He knows it's going to be tough to get Congress to vote for billions of dollars for wetlands in Louisiana, especially when everyone's worried about the economy and terrorism. So Marmillion has been test-marketing patriotic slogans to "brand" the campaign.
Selling "America's Wetlands" to Congress and the American people. Photo: William Brangham/NOW with Bill Moyers
" 'America's Wetland' was the outright choice in the Pennsylvania focus group," Marmillion explains, "actually a unanimous choice. All said that if this is of national importance, we've got to make this America's issue, not Louisiana's, and so the brand has got to talk about how Louisiana benefits the nation in economic terms and others if we're going to get to those themes. Any thoughts on this?"
After the meeting, I sit down with Marmillion. The governor's lobbyist, a woman named Sidney Coffee, joins us too. The marketing meeting has sounded almost like they're selling soap or cereal or cars. Some people might wonder, 'Is this a seemly way to educate the public about vanishing wetlands?'
Marmillion says, "Yeah, I think it's an honest way. We are in a media age that many people decry all the time, but we are in competition with a lot of other stories out there. And you use the mechanisms of the day to tell your story."
Coffee adds, "You know people basically know the truth when they hear it. And when I saw the faces on some of the people in the Philadelphia focus group when Val read the situational analysis that talks about the incredible amount of loss that we're experiencing, they were horrified. And they were angry that no one had told them about it, they couldn't believe it was happening, and in their opinion, it was like, 'This is a major disaster happening here on our shores, and we need to do something about it.'"
But these political and business leaders don't have illusions they're going to face lots of hurdles when they get to Congress. For instance: Louisiana's corrupt political past could haunt them.
"That is correct, we have a very checkered history, " acknowledges Jack Caldwell, who runs the state's department of natural resources. He just took part in the marketing session. Now he's strolling under the magnolias on the capitol grounds. Caldwell says he realizes that some members of Congress might hesitate to send money to a state where everybody from Governors to sheriffs has gone on trial.
"For example, our insurance commissioner," Caldwell says. "You're not gonna believe this the last three in a row have been convicted of felonies. Three in a row of elected insurance commissioners."
Caldwell laughs, but adds, "I'm telling you, it's changing." He says the governor is trying to stamp out corruption.
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