Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category

Here’s the political shocker of the year: Gov. Bobby Jindal says that the Republican Party would be better off selecting a governor as its 2016 presidential nominee.

Wow. Who saw that coming?

Jindal might wish to ask former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney how that scenario worked out for him.

Wonder how Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida feel about that little snub?

Better yet, wonder who he had in mind? Gosh, there are so many: Chris Christie of New Jersey, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Rick Perry of Texas whom Jindal was quick to endorse a couple of years ago before Perry’s political machine sputtered and died on some lonely back road. Then there are those former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of neighboring Arkansas, and Sarah what’s-her-name up there in Alaska.

Oh, right. We almost forgot because well…he’s just so forgettable, but there’s also Jindal who recently placed about 12th in a 10-person straw poll at that wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But he’s running. You betcha (sorry, Palin, we couldn’t resist). He is so intent in his as yet unannounced candidacy that he has already drafted his own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Presidential candidates are usually expected to exhibit voter empathy and to be spellbinding orators who are capable of mesmerizing of voters en masse. John Kennedy comes immediately to mind. So do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I mean, after Clinton took two steps toward that audience member in his debate against President Bush the First in 1992 and said, “I feel your pain,” Bush never had a chance. Clinton looked that voter dead in the eye and spoke one-on-one as Bush was checking his watch.

Jindal has all the empathy of Don Rickles, but without the charisma.

As for oratory skills, to borrow a line from a recent Dilbert comic strip, he should be called the plant killer: when he speaks, every plant in the room dies from sheer boredom.

So much for his strong points: let’s discuss his shortcomings.

Jindal believes—is convinced—he is presidential timber. The truth is he has been a dismal failure at running a state for the past six years and he’s already written off the final two as he ramps up his campaign for POTUS.

Yes, we’ve been beset by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav. Yes, we had the BP spill. All of those provided Jindal valuable face time on national TV and still he trails the pack and when you’re not the lead dog in the race, the view never changes.

Because of those catastrophes, the state has been the recipient of billions of federal dollars for recovery. Nine years later, Jindal cronies still hold multi-million contracts (funded by FEMA) to oversee “recovery” that is painfully slow. The state received hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild schools in New Orleans. Construction on many of those schools has yet to commence. The money is there but there are no schools. (Correction: Largely white Catholic schools have received state funding and those facilities are up and running.)

Jindal tried to restructure the state’s retirement system—and failed. Yes, the retirement systems have huge unfunded liabilities but Jindal’s solution was to pull the rug from under hard-working civil servants (who by and large, do make less than their counterparts in the private sector: you can look it up, in the words of Casey Stengel). As an example, one person whom we know was planning to retire after 30 years. At her present salary, if she never gets another raise over the final eight years she plans to work, her retirement would be $39,000 per year.

Under Jindal’s proposed plan, if she retired after 30 years, her retirement would have been $6,000—a $33,000-a-year hit. And state employees do not receive social security.

Never mind that state employees have what in essence is a contract: he was going to ram it down their throats anyway—until the courts told him he was going to do no such thing.

He has gutted higher education and his support of the repeal of the Stelly Plan immediately after taking office has cost the state a minimum of $300 million a year—$1.8 billion during his first six years in office.

He even vetoed a renewal of a 5-cent per pack cigarette tax because he opposed any new taxes (try following that logic). The legislature, after failing to override his veto, was forced to pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to make the tax permanent. Voters easily approved the amendment.

Then there was the matter of the Minimum Foundation Program, the funding formula for public schools. Funds were going to be taken from the MFP to fund school vouchers until the courts said uh-uh, you ain’t doing that either.

Jindal’s puppets, the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, fired the school’s president and two outstanding and widely admired doctors—all because they didn’t jump on board Jindal’s and the board’s LSU hospital privatization plan. Then the stuporvisors voted to turn two LSU medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe over to a foundation run by a member of the stuporvisors—and the member cast a vote on the decision. No conflict of interest there.

Six months after the transition, the Center for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS) has yet to approve the transition and if it ultimately does not approve it, there will be gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth in Baton Rouge (That’s right: the administration won’t be able to do that correctly, either) because of the millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding that the state will not get or will have to repay. Jindal will, of course, label such decision as “wrong-headed,” which is an intellectual term he learned as a Rhodes Scholar.

And from what we hear, his little experiment at privatizing Southeast Louisiana Hospital (SELH) in Mandeville by bringing in Magellan to run the facility isn’t fairing too well, either.

By the way, has anyone seen Jindal at even one of those north Louisiana Protestant churches since his re-election? Didn’t think so.

For some reason, the word repulsive keeps coming to mind as this is being written.

Jindal’s firings and demotions are too many to rehash here but if you want to refresh your memory, go to this link: http://louisianavoice.com/category/teague/

The LSU Board of Stuporvisors, by the way, even attempted to prevent a release of a list of potential candidates for the LSU presidency. One might expect that member Rolf McCollister, a publisher (Baton Rouge Business Report), would stand up for freedom of the press, for freedom of information and for transparency. One would be wrong. He joined the rest of the board to unanimously try to block release. Again, led as usual by legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth who has been paid more than $1 million to defend these dogs (dogs being the name given to terrible, indefensible legal cases), Jindal was shot down in flames by the courts and the Board of Stuporvisors is currently on the hook for some $50,000 in legally mandated penalties for failing to comply with the state’s public records laws.

It would be bad enough if the administration’s legal woes were limited to the cases already mentioned. But there is another that while less costly, is far more embarrassing to Jindal if indeed, he is even capable of embarrassment at this point (which he probably is not because it’s so hard to be humble when you’re right all the time).

In a story we broke more than a year ago, former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner Murphy Painter refused to knuckle under to Tom Benson and Jindal when Benson’s application for a liquor license for Champions Square was incomplete both times it was submitted. Budweiser even offered an enticement for gaining approval of a large tent and signage it wanted to erect in Champions Square for Saints tailgate parties: a $300,000 “contribution” to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome), whose board is heavily stacked with Jindal campaign contributors.




Jindal fired Painter. Because firing him for doing his job might be bad press, more solid grounds were sought and Painter was subsequently arrested for sexual harassment of a female employee and of using a state computer database to look up personal information on people not tied to any criminal investigation (something his successor Troy Hebert ordered done on LouisianaVoice Publisher Tom Aswell).

The female employee recanted but Painter nevertheless was put on trial and once more the Jindalites were embarrassed when Painter was acquitted on all 29 counts. Unanimously.

But wait. When a public official is tried—and acquitted—for offenses allegedly committed during the scope of his duties (the Latin phrase is “in copum official actuum”) then Louisiana law permits that official to be reimbursed for legal expenses.

In this case, Jindal’s attempt to throw a state official under the bus for the benefit of a major campaign donor (Benson and various family members), will wind up costing the state $474,000 for Painter’s legal fees and expenses, plus any outstanding bills for which he has yet to be invoiced.

So, after all is said and done, Jindal still believes he is qualified for the highest office in the land. He is convinced he should be elevated to the most powerful position in the world. If he has his way, it won’t be an inauguration; it’ll be a coronation.

