Fannin to chair House Appropriations
New administration takes office as 'mirror image' from 80 years ago

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher

Perhaps not a "New World Order," but without doubt a new order within Louisiana, begins this month as a new kind of administration takes power in Baton Rouge. And this time, it appears that North Louisiana will have an unaccustomedly powerful seat at the table.

There are few political similarities in this incoming administration with the one which took power 80 years ago in 1928. But there are parallels of a different sort. Huey Long became Louisiana Governor in 1928, at age 35, then effectively continued to rule the state as U.S. Senator, after being elected to that post in 1932.

Jindal will take office as Governor at age 35, after having first been elected in 2004 as the U.S. Congressman from the suburban New Orleans district at Metairie. He was defeated in the Governor's race four years ago by outgoing Governor Kathleen Blanco, and takes the position now on January 18 in Baton Rouge--his hometown birthplace.

Huey Long had as his House Appropriations Committee chairman his boyhood chum, the late Harley B. Bozeman of Winnfield. Jindal will have as his House Appropriations Committee chairman a native of Winn Parish and Winnfield High School graduate, James R. (Jim) Fannin, a former school teacher who has been in business and politics in neighboring Jackson Parish during most of his adult life.

The administrations taking office in 1928 and 2008 may become mirror images of each other. Huey Long was a populist Democrat, with a reputation for ruthlessly suppressing opposition to his Depression-era programs of building infrastructure--roads, bridges, hospitals, and other public facilities--including the State Capitol where the youthful new Governor will sit even today. Bobby Jindal is a reform minded Republican who has staked his reputation on overcoming Louisiana's national reputation as "the most corrupt state in the nation," which according to some accounts is owed in part to the legacy and aftermaths of the Huey Long administration of the 1930s and 1940s.

The new Appropriations Committee chairman, Jim Fannin, represents District 13, which contains the northern half of Winn parish, all of Jackson, and portions of Bienville, Lincoln and Ouachita. He was first elected to fill the unexpired term of Rodney Alexander, who was elected to the U.S. Congress from Louisiana's Fifth Congressional District six years ago. Fannin won the 13th District seat for the full term four years ago, and is now beginning his second full term. Under the three-term limit rules, he will be eligible to serve for another full term after the current one, since his first partial term was for less than a full two years. While campaigning for election as the Fifth Congressional District Representative on the House Appropriations Committee, Fannin said he was contacted by Governor Jindal and incoming House Speaker Jim Tucker of Terrytown, a New Orleans suburb on the Jefferson Parish West Bank, to ask if he would accept chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee. Of course, he agreed.

"It's a huge responsibility," Fannin said in a recent interview. He said in many ways the Appropriations chairmanship is on a footing equal to Speaker, because it originates and passes all bills relating to spending. And it is important for North Louisiana, which often feels overlooked in dealings in the Legislature.

Membership on the Appropriations Committee totals 19, of which seven are elected, one each from the seven Congressional Districts in the State by member Legislators within the District. Others are appointed by the House Speaker. Appropriations is the only House committee which elects a portion of its own membership, with all others being appointed by the Speaker.\par }{\plain In his prior Legislative service, Fannin served on the Transportation Committee, ending his service as chairman, where many measures of importance to the forest and logging industry are handled. He also served on Agriculture, and said that he will sit whenever possible as an ad hoc, non-voting member of Agriculture, because of its importance to the home region, and to forestry particularly.

"I've been a part of agriculture all my life," he said, having taught vocational agriculture at Sikes High School in Winn Parish, and later in Jackson parish.

Upon graduation from Winnfield High School, Fannin enrolled at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, in agriculture. During this period, he joined the Louisiana National Guard in Winnfield, serving for seven years. Subsequently, Northwestern discontinued its program in agriculture, and he enrolled and graduated from Louisiana Tech, where his future wife was a student.

Fannin's first political experience came in Winn Parish, when as a 19 or 20-year-old still attending Northwestern, he ran for the post of Parish Democratic Executive Committee at large.

Fannin operated a building construction business in Jackson Parish, and now operates Fannin Farm Supply in a rural community on Louisiana Highway 4 between Jonesboro and Chatham in Jackson Parish He was elected to the Jackson Parish School Board in the 1980s, and to the Jackson Parish Police Jury in the 1990s.

In an interview with a North Louisiana daily paper in mid-December, Governor Jindal said he favors using an anticipated $2 billion surplus in state funds to fund one-time projects, including highways, and to pay down debt.

Incoming Appropriations Chairman Fannin said he agrees with these priorities, especially improvements to many of Louisiana's secondary highways.

Fannin said the surpluses are driven from three directions, one, the state sales tax which has grown because of inflation, and from spending for construction and other major purchases because of damage from the hurricanes if late 2005; two, increase in individual income taxes; and three, oil and gas production in response to high fuel prices.

A recession could change the cash flows, but Fannin sees continuing good revenues from recurring sources.

"We've got enough dollars," he said. "We need to prioritize, and reduce the size of government."

One major drawback to major industrial development in Louisiana is high cost of energy, Fannin said. Most electric power in Louisiana is generated with natural gas, which has risen in price far more rapidly than other sources. Some of the Louisiana cooperative electric companies have access to coal-fired power at cheaper costs. The ability to acquire power from Valley ELEctric in Natchitoches, plus the availability of a major four-lane highway now under construction through North Louisiana, was the deciding factor in location of the Jeld-Wen manufacturing plant in Winn Parish last year, Fannin said.

All of North Louisiana should see new growth in the years ahead with completion of the three north-south four lane roads, including U.S. 165, 167, and 171, due for completion in 2010.