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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

One day in early December, I received one of countless telephone calls pertaining to the upcoming Dec. 6 election. Normally, the calls are pre-recorded, or “robocalls” appealing for my vote for this or this candidate or telling me how horrible the opposing candidate would be for Mom, apple pie and America.

This one, however, was a live call from a woman claiming to be calling on behalf of AFA. Never having heard of the organization up to that point, I interrupted her spiel to ask who AFA was.

“American Family Association,” she said and without even pausing to take a breath, she launched into her pitch. “We’re not calling on behalf of any particular candidate,” she assured me. “We just want to remind you to be sure to vote for candidates who represent our Christian heritage and the Christian principles on which America was founded.”

(Well, first of all, America was not founded on Christianity—or by Christians. The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, Deists. Chief among the founders was one Thomas Jefferson, the man who re-wrote the Bible. Jefferson’s Bible omitted all references to miracles by Jesus, the Resurrection and other miracles as well as passages indicating Jesus was divine. Our very own Gov. Bobby Jindal, by the way, was named recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at ALEC’s national meeting in New Orleans in 2011.)

When I heard that, I simply said, “I’m Jewish.” (Actually, I’m Methodist.)

End of conversation.

Now comes word that AFA is sponsoring Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus Jan. 24.

So, what’s the big deal? The Gaithers have held gospel concerts in the same facility (I’ve attended two of them and they were great) and the Pope held a service at the University of New Orleans. Besides, the Prayer Rally will be strictly faith-based and will not be a forum for political discourse—because they say so. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/2014/12/19/prayer-rally-organizers-distance-event-from-afas-positions/

Yeah, right. With Jindal taking part, the absence of right-wing political rhetoric is about as likely as…well, as likely as a general denial of evolution or climate change at the event. After all, one of his political operatives, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister (former Jindal campaign treasurer and later appointed by Jindal to the LSU Board of Supervisors), smoothed the way for securing the center for the event through…you guessed it, political channels. http://theadvocate.com/features/faith/11119534-123/documents-reveal-behind-the-scenes-details-of

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists AFA as a hate group, just as it does the Westboro Baptist Church, probably because both spew venom instead of the Christian tolerance taught by Christ when it comes to groups that think and act contrary to their rigid set of self-imposed standards of morality, namely gays.

Remember the story from the Bible when the woman was about to be stoned for adultery. Didn’t that quote, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7) come from the mouth of Jesus?

And then there was: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). I can’t help but wonder if the fine Christians from Westboro Baptist Church and AFA have ever read those words or if so, did they gave even a passing thought to their meaning.

And no claim can be made that those quotes were lifted out of context; their meaning could not be plainer.

As might be expected, Jindal critics (and they’re growing in number with each passing day) have leveled criticism of the governor for participating in the event, which skeptics insist will  have political overtones. http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/803216-lost-faith-in-lsu-prayer-rally-and-in-bobby-jindal

But the most interesting barrage was leveled by one Taylor Huckaby of Los Angeles, former Deputy Communications Director for the Louisiana Republican Party, a volunteer in Jindal’s election campaign and later, Jindal’s New Media Director.

Huckaby penned the following for LouisianaVoice:

Never have I been more embarrassed to be an alumnus of Louisiana State University. Yesterday, the LSU powers-that-be finally broke their silence on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ostentatious prayer/politically pandering rally. “Rental of an LSU facility does not imply any endorsement,” wheedled director of media relations Eddie Ballard to the New Orleans Advocate.

I wonder if he said that before, or after he accepted the $18,500 from the American Family Association, agreeing to not only entertain them for a day but also to provide a baldly political platform from which Jindal intends to pander to his ultraconservative electorate.

I wonder if he knew extent to which Jindal-appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors, Rolfe McCollister, prodded the University to give up the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for such use.

I wonder if he realizes that while technically correct and certainly legal, in practice people all over the country will now associate LSU with happily playing host to an organization that blames the Holocaust and the existence of the Nazi Party on gay people.  Yes, you read that correctly. From AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer in a web post from 2010 (and this is indeed a representative sample, so don’t you worry):

“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”

Yes, this is the very same guy around whom Bobby Jindal has voluntarily decided to drape his arms around come January 24th.

