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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ Category

I am certain that I will not agree with every move John Bel Edwards makes as governor. The re-appointment of Mike Edmonson as Superintendent of State Police comes immediately to mind. Such is the nature of politics. No man alive can please everyone every time.

And when I do disagree, as in the Edmonson re-appointment, I will say so. I believe Edwards understands and respects that.

In the meantime, I am willing give him a chance. He has a monumental task before him in his efforts to help the state overcome eight years of Bobby Jindal’s reign of error. He must form coalitions with Republicans in the legislature in order to even approach a successful administration. But I certainly don’t expect legislators to be the whipped puppies they were during Jindal’s misrule.

I gave Jindal that same benefit of the doubt. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I voted for Jindal not once, but twice. I voted for him in 2003 when he lost to Kathleen Blanco and again in 2007 when he won. I honestly thought he meant it when he said he supported state employees and that he stood for transparency and a high ethical bar. I believed him when he said his appointments would be based on “what you know, not who you know.”

Well, we all know how that went down. He tried to gut state retirement, he destroyed the Office of Group Benefits, gave away the state charity hospital system, drove higher education to the brink of exigency (bankruptcy), and worse, he set a new low in the areas of transparency and ethics. And one only has to examine his appointments to the myriad state boards and commissions. They are dominated (and that’s putting it lightly) with major donors to his various political campaigns. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bobby-jindals-biggest-donors-benefited-from-his-administration_55e9e976e4b002d5c075fb17

http://louisianavoice.com/category/campaign-contributions/

Moreover, “what you know” didn’t go too far in other areas, either. The number of state employees and legislators he teagued for daring to disagree with him is a very long list. And his “deliberative process” catch-all denial of public records threw a heavy blanket on any hopes of transparency.

So, it was with some surprise that I read Rolfe McCollister’s diatribe in his Baton Rouge Business Report this week. https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-whats-big-secret

Of all the ones to whine about any lack of transparency on the part of the governor-elect who has yet to even take office, Rolfe stands alone as the singular standard-bearer of double standards.

He contributed $17,000 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2003, 2006, and 2008. He was treasurer of Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign and served as chairman of Jindal’s transition team after his 2007 election. He served as director of Jindal’s first fundraising organization, super PAC Believe in Louisiana, and most recently served as treasurer of Believe in Louisiana as it raised funds for Jindal’s presidential campaign.

His Louisiana Business, Inc. partner, Julio Melara also was a player. Melara and his wife contributed an additional $8,500 to Jindal campaigns

And what did Rolfe and Julio get in return for all that?

Well Julio wound up with a pretty nice appointment to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Board), complete with all the perks that go with the appointment.

McCollister was named to the LSU Board of Supervisors and that’s where the hypocrisy really boils to the surface. Board members get choice tickets to LSU sporting events (including a private suite in Tiger Stadium). http://forgotston.com/2013/07/16/need-a-lsu-tuition-break/

And until the quota was reduced earlier this year, each member could award up to 20 tuition-free scholarships to LSU. Even after the reduction, they still get 15 scholarships each. http://theadvocate.com/news/11898955-123/lsu-board-revamps-number-of

Those perks could mean more than $100,000 per year per board member. In 2012 alone, the board handed out $1.3 million in scholarships to their friends—even as college tuition was skyrocketing for the average student with no contacts on the board. http://thelensnola.org/2013/07/11/lsu-board-of-supervisors-awards-1-3-million-through-little-known-scholarship-program/

Rolfe didn’t invent the perks and though he tied with two other members for the fewest scholarships awarded—five. But you never heard him raise a single objection to their abuse.

Rolfe, as publisher of the Business Report, purports to be an objective chronicler of political news. You would think that as such, he would champion all efforts to obtain records of a public body.

You would think wrong. He, along with four other members, did not respond to an email from reporter Tyler Bridges, then writing for The Lens of New Orleans, seeking comment. How’s that for transparency?

He certainly came off as a bit petulant this week when he went on a rampage about Edwards’s education transition team’s meeting in private “at least four times.”

