Editor’s note: This is the first of four profiles on the major candidates running for Louisiana governor. Tuesday: Jay Dardenne.
It’s routine for politicians to write autobiographies, introducing themselves to voters and explaining, often in mind-numbing detail, the pivotal influences on their road to public service.
Scott Angelle, the Breaux Bridge Republican running for governor, instead autographs copies of a family-published cookbook.
Recipes for a hundred different ways to cook crawfish are interspersed with genealogical information that charts his family lineage back to the 1700s, when his ancestors immigrated from Spain and France. It’s full of family photos, including the Angelles dining with four governors, one of them Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In one image, a young Scott Angelle sits on the lap of his father, J. Burton Angelle, a veteran state representative who was tapped by Gov. Edwin W. Edwards in 1972 to head the Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Burt Angelle replaced a secretary who resigned abruptly over a scandal involving the personal use of his state-owned cars.
The seventh of nine children, Scott Angelle came along in November 1961 after his father had shifted most of his focus from running a Ford dealership to politics.
“He was like a coach’s son, you know, always at the field, always watching practices,” said Republican state Sen. Fred Mills, who grew up across the street from the Angelle family on Ledoux, a dead-end road of modest single-story homes with big yards.
Mills’ father, who was mayor of Breaux Bridge, and Angelle’s dad were best friends.
As an 11-year-old, Angelle would walk into a room, shake everybody’s hand, look them in the eye and speak to each one individually.
“It’s like what you see now. You could put it in an 11-year-old kid,” Mills said. “It’s like he has never, ever changed.”
Angelle says the morals and values he embraces came from family, not party ideology. He switched to the GOP in 2010 from the Democratic Party.
“When I learned my conservative values, I learned from my father and my mother. We didn’t consider them liberal or conservative. It was just the way we lived,” Angelle said.
He is against abortion, disagrees with same-sex marriage and opposes Common Core.
Angelle’s strategy is to position himself as the non-Washington, conservative alternative to Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the acknowledged front-runner in the Oct. 24 election, said LSU political science professor Robert Hogan. Vitter has been trying to paint Angelle as a run-of-the-mill bureaucrat aligned with the unpopular Jindal.
Angelle also faces Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite; Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge; and five other candidates with less money and lower profiles.
Speaking in common terms
Angelle, 53, began his political career in the mid-1980s, serving on the St. Martin Parish Police Jury, and later became parish president. He joined Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration in 2004 as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the oil industry.
Jindal kept him in the position until May 2010, a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The governor said he needed someone with an energy background as lieutenant governor, so he picked Angelle to temporarily fill the position for six months after Mitch Landrieu left to become mayor of New Orleans.
He returned to head DNR in December 2010, then stepped down in August 2012 to run for the five-member Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. He beat four other candidates in the primary. At the same time, Jindal named Angelle to a coveted position on the LSU Board of Supervisors, right as the administration was moving toward privatizing the charity hospitals that the university oversaw for the state.
Maureen Haik Dippel, Angelle’s confidential assistant at DNR and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said a lot of people wrongly discount him because of his pronounced Cajun accent. But his strength is describing complex topics, including arguments pro and con, in terms simple enough for regular people to understand, she said. As his aide, she was the one off whom he often bounced speeches and presentations, making adjustments as they went along.
“He can get into the weeds on a subject matter, but still fly at a high enough level he doesn’t get bogged down in those weeds,” Dippel said. “You can be smart, really smart, but you can’t parlay that into problem solving because you can’t speak in common terms to the people you need to sell that to. That’s what a governor has to do.”
Angelle’s public career began with an effort in the early 1980s to reopen St. Bernard Catholic School. They needed some extroverts to handle the fundraising auctions. The 22-year-old Angelle and 29-year-old Mills ended up with microphones in their hands.
Before long, other charities and church groups asked them to handle their auctions.
“We had a little routine. We were fun to watch, and pretty successful,” Mills said.
‘Driving a big backhoe’
In 1986, at the age of 25, Angelle ran against two veteran police jurors by trying to knock on every door in the district. It worked; he was elected in the primary. He worked as a petroleum land manager and then sold insurance while a police juror.
Jerry Castille Sr. said Angelle won his vote on a rainy Sunday morning about 25 years ago when the young police juror saved Castille’s home.
The house, which now has an “Angelle for Governor” sign in the front yard, overlooks a canal on a rural stretch between Breaux Bridge and Parks.
