Senator's exit asks more questions than it answers

WASHINGTON — Urgent memo to Jack Valenti: Don’t quit your day job just yet.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), a strong candidate to succeed Valenti as Hollywood’s leading man (and lobbyist) in Washington, yanked his name off the list of top prospects Tuesday.

When Breaux was back in the Bayou during Congress’ August recess, he grew weary of being barraged with questions about whether he would leave the Senate for the plum lobbying post.

He issued a statement to Capitol Hill pub Roll Call so careful in its wording that it may have raised more questions than it answered.

“The Motion Picture Assn. is one of America’s greatest industries,” he wrote. “But representing the association on a full-time basis is not what I’m interested in doing.”

The “full-time” reference is leading to speculation that Breaux may want to retire and start his own lobbying shop with GOP colleague Sen. Don Nickles (Okla.), and would love to grab the MPAA as a client. Rumors about Nickles leaving Congress have swirled for more than a year.

Breaux spokeswoman Bette Phelan said she didn’t know if the senator has considered opening his own firm, but said he is keeping his options open, including sticking around in the Senate.

Breaux is the second Louisiana politician to deny interest in the MPAA post in recent months. Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the powerful House Commerce panel, repeatedly denied he would leave Congress if offered the glitzy job. He even sent a letter to colleagues calling the speculation a lot of hot air.

In Tauzin’s case, even that did not convince political insiders he wouldn’t jump ship if the studios came calling next year, when the written denial is less fresh in the mind. If Tauzin somehow winds up in the post, his close friendship with Breaux would make it easier for them to share the MPAA spotlight, even if Breaux wants only a supporting role.

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