There’s more. “McCollister notes it was Edwards who proclaimed at a Public Affairs Research Council forum in April that his administration would be more transparent than previous administrations, saying ‘a scope of secrecy’ has been allowed to exist,” his staff wrote today (Wednesday, Dec. 23). https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-gov-elect-edwards-transition-committees-discussing-public-education-big-issues-behind-closed-doors?utm_campaign=dr_pm-2015_Dec_23-15_05&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dr_pm

“But what does conducting all of the discussions of the transition committees behind closed doors in secret do for the citizens? What I haven’t seen yet is an editorial from The Advocate or The Times-Picayune objecting to the discussion of ‘public’ education in private. Why not? I thought transparency was their big issue.

Rolfe has a very short memory. I can’t recall the Jindal transition team over which Rolfe presided ever holding a public meeting prior to Jindal’s taking office. And when The Advocate, the Times-Picayune and the LSU Reveille were demanding the release of the names of all the candidates for the LSU presidency, where was he?

It’s hard to tell because the very one who should have been front and center in championing the right of the public to know who those candidates were, was strangely mute.

Not a peep out of Rolfe who was in a unique position to reason with the boy blunder to release the names.

Likewise, when the LSU Board agreed to that hospital privatization contract with the 50 blank pages, he should have been the first one on his feet shouting that a blank contract was not just questionable, but also not a legal document. Instead, he sat quietly as the contract was approved, laying the groundwork for the litigation over state hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe now winding its way through the courts.

Likewise, not one word of protest when the contract was awarded to a foundation in Shreveport whose CEO was…(wait for it)…a fellow member of the LSU Board.

“The public knows very little in specifics about what Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards will propose and how far he will take some issues,” McCollister wrote. “Transition teams are made up of a majority of his friends, advisers and supporters—or those who think like he does (and Jindal’s wasn’t, Rolfe?). While this exercise is often ceremonial, it can reflect the views and direction of the new governor—and his closest friends and allies who will be whispering in his ear for the next four years (and of course, you never once “whispered in Jindal’s ear, right?). The public education committee has had five meetings in secrecy. What did they talk about, and who said what? We won’t read or hear about it in the media because they weren’t allowed inside—and the press never uttered a peep (Perhaps they learned from your example on the LSU Board, Rolfe.).

To those who don’t know your history, you sound like a champion of pure, open government.

Unfortunately, your words fall far short of matching your actions. Those indignant protests would carry a lot more weight if you had the track record to back them up.

That’s called hypocrisy, Rolfe. And that’s unfortunate, though not necessarily unexpected.

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It looks as though Bobby Jindal’s former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols will finally have to comply with state regulations. Or maybe not.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, in typical fashion first put the kibosh on any effort by Kristy Kreme to lobby state government on behalf of her new employer—and then promptly withdrew the opinion.

The board was essentially neutered by Jindal during his rush for ethics “reform” in his first days in office back in 2008. Because of those “reforms,” the board lost considerable steam and all its enforcement powers and it now appears it is missing a spine.

And one has to wonder if the Jindalistas had any influence on the decision to withdraw the unfavorable opinion.

Nichols served as Jindal’s commissioner of administration for three years, from October 2012 to October 2015. Those years were marked by consistent budgetary shortfalls, cuts to higher education and health care, the contentious revamping of premiums and benefits for state employees, retirees and dependents through the Office of Group Benefits and the equally controversial privatization of the state charity hospital system.

She also was sued twice by LouisianaVoice over her failure to produce public records in a timely manner. It was in that area that she enjoyed her greatest success by breaking even. She prevailed in the first lawsuit but lost the second one. She still owes a judgment of $800, plus attorney fees and court costs. She chose to spend even more state money in appealing the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeal.

She announced in September that she would be going to work for Ochsner Health System as a lobbyist. Well, technically, her new title is vice president of government and corporate affairs. While state law precludes her lobbying the legislative or executive branches for two years, there appears to be no prohibition to her lobbying local governments (parishes and municipalities) on the part of Ochsner.

She contacted the ethics board on Nov. 5 through attorney Kimberly Robinson of the Baton Rouge law firm Jones Walker.

Robinson was recently named by Gov-elect John Bel Edwards to be the new secretary of the Department of Revenue and Taxation.

