Covering Louisiana

Oct 7, 2011 7:32 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Lt. governor candidates talk tourism, policy

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lieutenant governor candidate Billy Nungesser said he wants to expand the office beyond its tourism oversight and get the state's number two post involved in lobbying Washington for state needs and working on economic development.
Incumbent Jay Dardenne said the office already is a full-time job, overseeing nearly $100 million in spending and promoting the state around the nation as Louisiana's chief ambassador.
The differences in philosophy came as the two candidates, both Republicans, squared off Thursday night in a debate hosted by the Baton Rouge Tea Party that focused more on policy than the traded attacks that had marked much of the campaign so far.
Both men called themselves "fiscal conservatives" and talked of cutting government, as they tried to appeal to the audience of tea party supporters heading into the final two weeks before the Oct. 22 election. Both praised GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal's first term in office. But Dardenne and Nungesser differed on how to attract retirees to Louisiana, how to market the state and what the office's role should be in state government.
"If the lieutenant governor was just going to do tourism, I'd be for abolishing it," Nungesser said. He added, "We need a lieutenant governor who will get involved on every front."
He pitched a greater role, asking the governor to give the position a wider scope that involved courting and expanding businesses, talking to Washington leaders about Louisiana's issues and working on coastal restoration efforts. Those roles fall to other people in state government currently, including people hired directly by the governor.
Dardenne said tourism is a critical multibillion-dollar industry for Louisiana that generates $17 for every $1 spent on marketing and promotion and should be the central focus of the lieutenant governor.
"This position represents your state around the country," Dardenne said. "This is going to be their look into who we are as a people."
Besides being second-in-line to the governor, Louisiana's number two leader is the overseer of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which manages several museums, state parks, the state library and an annual book festival.
Dardenne, a former secretary of state from Baton Rouge, and Nungesser, president of Plaquemine Parish from Port Sulphur, are the only two candidates on the ballot. No Democratic contender signed up for the race.
The two have spent much of the race trading barbs and claiming the other is spreading lies, in an election that has grown increasingly nasty.
In one exchange, Nungesser repeated a regular complaint he's made about a New York advertising agency being hired to promote Louisiana seafood, saying Louisiana companies should be hired to do the work.
But the lieutenant governor's office didn't make that decision. Dardenne said he hired a New Orleans-based firm to do advertising, while a New York company was chosen for a different contract by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, a separate entity over which the lieutenant governor has no control under the law.
Nungesser said Dardenne was still involved, calling the spending by the board "part of the shell game" for tourism marketing in the state.
Dardenne shot back, "You really need to be running for the seafood promotion and marketing board. They are two separate entities. Take your concerns to them. I have nothing to do with it."
Nungesser claimed Dardenne is exaggerating the cuts he's made since becoming lieutenant governor 10 months ago, criticized Dardenne as a career politician and slammed a series of taxes supported by Dardenne when he was a state senator. Dardenne said Nungesser misrepresented his votes and was spreading "outright falsehoods."
He criticized Nungesser for the production of a $175,000 tourism video for Plaquemines Parish that has never been used, when Dardenne said such videos could be made for a far smaller expense. Nungesser said the sheriff chose to get the video made - but Nungesser also signed the contract.

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