Also appearing in the New Orleans Advocate story was a certain Clay Tufts, the current LSU student body president, who claims the AFA is “not reflective on the university in any way or its students.” Then, immediately after staking that claim, he goes on to explain how no action can possibly be taken on the issue via student government because, well, too many LSU students agree with the AFA’s positions.

“I’m sure a large group of students will go to the event.” Tufts said, “Student government itself won’t be going either way on anything.” 

Apparently condemning an organization that blames the Holocaust on gay people is a bridge too far. Such controversy!

Is this really the best LSU can do? Accept the AFA’s blood money and turn a blind eye? Proclaim that the university community supports its LGBT students while also simultaneously admitting helplessness in the face of so many anti-LGBT sentiments on campus? It seems to me that LSU’s “commitment” to LGBT people is less representative of a fighting tiger and more akin to the paper variety.

How incredibly embarrassing it is that LSU allows itself to be such a willing pawn in this political game, and how incredibly sad it is that the Louisiana LGBT community has to again endure false and patently ridiculous accusations of Nazism, child recruitment, equivocations to bestiality, and perversion. Why would anyone want to send their son or daughter to a university that so blithely resigns itself to such bigotry? I certainly wouldn’t.

 

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If ever there was an appropriate analogy to the old expression rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s methods of dealing with successive years of budgetary shortfalls (read: deficits) would have to be it.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) now has openly defied him (each member, even down to former Jindal cabinet appointee Scott Angelle) on his order for the commission to render unto Caesar Jindal 13 PSC vehicles to be included with about 700 other vehicles to be auctioned early next year in an effort to raise some $1.4 million ($2,000 per vehicle).

That is significant because unless we missed something somewhere along the way, that is the very first time any state agency, the legislature included, has stood up to this little bantam rooster. Tommy Teague did and was fired but the agency he headed, the Office of Group Benefits, went quietly to the slaughter like so many sheep.

Legislators, fearing capital outlay cuts in their districts or demotion from plum committee assignments, have likewise been strangely quiet as a group with only the occasional individual protests.

That move of selling off vehicles is more like the analogy of robbing your kid’s piggy bank to meet the mortgage payment than any real solution to a much larger problem and raises the logical question: what will the administration do next to scrape together a few dollars?

And the news only gets worse for Jindal’s fading presidential aspirations (hopes that themselves are a joke because something that doesn’t exist already can’t very well fade.

Even more ominous than ripping vehicles from state agencies, is the looming certainty of more mid-year cuts and employee layoffs in the wake of growing budgetary ills. Those fortunate enough to avert the layoffs will see no merit increases for FY-16 and contract reductions are expected to continue—except for certain favored contractors favored by our transparent governor. No agency head in his right mind would cut funds for a contractor with a close Jindal connections (read: campaign contributions).

In the meantime, we will also be curious to see if any of those six-figure Jindal appointees are among those being laid off. You can most likely check that box “No.”

Jindal, of course (along with most legislators) has been blaming the state’s worsening fiscal condition on the precipitous drop in crude oil prices.

Not so, says long-time state government observer and chief curmudgeon and former legislative assistant C.B. Forgotston.

Here’s the way he explains it:

            If one merely looks the “spot” prices regularly reported in the media it seems like much bigger issue. It’s nothing like the “oil bust” of the 1980s. At that time a majority of the state revenues were from oil severance taxes. That is no longer the case.

            Additionally, the state’s severance tax revenues are based on the contract price, not the “spot” price that is regularly reported in the media. For example, some of the companies currently drilling in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale have pre-sold their potential finds at $96 per barrel. That is the price on which the taxes will be paid. The consensus in the oil industry is the current downturn in oil prices is temporary. It may last 6 months or it may last a year; it is not a forever thing.

            Also reducing the impact on state revenues, as pointed out by Legislative Fiscal Office economist Greg Albrecht, low oil prices means savings for consumers. Their spending shifts to other items on which sales taxes are collected. For businesses, especially small businesses, it means more profit which means higher income taxes.

