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The combined revenues of $3.5 billion and net profits of $697 million for 2014, America’s two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group clearly illustrate the profit potential in the operation of private prisons.

It’s no wonder. With 2.4 million people incarcerated in this country, America easily leads the civilized world with more than 700 of every 100,000 of its citizens kept behind bars. The Russian Federation is a distant second at 474 per 100,000 imprisoned. Canada has 118 per 100,000 of its population incarcerated. The four Scandinavian countries have the fewest number per 100,000 in prison. The numbers for them are, in order: Denmark (73), Norway (72), Sweden (67) and Finland (58).

If Louisiana were a nation, it would double the U.S. ratio. (At least we’re number one in the world at something.) Latest figures show 1,420 of every 100,000 Louisiana citizens (one of every 86 adults) is housed in a cell, giving Louisiana the distinction of having the highest rate in the world. Nearly two-thirds of those are non-violent offenders. We should be so proud. Louisiana’s rate of incarceration is three times that of Russia, nearly 10 times that of the United Kingdom, 12 times Canada’s rate, and 24 times that of Sweden.

But private prisons are not the only ones benefitting from the glut of prisoners in Louisiana. There are the prison telephone systems which charge exorbitant rates to prisoners’ families for collect calls home. The phone companies are protected by state contracts, making their operations a literal monopoly.

And then there are the privately-run prison work release, or “transitional work program” companies and that’s where the waters really get murky.

Most work release programs are supervised by parish sheriffs and some are kept in-house by the sheriffs. The one common thread is that all of them use the profits from inmate labor to underwrite other operations of the sheriffs’ departments. There have been private work release companies to spring up, operate for a while and then disappear, notably Northside Workforce in St. Tammany Parish as well as privately-run programs in Lafayette and Iberia parishes.

One such company isn’t likely to face the operational pitfalls experienced by the others, however. That is because of its connections to the top brass at the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Louisiana State Prison at Angola, connections that likely even extend into the governor’s office.

Louisiana Workforce, LLC (no connection with the Louisiana Workforce Commission) has been around for 10 years since it was founded on Feb. 4, 2005 by Paul Perkins. Both Perkins and Louisiana Workforce have been active in writing campaign checks to sheriffs, key legislators and Jindal since 2009.

It was not until 2014, however that Louisiana Workforce really burst onto the scene in a big way. Following an inmate’s escape from a Northside Workforce jobsite in St. Tammany that same year, Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary James LeBlanc mandated that local sheriffs not be approved for outsourcing work-release programs without first going through a competitive bid process.

The only problem was, the process turned out to be not so competitive.

That’s not unusual if you take the trouble to talk to business owners who find themselves shut out of the state contract bid process. If they are completely candid, they will tell you that if a state agency prefers a given vendor, the specifications can be—and often as not, they are—written in such a manner as to eliminate all but the preferred vendor.

The practice is similar to, though not quite as blatant as, the north Louisiana parish police jury which, way back in the 1970s when I was a young reporter, decided to purchase a used bulldozer. When the advertisement for bids was published in the parish’s official journal (the local newspaper), the specifications included the serial number of the ‘dozer which quite understandably narrowed the field of eligible bidders somewhat.

It turned out that even though six private providers, along with a representative from the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office, attended a pre-bid conference, Louisiana Workforce, LLC, in partnership with the Beauregard sheriff’s office, submitted the only bid.

Perkins is a former assistant warden at Louisiana State Prison at Angola who was earning $75,000 a year until his retirement in 2001. He also is a former business partner of both LeBlanc and Angola Warden Burl Cain. All that may or may not have played a part in the apparent easy manner in which Louisiana Workforce got the contract by default, but one competitor suggested that it may not have hurt.

It also may not have hurt that Perkins and Louisiana Workforce combined to pour nearly $40,000 into the political campaigns of five of the six sheriffs with whom Louisiana Workforce has contracts, or that another $15,000 was contributed to Bobby Jindal, or that thousands more to members of the legislature who sit on key committees like House Appropriations, House Criminal Justice or one of the three Senate judiciary committees.

Perhaps it is only a coincidence that Burl Cain asked for and received a favorable ruling from the State Board of Ethics in 2012 permitting him to be compensated for providing consulting services on a part-time basis to Louisiana Workforce—and even allowing him to have a “small minority ownership” in the company. It is not known whether or not Burl Cain actually performs any consulting work or receives any monetary recompense because while he, like all administrative personnel, is required to file a financial disclosure form with the state, he is not required to fill out a complete disclosure.

Even LeBlanc in 2006 received Ethics Board approval to offer consulting services or even own an interested in an unspecified work-release program.

