Coastal lawmakers interviewed by LaPolitics say they are encouraging Garret Graves, the governor’s outgoing coastal advisor, to run for the 6th Congressional District this fall and expect him to seriously consider a bid.
Graves announced Tuesday he was resigning as chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority after six years at the helm. He became a high-ranking advisor to Gov. Bobby Jindal during this time and is trusted by lawmakers.
On the surface, it doesn’t appear as if Graves is being forced out; his exit from the position has been rumored for months. His job, however, has heated up over the past year, due largely to a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against oil and gas companies over damages to wetlands.
Graves has said the lawsuit conflicts with the state’s own legal strategy and he has taken many steps to try and snuff it out.
“This whole thing is as surprising as saying the sun is going to come up tomorrow,” said a state lawmaker. “It has been talked about for a while. I think the lawsuit kept him around longer than he had wanted.”
Sources say the chatter started making the rounds when Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, decided to vacate the 6th Congressional District in order to challenge U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s re-election campaign this fall.
The 6th District finds its electoral hub in Baton Rouge, where Graves grew up, but also sweeps down to collect portions of northern Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, where Graves’ name recognition is more than decent and he could become a formidable fundraiser.
Another state lawmaker told LaPolitics he has questioned Graves about running, but received only noncommittal replies.
“I would have thought he would have jumped on this by now, but he still has time,” the lawmaker said.
In an interview with The Times-Picayune Tuesday, Graves made no mention of a possible political future:
Now (Graves) plans to take some time to consider "nine or ten" options, including creating his own not-for-profit organization that would focus on educating state and local leaders on coastal issues.
"It would not be an income-producing deal," he said. "It would be a way of staying involved in this stuff. I don't think I could step away."
Nonetheless, word spread quickly Tuesday afternoon about his maybe-run, especially down the bayou, where Graves’ name was being bandied about in the bullpens of some community newspapers and softly vetted by the courthouse gangs.
So far the 6th is heavy on candidates from the topside of the district, where state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, is considered an early frontrunner. But few names have surfaced from the bayou parishes, despite the likelihood of someone from the region making a runoff berth due to a divided vote in the capital area.
Three other Baton Rouge Republicans have filed paperwork including tea party columnist Bob Bell, entrepreneur Paul Dietzel and attorney Cassie Felder. Dietzel, in particular, has made notable headway in raising money in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
So far there are only two Democrats who have filed the required federal paperwork to run in the 6th District, including real estate broker Richard Lieberman of LaPlace and Capital Area United Way campaign manager Quentin Anthony Anderson of Baton Rouge. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards has been mentioned as a likely contender, too, but he’s staying mum, even though his supporters have paid for a poll.
At one time there was a bit of hubbub building over Gary Graphia of Baton Rouge, Jindal’s former executive counsel, getting into the 6th District race, but the idea seemed to fizzle out. If Jindal does indeed want a candidate in the contest, Graves would fit neatly into that role.
Prior to being hired by Jindal, Graves served as an advisor to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux and former Congressman Billy Tauzin. He also worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and as the staff director for the U.S. Senate’s Climate Change and Impacts Subcommittee. Following the 2010 BP oil spill, Graves was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.
Controversy, though, follows Graves as well and he has been blamed by some fishermen groups and environmentalists for championing freshwater and sediment diversion projects they claim has damaged fisheries and stunted restoration. He has always denied such suggestions.
Graves could not immediately be reached for comment.