Washington Watch for Jan. 13, 2013

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

In late 2008, state Sen. Don Cravins Jr., D-Opelousas, lost his congressional bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.

Not long afterwards, he took a call from U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to congratulate him on running a good race, despite the disappointing finish. It didn’t take too long for the conversation to shift to Landrieu’s new — at the time — appointment to chair the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and he was soon offered the job as the committee’s staff director.

And so, after losing a bid for a seat in Congress, he found himself working for Congress anyway.

“My family literally jumped in our pickup truck and drove up two days later,” Cravins said.

While he loved his “fantastic job,” Cravins said he missed dealing with Louisianians and state-specific issues as much as before.

Next week, the 40-year-old former politician will try to fill that void by taking over as Landrieu’s chief of staff. He does so by switching jobs with Jane Campbell, who was Landrieu’s chief of staff after serving as Cleveland’s first female mayor.

As Landrieu said, Campbell wanted to focus more on policy and Cravins wanted a bigger role in politics.

“It’ll position me even better for my re-election,” Landrieu said. The shift is pay-neutral, with both keeping their roughly $170,000 salaries.

Dubbing himself “the Louisiana guy,” Cravins said the switch “just came together.”

“I’m always longing to do more for my state,” he said. “That’s what I missed being a former state senator, the interaction with the people.”

Landrieu is looking at potential challenges in 2014 from Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and John Fleming, R-Minden, who are both publicly flirting with running. Cravins does not want to discuss his role in that, except to say, “We do know 2014 is around the corner.” Cravins will note only that Landrieu’s re-election chances are enhanced by him keeping her offices running as smoothly as possible.

He said he and Landrieu have become closer friends the past few years and that they have much in common since both come from political fathers. Don Cravins Sr. is a former state senator and the current Opelousas mayor. Landrieu’s father, Moon, was a longtime New Orleans mayor.

They share a “kindred bond” that has developed since he first moved to Washington, Cravins said. “We both say, ‘That sounded like something my father would say,’ ” he said.

So does Cravins still have the craving to run for office again?

“If I ever think about it, my wife is close by to say, ‘Stop,’ ” he said. “We like the quality of life here.”

Cravins said his father loves the “fight” of political campaigning more.

“The need to be an elected official is less than the service,” he said. “I really do want to continue to focus on constituent services.”

The LSU and Southern University Law Center graduate plans to visit Louisiana at least once a month in his new role, especially since he also is a judge advocate in the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Combining the small business and military experience, one early plan is for a new “one-stop shop” summit for military veterans to address all their health care and employment needs, he said.

Cravins said his top priorities include the continued implementation of the RESTORE Act to funnel the BP oil leak fine dollars to the Gulf Coast and the proposed OPEN Act legislation for expanded offshore drilling and for increased revenue sharing for Gulf Coast states from the oil-and-gas royalties that go to the U.S. Treasury. Another top issue is the further installment of President Barack Obama’s health-care law in the state, he said.

“It’s a fun time,” he said. “I’m excited. This is a great opportunity for me.”

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.