It was one of those monsoon-like rains that lasted for a couple of days. Two big oaks fell across the canal, blocking its flow into the Bayou Teche. And still it rained.
About 4 o’clock on a Sunday morning, Castille said, he was awakened by a nephew pounding on his door — the rising water was about to flood the house.
He called his police juror about 4:30 a.m.
“Scott answered the phone and said, ‘Give me a few minutes. I’ll see what I can do,’ ” Castille said. “About 30 minutes later, he comes driving a big backhoe. He had a slicker suit on. We got the trees out.”
St. Martin Parish adopted a “Home Rule” charter, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2000 — and Angelle was the first president.
Guy Cormier, who was elected to that first council and is now president, said parish government under the Police Jury was kind of sleepy — late to arrive, early to leave, locking the doors for an hour during lunch. The parish had little money, depending mostly on low property taxes. Each of the police jurors operated independently.
“He concentrated on the expense side of the budget and made some really tough decisions right away. I’m talking about within his first couple of weeks in office,” Cormier said.
The nine staffers in the office and the 30-some employees in the field became worried about their future, recalled Yvette Greig, the clerk of the council at the time.
Angelle heard about morale sagging and called a meeting for the entire parish workforce. He explained the new system, reminded them of the legal protections it included and assured them that as long everybody worked hard, nobody would lose their job, Greig said, adding: “He put a calm in everybody’s minds and hearts.”
Selling a sales tax
State Sen. Dale Erdey, of Livingston, approached Angelle at a recent coffee klatch in Central to talk about transportation problems, one of his pet issues.
The conversation evolved into why voters were reluctant to approve more money for repairing and expanding roads. Angelle and Erdey agreed that part of the problem is that taxpayers don’t trust government officials because too often they have seen much of the money designated for roads spent elsewhere. Angelle recalled how, as St. Martin Parish president, he successfully pushed a 1-cent sales tax to upgrade a road system that had suffered from neglect. Parish voters had refused three times to increase taxes for roads.
“We made it clear that it was only for turning dirt. No salary increases. No equipment. Just for construction,” Angelle said. He visited every neighborhood, carrying a map that showed what work was needed and how much it would cost. He made dozens of presentations.
“I went with him to some guy’s shed in the back of a house. Had maybe 20 people there,” Cormier said. “He told them that it was never going to get better unless we do something. What he did was explain how the sales tax would work, how much it would cost and how it would only be used for roads, only roads.”
The voters ended up imposing a 1-cent sales tax on themselves by an 80 percent majority.
As a PSC commissioner, Angelle makes $45,000 a year. But his post on the Sunoco Logistics board of directors pays him six figures annually — $389,705 in 2013, according to federal disclosures — depending on how many meetings he attends. Angelle said he would quit the board if elected governor.
Vitter’s campaign staff (the senator himself has not commented) has used the Sunoco position against Angelle, claiming he interviewed for the job during an October 2011 trip to Dallas but sought reimbursement from the state for $329.67 in travel expenses.
Angelle says he met with Energy Transfer Partners on that trip, as DNR secretary, to discuss a project the company was considering in southwest Louisiana.
The meeting took place six months before Energy Transfer acquired Sunoco Inc. and 14 months before December 2012, when he joined the board of Sunoco Logistics, a subsidiary of the oil giant.
Also, he noted that Sunoco’s pipelines are regulated by the federal government, not the PSC, so his board job is not a conflict of interest.
A little local charm
One of his duties for Jindal was as legislative liaison. He was brought in to add a little local charm to a team that legislators had grumbled was high-handed.
Legislators say he was largely responsible for gathering the votes necessary to put bills — expanding vouchers to pay for private school tuition and curtailing job protections for schoolteachers — in front of the governor for signature in 37 days, lightning-fast in legislative time.
Angelle was often seen in huddled conversations, one arm draped over a lawmaker’s shoulders, talking fast, his finger poking the legislator’s chest.
Republican Rep. Kenny Havard, of St. Francisville, said Angelle was insistent but never cross. Havard has a lot state employees and institutions in his suburban Baton Rouge district, and he said Jindal’s other aides routinely threatened to withdraw funding from facilities to try to bully compliance.
Angelle, Havard said, differed from Jindal’s other aides in that he would rely on persuasion.
“He was still a soldier for Jindal. He carried the water,” Havard said. “We argued a lot, but at the end of the day, we were still friends. If I were going to sit down and drink a beer with a guy, that guy would be Scott.”