The board last Thursday (Dec. 17) addressed six specific areas about which Robinson sought opinions. The board shot down four of those and took no position on the remaining two because of what it termed insufficient information, according to Walter Pierce of the INDReporter Web site. http://theind.com/article-22377-Ethics-Board-blocks-Nichols.html

A spokesman for the ethics board, however, told LouisianaVoice on Monday that the opinion has been “withdrawn” and the entire matter re-scheduled for the board’s Feb. 19, 2016, meeting.

The opinion initially would have barred Nichols for two years from:

  • Direct transactions or communications with the Division of Administration;
  • Participating in any transaction, researching or preparing materials for use in or in support of a direct act or communication with a legislator;
  • Communicating or having a transaction with the Department of Health and Hospitals, and
  • Assisting Ochsner in communications or transactions with LSU. The LSU Board of Supervisors currently oversees the public-private partnerships between the state-run hospitals and private health care providers.

There was no immediate explanation of what the remaining two questions from Robinson concerned.

There are several areas of concern in allowing Nichols to lobby state government on behalf of Ochsner, not the least of which is the agreement between the state and Ochsner during her term that allowed Ochsner to partner with the state in running the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

In 2013, the LSU Board of Supervisors signed off on the contract containing 50 blank pages. That contract handed over operation of state-owned hospitals in Lake Charles, Houma, Shreveport and Monroe. The blank pages were supposed to have contained lease terms. Instead, the LSU board left those details to the Jindal administration (read Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols).

Eventually details emerged about the contracts, including that of the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma. And, thanks to the Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council, the picture began to come into focus.

Leonard Chabert Medical Center was opened in 1978 as a 96-bed facility with 802 employees but by the time it was privatized, it was down to 63 beds.

In 2008, a hospital-based accredited Internal Medicine residency program was begun. In 2011, the hospital’s revenue was 47 percent uncompensated care for the uninsured, 29.5 percent Medicaid, 13 percent Medicare, 5.5 percent state general fund and 6 percent interagency transfer from other departments with only 1 percent being self-generated.

When the Jindal administration moved to unload state hospitals, Chabert was partnered with Southern Regional Medical Corp., a nonprofit entity whose only member is Terrebonne General Medical Center (TGMC).

TGMC is slated to manage Chabert with assistance from a company affiliated with Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest private not-for-profit health system with eight hospitals and forty health centers statewide. Terms of the agreement call for a five-year lease with an automatic renewal after the first year in one-year increments to create a rolling five-year term.

Though Southern Regional is not required to pay rent under terms of the agreement, the Terrebonne Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 is required to make annual intergovernmental transfers of $17.6 million to the Medicaid program for Southern Regional and its affiliates.

The cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) calls for supplemental payments of $31 million to Ochsner. Small wonder then that the Houma Daily Courier described the deal as “a valuable asset to Ochsner’s network of hospitals” and that the deal expands Ochsner’s business profile.

Between 2009 and 2013, Ochsner’s revenue doubled from $900 million to $1.8 billion and the deal would mean more revenue for Ochsner, the Daily Courier said. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20140325/articles/140329692?p=3&tc=pg

There has never been a reasonable explanation as to why the LSU Board signed off on a blank contract that the Jindal administration would fill in after the fact. Was it just by chance that Nichols, as Commissioner of Administration, was responsible for that task? And was it just happenstance that two years after Ochsner received that $31 million, it saw the need to bring Nichols aboard just as her employment with the Jindal administration was winding down?

LSU Board of Supervisors handed over University Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe to the Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) even though the CEO of BRF was a sitting member of the LSU board at the time.

Within two years, that deal fell apart and the board and BRF are now involved in complicated litigation.

Meanwhile, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has yet to approve the Jindal/Nichols privatization plan.

 

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As we face the end of eight years of ineptitude, deceit, and whoopee cushion governance, LouisianaVoice is proud to announce our first ever election of John Martin Hays Memorial Boob of the Year.

There are no prizes, just a poll of our readership as to whom the honor should go in our debut survey.

Hays was publisher of a weekly publication called appropriately enough, the Morning Paper in Ruston until his death last year. He relished nothing more than feasting on the carcasses of bloated egos. He single-handedly exposed a major Ponzi scheme in North Louisiana, sending the operator to prison. That got him some major ink in the Atlanta Constitution and the New York Times.

The problem of course, is trying to narrow the field to make the final selection manageable.

