New legislation council to target the Gulf Coast

12 06, 2012 by Houma Courier

With hopes of connecting the shared fates of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, a small group of Bayou State legislators is in the beginning stages of forming a coalition that will serve as equal parts federal lobbyist and coastal think tank.

As envisioned, it will be called the Gulf Coast Legislative Council, or GCLC, and will allow legislators from the five states to work together in a formal manner and promote similar goals.

State Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who will serve as the council’s first chairman, said the Gulf Coast region already serves as an economic engine in the both the United States and the world — and the latter, specifically, the emerging “global economy” dictates a team approach.

“The time has come for those of us in these states to do our part to protect our resources and promote our economic growth together,” he said.

Those involved with organizing the effort argue America’s “third coast,” rivaling the West and East coasts, has never received the kind of attention it deserves.

“As one of the fastest-growing areas of our nation, both economically and in terms of population, cooperation in our region is long past due, and the Gulf Coast Legislative Council will provide us an opportunity to have our needs and concerns heard on a national level,” said Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma.

Whitney, who will serve as vice chair for Louisiana, said the shared issues will include coastal restoration, hurricane protection, port infrastructure, seafood and shipbuilding.

“This is a working coast,” she said. “That can be said about the entire Gulf Coast.”

Other priorities already floated by the council include energy resources, international trade, transportation, agriculture and tourism.

While the platform might seem limited to coastal issues, Talbot said it will also represent the issues of these five member states in their entirety.

For example, organizers said lawmakers from north Louisiana will be added to the fold in the near future. Additionally, members will strive for a non-partisan approach to taking on federal and state issues.

The council is being structured as nonprofit, and while it doesn’t have money, it will eventually charge member dues for participating legislators and associate dues for civic groups such as chambers of commerce and private businesses.

“This is an exciting time for our region, and we have already experienced an outpouring of support and willingness by many to join and participate,” Whitney said.

The idea originated in Louisiana, where Whitney and Talbot said one disaster after another, such as the 2010 BP oil spill and subsequent hurricanes, seemed to demand something larger than a localized campaign to expand recovery efforts.

Coupled with the new industry sprouting up around coastal engineering and related work, the concept for the council seemed like the right idea for the right time, organizers added.

While there are no formal events planned in the coming months, next year will see the council host a policy conference, possibly in Louisiana, although no plans have been made.