The federal government is directing $4.3 million toward the Gulf Coast to restore an active passenger rail service that once transported Louisiana residents to and from neighboring states.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration awarded the money to the Southern Rail Commission, on which Louisiana has a seat, to get the intercity project up and running.

“This funding will help Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama resume passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile to enhance regional economic growth and rural mobility,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a news release.

Amtrak suspended its tri-weekly service between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, in 2005 in the wake of extensive damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Stations and rail lines were destroyed or left vacant, and the long-distance Sunset Limited trains were paused.

The federal money was awarded under the FRA’s Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program, authorized by the FAST Act. The program provides “operating assistance grants for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity rail passenger transportation.”

Officials contend the funding will “fill a critical geographic gap in Amtrak’s National Network and provide twice daily roundtrip service with stops in New Orleans; Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama.

The renewed line is projected to carry 38,400 passengers annually.

Gubernatorial surveys available for review

The Council for A Better Louisiana, a nonpartisan good government group, has released the responses of gubernatorial candidates to a comprehensive survey on major issues in the 2019 governor’s race.

Among the major candidates, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Congressman Ralph Abraham filled out the questionnaires. They can be found on the CABL website at

“We have been surveying candidates on important issues for 25 years, and we think it’s important that voters have a chance to see what those seeking our state’s highest office plan to do if elected,” said CABL President Barry Erwin.

The survey contained 17 questions on subjects including the candidates’ leadership style, the top outcomes they hope to achieve if elected, transportation infrastructure, education, workforce development, job growth, state fiscal policies and criminal justice reform.

“What we hope from publishing these surveys is that voters will get some additional insights into how the candidates see themselves, what their own priorities are and how they would deal with a number of major issues that have been in the forefront of discussion in Louisiana for many years,” Erwin said “We think that’s the kind of information voters need and want.”

CABL is also partnering with Louisiana Public Broadcasting once again on a statewide televised debate in the governor’s race. It will be held on Sept. 26 on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It will air live statewide on LPB stations at 7 p.m.

Political History: The campaign stylings of Percy Sledge

Baton Rouge’s own Percy Sledge, who made “When a Man Loves a Woman” a No. 1 hit in 1966, has a storied past, from working as a farmhand and a hospital orderly to dating models and traveling the world.

But did you know that Sledge’s musical background also intersected with American politics at one time?

When he was at the height of his popularity and touring would bring him to South Carolina, Sledge would use a house band that included a teenage blues guitarist named Lee Atwater.

If you don’t know who Atwater was, let's let Neil Conan of National Public radio take it from here, as excerpted from his own reporting:

"When Lee Atwater died in 1991, the obituaries described one of the most ruthless and effective political operatives in American political history and a man with an unquenchable thirst for life and music as well as politics. Atwater worked for segregation of Strom Turmond to his native South Carolina ran George H. W. Bush's campaign in 1988 when he vowed to make Willy Horton as Michael Dukakis' running mate, he became chairman of the Republican National Committee and was unapologetic about his tactics."

And here’s another spot of related color, from The Washington Post:

"He made it in the most improbable way, learning to dress at Brooks Brothers and keep his funky white trash wickedness too; he won the gloss of being an important Republican, an essential helper to the preppiest president since Franklin D. Roosevelt — and played gigs with Percy Sledge and B. B. King on the side."

By many accounts, Sledge and Atwater kept in touch later in their lives. But not as much because they bonded during the '60s; Atwater simply persisted in his pursuit of using Sledge to bolster his own status.

According to The Telegraph, “in 1989 (Percy Sledge) played at President George HW Bush’s inaugural because the Republican Party chairman, Lee Atwater, was a friend of Sledge’s, having played backing guitar for him in the 1960s.”

They Said It

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics." — Businessman Lane Grigsby, in Louisiana Record.

"Every time we have a campaign finance reform law — people find a way around it. It’s just the way it happens." — Grigsby.

“We’re going to have to really improve our justice system for you to discover the nefarious ways that people have funded campaigns. Do I expect justice to show that some of this was donated improperly? Probably not.” — Grigsby.

-- Jeremy Alford is publisher-editor of and LaPolitics Weekly. Email him at