Perkins said that while he feels Cain would be a valuable addition to his company and even though the Ethics Board approved such an arrangement, he felt that it would be a mistake for Cain to work for him while also serving as Angola warden.

But that does not by any measure preclude the presence of Cain influence on operations at Louisiana Workforce. The Louisiana prison system over the years has indisputably become a Cain family fiefdom.

DOC has something called Prison Enterprises which, on the surface, is a good thing in that it allows prisoners to learn marketable skills while at the same time providing a source of income to help fund prison operations. But Prison Enterprises is more than simply a means to sell soybeans, corn and cotton grown on the sprawling Angola farm; it is also a means of enrichment for enterprising (forgive the pun) entrepreneurs.

DOC’s own web page touts its Transitional Work Program (formerly work release) which certain eligible offenders may enter from one to three years prior to their release, “depending on the offense of conviction.” Participants “are required to work at an approved job and, when not working, they must return to the structured environment of the assigned facility,” the web page’s description of the program says. The “assigned facility,” of course, refers to the housing provided by private companies like Louisiana Workforce.

“Probation and Parole Officers are assigned monitoring responsibilities for contract transitional work programs,” it said. Claiming that transitional work programs are successful in assisting in the transition from prison back into the work force, the web page claims that 10 to 20 percent of offenders “remain with their employer upon release.”

Additionally, the two-paragraph description says, a second program called the Rehabilitation and Workforce Development Program, allows prisoners who have become skilled craftsmen to be placed in higher paying jobs where they “are able to make wages to maintain self-sufficiency.”

But then a peculiar thing occurs when readers are instructed to “click here” to see a list of transitional work programs throughout the state. Thinking we would find other companies similar to Louisiana Workforce, we clicked and presto! We were returned to DOC’s main page.

So, with Prison Enterprises overseeing the operations of DOC’s Transitional Work Program, who do you suppose presides over Prison Enterprises?

That would be Michael Moore, who earns $128,500 per year as Prison Enterprise Director. But serving right under him is none other than Marshall Cain, one of Burl Cain’s two sons who holds the title of DOC Prison Enterprise Regional Manager at $63,500 per year. Cain’s other sun, Nathan Cain, earns $109,000 per year as Warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center. (The elder Cain pulls down $167,200 as Angola Warden.)

But the key person in all this is Seth Smith, Burl Cain’s son-in-law, who earns $150,000 per year as a DOC Confidential Assistant. That’s more than his boss, LeBlanc, who makes $136,700 as DOC Secretary. So what does a confidential assistant do for that salary? Well, for openers, he assigns which prisoners go into the Transitional Work Program for parish sheriffs and private operators like Louisiana Workforce.

And since Louisiana Workforce gets to keep 62 percent of each prisoner’s earnings, plus $5 per day for each inmate it houses, it certainly would be to the company’s benefit to receive the most skilled workers for placement in the Transitional Work Program. After all, 62 percent of say, $15 per hour for skilled labor is considerable more than 62 percent of a minimum wage job like flipping hamburgers, for example.

One employer who hired an inmate through the program, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate last November that the system was rigged against the inmate. He cited an example of an inmate earning $200 per week. After the 62 percent is held out, he would be left with $76 before taxes and Social Security, leaving him only about $36 for a week’s work.

Then, he said, the program runs a commissary where inmates are charged “inflated prices” for necessities such as soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., leaving them with “virtually nothing to start a new life.” http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/10768344-123/letter-inmates-left-with-pittance#comments

There are two sides of this scenario, of course. There is the argument that they are in prison because they committed a crime and therefore, should not be afforded favorable treatment. The other argument is that by working at below-market wages, they are keeping honest, law-abiding people from jobs they need to support their families.

But lost in both those arguments is the windfall profits reaped by the private vendors who are fortunate enough to have an inside track to the decision-makers at DOC and the sheriffs who run their own prisons.

Perkins and his company, Louisiana Workforce, LLC, have combined to contribute to five of the sheriffs with whom his company has contracts:

  • East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux: $15,000;
  • Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard: $4,500;
  • Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal: $7,000;
  • Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter: $4,340;
  • West Feliciana Parish Sheriff Austin Daniel: $6,850.

But the combined $37,690 to those five sheriffs doesn’t end there; he and his company have also contributed $15,000 to Jindal and thousands more to members of key legislative committees.

Small wonder.

