By WILL SENTELL
Republican John Kennedy on Wednesday downplayed the significance of federal legislation that U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has repeatedly touted as one of her signature accomplishments.
The 2006 measure will gradually give Louisiana a greater share of new royalty payments from oil and gas production off its shores in the Gulf of Mexico.
The issue set off sparks during the candidates' third debate, which took place at the University of New Orleans.
The hour-long discussion was televised by WDSU-TV in New Orleans as well as C-SPAN 2.
Landrieu is seeking her third term. Kennedy has been state treasurer since 2000. The election is Nov. 4.
Kennedy said the royalty measure will mean "a little more" money to combat coastal erosion but does not take full effect until 2017.
"It is backend loaded," he said.
In the meantime, he said, the state will lose another 108,000 acres of wetlands that help combat storm surges, or 12,000 acres per year.
Landrieu called the legislation one of her proudest accomplishments, especially since the issue was discussed off and on in Washington for about 60 years before action two years ago.
The Democrat says the change will produce $40 billion in federal dollars for coastal protection in Louisiana over half a century.
Landrieu said she spent 10 years and "led a bruising battle" with members of both parties to get the measure passed and that the new policy has already generated $1 billion for the state.
She said she is also working to accelerate the payment schedule for Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Landrieu accused Kennedy of collecting $350,000 in campaign contributions from firms that did business with the state Bond Commission, which he chairs as state treasurer.
Landrieu, a former state treasurer herself, noted the chairman sets the commission agenda.
Kennedy said that being criticized for fundraising tactics by Landrieu "is like being called vain by Donald Trump," a reference to the flamboyant New York real estate developer.
The Republican said Landrieu has gotten $200,000 in campaign contributions from executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac federal lending institutions that have come under fire for their role in the nation's recent economic turmoil.
Kennedy also said he has collected 17,000 contributions.
"They get my ideas, they get my values, and they get the very best job I can do," he said.
Landrieu and Kennedy also accused each other of being criticized in Forbes Magazine for their fundraising and other practices as state treasurer.
Kennedy used his opening remarks to say he favors reduced taxes and an end to deficit spending in Congress.
He also hammered away at his anti-Washington theme.
"If you like the way things are going in Washington I am not you candidate," he said later.
Landrieu closed the debate by charging that, while Kennedy claims to be a conservative today, he backed Democratic presidential contender John Kerry four years ago when he was running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.
Kennedy switched from Democrat to Republican last year.
"I do respect conservatives," she said. "I respect conservatives with consistency."
Kennedy said he wants to bring "fundamental, lasting, conservative change" to the nation's capital similar to what Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has brought to Baton Rouge.
Asked about troubled public schools, Landrieu said she has been an advocate of charter schools in the U.S. Senate and favors innovative approaches to school problems.
Kennedy said schools need tougher courses, more accountability and higher standards.
He said he serves as a substitute teacher two or three times a year and urged Landrieu to do the same.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of New Orleans and the National Council of Jewish Women.