The obvious choice for most would be Bobby Jindal, but there are so many other deserving candidates that we caution readers not to make hasty decisions. After all, we wouldn’t want to slight anyone who has worked so hard for the honor.

So, without further ado, here are the nominees, along with a brief synopsis of their accomplishments.

  • Bobby Jindal: Mismanaged the state budget for an unprecedented eight consecutive years. At least there’s something to be said for consistency. In his eight-year reign of error (mostly spent in states other than Louisiana) he managed to cut higher education more than any other state; he robbed public education to reward for-profit charter schools and virtual schools; he gave away the state’s Charity Hospital system (he awarded a contract to the new operators—a contract with 50 blank pages which is now the subject of what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle; he appointed political donors to prestigious boards and commissions, including the LSU Board of Supervisors which, under his direction, fired two distinguished doctors, the school’s president and its legal counsel; He trumped up bogus charges against the director of the State Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) to appease mega-donor Tom Benson and to appoint the husband of his children’s pediatrician to head up the agency; he forced state offices to pay higher rent in order to again accommodate Benson by signing a costly lease agreement with Benson Towers; rather than consider alternative ideas, he simply fired, or teagued, anyone who disagreed with him on any point; he refused Medicaid expansion, thus depriving anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 low-income citizens needed medical care; he tried unsuccessfully to ram through pension reform that would have been devastating to state employees; he insisted on handing out contract after contract to attorney Jimmy Faircloth who is still searching for his first courtroom victory after receiving well more than $1 million in legal fees; he spurned a major federal grant that would have brought high-speed broadband internet to Louisiana’s rural parishes; he stole $4 million from the developmentally disadvantaged citizens so he could give it to the owner of a $75 million Indianapolis-type race track—a family member of another major donor and one of the richest families in the state; he abandoned his duties as governor to seek the Republican presidential nomination, a quest recognized by everyone but him as a fantasy; he ran up millions of dollars in costs of State Police security in such out-of-state locations as Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and South Carolina; he had the State Police helicopter give rides to his children, and the list goes on.
  • Attorney General Buddy Caldwell: All he did was completely botch the entire CNSI contract mess which today languishes in state district court in Baton Rouge; He consistently turned a blind eye to corruption and violations of various state laws while ringing up what he thought was an impressive record of going after consumer fraud (Hey, Buddy, those credit care scam artists are still calling my phone multiple times a day!); and his concession speech on election night was one for the books—a total and unconditional embarrassment of monumental proportions.
  • Kristy Nichols: What can we say? This is the commissioner of administration who managed to delay complying to our legal public records request for three entire months but managed to comply to an identical request by a friendly legislator within 10 days; We sued her and won and she has chosen to spend more state money (your dollars, by the way) in appealing a meager $800 (plus court costs and legal fees) judgment in our favor; it was her office that came down hard on good and decent employees of the State Land Office who she thought were leaking information to LouisianaVoice (they weren’t); she first reduced premiums for state employee health coverage in order to free up money to help plug a state budget deficit all the while whittling away at a $500 million reserve fund to practically nothing which in turn produced draconian premium increases and coverage cuts for employees and retirees (and during legislative hearings on the fiasco, she ducked out to take her daughter to a boy-band concert in New Orleans where she was allowed to occupy the governor’s private Superdome suite.
  • Troy Hebert: appointed by Jindal to head up ATC which quickly turned in a mass exodus of qualified, dedicated agents; he used state funds to purchase a synthetic drug sniffing dog (hint: there is no such thing as a synthetic drug sniffing dog because synthetic ingredients constantly change; this was just another dog, albeit an expensive one); he launched a racist campaign to rid his agency of black agents; while still a legislator, he was a partner in a firm that negotiated contracts with the state for hurricane debris cleanup.
  • Mike Edmonson: Oh, where do we start? Well, of course there is that retirement pay increase bill amendment back in 2014; there is the complete breakdown of morale, particularly in Troop D; then, there was the promotion of Tommy Lewis to Troop F Commander three years after he sneaked an underage woman into a casino in Vicksburg (he was subsequently fined $600 by the Mississippi Gaming Commission but only after first identifying himself as the executive officer of Troop F and asking if something “could be worked out.”); allowing Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux to take advantage of a lucrative buyout incentive for early retirement (which, in her case, came to $46,000, plus another $13,000 of unused annual leave) only to retire for one day and return the next—at a promotion to Undersecretary. She was subsequently ordered to repay the $56,000 but thanks to friends in high places, the money has never been repaid (maybe incoming Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne would like to revisit that matter); consistent inconsistency in administering discipline to officers who stray—such as attempting unsuccessfully to fire one trooper for assaulting a suspect (even though the suspect never made such a claim) while doing practically nothing to another state trooper who twice had sex with a woman while on duty—once in the back seat of his patrol car.
  • David Vitter: what can we say? The odds-on favorite to walk into the governor’s office, he blew $10 million—and the election. His dalliance with prostitutes, his amateurish spying on a John Bel Edwards supporter, an auto accident with a campaign worker who also headed up the Super PAC that first savaged his Republican opponents in the primary, turning Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle irreversibly against him and driving their supporters to Edwards’s camp. In short, he could write the manual on blowing an election.
  • The entire State Legislature: for passing that idiotic (and most likely illegal) budget on the last day of the session but only after Grover Norquist was consulted about the acceptability of a little tax deception; for allowing Jindal to run roughshod over them on such matters as education reform, hospital privatization, pension reform and financing recurring expenses with one-time money; for being generally spineless in all matters legislative and deferring to an absentee governor with a personal agenda.