The major problem in the current budget and creating the $1.4B shortfall projected for next year’s budget is not a reduction in revenues, but overspending. Overall revenues have grown every year that Jindal has been governor. However, he and the legislators have consistently spent not only one-time revenues on recurring expenses, but imagined revenues under the guise of “efficiencies” which cannot be measured.

            Blaming oil prices is merely a scapegoat for passing fiscally-irresponsible budgets for the last 7 years.  Don’t let those responsible avoid the blame. It’s time to hold Jindal and the legislators’ feet to the fire by telling them to set better priorities based on real, as opposed to imagined, revenues and amorphous efficiencies.

They’ve got one more time to get it right in the 2015 Regular Session. If they don’t the first order of business for the new governor and new legislators in early 2016 will be to hold a special session to raise taxes and reduce services to balance the final Jindal budget.

And lest anyone might be foolish enough to write Forgotston off because he retired and no longer involved in day to day state matters, that would be a serious mistake. But even discounting Forgotston, we have Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, weighing in on the subject. And he is very much involved in the day to day operations of the state.

Albrecht takes a different tact in explaining how we got where we are. http://theadvocate.com/news/11102302-123/economist-greg-albrecht-louisiana-tax

Albrecht says that priorities for spending state revenue on such pesky items as education, infrastructure and social services are set only after we first dole out billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates and exemptions that place a terrific drain on state financial resources.

Here’s one that he didn’t mention but which we feel is worth pointing out: if the NFL awards a Super Bowl to New Orleans, Saints owner Tom Benson gets a cool million dollars from the state. That has already happened once since that condition was included in a generous incentive package negotiated to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

Another practice that has since terminated but which cost the state millions: when a visiting NFL team such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, etc., played in New Orleans, every traveling member of that team—players, coaches, support personnel, etc.—was required to pay state income tax on 1/16th of his income. That individual, after all, received 1/16th of his salary in Louisiana. As soon as the Louisiana Department of Revenue received a check for those taxes, the state cut a check for an identical amount to Benson.

Albrecht said many of the tax breaks are “open-ended spending” and unappropriated. “It’s on autopilot” and the spending “is the priority” of state government because all other spending is secondary.

He said attempts to curtail the programs have run into resistance in the form of screams of protest from business interests who would be impacted. They consistently deflect talk of costs to the state by parroting the old line about the economic benefits of the programs designed to attract certain businesses or to assist certain segments of the citizenry.

But when Enterprise Zone exemptions are used to build Wal-Mart stores in affluent communities like St. Tammany Parish (where two have been built using the program), one must wonder at the benefits derived from a program designed to uplift pockets of high unemployment.

Companies pay about $500 million to local governments in property taxes on inventory that is considered property and the state simply reimburses those companies dollar for dollar. “We’re on the hook for whatever the local assessor puts down,” Albrecht said. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/12/15/state-gives-away-billion-tax-breaks/20460681/

He said legislators have asked that he examine the various tax breaks for possible cutbacks and while Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which deals with taxes, feels legislation will be filed to alter some of the tax credits, he is realistic in the knowledge that any attempt to amend or eliminate the breaks could be vetoed by this corporate welfare-happy governor.

“The veto pen will determine what passes or not,” Robideaux said. “The question is, ‘Can we craft legislation that will avoid the veto pen?’”

Earlier this year, Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

You gotta give Jindal credit for creativity, though. Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

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JINDAL PRAYER BREAKFAST(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

You’ve got to hand it to Gov. Bobby Jindal. If he ever knew when to shut up, he’s doing a dandy job of concealing that knowledge.

Team Jindal is an e-mail blast by an outfit calling itself Friends of Bobby Jindal providing those of us lucky enough to be on the mailing list a timely update on the governor’s travels, TV appearances, and op-ed writings. We’re not altogether certain how we managed to get on the mailing list but we’re glad we did.

Before we go any further, let the record show that there is no Google link to any such organization but there is a link at the bottom of the e-mail to this web page: www.bobbyjindal.com. It even has a prominent “Donate” button at the top of the page, just to right of the imposing—and more than a little official-looking—“Bobby Jindal Governor” banner.