An article in the New Orleans Advocate on Oct. 13, 2014, noted among other things that with Louisiana Workforce’s acquisition of the Phelps Correction Center in DeRidder, the company had about 1,200 inmates working in its work-release program. At an average of say, 62 percent of an average of only $10 per hour, plus another $5 per day for housing each inmate, Louisiana Workforce would receive nearly $17 million a year. At an average of $12 per hour, the paper said, the income would approach $20 million annually. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/features/music/10477753-171/work-release-operator-with-ties-to

It’s a system open for abuse with only minimal oversight. On Sunday, Associated Press moved a story in which inmates at a privately-run Nashville, TN., jail operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison operation in the U.S., say they worked without pay to build commemorative games, bird houses, dog beds, and plaques which prison officials then sold online and at a flea market. http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/inmates-say-they-worked-for-free-for-jail-officials/ar-BBlNdCG?ocid=iehp

To back up their claim, two of the prisoners said they concealed their names and the number of the Tennessee statute that makes it illegal for prison officials to profit off inmate labor beneath pieces of wood nailed to the backs of the items.

In 2010, the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that said Louisiana Workforce employees forged or altered several dozen employer work-release forms and inmate authorization forms upon learning that DOC was going to make a site visit to its East Baton Rouge Parish facility. One employee, an assistant warden, admitted to forging at least 26 such forms and the OIG report said that higher-ups at Louisiana Workforce knew of the actions.

LeBlanc, in his response to the report, said that DOC had “no jurisdiction” to discipline the Louisiana Workforce staff, in effect saying that Louisiana Workforce is left to discipline itself.

And in 2013, the Legislative Auditor’s Office issued a report that challenged the use of inmate labor by then-Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois to renovate a building used by Louisiana Workforce’s program. The audit said the cost of that labor was about $350,000 and the auditor’s office said the use of free inmate labor for the project may have been in violation of the Louisiana Constitution

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To say the administration of Bobby Jindal has been steeped in double standards for nearly eight years now would be an understatement of monumental proportions. What else could one call it when $4.5 million is yanked away from Louisiana’s developmentally disadvantaged and handed over to one of the wealthiest families in the state for the ignoble purpose of funding repairs to a privately-owned $75 million auto racetrack in Jefferson Parish?

That precisely what was done in 2014 when the legislature approved the NGO (non-government organization) appropriation for NOLA Motorsports Park owned by Laney Chouest. The money was to pay for track improvements preparatory to the IndyCar Series race held in Avondale last April. But in order to make the funds available, Jindal had to prevail upon the Senate Finance Committee to remove the $4.5 million from the budget of the developmentally disabled.

But nowhere is the term double standard more clearly defined than in the manner in which Jindal or his administrative appointees have chosen to handle disciplinary matters involving law enforcement officials.

We have written extensively about the manner in which Murphy Painter was sacrificed for the benefit of mega-donors Tom Benson, members of his family and their businesses who have combined to pour more than $200,000 into Jindal campaigns since 2003.

And it was LouisianaVoice that broke the story in July of 2014 about the administration’s efforts to sneak a bill amendment through the legislature that would provide State Police Commander Col. Mike Edmonson an illegal $55,000-per-year increase in his retirement benefits even as thousands of other state retirees were denied minimal cost of living increases. Because of the publicity we gave to that bit of subterfuge, a state district judge ruled that the administration’s effort, fronted by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), was unconstitutional.

But now LouisianaVoice has obtained documents from Louisiana State Police which reveal that a state trooper from Troop D in Lake Charles was given the symbolic slap on the wrist over a criminal complaint against him for sending threats of jail time and physical harm to and for conducting background checks on an individual with whom he had a running dispute.

Ironically, the token punishment meted out to State Trooper Jimmy Rogers coincided with the ongoing Painter investigation. Painter who, after being fired by Jindal, was indicted in 2012 by a federal grand jury on charges of using law enforcement databases between 2005 and 2010 for “non-official criminal justice purposes” by obtaining personal identification information and conducting illegal criminal background checks on people who had committed no crimes.

Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street answers only to the governor and it was his office’s investigation that formed the basis of the federal indictment of Painter.

Painter, who LouisianaVoice said early on was the victim of retaliation by Jindal for not granting a liquor permit for Benson’s Champion Square outdoor venue across from the Superdome, was cleared of all charges in a trial in Federal District Court in Baton Rouge and the state was subsequently required to pony up more than $300,000 to pay his legal expenses.

Rogers, on the other hand, admitted to not only obtaining telephone numbers of the target of his wrath, but conducted a criminal background search on the individual, made threatening telephone calls to his residence and to his parents, threatened him on Facebook, in text messages, and phone calls using his position as a state trooper to threaten the man with bodily harm and even jail time, according to a nine-page, heavily redacted document (page three of the letter was redacted in its entirety) obtained from State Police.

