Even by the standards of the U.S. Congress, where committee chairmen traditionally wield their gavel for the benefit of home-state industries, Mary Landrieu’s unapologetic boosterism of Louisiana’s energy interests is drawing notice.
Since becoming head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this year, Landrieu has installed a pair of Louisiana aides on the panel’s staff to address the needs of what she calls “America’s Energy Coast.” She’s leaned on agencies to issue permits for Sempra Energy’s natural gas export project in the state. Last month she held a hearing in Louisiana to get an update on a local hydroelectric project.
No one in recent memory has so aggressively used a gavel to get re-elected, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of the Cook Political Report in Washington. Whether it will be enough to hold off a Republican challenger in her toughest contest yet remains to be seen.
“She has to show voters that she’s fairly indispensable,” Duffy said. “And many believe that if she’s going to win, this is one of the reasons why.”
Campaigning in a state President Barack Obama lost in 2012, Landrieu is relying on her ability to help home-state interests and campaign givers, and putting some distance between her and the party. Landrieu, a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, has set a vote tomorrow on a bipartisan bill that would bypass the administration and clear the project after several delays.
Landrieu’s energy panel has had past chairmen who helped the home state, including former New Mexico senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, but they were more quiet about it than Landrieu is, especially when they were in Washington, Republican strategist Michael McKenna said.
“They ran the committee like New Mexico was a separate country and they were the ambassadors,” McKenna said. “It was like the other 49 states existed for the benefit of New Mexico. But they never talked about the stuff they were stealing for their states, at least not in D.C. But then again, they were never in a tough re-election.”
In an interview, Landrieu said her chairmanship is a top draw for voters who “realize the importance of having that gavel for Louisiana,” where almost a fifth of the people work in the oil and gas or affiliated industries. And no one should be surprised the state is featured in committee work since it’s such a big energy producer, she said.
“I’m using the committee resources appropriately for the country; we can’t help it that we’re a big energy state,” said Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take the chamber’s majority. They’re likely to win three open seats, and are targeting four incumbents in states that Obama lost in 2012: Landrieu, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Louisiana has much to gain in energy-policy debates. It’s seventh among U.S. oil producing states, behind Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Oklahoma and New Mexico, according to the Energy Information Administration. That doesn’t count oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico’s federal waters.