Louisiana Politics: Cooper: Bringing people together a ‘top priority’

In an interview last week, Mark Cooper said his most important task as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ incoming chief of staff will be to unite people.

That theme applies politically to the volatile landscape of the Louisiana Legislature and more practically to a state still reeling from police-involved shootings and recent natural disasters.

“That’s the top priority,” Cooper said from his office in Arkansas, where he works as the senior director of global emergency management at Walmart.

Cooper will become Edwards’ new chief of staff during the third week of March, but he’s already studying the state budget and has a set of meetings scheduled this week in Baton Rouge.

For now it’s all about policy and politics; he doesn’t have any plans for staffing changes.

“That’s not my intent,” Cooper said.

Cooper first connected with Edwards last year when both gave speeches to the National Governors Association. But he added that said he officially interviewed for the post being vacated by former state Sen. Ben Nevers about a month ago.

He said he was well past the point of being homesick at the time and the opportunity to get involved again in “crisis leadership” appealed to him.

“I want to be a part of that rebuilding process from last year’s floods. I felt the same way after Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “Louisiana is in my blood. I just want to help with some of these very real problems.”

Cooper was the director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

That Edwards campaigned against Jindal, and has blamed him for many of the state’s budget challenges, has not been missed by politicos.

Yet Cooper said his approach to public service has never been based on party — he also previously worked for late U.S. Sen. Russell Long and former Gov. Buddy Roemer.

“Most people don’t care what party you’re in,” he said. “They just want you to solve problems.”

The governor’s chief of staff is traditionally among the most powerful positions in state government.

Pro-Kennedy super PAC

A new super PAC is being created to help U.S. Sen. John Kennedy in Washington and at home.

It’s called the Conservative Louisiana PAC and Kyle Ruckert, the political architect for former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, will serve as its director.

It’s unknown exactly what the new pro-Kennedy organization will do, but it will likely involve itself in races that Kennedy cares about and it may advocate policy issues the senator is pushing.

Podcast is back

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, is back in the studio with his podcast recording again.

The first episode of 2017 features crime analyst Jeff Asher.

New episodes available in the coming weeks will have Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, on women’s issues and the Ignite Advocacy Network; the Louisiana Budget Projects’ Jan Moller on the state’s huge budget woes; and Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, on what it’s like to grow up in politics as the child of an elected official.

Get episodes at JPMorrell.com, iTunes and Google Play. You can likewise ask questions for the show on Twitter using the hashtag #AskJP.

A pirate and a governor
Last week marked the 194th anniversary (Feb. 5, 1823) that the pirate Jean Lafitte — he preferred the term “privateer” — allegedly died in a battle off the coast of Honduras.

The term “allegedly” is another important distinction — but only because there are differing accounts of Lafitte’s death and few can agree on a date.

Lafitte was a colorful character nonetheless and a foil to Louisiana’s first governor, William C.C. Claiborne.

Suspicious of the Lafitte operation that was bringing goods into New Orleans, Claiborne posted notices throughout the city in 1813 offering $500 for the capture of Jean Lafitte.

In “Lafitte the Pirate,” author Lyle Saxon writes that Jean Lafitte visited the city the following day but was harassed by no one: “The Creoles could not but admire his indifference to danger; and when he was seen perusing the proclamation and smiling, they were amused by his nonchalance.”

They were probably even brought to laughter two days later when Jean Lafitte posted his own posters offering $1,500 to anyone who would deliver Gov. Claiborne to Grand Terre.

For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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