Rogers’ punishment? A 240-hour reduction in pay (a 10 percent reduction for 30 pay periods). At $161.52 per pay period, that came to a $4,845.60 cut but sources indicate that was more than made up for in overtime Rogers was allowed to work during that period of just over a year.

The disciplinary letter of Nov. 19, 2010, signed by Edmonson, said Rogers had threatened the person “with physical harm” beginning on May 5, 2010, and that he initiated contact with the individual whose name was redacted and at least one other unidentified person on Facebook and the following day initiated “threatening and harassing text messages and phone calls to both.”

In Rogers’ May 6 text, which was provided to investigators, he even identified himself as “Trooper.” The victim told investigators that in subsequent conversations Rogers implied that he could “get away with anything” and could “do what you wanted and no one could touch you because you are a state trooper,” Edmonson said in his disciplinary letter.

Further, Rogers admitted in a taped statement that on May 6, he texted the dispatcher at State Police Troop D communications and asked her to look up the telephone number of the person. The dispatcher gave him two phone numbers which Rogers subsequently admitted “was strictly for personal use.”

The letter said, “It was independently confirmed by investigators through an off-line search that a criminal history was run (redacted) at your request.”

Apparently a third person emerged as a witness to Rogers’ vitriol. “(Redacted) all related to investigators that on May 9, 2010, you threatened (redacted) that you were in the position to do some damage to (redacted) and knew the right people,” Edmonson wrote in his letter. “All three confirm your May 9, 2010, telephone call with (redacted) was held on (redacted) speaker phone with (redacted) and (redacted) present and listening. They maintain that you offered to ‘swing for the title,’ and you threatened, ‘I am in the position to do some damage. I know the right people.’ Both (redacted) and (redacted) understood your threat to reference your position as a State Trooper.”

Edmonson continued by pointing out that Rogers then “attempted to contact (redacted) via telephone and text messaging, leaving messages on (redacted) parents’ residential phone and (redacted) cell phone. Recordings of those messages demonstrate that you related the following to (redacted):”

There followed completely redacted messages contained on the cell phones and land lines as well as a text message.

“(Redacted) also advised that you sent (redacted) two different pictures of (redacted) driver’s license photos to (redacted) iPhone on March 28, 2010. Through an off-line search, conducted in connection with this investigation by a Criminal Records Analyst, it was confirmed that you ran (redacted) criminal history on March 28, 2010, at 10:29 a.m. By your own admission, you obtained personal information for unofficial purposes. Text messages sent from your cell phone to (redacted) iPhone on March 28, 2010,…stated:

The entire content of that message was also redacted, but apparently contained a reference to threats of jail and bodily harm. “Your threatening (redacted) with jail and threatening (redacted) as detailed above, that you were in a position to do (redacted) damage were in violation of LSP (regulations).

“Your text messages to (redacted) and (redacted) as evidenced by their phone records and your voice messages to (redacted), as evidenced by the telephone recordings, were in the nature of a violation of criminal statute…,” Edmonson wrote.

Edmonson itemized other infractions of State Police regulations and state criminal laws which he said Rogers violated in his actions and ended by saying “Any future violations of this or any nature may result in more severe disciplinary action, including up to termination.”

LouisianaVoice is in possession of evidence of subsequent retaliatory actions by Rogers against other individuals and will be writing about these and other problems in Troop D in upcoming posts.

Meanwhile, we have requested that the Department of Public Safety provide copies of Edmonson’s letter that is not so heavily redacted. The names, addresses and telephone numbers of victims are not public record and we have no qualms with those being redacted. Likewise, ongoing investigations are not subject to the state’s public records laws but when we requested the file on Rogers, Edmonson’s letter was all we received. That letter was dated nearly five years ago and Rogers apparently did not appeal his punishment, so the investigation is presumed to be closed.

Accordingly, we maintain, and will pursue through all legal means available, if necessary, that the contents of the texts, emails, and voice mails to the targets of Rogers’ invectives which were the basis for his discipline are public records.

 

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Three news stories on the last day of July and first day of August raised more questions than they answered about Bobby Jindal’s personal and campaign finances and, at the same time, re-opened a controversy over the funneling of $4.5 million in state funds to a family member of one of Jindal’s campaign contributors at the expense of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

It was a pair of stories by CNN and Associated Press on July 25 and Aug. 2, however, that again reminded us of the insanity of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the door for the corporatocracy and its affiliated special interests to usurp the democratic process from America’s citizenry.