Those are our nominees but only after some serious paring down the list.

Go to our comments section to cast your vote in 25 words or less. The deadline is Friday, Dec. 18.

As much as you might like, you are allowed to vote only once.

 

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Two days before statewide elections, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who refused to involve himself in the State Office of Group Benefits controversy because, he insisted, the state employee health insurance was not insurance, has suddenly become a consumer advocate over those delinquent fee letters sent out by the Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV) on Oct. 13.

Never mind that OGB provides health insurance to about 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents and never mind that it was taken over by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana (a major contributor to Donelon’s campaigns).

Never mind that the Louisiana Department of Insurance approved the purchase of two insurance companies in 2013 by an individual who had little industry experience and never mind that both companies were seized by regulators within a year when it was learned that Alexander Chatfield Burns allegedly siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars in stocks and bonds off the company’s books, replacing them with worthless assets.

Never mind that in 2012 Donelon put former state legislator Noble Ellington on the payroll as a $150,000 per year as the department’s number-two man despite Ellington’s glaring lack of experience in insurance.

Never mind that Donelon did little to rein in auto insurance companies that were trying to steer auto repairs to favored body shops that were accused of doing unsafe work and providing after-market parts.

Never mind that Donelon has been the beneficiary of more than $4.5 million in campaign contributions from insurance companies and insurance defense attorneys since 2006.

That was then. This is now and now is only two days before Donelon is to face a challenge from three opponents in Saturday’s election. So of course, he wades into the controversy over those 1.2 million delinquent notices sent out to motorists that OMV claims owe fines for various offenses dating as far back as 1986 (29 years if you’re doing the math).

LouisianaVoice first wrote about this back on Sept. 29 when we observed that none of the $11 million earmarked to pay for state police pay raises through the “enhanced debt collection efforts” by OMV has been submitted to the state general fund.

That was first made known in a confidential report prepared for legislators obtained by LouisianaVoice.

House Bill 638 by State Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge) was enacted and signed into law by Bobby Jindal as Act 414. HB 638 provided that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) collect certain fees “associated with the suspension of an operator’s license” which were related to auto liability insurance requirements. The fees become delinquent after 60 days and are referred to the Office of Debt Recovery.

The bill earmarked $25 million from the Debt Recovery Fund for use by the Office of State Police. But none of that money has yet to go to the general fund, prompting concern by legislators and resulting in the report.

Legislative watchdog and resident curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston way back on Jan. 16 of this year questioned the constitutionality of an earlier bill by Ivey, HB 872, passed during the 2014 regular legislative session which added a $75 fee for the reinstatement of a driver’s lapsed auto liability insurance. HB 872 was to generate about $53 million per year with $42 million earmarked for the general operations of DPS, $7 million to housing parolees and $1 million to district attorneys.

