That would not normally be worth a news release, but perhaps this time it is.
James Gill’s email address is jgill@ theadvocate.com.