As we said in an earlier post, we’re not sure why he needs donations given the fact that he is term limited and cannot run for governor for another five years and he remains an unannounced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination (though few doubt that is his intent).

But we digress.

Whoever sends out these e-mails does a much better job of keeping current than the person responsible for the web page. The e-mails come at least on a weekly basis while the last blog posting on www.bobbyjindal.com was on Aug 22 of this year. Given that, you’re just going to have to take our word for what we are about to quote Jindal on in the latest e-mail release.

Along with stories about Jindal’s most recent appearances on Fox News, there was a story about the governor’s welcoming Education Secretary Arne Duncan to New Orleans, a video of him promoting his upcoming prayer rally at the Pete Maravich Arena on the LSU campus, an announcement of a new plant to be built in Cameron Parish, a release about his executive order to better protect sexual assault victims, his participation in the opening of a new section of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and this quote from Jindal calling the CIA Report a partisan attempt to attack the record of President George W. Bush:

  • “It is clear that the Democrats wrote and released this report in an attempt to once again attack President Bush. I remain very proud to have worked for him, and proud that he kept America safe in the aftermath of 9/11. This report is one-sided and partisan. The Left hates the former President, they always have, and now, six years after he left office they are still campaigning against him. The undeniable truth of the matter is this – President Bush kept America safe after 9/11 from terrorists that wanted to kill us. This is simply a fact. President Bush is a good man and I am honored to have served in his Administration.”

Naturally, we were curious as to how the governor of Louisiana, who admittedly was smart enough to be a Rhodes Scholar but who has never served in the military, could be so knowledgeable about the methods employed to extract military intelligence from detainees.

So, fueled by that curiosity and lucky enough to catch Jindal in Baton Rouge between trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and the Fox News studios, we requested—and got—an interview with him. And anyone who knows of his reluctance to grant interviews to local media has to know what a journalistic coup that was.

We wanted to know his position on other controversial issues involving Republican presidents and he graciously agreed. Without bothering to go into lengthy explanations of our questions, we instead will simply list the name of the president (or other individual) and the issue most closely associated with him (in bold), followed by the governor’s take on that topic (in italics).

Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation:

  • “Look, as much as everyone seems to think of Lincoln, he was really overrated as a president. Two things: First, he got us into an ugly war that produced more casualties than any other war in our history, a war that took years for us to recover from. He had Gen. Sherman burn Atlanta to the ground and what did Atlanta ever do to the country besides to give us Tara, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara? Second, he freed the slaves who already had good homes and were taken care of by their kindly masters. That was just another example of federal overreach. Look, Phil Robertson said it best when he said a year ago, and I’m quoting now: ‘I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person, not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.’ Now that’s Phil Robertson speaking, not Bobby Jindal, and we know how smart Phil is…” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/phil-robertson-black-people_n_4473474.html

Theodore Roosevelt and trust busting:            

  • “I just want to say this: Theodore Roosevelt was a RINO—a Republican in Name Only. He was the Democrats’ best friend. Make no mistake, he was a Roosevelt and a cousin to that other Roosevelt. And let me say this: Theodore Roosevelt was the true father of the welfare state. He is personally liable for the ill effects of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He had the audacity to try and browbeat a great American, J. P. Morgan, and even told Mr. Morgan right there in the Oval Office that any interest of his that had done anything wrong was in danger of being prosecuted. How can capitalism and American Exceptionalism function with that kind of pressure? http://www.ushistory.org/us/43b.asp 
  • And if you thought Roosevelt stopped there, you would be wrong. He had the taste of runaway power that only Washington can administer. He made Washington the nanny state for meat inspections just because a few pounds of bad hamburger meat made it to market. I say if you don’t like tainted meat, don’t eat it. That’s the American way.”

Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal:

 Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression:

  • “Two things you have to understand: The Great Depression was unfortunate but those are the breaks. Stuff happens. And those displaced homeowners living in those Hoovervilles? What would you expect the President to do? Give them a handout and make them even more dependent on government? No! You have to make people self-reliant, instill pride in their determination to rise above their circumstances. There were New York stockbrokers to worry about; they’re the ones who make the country go. And while the situation with the Okies was certainly dire, the President must first concern himself with the captains of industry.” https://www.google.com/search?q=hoovervilles&hl=en&biw=1280&bih=607&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=WD-OVNwMw_OgBIfSgvAJ&sqi=2&ved=0CDYQsAQ

Sen. Joe McCarthy:

  • The liberal media killed him. He was a great American who had the commies in the State Department running scared until they framed him with that Edward R. Murrow interview.

Richard Nixon and Watergate:

  • “Two words: national security. Pentagon Papers. Nixon was a patriot. He was a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee and brought down Alger Hiss.”

Republican deregulation agenda:

  • “The Dodd-Frank bill was a disaster. When you tie the hands of Wall Street, you tie the hands of the American economy. What could be more un-patriotic? The financial collapse of 2008 was all Obama’s fault; everyone knew he was running for the Democratic nomination and it caused a panic. Wall Street needs to be encouraged, not hog-tied. Wall Street is a microcosm of American capitalism. Where else can a CEO make $300 million a year and retire with a $200 million cash-out of his stock options and still draw $100 million a year. That’s the American dream.
  • Look, if it’s good for the Koch brothers, it’s got to be good for America. Why do you think they have invested so much of their personal fortunes into getting the right people elected? It’s because deep down, they care. Like former director of the Office of Management and Budget Gary Bass, I look at the current trend toward Republican control of Congress and the move toward deregulation and rollbacks of stifling regulation as the Contract with America on steroids. And that’s a good thing.

 President Obama’s energy policy:

Climate change:

(The last two quotes regarding Obama’s energy policy and climate change are verbatim utterances by Jindal—grammar, syntax and all.)

Thank you for your time, Governor.

“Any time. Well, not anytime…unless you’re Fox News.”

(Disclaimer: Although some quotes in this attempt at satire are accurately attributed, the actual interview never occurred and is not to be taken seriously. Do not read this while operating heavy machinery. May cause nausea, weak knees, enlarged ego, skin rash, or dizziness. Other possible side effects include rickets, diarrhea, constipation, blurred vision, temporary anger, swollen tongue, sudden increase or decrease in a desire for real news or unexpected or unusual stimulation of previously suppressed sense of humor. If you are up laughing more than four hours, consult a doctor. If you believed this was a real interview, see a shrink.)       

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“I’ll meet you over at confession on Saturday, if you want.”

—Public Service Commission Chairman Eric Skrmetta, to Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops Associate Director Robert Tasman, apparently implying that Tasman was being untruthful in his testimony that the conference desired a reduction of rates charged inmates for telephone calls.

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At long last we have only three more days of those annoying—as in wanting to throw a brick through that expensive flat screen—TV campaign ads in which a leering U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and a weary appearing incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu trade insults, barbs and outright lies about each other.

But there is another race to be decided Saturday that has flown under the radar of all but the residents in Public Service Commission (PSC) District 1, which encompasses all or parts of Orleans, Jefferson, Ascension, St. Bernard, Plaquemine, St. Charles, and the Florida parishes of Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Helena and St. Tammany.

Even in those parishes, the tawdry Landrieu-Cassidy contest to determine the least undesirable candidate has overshadowed the runoff between PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta and challenger Forest Bradley Wright, both Republicans.

But it is an election of which voters in District 1 should certainly be aware.

In the November 4 primary, Wright polled 99,515 votes (38.44 percent) to Skrmetta’s 95,742 (36.98 percent), with Republican Allen Leone playing the spoiler role with 63,622 votes (24.58 percent) to force Saturday’s showdown.

For this race, LouisianaVoice has chosen to take a closer look at Skrmetta, by resurrecting a video of his bizarre, and certainly unwarranted behavior two years ago during the testimony before the PSC of a spokesman for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A smug Skrmetta displayed unprecedented contempt for Robert Tasman who, through frequent interruptions and challenges from the chairman, attempted to read a statement on behalf of the conference which called upon the PSC to reduce exorbitant telephone rates for prison inmates.