So intoxicated by the very thought of occupying the White House is he that he has presumed to author a 26-page white paper that not only critiques Obamacare but apparently details his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Could that qualify as another exorcism on his part?

His epiphany, however, appears to be more akin to the Goldfinch that regurgitates food for its young nestlings than anything really new; it’s just a rehash of old ideas, it turns out.

During his entire administration—and even when he served as Gov. Mike Foster’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals—he devoted every waking moment to cutting Medicaid and depriving Louisiana’s poor citizens of health care. Even as head of DHH, according to campaign ads aired on the eve of the 2003 gubernatorial election, he made a decision which proved fatal to a Medicaid patient. That one campaign ad was aired so close to the election date that he was unable to respond and it no doubt contributed to his losing the election to then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco but he won four years later.

Nevertheless, his sudden interest in national health care prompts the obvious question: where the hell has he been for six years?

Not that we would for a moment believe that his newfound concern for healthcare is for political expedience but he apparently isn’t stopping there as he sets out to save the nation.

“This (health care plan) is the first in a series of policies I will offer through America Next (his newly established web page he expects to catapult him into the White House) over the course of this year,” he said.

We can hardly wait.


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Could Bobby Jindal possibly embarrass himself any more than he did on Monday?

Could he possibly have revealed himself any more of a calloused, uncaring hypocrite than he did on Monday?

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills. http://theadvocate.com/news/8440065-123/blind-vendors-jindals-office-spar

That trust fund has shrunk from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration finds itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that has sucked up $365,000 in legal fees, of which the state is responsible for 21 percent, or $76,650.

(I worked for the Office of Risk Management for 20 years and $365,000 in legal fees is not unreasonable for a major lawsuit that involves significant injuries or death where liability is in question. But $365,000 in attorney bills in a lawsuit over who gets to run the cafeteria, a commissary and a grocery store would seem to be a tad high—even for the law firm Shows, Cali, Berthelot and Walsh, which is representing the state under a $500,000 contract with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.)

Rubbing salt into the wounds is the fact that the Blind Vendors Committee, which is supposed to have a say in policy decisions, has been left out of the loop over the Fort Polk controversy.

Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, justified the hiring of private attorneys to defend the litigation by saying his office’s staff attorneys are too busy to handle the contract lawsuit.

That brings up two questions:

  • Busy doing what?
  • And isn’t this the same administration that pitched a hissy fit when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East contracted with a private attorney to seek damages from 97 oil companies for destroying the Louisiana wetlands?

But back to the boy blunder. Jindal turns his back on a minimum wage increase for the working poor to stand outside the White House to chat up the Keystone pipeline which would have the potential of generating $100 billion in profit for Charles and David Koch?

Today’s (Wednesday) Baton Rouge Advocate ran this editorial cartoon that is certain to become a classic in that it symbolizes the defining moment of the Jindal administration:


Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that.” And by “better,” he was referring to the Keystone pipeline which he said Obama would approve if he were “serious about growing the economy.”

Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy almost pushed Jindal aside in his eagerness to take the microphone to say, “Wait a second. Until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road. So let me just say that we don’t all agree that moving Canadian oil through the United States is necessarily the best thing for the United States economy.” He said Jindal’s “white flag” comment was the most partisan of the weekend conference and that many governors, unlike Jindal, support an increase in the minimum wage.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, was a bit blunter, calling Jindal a “cheap shot artist” as he walked off the White House grounds.

Jindal, of course, wants to be president so badly that he is perfectly willing to sell his soul to the Koch brothers and their organizations Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the apparent hope that some of their AFP money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

AFP is the same super PAC that recently hired professional actors to pose as Louisiana citizens claiming that Obamacare is hurting their families. The merits of lack thereof of Obamacare aside, this is politics at its very sleaziest and our governor is in bed with them.

But this is perfectly in keeping with his character as governor. He has attempted to rob state employees of their retirement benefits. He has attempted to destroy public education with a full frontal attack on teachers. His administration has handed out huge no-bid contracts to consultants as if they were beads at a Mardi Gras parade. He has handed over the state’s charity hospital system to private concerns, including two facilities that went to a member of his LSU Board of Stuporvisors. He has run roughshod over higher education. He has fired appointees and demoted legislators who dared think for themselves. He has refused to expand Medicaid despite living in a state with one of the highest number of citizens lacking medical insurance. He has crisscrossed the country making silly speeches designed only to promote his presidential ambitions by keeping his name before the public. He has written countless op-ed pieces and appeared on network TV news shows for the same purpose.

And still, whenever the pundits start listing the potential Republican presidential contenders for 2016, he name never appears as a blip on their radar. Even Sarah Palin’s name pops up now and then but never Jindal’s.

Even readers of his favorite political blog, The Hayride, which among other things 1), recently featured an infomercial touting a sure-fire cancer cure and 2), got taken in by a hoax video depicting an eagle swooping down and trying to grab an infant in a park, seem to hold Jindal in low regard. A couple of weeks ago The Hayride conducted its own poll of potential Republican candidates for president in 2016.

Here are their results:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz: 39.9 percent;
  • Sen. Rand Paul: 20.7 percent;
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 10.1 percent;
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: 5.8 percent;
  • Other/Undecided: 24.9 percent.

That’s it. No Jindal. And this from a decidedly pro-Jindal Louisiana political blog. We can only assume he may have shown up somewhere among the 24.9 percent undecided. But this much we do know: he was beaten by Sarah Palin.

At this point, we don’t need a poll to tell us that Jindal would be far better suited as the auctioneer in that GEICO commercial or as the disclaimer voice at the end of those pharmaceutical ads that tell us how we could all die from side effects of the drug that’s being advertised to help with our medical malady—or perhaps even better as the really rapid fire voice that absolutely no one on earth can understand at the end of those automobile commercials.

He has, after all, been auditioning for the part for six years now.

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“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public officials and employees perform the public business in a manner which serves to promote and maintain in the general citizenry a high level of confidence and trust in public officials, public employees, and governmental decisions. The attainment of this end is impaired when a public official or employee holds two or more public offices or public jobs which by their particular nature conflict with the duties and interests of each other. The attainment of a high level of confidence and trust by the general citizenry in public officials, employees, and governmental decisions is further impaired by the excessive accumulation of governmental power which may result from public officials or employees holding two or more public offices or public jobs.”* (Emphasis added.)

*[Louisiana R.S. 42:61 Part III. Dual Officeholding and Dual Employment]

“Except as otherwise provided by the Louisiana constitution, no person holding office or employment in one branch of the state government shall at the same time hold another office or employment in any other branch of the state government.”**

**[Louisiana R.S. 42:63(B) Prohibitions]

“The governor or his designee, when serving as a member of a state agency, commission, or other state entity in accordance with a provision of the constitution, laws, resolutions, or executive order of this state.”***

***[Louisiana R.S. 42:63(F. Exemptions)]

So there you have it. Scott Angelle, former Secretary of Natural Resources under Gov. Bobby Jindal who resigned when the heat got a little too intense over the issue of the ever-expanding Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish to run for the Public Service Commission in hopes of becoming the fifth PSC member to use that office as a springboard to the governor’s office is able to serve concurrently as a member of the LSU Board of Stuporvisors by virtue of a generous loophole in the state law which allows Jindal to consolidate his power even more.