Forgotston said HB 872 was called a “fee,” but in actuality, is an unconstitutionally-passed “tax.” The reason for its being unconstitutional is the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 which says “No measure levying or authorizing a new tax by the state or by any statewide political subdivision whose boundaries are coterminous with the state; increasing an existing tax by the state or by any statewide political subdivision whose boundaries are coterminous with the state; or legislating with regard to tax exemptions, exclusions, deductions or credits shall be introduced or enacted during a regular session held in an even-numbered year.” http://senate.la.gov/Documents/Constitution/Article3.htm

But in the make-believe world of Jindal politics, the Office of Group Benefits is not insurance and a fee is not a tax. That ranks right up there with Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what your definition of is is.”

But back to HB 638 (ACT 414). Just in case you need a reminder just two days before the election, that bill passed unanimously in the House and with just one dissenting vote in the Senate (State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson voted no). Here are the links to the votes of the two chambers just in case you need a handy guide before casting your ballot on Saturday:

HOUSE VOTE ON HB 638

SENATE VOTE ON HB 638

And now on the eve of many of those same legislators’ re-election efforts, the bill is creating pure havoc throughout the state.

Why?

Well, consider this. If you had a vehicle you purchased in 1976, say, and you traded it in in 1987. You would have cancelled your insurance and license plate on that vehicle and transferred everything to your new vehicle. But suppose by some clerical error, OMV did not get the word that you sold or traded that old vehicle and suddenly, on Oct. 13 of this year, a delinquent notice went out to you because you have not had insurance on your 1976 vehicle for 28 years. The onus is on you to prove that you had a legitimate reason for not insuring that vehicle or face a fine of $500—or more.

Donelon said, correctly, that the average citizen most likely does not have documentation to prove he or she had insurance because no one keeps proof of insurance from a decade or more ago.

So now you have your notice and you know it’s in error so naturally, you try to call OMV only to encounter what seems to be a permanent busy signal. And if you happen to get through, your call is dropped.

And let’s not forget that Jindal, in his maniacal obsession to privatize everything in state government, contracted out many of the OMV services and laid off scores of OMV employees, so good luck with trying to reach someone to help you.

Many of the 1.2 million who received the letters (at a cost to taxpayers of about $500,000) are claiming that they are accused of offenses that are nothing more than paperwork errors and State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson is now saying OMV will not pursue any delinquent fines older than 2006 for which OMV does not have proper documentation.

We at LouisianaVoice are of the opinion that any violation allowed to lie dormant by OMV for more than one year with no effort to collect same should be dismissed. Certainly after three years. After all, in Louisiana, if you wait for more than 12 months after being wronged, your case has prescribed and you are unable to file a lawsuit.

That’s 20 years, or 69 percent right off the top of the anticipated $53 million in additional revenue the Jindal administration so desperately needed to patch over holes in the state budget. Edmonson also said the fact that $11 million of that $53 million was to fund pay increases for state troopers had nothing to do with the notices mailed out on Oct. 13.

Donelon, who regulates the insurance industry in Louisiana, OGB notwithstanding, suggested that drivers should not trust OMV records and should call the governor’s office with grievances.

Would that be the governor’s office have an Iowa area code, by any chance?

One reader had a slightly different experience. Here is her account as related to LouisianaVoice in a recent email:

            My husband just recently retired 20 years of service in the Army, and we’ve been under contract to buy a home for the first time, in Sulphur.  I’m a La native, so we’ve decided to settle here.

            Today, we had to switch our insurance companies because the one we’ve had together since married in 2006, and he’s had for many years even before that, has decided in their policy that simply residing in Louisiana means that our insurance must be raised because I suppose something about this State is more risky than Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, or Georgia (all of the states we’ve resided in that our insurance remained unchanged).

            Which brings me around to what I have to say. I’d like to explain how I turned a $200 oops into a $566 OMG today.

            While attempting to change insurance companies, they ran my driver’s license. Standard.

            My license came back as suspended. Later, at the DMV, I was informed not only was my license suspended, but there had been issued a bench warrant for my arrest.

            It was a seat belt ticket I got four years ago, and speeding ticket I received one year ago. I forgot to pay it. Over my driving career (I’m 39 years old and I’ve owned 2 Corvettes), I’ve gotten more than one speeding ticket, and more than once, I’ve forgotten to pay it.