Skrmetta claimed that he was told by an archbishop for the church that the church’s position was simply that rates not be increased. The exchange between Skrmetta and Tasman escalated to Skrmetta’s suggesting that Tasman should attend confession, presumably for attempting to mislead the commission. http://joule-energy.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c2265593d29be2a1d4f35bf12&id=9bacfdbffc&e=25b6a2fa99

Skrmetta’s rude behavior got so bad at one point that it provoked a challenge by fellow PSC member Foster Campbell who admonished the chairman, suggesting that he keep quiet until Tasman completed his testimony.

That only served to spark a heated verbal exchange between Campbell and Skrmetta.

The commission eventually worked out a compromise that even Skrmetta voted for. Regulators agreed to cut the rates by 25 percent for prisoner calls to family, clergy, and government officials. http://theadvocate.com/home/4666375-125/psc-rolls-back-prison-phone

So, what moved Skrmetta to such passion that he would challenge the veracity of an official of the Catholic Church?

Well, for openers, try $29,500.

That’s how much he has received in campaign contributions since 2009 from six companies and executives of two of the companies that provide inmate telephone services. Two of those, Securus Technologies of Dallas, and City TeleCoin Co. of Bossier City, combined to contribute $12,000 to Skrmetta’s campaign in separate contributions in December of 2013, nine months after the companies were cited by the PSC for charging extra fees in violation of the amended rates of December of 2012.

Global Connections of America of Norcross, Georgia, which contributed $5,000, was also in violation but was not cited.

http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2013/03/psc_louisiana_prison_phone_rat.html

Other inmate telephone service companies that contributed to Skrmetta included:

  • Network Communications of Longview, Texas ($5,000);
  • William Pope, President of Network Communications ($2,500);
  • Gerald Juneau and his wife, Rosalyn, owners of City TeleCoin ($5,000 each);
  • ATN, Inc. of St. Mary, Georgia ($2,500);
  • Ally Telecom Group of Metairie ($2,500).

Taking campaign contributions from regulated industries, while posing the obvious risk of conflicts of interest and even influence-buying, is not at all unusual. Utilities and trucking companies which are regulated by the PSC contributed to commission members just as insurance-related companies contributed to campaigns for Louisiana Insurance Commissioner in a practice some equate to little more than not-so-subtle bribery.

Skrmetta, however, has taken the practice to art form status; he has received substantially more campaign money from regulated industries than any other member of the PSC.

In all, he has received a whopping $482,800 in individual contributions of $500 or more from regulated industries, attorneys and PSC contractors just since 2009. That was a year after he was first elected to the PSC. Only two campaign contributions totaling $1,200 are listed on his campaign reports prior to 2009.

Scores of representatives of Entergy contributed at least $30,800 since 2009 and the New Orleans law firm Stone-Pigman and several of its attorneys chipped in another $29,750—$17,000 on the same day that Skrmetta made the motion during a PSC meeting to approve an additional $220,000 in consultant fees and expenses for the firm’s defense of litigation filed against the commission by Occidental Chemical Corp.

Skrmetta, it should be noted, opposed the ban on fundraisers within 72-hours of PSC meetings—understandable in hindsight. A 72-hour ban be damned; he took the money on the same day of the commission’s meeting and its approval of the amendment which bumped the law firm’s contract up to $468,000 in fees and $39,600 in expenses.

Wright, Skrmetta’s opponent in Saturday’s runoff election was critical of Skrmetta’s taking the contributions from Stone-Pigman on the same day as the PSC meeting—and on the same day as the contract amendment.

“The issue is integrity, which is undermined when a public service commissioner takes a cut off the top from the contracts they authorize in the form of campaign contributions,” he said. “We pay the price from these bad dealings, not only in dollars but also in the erosion of trust that happens all too frequently when elected leaders put themselves and their own power before the interest of the public.”

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Former Gov. Edwin Edwards said on Tuesday that he intends link his opponent to Gov. Bobby Jindal just as Congressman Bill Cassidy has linked U.S. Sen. Landrieu and President Obama.