Why else would he leave a $129,000-a-year post for one that pays about a third of that—$45,000—other than the mounting pressure of the Bayou Corne sinkhole on his office?

Angelle was elected on Nov. 7, 2012 to succeed Jimmy Fields in representing the 3rd Congressional District. Exactly three months earlier, on Aug. 7, 2012, Jindal appointed Angelle to the LSU Board. If voters expected him to relinquish his LSU Board seat after joining the PSC, they were sadly mistaken.

Legally, he is fully within his rights; state law clearly makes exceptions for the simultaneous holding of part-time elective and appointive positions, a full-time elective and a part-time appointive or vice-versa in different agencies so long as they do not conflict.

In this case, both the LSU Board of Stuporvisors and the Public Service Commission offices are considered part time.

But apparently, that one obscure disclaimer about “the excessive accumulation of governmental power which may result from public officials or employees holding two or more public offices or public jobs” means little to this administration.

Jindal and Angelle can always claim (correctly) that the two part time positions he holds in state government do not conflict with each other. Even by employing the greatest scenario stretch imaginable, it is impossible to see an occasion where the two positions could conflict.

And Jindal and Angelle can always claim (again, correctly) that they are in full compliance with the dual officeholding/dual employment law. No one is arguing that point. The law, like the state’s ethics laws, is full of loopholes and exemptions.

But does that make it right? Not, in our opinion, when Jindal’s actions are compared to his self-serving utterances.

In the spirit of Jindal’s oft-expressed ad nauseam claim (in speeches in other states but never in Louisiana) of presiding over the most ethical administration in Louisiana history and of having the most transparent and accountable administration ever, one might think he would be loath to skirt the spirit of the law just for the sake of building onto his power base. One might even think he would go to great lengths to make sure there could be no questions as to his motives or his political ambitions. One might think he would insist that his administration be above reproach.

One would be wrong on all three counts.

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When they were competing for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, George Bush referred to Ronald Reagan’s economic platform as “voodoo economics.” When he lost to the Gipper and was named as Reagan’s running mate, Bush called himself a convert.

Well, we at LouisianaVoice are far from converted and the first wave of savings for state government rolled out by Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) can only be called doo-doo economics. In fact, the laundry list of so-called “savings” waved under the noses of the media by Minister of Propaganda Kristy Nichols leaves us even more skeptical of the now $5 million A&M contract than before.

That’s right. A&M has done such a wonderful job that its contract has been amended from the original $4.2 million to $5 million.

And Nichols’ dog and pony show is not only a clumsy effort to make an ill-advised contract look attractive, it’s downright insulting to taxpayers’ intelligence. It’s also an embarrassing admission that the Jindal team simply is not up to the task of running the state.

When she was caught “misspeaking” when she told legislators that the contract guaranteed a $500 million savings in four months—the $500 million was mentioned in the firm’s cover letter but not in the contract—she said the contract would be amended to say that. Well, apparently that little correction cost an additional $800,000. That wasn’t the way we interpreted “amended.”

Let’s face it: if she truly “misspoke” in proclaiming the contract guaranteed a $500 million savings, she should never have been given the responsibility of holding the state’s purse strings; she’s utterly and completely unqualified to hold her job. If, on the other hand, she simply lied to legislators, she should be summarily fired. What’s next, blocking the access ramp to the Sunshine Bridge so Troy Landry can’t get to Pierre Parte?

Compared to this administration, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is an unimaginative moron when it comes to creative ways to fool some of the people even some of the time.

In releasing the list, Nichols bubbled that the contract has already paid for itself in its first month in finding more than $4 million in savings. But, realistically speaking, we should expect nothing else from this administration. Gov. Bobby Jindal is so adept at misdirection, that should his presidential bid fall short, he can fall back on a second career as a stage magician. Let’s compare the “news” releases on the governor’s web page against the facts: http://www.gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=home&navID=3&cpID=0&catID=2

  • Guv: “Louisiana marks sixth consecutive year of population in-migration.”
  • Fact: Our friend Elliott Stonecipher provided figures from the U.S. Census Bureau that show the state’s out-migration from July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013 resulted in a loss of 2,492 people. If we have had, as Jindal insists, six straight years of gains, how is it that the state has gone from eight congressional districts to seven and more recently, to six congressional districts?
  • Guv: “Governor Jindal announces funding hike for higher education and new workforce incentive fund.”
  • Fact: While Jindal trumpets a $141.5 million funding increase for higher ed, Bob Mann correctly points out that $88 million of that is in the form of increased tuition. “Jindal will generously allow students and their parents to pay more to attend college and will magnanimously permit those schools to keep the money,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/
  • Guv: Everything in Louisiana is either great or on the upswing (from various news releases).
  • Fact: Just examine the contents of this link. http://710keel.com/louisiana-and-arkansas-among-worst-states-in-america/

So you see the trend here and it’s certainly no surprise that the Kristy Nichols “fact sheet” more closely resembles bull sheet. It seems, from the calculations provided, that Louisiana may have already joined the states of Colorado and Washington in legalizing pot. Somebody in charge seems to be smoking something.

The first month’s A&M submissions and the projected savings and our observations (in parentheses) include:

  • Electronic visit verification of at-home visits—$500,000. (First of all, what agency is this for? Second, how is this “savings” quantified? Just tossing figures out there doesn’t cut it.);
  • Curtail unnecessary spending on high cost pharmaceuticals through case management—$154,000. (Where is the Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Kathy Kliebert? Shouldn’t she have been doing this already?);
  • Cut duplication in health care treatment through elimination of preprocessing claims—$750,000. (See previous if A&M is directing this at DHH. If it’s the Office of Group Benefits, more on that momentarily.);
  • New rate structure for patients requiring less attention than acute care but more than nursing home patients—$300,000. (Translation: cut medical benefits to the poor.);
  • Holding pediatric day care facility owners and operators accountable for management—$154,000. (You mean we weren’t doing that already either? And please explain how this constitutes a savings.);
  • Increasing occupancy bed rates—$2.5 million. (Say what? First of all, bed rates for what facilities? Second, we thought A&M was looking for savings, not increased revenue. Doesn’t that constitute a tax increase? And isn’t Jindal opposed to tax increases, even renewal of cigarette taxes? No, wait, this would be like the tuition increases, wouldn’t it? Not a tax increase, a fee increase. Different, right? Right. Got it.

We’re guessing the pea is under shell number two.

As the finale of her show and tell, Nichols proclaimed that A&M will work with the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) to find ways to make the agency more efficient.

Way to go, guys. You elbow your way in to take over what was very possibly the most efficient, well-run agency in the state to set up a revolving door of CEOs, a disappearing reserve fund balance and for the first time in many years, delays in paying claims. So now you bring in A&M to make things better—the same A&M that said the state should fire 7,500 New Orleans public school teachers following Hurricane Katrina. The state did, the teachers sued and the teachers won and now the state owes $1.5 billion as a result.

We took the four-year $5 million contract, subtracted 464 days for weekends and holidays and came up with a cost of something slightly north of $63,600 per day for A&M’s contract. At that rate, they better not be taking coffee and lunch breaks.