            However, this was my first in the state of Louisiana, as I’ve lived in Texas for the majority of my adulthood, and the rest in the previous states mentioned. I never received a notice in the mail, warning me of an impending suspension of my license, nor did I receive any notice or warning that a warrant was being issued for my arrest. ALL of which I have received from Texas, giving me an opportunity to address it.  I mentioned that fact to the lady at the DA’s office when I arrived to deal with it, and she informed me that “they don’t notify anyone for these things.”  So, my license was suspended, and there was a warrant for my arrest, yet the State makes no effort prior to this result, as Texas does, to notify me?  No.

            They don’t.

            I had a moment of terrible dread and relief at the same time.  I found out because I was changing insurance companies and they told me.

            I looked up the consequences for driving with a suspended license, had I found out by being pulled over, and they are very harsh.  It carries a minimum fine of $300, up to $7500 and seven days jail time.  All because I forgot to pay a speeding ticket.

            After paying the ticket, I returned to the OMV, where I had to pay another $102 to “unsuspend” my license, because paying the ticket + late fine wasn’t enough for the State to teach me a lesson.

            While I waited in line, it occurred to me the terrible impact this could have on so many Louisiana families and college students.  It seems unrealistic that no one would ever forget to pay a ticket, or even that it would be rare. I wondered if something so simple could be common, but with such crazy, harsh financial consequences, especially if jailed. Suddenly, a DMV employee came out and made the announcement that they were severely understaffed—thanks to Bobby Jindal’s cutbacks (I had already been waiting almost 2 hours at this point) and began to group all of us based on our issues.

            Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that a great many of the people there ended up in the same group as me, dealing with the very same problem. A very expensive problem. A problem that likely could have been prevented for most if not all of us, with a simple notice in the mail.

            For me, the total was over $500 to get my license reinstated and ticket paid. There were at least 20 people in line with me. I estimate the OMV likely collected a minimum of $10,000 in about three hours, just from my line. Nearly $30,000 in an average eight-hour work day in fines just from suspended licenses for the most undeserving of reasons from the most vulnerable class of people, yet still were “understaffed” to ridiculousness and a majority of the people I was in line with would probably love to have a job there.  That’s $150,000 a week! $600,000 a month! $7.2 million a year!

            I have no clue where all of this money goes, or what it pays for, since clearly it isn’t on staffing. The debit card reader wasn’t working so I was forced to an ATM and the clerk I was with struggled endlessly with her computer mouse and what I believed to be serious system lag, so equipment certainly isn’t eating funds.

            Maybe this all seems trivial, but truly, it didn’t seem trivial to anyone I was in line with.  There was sadness, fear, and dread on the faces of all of them.  It was really heartbreaking, and worse, I feel like it likely could have all been prevented with a simple notice in the mail. People are given around 60 days to pay a ticket in Louisiana. It is as though the state counts on many of them being forgotten, and without notice, having their license suspended, and likely many of them discovering this and getting a memory jog by being pulled over for something insignificant, and being put in handcuffs, with a massive fine they can’t pay, and seven days in jail.

            I am fortunate enough to be able to pay it and still eat, but I think the look on all of those people’s faces in line with me at the OMV will keep me up tonight. It’s already nearly 1 am, and I’m still bothered by it.

            I can’t help but wonder how many people in Louisiana, living their lives, taking care of children, going to work, etc., forget to pay a speeding ticket, and it’s the one thing that knocks them into a hole they can’t get out of;  but they check their mail every day.

            I’ve been in a lot of places over the last 20 years. Texas to Wisconsin to Connecticut to Georgia to Louisiana. I see more people struggling here than anywhere else I’ve been in the U.S.

            I can’t help but think this no-notice high penalty cost system is contributing to bleeding the average Louisianan driving to work and back, to death. Maybe it’s nothing. I think it’s something.  Something that must effect the lives of a lot of people.

            If a simple notice in the mail could save Louisiana citizens and families $7.2 million a year, I think a lot of people would like to know why it isn’t done.

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With all that’s going on with the Louisiana State Police, it has become easy to overlook the fact that we will be voting in a little more than two weeks for someone to try to undo the damage done by eight years of the Jindal carnage inflicted upon this state. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the State Police in a day or so.)