“Representative Cassidy has built his entire campaign on running against Obama instead of Mary Landrieu and though I believe in running on issues instead of personal attacks, I will launch my television ads next week by showing that Garret Graves will be nothing more than an extension of the Bobby Jindal administration,” Edwards told LouisianaVoice.

That shouldn’t be too difficult to do, given that Garret’s former assistant and more recently his successor has publicly endorsed Garret in his campaign against Edwards to succeed Cassidy as Louisiana’s 6th District congressional representative.

Jerome “Z” Zeringue, who once served as Garret’s assistant and then was named to succeed him as Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor, has endorsed his old boss in the Dec. 6 runoff against Edwards.

That action brought instant criticism from another former coastal advisor to the governor. Len Bahr, Ph.D., wrote on his internet blog:

“As a former holder of Graves’ and now Zeringue’s position in the governor’s office, I’m offended that neither of these gentlemen is concerned that the person who oversees state coastal policy should be involved in a highly partisan political struggle. I realize that the law that restricts state civil servants from political activities does not apply to unclassified positions but the basis for the law is obvious, going back to the days of Huey Long when state employees were pressured to support specific elected officials. http://lacoastpost.com/blog/?p=47063

Bahr’s indignation notwithstanding, Edwards already had a pretty good arsenal to unload on his opponent.

He previewed one of his upcoming TV advertisements for LouisianaVoice. As expected, he zeroed in on the $130 million in contracts that Graves’ father’s company received from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the younger Graves’ tenure as president of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.

Edwards, at a Monday appearance before the Baton Rouge Press Club, also noted that the Graves’ father also subcontracted $66 million of that $130 million to some 18 other companies who have since contributed $250,000 to Graves’ campaign and $360,000 to Jindal.

Those points were brought by another candidate in the first primary, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) but Edwards added a new twist during the press club appearance when he revealed that Graves’ brother-in-law stood to gain financially from a deal involving CPRA.

He said the Water Campus office complex and research center under construction in Baton Rouge, will house the agency Graves once headed. The leasing agent for office space in the facility, Edwards said, is Randy White, Graves’ brother-in-law. “They’re going to lease one million square feet of office space at probably $25 to $50 per square foot,” he said. “At a commission of 2 or 3 percent, that’s a $1 million a year.”

The former governor also expressed his disappointment at Graves’ tactic of sending out letters leading up to the Nov. 4 first primary in which he hinted that Republican candidate Paul Dietzel, III was gay. “He (Graves) repeated over and over that Dietzel had never married, lives with his grandmother, and had performed work on behalf of gay organizations,” Edwards said. “There is no place in today’s society for that type of attack.”

Edwards said the motive for Graves’ attack was obvious. “Up to the time those letters went out, he and Dietzel were neck and neck for the second spot in the runoff against me. It was the act of a desperate man and a man who was hand-picked by our governor to continue the policies put in place by Jindal.

“Jindal’s approval rating is every bit as deplorable as Obama’s,” Edwards said. “And a vote for Graves is a vote to continue down the same road that Jindal has taken the state during his administration. Personally, I don’t think this state can afford a continuation of those policies.”

Bahr, his blog, included a link to Louisiana Civil Service rules on public employees’ participation in political campaign and though the rules are different for classified and unclassified employees like Zeringue, Bahr said he nonetheless felt it wrong for Zeringue to interject himself into partisan politics. http://www.civilservice.louisiana.gov/files/general_circulars/2011/gc2011-020.pdf

One of Bahr’s readers added this comment to his blog:

“A key part of Graves’ legacy is the degrading of CPRA’s standing as a supposedly objective body. Pushing them to pass a resolution opposing the SE La Flood Protection Authority lawsuit was a key step. Using the meeting for theatrics attacking the feds every month was another. CPRA has continued on this path in his absence by passing a resolution opposing the EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” designation, with no real discussion of the actual rule/regulation. In the bubble that Louisiana inhabits, no one is supposed to see this for what it is. That bubble will be popped when the state sees how national support for restoration has been eroded.”

So while Edwards has been relatively quiet up to this point (as opposed to the incessant barrage of attack ads from both Landrieu and Cassidy), that will change beginning next Tuesday—just in time for his only scheduled head-to-head debate with Graves in Denham Springs that same day.