In unveiling his FY15 budget last week, Jindal released a nifty little PowerPoint presentation that showed the number of authorized positions in state government that had been cut during FY14. Not all the cuts resulted in layoffs, of course, because some positions that were eliminated were already vacant and there were also retirements that were not filled.

The figures show that 10,088 positions have been eliminated during the current fiscal year. Of that number 946 were in DHH, 5,998 in the Health Care Services Division, and another 2,209 were in higher education.

But wait. That same PowerPoint shows that the Executive Department (that would be the governor’s office) added 60 positions. Wait. What? Added 60 positions? So much for Jindal’s demand of state employees to do more with less.

Civil Service records show that within the Division of Administration (DOA) alone, there are 64 positions that pay $100,000 or more—a total of more than $6.8 million. Nine more, including Jindal, who work in the governor’s office, earn in excess of $100,000 per year for a total of another $1.3 million. The two highest paid are Chief of Staff Paul Rainwater ($204,400) and Ray Stockstill, listed as Director for Planning and Budget ($180,000).

Stockstill previously worked in DOA as State Director for Planning and Budget before being named Assistant Commissioner in February of 2010. He retired from that $180,000 position, effective Christmas Day of 2010 and returned to his previous position as a re-hire two days later, thus allowing him to draw retirement in addition to the $180,000 he is being paid.

Those lofty numbers do not include other employees listed in the governor’s office but who work in such areas as the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) or the Office of Financial Institutions.

So, in the spirit of economy, here’s a rock-solid suggestion that is certain to save the state a boatload of money:

Bring the A&M suits into the governor’s office and DOA, give them a mandate to cut 50 percent of that $8.1 million—not necessarily layoffs but just tell those 73 people, including the governor, to do more with less—less salary, that is. Let those administrators who are so eager to throw the rank and file employees to the curb learn firsthand what sacrifice is all about. We’re certain that with the teeming civic spirit that oozes from the fourth floor of the State Capitol, there would be unanimous consent.

That, Ms. Nichols, really would make the A&M contract pay for itself.

Now just sit back and hold your breath until that happens.

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Between the lies, former supporters separating themselves from him and promises of opposition by appointees, things aren’t looking up for Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Even some legislators who formerly were loyal lapdogs for the governor have learned that they have teeth and they are beginning to growl.

And from our perspective, it’s a beautiful day when Jindal and his misrepresentations are finally be called out for what they are: lies.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was too busy to address a questioning reporter but her mouthpiece, Greg Dupuis, said she misspoke (a euphemism for lied) when she told legislators that a $500 million minimum savings was included in the verbiage of the 80-page request for proposals (RFP) for a contract was subsequently awarded to the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal at a price of $4.2 million. dt.common.streams.StreamServer

Instead, it turns out, the only mention of $500 million was contained only in the firm’s cover letter, which is not legally binding.

Now Nichols, apparently holding the fort down alone while her boss is on an industry-seeking trip to Asia, says the contract will be amended. http://theadvocate.com/home/8138286-125/jindal-administration-promises-to-amend

She said it, however, only after a barrage of criticism from legislators who expressed everything from disappointment to outright doubt to rare criticism—by Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), no less—of Jindal’s secrecy in awarding the contract without informing lawmakers. http://theadvocate.com/home/8131113-125/much-vaunted-savings-not-included

Sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes,” said Ruth Johnson, assistant commissioner for statewide services.

Chief skeptic in residence C.B. Forgotston, however, dredged up some old Jindal campaign promises which tend to fly in the face of such logic.

Forgotston cited this Jindal utterance taken from his campaign brochure on state finances:

  • “Government spending is not just about writing checks to anyone and everyone. It is about being a responsible steward of the public’s money. It is about holding public officials and recipients accountable for the financial decisions they make on our behalf. It is about making sound fiscal priorities and sticking to them.

And extracted from that same brochure:

  • “Identify and recruit top-caliber cabinet secretaries.”
  • “All appointments must be talented, articulate, experienced managers that can consistently deliver desired outcomes while reducing costs wherever possible.”

The question then becomes, Forgotston said, “If the consulting report finds savings in the state departments under Jindal’s jurisdiction…we will hold Jindal accountable?

C.B. has a refreshing way of cutting through all the bureaucratic gooneybabble and getting right to the heart of an issue. http://forgotston.com/

Carrying his not-so-rhetorical question even further, should we hold Nichols accountable for the supposed oversight and subsequent lying…er, misstatement to the legislature about a mythical $500 million savings?

One former supporter of Jindal—both from a philosophical and financial perspective—seems to think so.

A funeral certainly is an unusual, if not inappropriate, place to discuss politics but with so many current and former elected officials on hand for the services of Wiley Hilburn, the retired former head of the Louisiana Tech journalism department, it was almost inevitable that the subject of Jindal would find its way into the idle conversation. Funerals and weddings are, after all, major social functions at which, if only in passing, acquaintances are renewed, ideas are exchanged and common ground is explored.

After the services Sunday, as guests were milling around in front of the Presbyterian Church of Ruston, one former supporter, in a brief but revealing conversation, was unrestrained in his disgust with Jindal. There was no subtlety or coyness, no mincing of words.

Without identifying the person, let it suffice to say that considerable money made its way from his bank account—and that of his company and family members (all legal, in case anyone wonders) into the campaign coffers of Jindal and now the good governor won’t even take his phone calls.

That will turn an ally into an enemy faster than just about anything else. No benefactor takes being ignored lightly and this man said as much on Sunday. “I thought (Mike) Foster was flaky and (Kathleen) Blanco had her moments,” he said. “But this guy….he forgot why he was elected the moment he walked through those doors. He’s completely turned his back on this state while he pursues something else, whatever that might be.”

This from a one-time staunch supporter.

One doesn’t have to consider long and hard what Jindal’s other options might be as he flits across the breadth and depth of the country in an attempt to line up support for a presidential run—a run that has about as much chance as a one-legged man in a tap dancing contest. Jindal would be far more appealing in a twerking marathon than a presidential campaign. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have a better chance trying to cut in on commuters en route to Fort Lee during morning rush hour on the George Washington Bridge.

Of course, he is so obsessed with his quixotic quest that he doesn’t have a clue and those sycophants with whom he surrounds himself don’t have the stones to tell him. That or they are even more unrealistic in their rose colored glasses than he.

That arrogance could also prove to be a shocking lead-up to unpleasant surprises during his final two years in office as even some of his appointees—those from whom he demands unconditional loyalty and subservience—are muttering to themselves about a possible coup d’état.

Commenting on State Treasurer John Kennedy’s observation on last Friday’s Jim Engster Show on Baton Rouge’s public radio station that Jindal has gutted the budgets of higher education 67 percent since entering office, another attendee at Sunday’s funeral said, “We’re going to have to stand up against this guy. Higher ed can’t take any more hits.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if there will be follow through on the part of appointees and legislators.

But while they may have once been talking among themselves behind closed doors and never openly, they now are airing their complaints in a more public manner.

Like sharks circling in the waters, they may finally smell blood.

That could make the next two years both turbulent and interesting.

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Besides my grandfather, whom I consider the greatest man I ever knew and who greatly influenced my personal life, two other men have had an equally tremendous impact on my professional life.

