Mar 282019
 

Lt Gov. Billy Nungesser chats with former LSU linebacker Devin White, a top 2019 draft pick, at last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

While most state officials are spending this week preparing for the upcoming legislative session, yesterday Louisiana’s 54th Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser participated in a White House roundtable in Washington, D.C., on the nation’s economy and trade led by National Economic Council Director and Deputy Assistant to the President Larry Kudlow.

He attended a dinner at the Embassy of Canada where he discussed cultural similarities and additional air-travel opportunities. Today he is moderating a panel on changes to veterans’ health care and will be meeting privately with the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany for more tourism talks.

As incoming president of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, Nungesser is once again stepping into the national spotlight where he can help guide policy on such key issues as higher-education re-authorization, proposed changes to regulations over U.S. waters, keeping the U.S. at the forefront of technology, building a skilled workforce for rural America by addressing housing needs.

Nungesser knows that spotlight well from the role he played in securing hurricane relief funds for Plaquemines Parish and as the face of anger and frustration after the BP oil spill. He was once called “the busiest man in Louisiana” by the national media.

Following a successful career in a family-owned maritime-related business and two terms at Plaquemines Parish president, Nungesser won a tough battle against Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Jefferson Parish President John Young and Sen. Elbert Guillory to become lieutenant governor in 2016. He faces re-election in October 2019.

Nungesser has grown into a charismatic, reform-minded leader who strives for excellence by hiring the best staff available, appointing capable stakeholders to boards and commissions and taking advice from experts. Nungesser is accessible, hands-on and willing to listen to differing opinions before making a decision. A popular no-nonsense, sometimes politically incorrect straight-shooter, he frequently gives out his cellphone number to citizens he meets and actually returns calls promptly.

In this era of bitter partisanship, Nungesser, a Republican with strong ties to President Donald Trump, has crossed party lines to forge a close bond with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. While his office’s budget has steadily declined, Nungesser has continued to build his agency’s programs by leveraging relationships and establishing new public-private partnerships.

He has rebranded the state image beyond just a vacation destination. Visits by tourists and associated spending have increased each year. The number of direct international flights has grown. A new Ambassador program has attracted more than 8,000 members who have posted almost 150,000 photographs of Louisiana life on Instagram.

Nungesser has led three international tourism missions, which is resulting in increased foreign spending. Nungesser has created a Movie Trail by which tourists can visit sites throughout the state where movies have been filmed. Nungesser was a driving force behind the new Jazz Museum at the U.S. Mint and embraced the creation of a much-awaited Civil Rights Museum and a Civil Rights Trail which features more than 100 sites. He would also like to relocate several New Orleans historic monuments to other state facilities.

Visitation to state parks has also increased despite a 31 percent budget reduction. Almost half a million guests now visit a Louisiana state park each year. Operated through the Office of State Library, the Louisiana Book Festival reached nearly 52,000 and created a $6 million economic impact in Baton Rouge.

The Office of Cultural Development funded eight regional arts councils, 72 arts organizations and 232 project grants serving all parishes across the state. The Division of Historic Preservation ensures that state’s historic properties have the resources and support they need. The Division of Archaeology carefully watches over 21,000 historic sites and 51,000 structures.

“There are always bumps along the way with any new elected official, but Billy has grown to epitomize the kind of ambassador Louisiana needs,” said one political observer. “Working with him has become a very positive experience.” To support the re-election campaign, Team Nungesser is hosting a fundraiser called “Louisiana Takes the Stage” on Wednesday, April 10, at the Celtic Media Center in Baton Rouge.

MAYOR CANTRELL TO HOST FUNDRAISER FOR ACTION NEW ORLEANS PAC

Mayor LaToya Cantrell is hosting a Fair Share Fundraising Reception in honor of Action New Orleans, her political action committee, on Friday, March 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Eiffel Society, 2040 St. Charles Avenue. Individual tickets are $50 per person or $250 per host. Under the direction of Maggie Carroll, Cantrell’s former campaign manager, the Action New Orleans PAC was created to “inform and engage the public on quality of life issues facing our city. In doing so, we aspire to support the goals of the Cantrell administration.” Elected officials often create PACs to raise extra funds from their donor base for favored projects.

The PAC’s website includes numerous photographs of Mayor Cantrell. Action New Orleans has actively opposed the tax initiative on Saturday’s ballot which would provide a dedicated source of funding for senior services which Cantrell also opposes. Other Action New Orleans issues also coincide with Cantrell’s areas of interest including revenue for infrastructure, bail reform, affordable housing, transportation equity, families in crisis and reducing homelessness.

[Clarification: An earlier version of this article referred to the description of Action New Orleans PAC as a “government office” by Google. The PAC has requested Google remove the designation, officials said Thursday.]

GOV. EDWARDS ATTENDS TWO EVENTS IN NEW ORLEANS TODAY

Gov. John Bel Edwards presented his 2019 legislative agenda today to the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce. Later this evening he is co-hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Wesley Bishop at the palatial home of businessman Jimmie Woods. Bishop, who is up for re-election in the fall, has put together a large host committee which includes Kim Boyle, Henry Coaxum Jr., Francis Heitmeier, Paul Rainwater, Norma Jane Sabiston, Angela O’Byrne, Delisha Boyd, Sean Bruno, and Ayame Dinkler. Dinkler’s husband Carling is running for the legislature in the fall.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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