The first story, on Friday, July 31, revealed that Jindal’s net worth was somewhere in the range of $3.3 million and $11.3 million. That’s a pretty big range, to be sure, but the federal financial disclosure forms are written that way—deliberately, most likely, to allow elected officials to comply with financial reporting laws while still managing to conceal their true worth.

The following day, August 1, two stories appeared in the Baton Rouge Advocate. The first, on Page 3A, announced that boat builder Gary Chouest, one of Jindal’s major donors—and a grateful beneficiary of legislative projects pushed by Jindal—contributed $1 million to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Jindal. In that same issue of the Advocate, on page 3B was a story that a company headed by a Chouest family member who had received $4.5 million from the state in 2014 was being sued over money owed Andretti Sports Marketing by the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana and NOLA Motorsports Park. The owner of NOLA Motorsports Park is Laney Chouest and the amount in question is…$1 million.

More on that later.

It was the pair of stories by CNN and AP, however, which shone the glaring light of undue influence of PAC money, particularly in national elections. Julie Bykowicz and Jack Gillum, writing for AP, noted that it took U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his 2015 presidential campaign but a single check from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer eclipsed that number with a single, $11 million contribution to Keep the Promise, Cruz’s super PAC.

Not to be outdone, billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, chipped in $15 million to Cruz’s super PAC, according to a July 25 CNN story by Elliot Smilowitz. Should we wonder which side of the fracking debate Cruz comes down on? If he wins the Republican nomination and is subsequently elected President, should West Texas residents, concerned about the quality of their drinking water or about their sick and/or dying livestock, even bother appealing to Cruz’s humanitarian side?

You can check that box “No.”

But back to Jindal and his unexplained wealth. A 44-year-old multi-millionaire can’t be found on any old street corner, especially a 44-year-old who has spent all but a single year of his adult working life in the public sector. Upon completion of his studies at Oxford University, he joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for about 11 months. He left McKinsey to become a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery before being appointed by Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24. Four years later, he appointed the youngest-ever president of the University of Louisiana System and in 2001, he was named by President George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. After losing his first campaign for governor to Kathleen Blanco in 2003, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the following year and was re-elected in 2006 before being elected governor in 2007.

In 2005, a year into his first term as a congressman, Jindal’s net worth was reported to be between $1.18 million and $3.17 million. A short year later, that estimate was between $1.3 million and $3.5 million, according to federal financial reports, ranking Jindal as the 118th richest of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. By 2015, ten years following that initial report, his net worth has tripled to $3.8 million on the low range or $11.3 million on the high range—all on a public servant’s salary of $165,200 per year as a congressman, for all of three years, and $130,000 per year as governor for less than eight years.

He listed on his financial reports, besides his salary, income from investments. But how does an elected official find the time to tend to the business of the nation or the state and see to the concerns of his constituents, engage in re-election fundraising, and play the market? Jindal, the avowed advocate of transparency, has never explained how his wealth was attained other than to quip, “I tried to be born wealthy, but that plan didn’t work.” As the son of immigrant parents, both state employees, he is probably correct in saying he was not born rich.

But what he did do was coerce the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 into ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and reallocating the money for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish. It is that $4.5 million that has come into question in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

In order to bring the IndyCar race to Avondale, NOLA Motorsports created a nonprofit affiliate, or non-government organization (NGO), to apply for and receive a $4.5 million from the state to fund improvements at the track.

Andretti Sports Marketing subsequently signed a three-year contract to organize the Grand Prix beginning in 2015. Andretti, in its lawsuit, claims NOLA Motorsports Park used $3.4 million of that state grant to pay for improvements which did not leave enough to pay Andretti and other vendors. NOLA, on the other hand, claims it used only $2.6 million on improvements.

It should be a simple matter for NOLA Motorsports Park to verify the expenditure of every nickel of that $4.5 million state grant. After all, under rules enacted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, any NGO that receives money from the state general fund is required to provide quarterly reports on how the money is used. Officials of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism verified that all required records were submitted by NOLA Motorsports. “We would not have released the money unless they were incompliance,” said one CRT official.

And even as the claims and counterclaims were surfacing in Court, Gary Chouest was plowing $1 million into Believe Again, reminding us to, well, believe again that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision snatched control of America’s elections, and necessarily, of the government itself, from its citizens and hand delivered that control to the corporatocracy and its well-financed lobbyists.

