By Cindy Chang St. Tammany bureau
Tim Burns and Steve Scalise are stepping up their attacks on each other as Saturday's GOP runoff in the 1st Congressional District approaches.
Leading up to the March 8 primary, Scalise, a state senator from Jefferson, had mostly counterpunched Burns' allegations that he voted to raise taxes. He capitalized on his fundraising and endorsement advantages, leading Burns by 20 percentage points and narrowly missing an outright win.
Despite that comfortable margin, Scalise has been quick to go on the offensive in the runoff campaign. He accused Burns, a Mandeville state representative, of ethical violations, and a recent Scalise mailer calls Burns "a self-serving lobbyist politician."
Scalise's latest salvo comes in a television commercial portraying Burns as soft on crime by referencing House Bill 525 in the 2005 regular session of the Legislature and Senate Bill 228 in the 2006 regular session. HB 525 made drug offenders serving life sentences eligible for parole after seven years instead of 20. SB 228 provided that certain offenders with two prior convictions could be sentenced to a drug court program and probation instead of prison.
Burns was in the majority of legislators who voted for both bills, according to legislative records. Scalise voted against both.
"So why does Tim Burns weaken our drug laws?" the TV announcer says. "As a legislator, Burns voted for early release of drug dealers. Burns even voted to suspend the sentences of those convicted of drug crimes."
Burns said the commercial was a "desperate, negative attack."
He says that HB 525 was intended to alleviate prison overcrowding. He said he did not vote for SB 228, even though the Legislature's Web site lists him among 82 House members supporting it.
For his part, Burns has been trying to boost his conservative credentials with mailers touting his anti-abortion and pro-gun stances.
He attacked Scalise this week on post-Katrina insurance issues.
"How can he ask for your support when Steve Scalise was not there for you?" says a Burns mailer, citing Scalise's absence from legislative votes to extend the time for homeowners to sue their insurance companies and what Burns says is more than $25,000 in insurance industry contributions to the Scalise campaign.
Scalise brushed off the attack, saying, "I have worked closely with citizen groups and the business community to pass comprehensive insurance reform that ultimately is bringing lower insurance rates to hurricane victims."
WHO'S BACKING WHOM? Burns continued to rack up north shore support this week, after scoring the endorsement of Slidell Mayor Ben Morris on Friday. Morris finished third in the Republican Party primary on March 8 with 21 percent of the vote.
Burns announced Tuesday the endorsements of state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Reps. John Schroder, R-Covington, Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, and Greg Cromer, R-Slidell.
Six members of the St. Tammany Parish Council, as well as 22nd District Attorney Walter Reed, also endorsed Burns this week.
The council members, all Republicans, are Marty Dean, Gary Cooper, Reid Falconer, Marty Gould, Al Hamauei and Henry Billiot.
Scalise also has a long list of St. Tammany supporters, including Covington Mayor Candace Watkins, six Parish Council members and a majority of the Slidell City Council.
Burns emphasized the north shore backing while noting his connections to the district's voters who live south of Lake Pontchartrain.
"I still have strong personal ties to the south shore, and the recovery efforts are so very near and dear to me and my family," Burns said. "However, this district also needs someone who intimately understands the radically changing dynamics and needs along the north shore I-12 corridor, including the critical I-55 artery, just as well as the I-10."
ONE MORE CHANCE: It's already too late to register to vote this Saturday, and only one day remains to register for the May 3 general election in the 1st Congressional District.
Anyone wishing to sign up for the first time or to change their registration may do so today between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at their parish's registrar of voters office.
The general election will see the winner of the Burns-Scalise contest take on Democratic Party nominee Gilda Reed of Metairie, unaffiliated candidate R.A. "Skip" Galan of Hammond and Tony Gentile of Mandeville, a member of the Independent American Party.