In 1966, tired of climbing poles for the telephone company because it was far too much like work, I walked into the offices of the Ruston Daily Leader in response to an advertisement in the paper for an ad sales representative. It didn’t take publisher Tom Kelly long to realize I had no aptitude for sales and he soon “promoted” me to sports editor.

It was while serving in that capacity that I returned to the classroom, pursuing a major in physical education at Louisiana Tech University with the goal of becoming a baseball coach. It was also about that same time that Wiley Hilburn, only five years my senior, left his position at the Shreveport Times to return to his hometown of Ruston to head the Journalism Department at Tech. Seeing something in my writing that impressed him (I still don’t know what it was), he convinced me to abandon my aspirations of coaching baseball in favor of a journalism major. I often joked with him over the ensuing years that I might someday find it in my heart to forgive him.

It was those two men, Tom Kelly and Wiley Hilburn, who cajoled and encouraged me and molded and shaped my career as a writer. I owe the two of them a debt that can never be repaid.

Today, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2013, Wiley Hilburn died and on this day, I feel a void and a sadness much like the way I felt the day my grandfather died. Though deeply personal, I shall endeavor to share a little of what I know about him.

He had been battling cancer and we were told it was in remission. The news was all good until he recently developed pneumonia. That, along with his already weakened condition, was just too much for his 75-year-old body to endure and today one of my two mentors and a dear friend was ripped away and I feel cheated and empty inside.

During my return to Tech as a student, I left the Daily Leader and took a job with the larger, more regional Monroe Morning World (now the News-Star) where I primarily worked the editing desk laying out the pages and writing headlines. I was fairly proficient at writing headlines for the stories and in my concurrent headline writing class at Tech, Hilburn—deliberately, he confided in me later—always gave me wire stories that he thought would be difficult to write headlines for. “But you still always finished before anyone else in the class,” he would tell me later. “I would get so frustrated trying to challenge you.”

Hilburn loved jokes and he especially loved—and appreciated—practical jokes, even when he was the butt of the joke.

Once, when after graduation, I ran the Ruston Bureau for both the Morning World and the Shreveport Times, he dropped by my office to ask if I had any Times stationery. He said a group of Tech administrators that included Alex Boyd and Weldon Walker, among others whose names I don’t recall, were hand circulating a get-rich-quick chain letter on the Tech campus and he wanted to pull a prank on them.

Together, we crafted a letter to Tech President F. Jay Taylor, who was in on the plot from the beginning. The letter, ostensibly from Times Editor Raymond McDaniel, “informed” Taylor that the Times had become aware of the chain letter and while the perpetrators were not breaking the letter of the law since they were not using the mail to solicit investments, they were nonetheless violating the spirit of the law and that “our man in Ruston, Tom Aswell, will be investigating the matter.”

Taylor, himself a lover of practical jokes (I’ll get to his momentarily), dutifully called the men into his office. There were three or four of them and as Taylor read the letter aloud in the serious and deliberate tone that the circumstances dictated, each one saw his career flash before his eyes. Boyd, knees weak and visibly shaken, had to sit down and kept muttering that his career was finished. Kaput. Walker, however, was defiant. “Aswell wouldn’t do that to me! He’s a friend of mine!” Finally, Walker, ignorant of Wiley’s involvement and by now grasping at straws, hit upon the only obvious solution: “Get Hilburn in here! He’ll straighten this out! He worked for the Times!”

Playing the string out to the end, Taylor obligingly called Hilburn to his office and upon his arrival, he found the men in a collective state of despair. Unable to keep a straight face in the presence of such morose trepidation,  Wiley gave it all away by cracking up with laughter.

Far from amused, a furious Walker swore revenge and we knew he was serious.

A year or so later, right around Christmas, I had moved on to the Baton Rouge State-Times and in a moment of mischievous inspiration, called Walker. “You still want to get even with Hilburn?” I asked.

“Hell, yes.”

“Well, think about this for a classified ad in the Daily Leader: ‘Don’t throw that old Christmas tree away. We recycle and we will pay you for your old tree. Just drop it by (Hilburn’s address, then in the Cypress Springs subdivision in Ruston) with your name and address on a tag and we will mail you $5.’”

“I love it,” Weldon blurted. “I’m gonna do just that.” I was just as thrilled to be part of a plan to turn the tables on Hilburn because I, too, loved practical jokes—and still do.

That weekend, Betty and I traveled to Simsboro just seven miles west of Ruston to spend the weekend after Christmas with her parents. I immediately grabbed my mother-in-law’s Daily Leader issues and began looking for the ad. Nothing. Not a word. Zilch. Disappointed, I called Weldon and asked, “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happened,” he thundered. “You and that s.o.b. Hilburn are what happened! I’ll tell you one damned thing: I better not find one damned Christmas tree in my yard or it’s gonna be somebody’s ass!” I could almost see the veins bulging from his neck.

Thoroughly confused by now, I called Hilburn who, laughing and without prompting from me, informed me that Tom Kelly had intercepted the ad before it got into the paper and, recognizing Wiley’s address, called him in. Hilburn asked who took out the ad and when Kelly showed him, Wiley suggested that Weldon’s address be substituted and a single page proof be printed. Wiley then took the page proof and stuck it in Weldon’s mailbox and when Weldon saw that…well, it was far better than the original plan. Only after he was finished did I inform Wiley that I was in on the plan for Weldon’s revenge, all of which made the entire episode even more hysterical to both of us.

On another occasion, a July 4 weekend, I drove over to Canton, Texas, to attend the world’s largest flea market and returned with several antique typewriters and a fire truck siren—items I had absolutely no use for. Almost, anyway. One fine day, with nothing else to do, I wired the siren into the ignition of Wiley’s old red Volkswagen Beetle and then walked across the campus to the Wyly Tower and took the elevator up to Taylor’s office and told him what I’d done.

Without a word, he picked up the phone and dialed Hilburn’s office. “Wiley,” he said, “I’ve had my car in the shop and they just called to say it’s ready. Could you give me a ride to pick it up?”

“I’ll be right there,” Hilburn replied.

We laughed like high school sophomores as we listened to the wail of the siren as he drove across campus to pick up his boss and by the time he walked into the office, Taylor was in tears.

Wiley Hilburn loved life and he loved and kept up with his students. He could tell you where each of his former students were long after they had left Tech. And make no mistake about it, his students loved and respected him.

But as much as he loved life and those around him, his life was still incomplete: Regrettably, he never got to see his beloved Chicago Cubs win the World Series—or even play in one.

This morning, feeling somehow that the end was near, I sat down and composed the following in his honor. It’s not classic poetry but I believe it accurately—and adequately—conveys my sentiments:

The Coffins That Pass Me By

As I pass from middle age to my golden years,

And contemplate how time can fly,

It’s not the setting sun that brings the tears,

But the coffins that pass me by.


Whether ’twas friend or foe matters not a drip,

For one and all, life’s wells run dry;

And it’s not that I fear making that trip,

It’s those coffins that pass me by.


Friends and loved ones will pay their respects

As they share stories and laugh and cry;

And each one standing there quietly reflects

On the coffins that pass us by.