But let us not forget that while all those millions were being tossed around what with Gary Chouest dropping a cool million on Jindal’s super PAC and with opposing parties quarreling in federal court over payments to promote Laney Chouest’s $75 million, (did we mention it is privately-owned?) racetrack, the big loser in all this were Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

With the lone exception of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), the Senate Finance Committee, in taking its marching orders from Jindal, removed $4.5 million from the developmentally disabled in 2014—just a year after he vetoed a 2013 appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for those same developmentally disabled.

State campaign finance records show that between 2007 and 2010—long before the 2014 $1 million contribution to Believe Again—members of the Chouest family and their various business interests contributed $106,000 to Jindal—all in the interest of good government, of course.

 

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Louisiana, from Huey and Earl Long to Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, and Edwin Edwards, has a well-earned reputation of electing colorful—and controversial—governors. It is, therefore, something of a paradox that the one who would aspire to play on the national stage would be described as a policy wonk with no personality and nothing in common with the others.

While Bobby Jindal is unquestionably intelligent, he, unlike the others, is woefully inadequate in his ability to relate to his constituents on a one-on-one basis or to field hard questions from a skeptical press. To put it bluntly, he simply lacks the skills to relate to the man in the street, forced instead to fall back on his time-worn but well-rehearsed rhetorical philosophy designed to appeal to his ultra-right-wing political base. Jindal perhaps is best described as Ben Stein (the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) without the charisma.

Even when he does stray from his tightly-controlled script in an effort to draw a laugh, his efforts usually languish. In 2014, he made an appearance at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington and followed that the next night with an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and set up the same joke about Attorney General Eric Holder at both events by saying, “I see Eric Holder is with us…” The problem was Holder was not at CPAC (nor would he ever have been expected to be) and the gag fell embarrassingly flat (cue the chirping crickets).

A good politician, like a good standup comic, always knows his audience. Lyndon Johnson once said he had no use for any politician who, thirty seconds after entering a room, could not tell who was for him and who was against him. Lyndon Johnson would have no use for Jindal. Nor would Edwin Edwards who could always be counted on for a quip appropriate to the crowd or the event. No one but Edwards would, after getting a hug from a nun in Monroe, dare say something like, “Careful, Sister, I don’t want to get into any habits.” Nor could Jindal ever get away with saying (as did Edwards) the only way he could lose an election (against David Duke in 1991) would to be “caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy.”

Instead, when Jindal talks, he comes across as stilted and decidedly wooden, inflexible. He cannot speak off the cuff; everything is rehearsed, which is why every speech sounds like all the others. He is unnatural and exhibits absolutely no understanding—or compassion—for the single working mom, for the working poor unable to afford health care insurance, or for the tax burden of the middle class, a result of his generous tax breaks to business and industry. His limp handshake only serves to underscore his disdain for pressing the flesh (to borrow a term from LBJ).

His railing against Washington and President Barrack Obama is vaguely reminiscent of Robert F. Kennon in his run for a second term as governor in 1963. I spent a day with Kennon in 1983 and he relayed an interesting story to me. He had crisscrossed the state during the ’63 campaign, repeating his familiar slogan: “Send Kennon to Baton Rouge and (President) Kennedy back to Massachusetts.” The slogan caught fire and Kennon surged to the lead in the polls ahead of key rival New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison (that would be “Dellasoups,” to Uncle Earl). Public Service Commissioner John McKeithen, meanwhile, slogged along with his own aw-shucks slogan: “Won’t you he’p me?” Then, on November 22, the eve of the governor’s election, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and overnight, public opinion was turned on its head. Kennon was out, McKeithen finished second to Morrison and then won in a runoff. “Kennedy’s assassination beat me,” he told me 20 years later.

I also spent an entire day as a young newspaper reporter in 1971 riding with McKeithen near the end of his second term as he toured the LSU agriculture station in Homer in Claiborne Parish prior to an address to the local chamber of commerce that night. The tour was not one of those events where the politician breezes in, shakes a couple of hands and departs, leaving it to his press office to call it a “tour.” Instead, McKeithen, fascinated with innovations at the Ag station, spent the entire day learning about how the station personnel managed to get productive timberland to serve the dual purpose of grazing land for the farm’s cattle. “I’ve never seen cattle graze in timberland,” said McKeithen, himself a cattle rancher.

And during McKeithen’s entire visit at Homer that day, there was not a state trooper security detail anywhere in sight. Not one. Zilch. Jindal, on the other hand, never goes anywhere without a coterie of state police security, even during his presidential run which has taken him out of Louisiana for more than 45 percent of his final years as governor—all at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Even in retirement, John McKeithen kept the common touch. In the late 1980s, I resided next door to his son, Secretary of State Fox McKeithen. The younger McKeithen had a pecan tree in his front yard and on many mornings when I walked outside to retrieve my Baton Rouge Advocate, there would be Big John walking around the yard picking up pecans. Somehow, it’s just impossible to conjure up an image of Bobby Jindal walking around picking up pecans off the ground. He’d almost certainly have a state trooper from his security detail performing that task.