If he is successful in linking Graves to his former boss, Jindal’s low poll numbers coupled with the animosity Jindal has single-handedly created between himself and teachers, state employees and higher education officials during almost seven years as governor, it could spell trouble for Graves. And Edwards, the sly old warrior that he is, might yet have a trick or two up his sleeve.

To paraphrase actress Bette Davis in the movie All About Eve, Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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Some things never change when it comes to doing business with the State of Louisiana.

Several business owners have, over the past couple of years, told LouisianaVoice they would never bid on a state contract because, they said, the bid process and contracts are rigged, or at least weighted, heavily in favor of pre-selected vendors.

Now, three separate sources have come forward to offer specifics that support that claim as it regards a request for proposals (RFP) for renewal of an existing $75 million contract.

One of our very first stories under the LouisianaVoice banner was the manner in which Gov. Bobby Jindal went about privatizing his very first state agency, the Office of Risk Management (ORM), throwing nearly 100 employees out of work in the process.

Now we learn the story of F.A. Richard & Associates (FARA), the Mandeville company the state initially paid $68 million to take over as third party administrator (TPA) of ORM has taken yet another interesting twist.

Well, make that two interesting twists—including a third violation of the original contract between the Division of Administration (DOA) and FARA and now it seems there may be a strong case made for bid manipulation on the part of the state.

The reason we said the state initially paid $68 million is because eight months after that 2011 takeover, FARA was back asking—and getting—an amendment to its contract which boosted the contract amount by exactly 10 percent, or $6.8 million, bringing the total cost to just a tad under $75 million. An obscure state regulation allowed a one-time amendment to contracts for up to (drum roll, please)…10 percent.

Then, less than a month after the contract was amended by that $6.8 million, FARA sold its state contract to Avizent, an Ohio company, which kept the contract for about four months before it sold out to York Risk Services Group of Parsippany, New Jersey.

Last month, it was announced that Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity firm, had finalized a deal to acquire York for $1.325 billion.

In each case, the name FARA was retained “for branding purposes,” according to one former FARA employee, but there was no getting around the fact that the state’s contract was—and is—being shifted from one company to another until the latest deal that placed in the possession of a foreign corporation.

The original contract with FARA stipulates that the contract may not be sold, transferred or re-assigned without “prior written authority” from DOA.

LouisianaVoice, of course, made the appropriate public records request for that “prior written authority” right after it was sold the first time—to Avizent. After the usual delays in responding, DOA finally sent us an email which said no such document existed.

So, now we a contract the very specific terms of which have openly violated not once, not twice, but three times and the state has remained silent on this point.

Jindal, in case you need a reminder, is the same Louisiana governor who only last Friday criticized President Obama of “flaunting the law” in his executive action granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.

But as bad as the contract shuffling might be, ongoing efforts to rig the bidding process for a renewal of the five-year contract in FARA’s favor would appear to be far more serious.

Three separate sources—one employed by DOA and the other two former employees of first ORM and, after ORM was privatized, FARA, said that FARA had been requested to assist in drafting a new RFP in such a way as to guarantee that FARA would retain the contract.

Both former FARA employees, interviewed separately, said a staff meeting of FARA employees was held in Lafayette last April and again in May. On both occasions, they said, FARA management assured them that the company had been asked to assist ORM in drafting the RFP and that FARA was certain to win renewal of the contract, which expires next July 1.

“We were all told to update our resumés so they could be used in beefing up FARA’s proposal,” said one of the former employees.

If true, that would constitute bid rigging in almost any law book and should prompt an immediate investigation. This would be an ideal opportunity for someone to awaken East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore to see if he is up to performing his duties.

Wasn’t that, after all, the basis for the investigation of Bruce Greenstein and the $189 million contract to his former employer, CNSI? That was the investigation that led to his nine-count indictment for perjury.

Having said that, if there are any other business owners who have had unpleasant experiences in bidding on state contracts, or who feel they have been shut out of the process through favoritism we would love to hear from you. Our email address is: louisianavoice@yahoo.com or louisianavoice@cox.net

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