LouisianaVoice has learned that the Department of Education may have an understandable, if not altogether legitimate reason for refusing to release information to the public: a candid response to one request for information might well lead to additional requests and subsequent release of information that the department simply does not want on the street. In short, things could get out of hand in a hurry. That’s called the domino effect.
Accordingly, DOE is following the lead of Gov. Piyush Jindal, who hides behind the “deliberative process” in not releasing information, by likewise clamping down on all information flowing from the department.
That, if nothing else, should be sufficient for Louisiana citizens to demand a more open administration from their absentee governor.
It turns out that Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, DOE’s new Director of the Office of Portfolio, has quite a past, with strong connections to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the infamous Enron Corp. and a spinoff company called Azurix. More about that later.
Our initial request for public records resulted in the disclosure that Lefty was an employee of DOE. The obligatory follow up request for information revealed that the Louisiana taxpayers got him for a mere $144,999.88 a year, with a “free” Youtube video to boot, albeit a largely amateurish effort to hype DOE’s computer Course Content.
It might also be worth noting that on that video, Lefkowith gives himself a promotion—from being Director of the Office of Portfolio to Deputy Superintendent.
That, of course, prompted a more thorough background search and what we found was a real eye-opener and should be a red flag to state legislators and Louisiana taxpayers alike. If, after all, the past is really prelude, then his appointment does not bode well for education in this state. This could well be a train wreck waiting to happen and it begs the question: just how much tolerance will the citizens of Louisiana have for this administration’s shenanigans before enough is enough?
The information that follows comes from investigative reports by Michael Pollock and Chris Davis of the Sarasota (FLA) Herald-Tribune. Davis is now leader of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, FLA.
In 1998, when Jeb Bush was running for governor of Florida, Enron, then a fast-rising Houston energy broker, was in the process of diversifying into the potentially profitable new field of water supply privatization through a subsidiary called Azurix Corp.
Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) David Struhs, a Bush appointee, was simultaneously promoting two concepts on behalf of Azurix: auctioning off blocks of water to the highest bidders and obtaining underground water and storing it for later withdrawal through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR).
Enron sank $900 million in Azurix, hoping to duplicate the proposed action in two other states, California and Enron’s home state of Texas, as well as in South America. Ultimately, however, Enron lost $500 million when the project failed to materialize, eventually selling what was left of the company in 2001 to American Water Works as a precursor to the eventual collapse of Enron.
Struhs also pushed another project to deregulate energy in Florida and to open the state to competition by allowing companies to build power plants, using existing power lines for the purpose of selling electricity to the highest bidding utility or other customers.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Struhs was his good friend, David “Lefty” Lefkowith, president of Canyon Group, Inc., of Los Angeles.
First, a little background:
Back in 1991, President George H. Bush named 23 industrialists and environmentalists to the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality and named Struhs to run the commission. One of the 23 commission appointees was then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.
When Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992, Struhs went to work for Lefkowith as vice president of Canyon Group. Lefkowith has represented as many as 60 different electric power companies through his company.
By 1998, Struhs was working for Jeb Bush and Lefkowith was on board with the ill-fated Florida water privatization project. “I don’t think water is so damn special,” he said at the time. “If you let markets take over, you’d find water was cheaper, there would be more of it, and customers would be better served.” He neglected to explain how water quantity would increase.
Fast forward to 2002 and Struhs and Lefkowith were back at the forefront of market manipulation in Florida at the behest of Jeb Bush, but by now, their dealings were with electric power companies. Struhs was DEP Secretary and Jeb Bush had set up Energy 2020 Commission, a group assembled to study deregulation.
This time when Struhs brought him in as a consultant, Lefkowith was given unlimited access to all the emails of Bush’s Energy 2020 Commission members and staffers even though most of the 2020 commissioners never heard of him, never saw him and never knew he access to their correspondence. The Energy 2020 Commission was a group Jeb Bush assembled to study deregulation.
On Feb. 4, 2001, Struh’s deputy chief of staff, Mollie Palmer, ordered a half-dozen top DEP employees to start sending Energy 2020 Commission documents to Lefkowith with emails from Energy 2020 Chairman Walter Revell or from commission executive director Billy Stiles to be “forwarded to Lefty upon receipt.”
After receiving a copy of that memo, Pollock and Davis requested copies of all documents sent to Lefkowith but DEP officials responded that no documents existed. (That sounds much like the responses received by Capitol News Service from the Division of Administration and from the Louisiana governor’s office.)
“Who is this guy to get this information?” asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe. “From the tone and tenor of these emails and communications, he is directing energy policy (for the state). What authority does he have to do that? And for what purpose?”
Democratic State Sen. Kip Campbell of Tarmarac was even less forgiving of the practice. “Suppose I was sending letters to Struhs, like ‘here is my thought process on what we are going to do legislatively.’ And Lefkowith knows this ahead of time. Lefkowith might be working for Calpine and all those other companies, and selling that knowledge for profit. I’d be willing to wager he probably was.”
Lefkowith also attended strategy sessions with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss findings of the Energy 2020 Commission.
In addition, he lobbied Florida utility representatives in private meetings on the issue of building power plants in order to broker power sales.
He would later use the information he had obtained as confidant to Struhs and Jeb Bush to wrangle a consulting job with the Florida PSC.
So now “Lefty” Lefkowith is in the employ of Louisiana Department of Education as Director of the Office of Portfolio, which is over the Office of Parental Options—whatever the function of those offices may be.
Given his past efforts at privatizing water sales and his attempt at forming a consortium to sell electric power to the highest bidder in Florida, it should come as no surprise to see him attempt to implement much the same type of coup with charter schools or the computer Course Choice program in Louisiana.
Whatever the case, one can bet there is money to be made somewhere in the grand scheme of things.
All this from our initial request for the amount he was paid for making a video of embarrassingly amateurish quality.
No wonder news outlets are experiencing difficulty in obtaining information from the “most open, accountable and transparent administration in the history of Louisiana.”
Our mothers always told us one thing leads to another.
There’s another adage that applies here: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.