Jimmie Davis not only was an immensely popular singer, but a spellbinding storyteller as well. He told a great one about Edwards. When Davis left office in 1964, he built a new home behind the governor’s mansion. Both the Davis home and the governor’s mansion were across the lake from the State Capitol and Davis said once he was in his back yard “knocking down dirt dauber nests, wasp nests, pulling weeds and killing snakes,” out of the corner of his eye he caught then-Governor Edwards strolling purposely toward the lake. As he watched, he suddenly realized that Edwards was intent on walking to the Capitol…across the lake. “He’s going to try to walk on the lake,” Davis thought. Sure enough, Edwards did indeed begin walking across the lake and made it about halfway before suddenly sinking. “There wasn’t anything I could do,” Davis said, “but walk out there, pull him up out of the water and carry him the rest of the way.”

We can thank Davis, by the way, for the Sunshine Bridge over the Mississippi River at Donaldsonville, for the current governor’s mansion, and for the implementation of civil service as protection of state employees from political patronage.

As a political junkie, I have followed Louisiana’s governors all the way back to Uncle Earl. I vividly remember Earl’s mental breakdown, his commitment to a couple of mental hospitals and his subsequent escapes. I recall his defeat of incumbent U.S. Rep. Harold McSween in 1960 only to die of heart failure ten days later. As a teenager, I read every book about Huey and Earl Long that I could lay my hands on. Rather than cut funding for services, Huey increased the miles of paved highways in Louisiana from 300 to 3,000. Rather than deprive the poor of health care, he built Big Charity Hospital in New Orleans that operated as a teaching hospital for Tulane and LSU medical schools while providing care for the poor. Instead of slashing appropriations for higher education, Huey made LSU a top tier university. Jindal, hell-bent on cutting taxes for industry and the rich, allowed the state’s infrastructure to crumble. He denied Medicaid expansion, thus depriving 300,000 of the state’s poor adequate medical care. Budget cuts under Jindal’s leadership proved disastrous to higher education, forcing tuition increases that were unaffordable to low income students.

But after all is said and done, it was Earl Long who was the real visionary. Jindal beats his chest, refusing to accept Medicaid expansion. He fought Common Core, defiantly boasting that he would not allow Washington or the liberal media to sway him. But even as Mississippi’s Ross Barnett, Alabama’s George Wallace, and Arkansas’ Orville Faubus were pledging “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Earl saw the writing on the wall early on and prepared for the future accordingly.

When Orleans Parish legislators approached him in the 1950s about locating a public university in New Orleans, Earl readily agreed—on one condition: the school would be open to whites and blacks alike. Higher education was integrated in Louisiana years before James Meredith entered Ole Miss and before George Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama. Rather than cutting education, Earl originated the hot lunch program in Louisiana’s public elementary and high schools, providing students affordable lunches—his proudest accomplishment.

Earl refused to take political advantage of the fever-pitch emotions that were boiling over in Baton Rouge over the desegregation fight with the federal government. His most famous confrontation was with Plaquemines Parish political boss Leander Perez, who refused to acknowledge the changing times and attempted to pass sweeping legislation in Baton Rouge to resist the growing tide of desegregation. “What’re you gonna do now, Leander?” Earl shouted at his nemesis at one point. “The feds have the A-bomb!”

Dave Treen, the quintessential Republican, who served as governor from 1980-1984, proposed a $450 million tax on oil and gas to hold the industry accountable for damage to the state’s coastal marshes. The Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL), which he said would place no undue burden on any individual or group, fell twelve votes short of the necessary two-thirds approval in the House after being vehemently opposed by oil and gas interests and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).

That stands in stark contrast to Jindal, who, beholden to the oil companies for their financial support of his political campaigns, was in bitter opposition to (and eventually succeeded in killing) a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) seeking to force the companies to restore the state’s damaged wetlands.

These are the personality and philosophical traits sorely lacking in Jindal’s psychological makeup. He cannot champion the working people of Louisiana—or America—in the manner of Huey Long. He could never negotiate the peace between warring factions the way in which Edwin Edwards could get both sides to comprise—and like it. Jindal, with his disconcerting rapid-fire speaking manner, is devoid of the ease with which Jimmie Davis could hold an entire room captive with his homespun humor. His response to Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009 proved that beyond any doubt. He could never be relaxed after more than five minutes of visiting something as ordinary as an agricultural station in north Louisiana but McKeithen, on the other hand, was right at home. Earl may have had mental issues, but even in his deteriorated emotional state, he stood head and shoulders above Jindal in his ability—and willingness—to do for people what they could not do for themselves.

