“Vote for the man the politicians hate” might be a catchy campaign slogan, and Neil Abramson will be entitled to use it if he runs for the state Senate.
Abramson won’t say whether he will run, which means he almost certainly will. He is, notwithstanding fierce competition, regarded as the most mealy mouthed member of the state House of Representatives, where he is in his final term.
A certain amount of duplicity is part of the game, especially for a legislator such as Abramson, whose ideology does not match his party affiliation. He is a Democrat, which is just as well in a New Orleans district that is solidly pro-President Barack Obama and voted 3-1 last fall to make John Bel Edwards governor and break the Republican stranglehold on statewide elected office. But Abramson is no tree-hugging, big-government pinko. Petrochemical companies shower him with money, business lobbyists count on him and tax increases are anathema.
If, as expected, he runs for a Senate seat in a district more sympathetic to his ideological proclivities, Abramson will doubtless ditch the deceptive D behind his name and attach a rightful R.
Environmental issues will always be awkward for a faux Democrat, and so it was when a bill came up that would have required an air monitoring system at the Vertex refinery in Marrero, which Abramson’s constituents across the river blame for a noxious stink. When time came to vote, Abramson took a powder, which he always prefers to taking a stand.
In the just-completed regular session, he missed 65 percent of the votes, which made him, by a wide margin, the most elusive legislator of them all. The capitol swarms with his detractors. If Abramson does run for the Senate, his opposition will be wise to harp on his voting record, or lack of it.
The air-monitoring bill failed anyway. But what really raised his colleagues’ ire was the capital outlay bill, which Abramson, as chairman of Ways and Means, was responsible for guiding through the House. When it was all over, Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, captured the general mood by branding Abramson “the person I trust least.”
When the capital outlay bill came back from the Senate with amendments a few days before the end of the session, House members looked for Abramson to call it up. But he did his disappearing trick once again. He did show up late on the final day, but, although most of his colleagues wanted a vote on the bill, they could not muster the super majority required to force it.
When a reporter asked where he was while his colleagues waited, Abramson said he was “working with staff without having to be distracted.” The idea that the tumultuous final days of a session are no more than a distraction for a legislator is a quaint one, for that is when crucial bills — such as capital outlay — demand action. The more widespread view is that it is a legislator’s job to show up.
Lest there be any doubt what a slippery character Abramson is, he even refused to say whether he was in Baton Rouge or New Orleans throughout the penultimate day of the session.
“People want to play politics with everything,” he complained, which was pretty rich coming from a politician who fled to deny his colleagues a vote. He said he did it for “technical and legal questions” — the old stand-by — but it was obvious he just didn’t like the Senate amendments.
Even Abramson has to cast a vote sometimes. If he does, it may be unwise to expect an honest explanation. When the special session began just after the regular one ended, for instance, a bill was filed to reduce the amount of itemized federal income taxes high earners can deduct on their state returns. It was part of Edwards’ plan to put the state budget in the black.
When Abramson provided a vote to break a tie and kill the bill in committee, he blamed an amendment that he said might mean higher taxes on the middle class. In fact, the bill was amended so that it would not take effect until two other bills affecting income tax rates passed. Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who authored those bills, said she would have been glad to assure Abramson they would not have the effect he claimed to fear and that the amendment was designed to appease the conservative faction.
The consensus around the capitol was that Abramson didn’t believe his own spiel anyway. Perhaps being the man the politicians hate is not always a plus.
Email James Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.