Whether ’tis loved one or stranger who goes on first,

Our own fate is to one day ride

On that dreaded journey we all have cursed

In that damned coffin that once passed us by.

Go in peace, my friend.

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When we wrote what we thought was a parody about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to privatize the LSU football program, little did we know the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation beat us to the punch—by a good six years.

Only they were dead serious.

Thanks to an alert reader who forwarded us a link to a Tampa Bay Times story from May of 2011, we learned that Koch, one-half of the infamous Koch brothers who are the primary benefactors of ALEC, had pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department way back in 2008 (How did we manage to miss this for so long?).

There was one major caveat, however: In exchange for his generosity, Koch received veto power over hiring decisions for the department.

But even the FSU endowment was not precedent-setting. Between 2007 and 2011, Koch and brother David were said to have given more than $30 million to various groups that negotiated deals with more than 200 universities throughout the U.S.

As Rachel Maddow of MSNBC correctly observed, naming rights to a stadium in exchange for an endowment is one thing, but purchasing faculty rights is something else altogether.


Maddow, while conceding the deal made perfect sense from Koch’s perspective, was still critical of state officials “crazy enough to let him do it.”

She said that Koch “gets to make sure his conservative billionaire economic ideas get taught and published and propagated under the brand name of something that is supposed to look like a university-level education.

“If you don’t like what the facts say, then write your own facts,” she said. “If you don’t like what independent scholarship looks like, then buy some.”

Normally, university benefactors have little input into who fills a chair that they endow. The unfettered power of university administrators to hire professors of their choosing is considered sacrosanct in academia.

Most universities, the University of Florida among them, have strict policies limiting donor input over the use of their gifts and Yale University once even returned a $20 million endowment when the donor wanted veto power over appointments. Such control was “unheard of,” the university said.

And technically speaking, Koch did not get direct authority over hiring decisions but he did receive authority to select members of an advisory committee that screens candidates which, it turns out, is just as good. A year after the grant was awarded, that advisory committee had rejected 60 percent of job applicants suggested by FSU faculty.

Author Jennifer Washburn called FSU’s capitulation to the siren song of the dollar “an egregious example of a public university being willing to sell itself for next to nothing.”

One of Koch’s favorites, George Mason University, has received more than $30 million over the past two decades. Koch also has underwritten faculty members who push his political beliefs at Clemson and West Virginia universities.

Bruce Benson, chairman of the FSU economics department, denies any suggestion that he agreed to the deal with Koch for economic reasons but did say he makes annual reports to Koch on faculty publications, speeches and classes. He says he has no concerns that agreements with Koch will encourage other donors to seek control over hiring or curriculum.

Yeah, right.

Koch is in political lock step with Florida Gov. Rick Scott who, in one of his first acts as governor, froze all new state business regulations and who has pushed for sweeping tax cuts.

Sound familiar?

The Koch brothers are also political allies of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who likes to tout bogus surveys and reports that make the state appear as the national pacesetter for robust economic health and job growth.

Again, sound familiar?

In fact, one discredited report by Arthur Laffer, who concocted the infamous Laffer Curve nearly 30 years ago, said that Wisconsin’s economic outlook had made a quantum leap in 2013, from 32nd in the nation to 15th. That would be great if only it were true.

But, as they say, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

It turns out Laffer’s annual report, Rich States, Poor States, is published and distributed by ALEC. Moreover, ALEC solicited funding to underwrite the report from two foundations—the Searle Freedom Trust ($175,000) and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation ($150,000).

The Koch brothers, by the way, control and run the latter.

The Laffer report, co-written by Wall Street Journal writer Stephen Moore and ALEC director of tax and fiscal policy Jonathan Williams, does not limit its favorable treatment to Wisconsin. Other states with Koch-friendly administrations tend to get the same glowing reports. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger published one of his reports last May with the headline trumpeting that Mississippi’s economic outlook ranked in the top 10 nationally. (Of course, both Mississippi and Louisiana also lead the nation in poverty, obesity, pay disparity between men and women, and the percentage of citizens without health care insurance.)

And Laffer’s report, while serving as a cheerleader for Wisconsin’s economic outlook which he said had jumped 17 spots, was less enthusiastic over data that showed the state’s economic performance moved up only one position, from 42nd to 41st. Obviously, then, there is a huge difference between economic outlook and actual economic performance. Laffer’s recommended formula for the state to improve on economic performance? Lower the state income tax rate for the wealthiest of the state’s citizens while slashing the corporate tax rate in the upcoming 2014 legislative session.

Not to belabor the point, but that should have a familiar ring to Louisiana citizens.

“This is not rocket surgery,” Laffer said. (Yes, he really said that.)

We suppose it’s really not rocket surgery. In fact, it all seems rather easy to comprehend: package your economic philosophy in institutions of higher learning and promote your political and economic agenda in cooperative state legislatures with friendly governors leading the charge.

Once those goals are accomplished, the Koch brothers, through ALEC and their newest organization, the Center for State Fiscal Reform and their corporate membership, can pretty much have their way with us.

And that, of course, would include the elimination of collective bargaining, doing away with the minimum wage, abolishing medical and retirement benefits, discarding worker safety rules, repeal of anything else that stands in the way of their agenda which also includes passage of increased deregulation of business and industry and even more corporate tax cuts.

First, there was Citizens United, and those criteria have already been met, thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Laffer’s words, it’s not rocket surgery.

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Just in time for the college football bowl season, Forbes magazine has rated the LSU football program as the fourth most valuable in the country, prompting an announcement by the Jindal administration to capitalize on the latest data.

With an estimated value of $105 million, the LSU programs ranks behind only the University of Texas ($139 million), Notre Dame ($117 million) and Alabama ($110 million) and ranks ahead of such traditional football powerhouses as Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, Nebraska, Auburn, Arkansas, Southern Cal, Texas A&M, and Penn State—5th through 15th, respectively.


Upon learning of the ranking, Gov. Bobby Jindal, always the political opportunist, immediately pressured the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to approve a request for proposals (RFP) aimed at the privatization of the LSU football program in time for the start of the 2014 season.

The board approved the plan without discussion or objection.

“We actually have been considering this opportunity for some time,” Jindal said. “The latest story by Forbes simply provides us with the opportunity to negotiate the most favorable contract for the people of Louisiana.”

Jindal said the timing is such that it will be impossible to issue the RFP before the Feb. 5 LSU Bayou Bash recruiting party but he said he felt logistical problems of dealing with new signees could be overcome with assistance from legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth.

“The fact of the matter is, long story short, at the end of the day, there are two things: the LSU football team is overloaded with unproductive players. Applying my well-known ‘do more with less’ mantra, the new team owners will drastically cut the excess fat from the program. All players who do not make the first team on either offense or defense will be dismissed from the team. The kickers and punters will come from the remaining 22 starters.”

He said that move alone would save the program millions of dollars in housing and meal costs as well as costs for extra uniforms, equipment, game tickets and tutors. Other cost saving measures to be initiated by the privatization move include the termination of medical treatment for injured players and suspension of any athletic department financial contributions to academics. “We have already seen that academics can do more with less; now they will have the opportunity to do even more,” he said.