There does not exist a hole sufficiently deep to bury the differences between Jindal and any one of those six governors. To somehow think he is presidential timber is simply beyond comprehension. He would be wise to consider the human element of leadership over any poll results.

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Sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder what the hell our governor and our legislators are thinking when they make laws and stake out political positions on controversial topics like, say, meaningful legislation that would keep the mentally unstable prone to violence from obtaining weapons.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in that Lafayette movie theater that left two victims and the gunman dead and seven others wounded, Bobby Jindal opined that it was “not the time” to discuss the “politics” of Louisiana’s gun laws. For Bobby and his ilk (read: right-wing, neo-fascist, stand-your-ground idiots), there is never a right time to discuss such trite matters as Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or Lafayette’s Grand Theater.

Anything approaching legislation aimed at keeping guns away from the mentally disturbed or hate-consumed racists is anathema to those who cater to the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their demented, all-encompassing defense of the sacred Second Amendment.

JINDAL RECEIVING RIFLE FROM NRA

JINDAL RECEIVING GIFT RIFLE FROM NRA

A florist is required to obtain a license to sell flowers in Louisiana—even as the Brady Campaign’s “scorecard” on gun control ranked Louisiana the second-worst state in the U.S. in terms of laws designed to prevent gun violence. And that was in 2013, long before the Lafayette assault.

The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has carte blanche to harass dentists for such infractions of publishing advertising of prohibited size or font, “violations” that in several cases have resulted in fines of six figures and which have literally put some dentists out of business. Meanwhile, Louisiana has the second highest firearm death rate and the highest gun-related homicide rate in America—even before the Lafayette shootings by John Houser.

Inspectors for the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology are allowed to barge into Vietnamese-owned nail salons, order everyone to freeze and proceed to pull out drawers and open cabinets searching for God knows what and to impose steep fines for vague infractions in much the same manner as the Board of Dentistry, all the while informing the Vietnamese operators that they are subject to “different rules for you guys.” But for some strange reason known only to the NRA and ALEC lapdogs like Jindal, Louisiana does not require private gun sellers (who, by the way, are not licensed dealers) to initiate background checks when transferring a firearm.

JINDAL RECEIVING GUN

JINDAL EXAMINING WEAPON DURING IOWA CAMPAIGN STOP

Police officers from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Providence to Lake Charles, may (and often do) pull you over for the life endangering violation of not having an illuminated license plate (yep, gotta have a working light bulb over your license plate or you could get a ticket). But if you happen to have a gun in your vehicle when you’re pulled over….well, that’s okay provided you have a concealed carry permit.

Bobby Jindal and his NRA buddies in the Louisiana Legislature are all about the freedom to own and carry weapons and in 2010, Jindal even signed into law a bill (HB 1272) by Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) that allows you to pack heat in a church, mosque, synagogue or any other house of worship. At the same time, Jindal has consistently cut funding for mental health care in Louisiana and even closed one mental health facility in New Orleans and privatized Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. The Florida company chosen to run the facility, Meridian Behavioral Health Systems, was found to have deficiencies serious enough to threaten its eligibility to continue participation in Medicare.

JINDAL AND WIFE WITH GUNS

A FAMILY THAT SHOOTS TOGETHER….

Jindal sent out a Christmas card last December that featured a photo of the entire family clad in cammo and he has attached himself to the gun-totin’ Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame in a way that is almost creepy. State Sen. Neil Riser even authored a bill (SB 178) that would give firearms dealers permission to offer voter registration forms at the point of sale, sending the clear message that voting (Republican, we assume) and the right to own a gun are somehow related and more important than curbing the homicide rate of say, Baton Rouge, which recently had a murder rate higher than that of Chicago. Yet, the Jindal administration rammed through its “deliberative process” catch-all bill in its 2008 “transparency” legislation that makes records of his office off limits to public scrutiny. Moreover, his Division of Administration, as well as other statewide agencies like the LSU Board of Supervisors, continue to throw up barriers to media access of public records.CHRISTMAS CARD

JINDAL FAMILY’S 2014 CHRISTMAS CARD (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

But, Jindal continues to call for prayers and hugs in response to mass killings and to resist any dialogue on such divisive matters as curbing one’s right to defend life and property—no matter that the nation’s murder rate far outpaces the rate of self-defense shootings.

You see, now is just “not the time” to make political points.

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