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Partisanship gives way to partying at Washington Mardi Gras


January 23, 2020
By Stephanie Riegel
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Last week’s party in New Orleans to celebrate LSU’s college football championship game continues this weekend in the nation’s capital with the annual Washington Mardi Gras, where the state’s political class is mixing business with pleasure like only Louisianans can.

Do they actually get any work done between all the festivities?

To an extent, says Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack, who has meetings scheduled today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and at the Old Executive Office Building to discuss Opportunity Zone tax credits.

“Some years you get more done than others,” he says. “You have to be realistic. My goal is to always have one or two key meetings with meaningful conversations.”

So far this morning, local business and political leaders and lobbyists have been busy. The Capital Region delegation, including dozens of lawmakers and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, gathered at 7:30 a.m. for a breakfast briefing with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation, arranged by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.

“They outlined some of their safety and investment priorities and talked about how the relationship between DOT and Louisiana is strong,” says lobbyist Scott Kirkpatrick, who represents the group CRISIS, which advocates for transportation infrastructure spending.

Was there any talk of federal support for a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge?

“They talked generally about the importance and necessity of it,” Kirkpatrick says. “But nothing specific.”

Over at the Willard Hotel, meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards gave a breakfast briefing to the Committee of 100, the state’s business roundtable comprising CEOs of the state’s top 100 companies.

That was followed by a panel discussion with veterans of Louisiana’s congressional delegation—former U.S. Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu and former U.S. Reps. Robert Livingston, Chris John and Rodney Alexander—who talked about the current state of political affairs and how different it is than the comparatively good ole days of the 1990s.

“They’re not in office anymore so they can say what they want, which was great,”  C100 Executive Director Michael Oliver says. “They talked about impeachment and partisanship and how they used to work together.”

Breaux, a conservative Democrat who was masterful at getting things done during his tenure in Washington, reminded the group that he and a Republican counterpart, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, are godfathers to each other’s children, Oliver says.

While today’s political atmosphere is far more toxic and polarized, the differences are mostly on hold this weekend, at least among those from the Bayou State who have made the annual trek.

“Partisanship doesn’t really exist here,” Waguespack says. “No one who attends DC Mardi Gras seems to care very much about political divisions while up here. Everyone for a few days just tends to put those political differences aside.”