Jindal said in his prepared statement that the 22 players will each be paid on a sliding scale beginning at $100,000 per year. “That should allow LSU to attract the very best starting players in the nation and prevent the raiding of the top two or three high school players that Louisiana produces each year by other colleges—especially by Nick Saban and Alabama,” he said.

“This move will represent a new gold standard of athletic competition,” he said.

He said that a player who is injured and unable to continue in a game will be replaced from a pool of about a dozen standby contract players who will be employed in administrative positions within the Department of Education. In some cases, players will be asked to play on both offense and defense as an example of his “do more with less” crusade.

“The fact that the new owners will schedule only home games also should help us move forward with all due speed,” he said.

Jindal said his latest plan represents a “bold new move” for LSU football. “This should allow us to win the BCS championship virtually every year,” he said. “That fact alone should dispel all arguments that privatization doesn’t work.”

Confidential sources confirmed that one unidentified administration official who raised questions about possible NCAA sanctions for paying players was summarily teagued, a claim that was immediately denied. “That person left on his own accord,” an administration spokesman said. “We had nothing to do with his decision to leave.”

“There is a reason the NCAA would take issue with our proposal,” Jindal said. “I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the head of the NCAA is a former president of LSU and that he is envious of LSU’s success since his departure. If you recall, when Dr. Mark Emmert was at LSU he was the one who hired Nick Saban and because of that, he has a vested interest in the continued success of Coach Saban. So it’s understandable that he would be opposed to this move.”

Jindal then proceeded to verbally attack Emmert and the NCAA over the anticipated encroachment. “Dr. Emmert and the NCAA want to deny a voice to the very people who will be harmed by such ridiculous sanctions,” he said. “They are trying to muzzle fans who simply want to express their support for what will be the most successful football program in the history of intercollegiate athletics. The only thing our fans want is for the finest athletes in the nation to have the opportunity to escape failing programs.

“Dr. Emmert is attempting to tell our fans to sit down and shut up. That’s never going to happen. Despite whatever evolving legal argument the NCAA comes up with, the voices of hundreds of thousands of fans will be heard,” he said.

“I have already indicated that the NCAA’s effort to deny these kids the right to equal opportunity in football is both cynical and immoral,” Jindal continued. “They (the NCAA and Emmert) can’t have it both ways. Our fans know the real result of any NCAA action, should it be successful, would be to keep great football players in failing programs like those at Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Florida.”

Key losses to Alabama “have pushed a significant number of players to go out of state,” Jindal said. “Threatened sanctions are another intrusion by the NCAA on players’ personal decisions. Players who wish to play for a premier program should not have to seek approval of Dr. Emmert or the NCAA. It is our moral obligation to ensure that every top player who we recruit has access to the best program available.

“America is a nation of opportunity and a quality football program opens the door to opportunity, no matter the social background of the player.

“We in Louisiana are rejecting the status quo because we believe every player should have the opportunity to succeed.”

He said the Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) has been contracted to help draft the RFP for the administration.

Insiders have intimated that TAF is likely to be the sole bidder on the project, although Spectacor Management Group (SMG), which operates the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Arena, Zephyr Field in Metairie and the Baton Rouge River Center, has not been ruled out.

Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said whoever wins the contract will receive generous tax incentives and exemptions “for bringing new jobs to Louisiana.”

Jindal said the privatization should save the state “approximately $500 million a year, give or take a few hundred million.”

(We wanted to hold off on this story until April 1, but we just couldn’t wait.)

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So what, precisely, is Alfred “Butch” Speer trying to hide?

And why?

Whatever he is hiding and the reasons behind his actions constitute déjà vu all over again.

Speer, clerk of the Louisiana House of Representatives, has refused to disclose the one-page application forms which all recipients of legislative scholarships to Tulane University must complete.

The New Orleans Advocate, WWL-TV and New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche requested copies of hundreds of the documents to see if the legislators were awarding the scholarships to relatives of fellow politicians.

A 130-year-old program allows each of Louisiana’s legislators to give one student per year a one-year scholarship—worth $43,000 annually—to Tulane. The mayor of New Orleans is allowed to give out five four-year scholarships per year.

It’s a trade-off dating back to Act 43 of 1884 that benefits Tulane financially. The school has to eat more than $6 million per year in free tuition but receives sales and property tax exemptions worth more than $23 million a year, according to one source. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm


Ostensibly, the scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in the respective legislator’s district—not to legislators’ family members—but that system fell into widespread abuse and news coverage in the 1990s created a public outcry that prompted some reforms to the much-coveted legislative perk. To no one’s surprise the House in 1996 killed a bill designed to abolish both the scholarship program and the Tulane tax breaks.

Victoria Reggie, widow of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and the daughter of Crowley judge Edmund Reggie, along with her five siblings were awarded 27 years’ worth of scholarships by the late Rep. John N. John and in 1993 then-New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy gave a four-year scholarship to his son. Former New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial likewise gave his son and daughter and the daughter of a top aide and the children of two judges scholarships and former Mayor Moon Landrieu gave a scholarship to his nephew Gary Landrieu.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune went to court—and won—in its attempts to obtain Tulane records that showed other recipients of the scholarships included the children of Sens. John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston and U.S. Reps. Bob Livingston, Jimmy Hayes and Richard Baker.

But in 1983, Capitol News Service, operated by LouisianaVoice, broke a story that State Sen. Dan Richie of Ferriday had awarded his scholarship to a relative of State Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport and that Lynn had given his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The single-page document being sought by WWL, the New Orleans Advocate and attorney Goyeneche contains two statements: “I am related to an elected official,” and “I am not related to an elected official.” Each recipient is required to check the box next to the appropriate statement and if the student checks that he or she is related to an elected official, the student must list the official’s name and explain the relationship.

Simple enough.

Except that Speer is trying to keep nosy reporters from taking a peek at those records.

To illustrate to what length he is willing to go to protect those records, he first responded to the requests by claiming that the forms belonged to Tulane and were not in his possession.

But then Tulane officials promptly provided the forms to the legislative bodies, leaving Speer in a quandary. No problem, Deftly sidestepping state public records laws Speer, claiming to be speaking for Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, said he had determined the records are not public and thus, he is not required to provide them.

He even promoted himself to a judgeship on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal which ruled in the 1990s legal battle that “All records related to the contract and the giving of scholarships fall within the broad definition of public records” when he said the application forms do not come under that definition because he was told the forms are only shown to legislators who request to see them.

“Therefore, only those forms Tulane University provided to a legislator for use in awarding a scholarship are public records,” Speer said in his letter.

Wow. What a legal mind.

So, is public servant Speer protecting the public’s right to know?

You can check that box “No.”

Public servant Butch Speer is in the business of protecting legislators from public embarrassment and by all measures, he does his job quite well.

Take our own experience with Speer in July of 2012. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/11/deliberative-process-defense-used-to-protect-alec-records-in-texas-reminiscent-of-2012-louisianavoice-experience/

Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) is the state chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and in July of 2012 he sent out a letter on state letterhead soliciting contributions of $1,000 each to help defray the expenses of “over thirty” state legislators to attend a national conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Salt Lake City on July 25-28.

Harrison (R-Gray) mailed out a form letter on July 2 that opened by saying, “As State Chair and National Board Member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, I would like to solicit your financial support to our ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.”

The letter was printed on state letterhead, which would make the document a public record so LouisianaVoice immediately made a public records request of Harrison to provide:

  • A complete list of the recipients of his letter;
  • A list of the “over thirty” Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC.

ALEC membership, of course, is a closely-guarded secret but once the letter was printed on state letterhead—presumably composed on a state computer in Harrison’s state-funded office, printed on a state-purchased printer and mailed using state-purchased postage—the request for a list of members was included in the request for recipients of the letter.

Harrison never responded to the request despite state law that requires responses to all such requests.

LouisianaVoice then contacted Alfred “Butch” Speer to enlist his assistance in obtaining the records and last Thursday, July 12, Speer responded: “I have looked further into your records request.” (Notice he omitted the word “public” as in “public records.”) “Rep. Harrison composed the letter of which you possess a copy. Rep. Harrison sent that one letter to a single recipient,” Speer said. “If that letter was distributed to a larger audience, such distribution did not create a public record.

“R.S. 44:1 defines a public record as: ‘…having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state…’

“My opinion is that the solicitation of donations for ALEC does not create a public record. The courts have been clear in providing that the purpose of the record is determinative of its public nature, not the record’s origin.”

It seems a stretch to contend that the letter went out to only recipient soliciting a single $1,000 contribution to cover the expenses of “over thirty” legislators to attend the conference.

Still, Speer persisted, saying, “…it is my responsibility to consult with Representatives and make the determinations as to what records are or are not public in nature.”

No, it is apparently Speer’s responsibility to cover the backsides of wayward legislators.

“…The contents of (Harrison’s) letter speak for itself….The origin of a document is not the determining factor as to its nature as a public record. The purpose of the record is the only determining factor. Whether the letter was or was not ‘composed on state letterhead, on a state computer, printed on a state-owned printer and mailed in state-issued envelope(s) does not, per force, create a public record. If the letter were concerning ‘any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state,’ then such a letter is a public nature,” he said.

Speer then offered a most incredulous interpretation of the public records statute when he said, “The fact that an official may be traveling does not place the travel or its mode of payment or the source of the resources used to travel ipso facto within the public records law. The purpose of the travel is the determining factor.”

You can tell Speer is a lawyer. They love to use ipso facto whenever they can. It appears to be their way of slipping in the Latin phrase which apparently means, “I’m way smarter than you.”

“What Rep. Harrison was attempting is of no moment unless he was attempting some business of the House or pursuing some course mandated by law,” he said. “Anyone’s attempt to raise money for a private entity is not the business of the House nor is it an activity mandated by law.

“Your personal interpretation of the law is not determinative of the actual scope of the law,” he told LouisianaVoice.

Speer apparently was overlooking the fact that the House and Senate combined to pay 34 current and former members of the two chambers more than $70,000 in travel, lodging and registration fees for attending ALEC functions in New Orleans, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Austin between 2008 and 2011.

Of that amount, almost $30,000 was paid in per diem of $142, $145, $152 or $159 per day, depending on the year, for attending the conferences. The per diem rates corresponded to the rates paid legislators for attending legislative sessions and committee meetings.

That would seem to make the ALEC meeting House business and thus, public record.

ALEC advertises in pre-conference brochures sent to its members that it picks up the tab for legislators attending its conferences. That would also raise the question of why legislators were paid by the House and Senate for travel, lodging and registration costs if ALEC also pays these costs via its ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.

We have to wonder if Speer hangs out with Superintendent of Education John White to share strategy for shielding public records from the public.

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The following is a press release by State Treasurer John Kenney. LouisianaVoice presents it here as a guest column that we feel underscores the concerns expressed in our Sept. 29 post entitled False prophets, false profits—and false reasons to privatize LSU Hospital System (or trolling for more Medicaid dollars)

The reason advanced by the Jindal Administration for privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospitals is that a private hospital like Lafayette General or Ochsner, for example, can manage a hospital more efficiently, and therefore cheaper, than the state.

That’s why I was taken aback when the chairman of the private entity taking over the Shreveport state hospital testified before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that the private contractor’s costs to run the Shreveport facility will be the same as the state’s. Where, then, will the Jindal Administration’s promised annual savings of $150 million come from if not from achieving operational efficiencies?

Dig deeper into the details and it becomes apparent that the planned “savings” won’t result from lower costs but from getting more money from the federal government through an accounting change. This won’t make the charity hospitals or Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which pays for the hospitals, more efficient. It will just make them more expensive, fueled by additional federal (American taxpayer) money.

Here’s how the new financial strategy will work: Medicaid, which is government health insurance for the poor, is a federal-state program. The states run it but the feds put up most of the money. In Louisiana, for every $1 in state taxpayer money we contribute, the feds contribute $2. The more money we put up, the more money the federal government contributes.

Under the Charity Hospital privatization, the state will “lease” the charity hospitals to private hospitals, which then will be responsible for treating our low-income and uninsured citizens. The state will pay the private hospitals to do this with large amounts of federal money from our Medicaid program. The private hospitals will then return some of those federal dollars to the state as “lease payments.” The federal dollars paid to the state as “lease payments” now become new state dollars, which the state can use to draw down even more federal money.

This accounting maneuver is undeniably clever. The question is whether it is legal. It must be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Louisiana’s track record with CMS is not good. CMS has previously rejected similar financing strategies designed to leverage federal money. In the early 1990s, for example, Louisiana and other states adopted financing strategies such as “provider taxes,” “provider donations,” and “intergovernmental transfers,” designed to launder federal Medicaid funds into state funds in order to draw down more federal funds. CMS and Congress spurned them all. (The Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payment Program: Background and Issues, The Urban Institute, No. A-14, October 1997). http://www.urban.org/publications/307025.html

In fact, Louisiana was more aggressive than most states in trying to leverage federal dollars. Our health care budget grew from $1.6 billion in 1988 to $4.48 billion in 1993, of which 90% was federal funds. The amount of money actually contributed by the state during this period declined from $595 million to $462 million. (Washington Post, Jan. 31, 1994, page A9).

When CMS and Congress stepped in to stop what then-Congressman Bob Livingston called Louisiana’s “abuse” of Medicaid financing, and, in Livingston’s words, the “unjustified and unwarranted benefits” came to an end (The Advocate, Feb. 6, 1997, page 1A). Newly-elected Gov. Mike Foster was faced with a $1 billion deficit in the health care budget. To clean up the mess, Foster appointed Bobby Jindal as DHH Secretary, who sought special relief from Congress. As The Advocate newspaper editorialized, “Louisiana pleaded guilty as charged, threw itself on the mercy of the court and got off easy,” because “the state for years ran a scam using ‘loopholes and accounting gimmicks’ to justify fantastic increases in federal payments.” (The Advocate, April 29, 1996).

Perhaps this time is different. Perhaps CMS will view the new “lease payments” being used to obtain additional federal money more favorably han the strategies CMS has rejected in the past.

One thing’s for certain, though. We need to find out. The state should seek CMS review of its new strategy immediately—not “soon” as DHH has promised—but now. Until then, our entire state health care delivery system for more than two million of our people is at financial risk.

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