The governor’s race, unlike those of past years, has failed to generate a lot of interest among voters. That’s probably because the media has convinced us that U.S. Sen. David Vitter is a lock to be our next governor. I mean, who could possibly get excited over an election when we’re being told that it’s inevitable that the pariah of femininity will be our next governor?

Speaking of the media, the questions posed in the televised debates thus far have been nothing short of disgraceful. It’s no wonder that people are turned off by this year’s election. How, after all, does Kim Davis even begin to figure in the issues facing Louisiana’s next governor? That question was just plain stupid and a huge waste of time.

And who put the media in charge of anointing winners even before an election? Do our votes actually count anymore? (We will be addressing those questions shortly.)

First of all, what self-respecting Republican woman in Louisiana would ever cast a vote for someone like Dave Vitter? For that matter, what Republican woman would ever allow her husband to vote for this man who has only contempt for women as exhibited by the fact that:

  • He frequented prostitutes in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans;
  • He kept an aide, Brent Furer, on his payroll for more than a year after Furer held his ex-girlfriend hostage, threatened to kill her and in fact, attacked her with a knife. Vitter denied Furer was assigned to women’s issues. Furer’s title? Legislative Assistant on Women’s Issues.
  • He voted a year ago to block the Paycheck Fairness Act despite the fact that Louisiana ranks second-worst in the nation in gender pay disparity.

We say Republican women only because we feel it’s a foregone conclusion no Democrat woman would ever vote for this man who continues to refuse to address his personal and public issues with women.

But all that aside, let’s look at the real reason that Vitter is considered a favorite to make the runoff against Democrat John Bel Edwards.

Money. Lots of money.

And that brings us to the questions we posed earlier: Who anoints the winners and do our votes really count?

First of all, a super PAC is established for his benefit. Super PACs are the scourge of the democratic process, folks. End of discussion. And his Super PAC, ironically dubbed The Fund for Louisiana’s Future in what must have been someone’s idea of a cruel joke, had more than $3 million on hand at the end of 2014. And that doesn’t even count the money he has raised directly in corporate and special interest contributions.

The very existence of the Super PAC teetered on the edge of legality and was approved only after a court fight. Super PACs are barred from coordinating with candidates’ campaigns but if you believe Vitter has not involved himself in the decision-making process of The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, I’ve got some beautiful beachfront property near that Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish for sale really cheap.

If you trust Vitter even for a nano-second, I’ve got a straitjacket in just your size.

His Super PAC aside, Vitter has another $4 million on hand as we head into the final stretch for the first primary on Oct. 24. As anyone not in a coma must surely know, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future has already initiated a media blitz attacking Vitter’s two Republican opponents, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle on the assumption that he must eliminate them to get into the runoff. He apparently is holding off on attacking State Rep. John Bel Edwards until the second primary.

Compare that to $1.6 million for Darden who has yet to crank up his TV ad campaign, $1.4 million for Edwards, and $1 million for Angelle.

Far more telling, however, is an examination of who contributes and where those contributions are coming from.

For that, we pulled only the contributions of those giving the maximum allowable $5,000. To go deeper would have just taken far too much space.

Before we begin our look into the contributions, ask yourself this question: If you give $100 or even $250 to a candidate and he is elected and down the road your interests conflict with a donor who coughed up the $5,000 maximum, who do you think will get the politician’s ear? What chance would you have in such a scenario? We thought so.

This is not a hypothetical, folks. This is real. It’s not Monopoly money. It’s money poured into campaigns by special interests who have a reason for parting with their money—and the reason is not their hunger for good, honest government that motivates them.

Remember that if you remember nothing else when you walk into that voting booth on Oct. 24.

You are a moving part in a very large machine that is being lubricated with cash in order to turn out legislation that benefits any number of special interests, none of whom even knows who you are. When you exit the voting booth, that big money has no more use for your services—until the next election cycle.

Cold? Callused? Jaded? Yes, yes, and yes. But we at LouisianaVoice are pragmatists, not idealists. We as a society do not pledge allegiance to the flag; we pledge allegiance to the oil companies, the banks, Wall Street, and major contractors. Sorry if we burst anyone’s bubble, but facts are facts, unpleasant though they may well be. Here’s another little factoid: the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist. Chew on that for a while, tea partiers.

Looking just at $5,000 contributions, we find that Vitter had 970 donors putting up the maximum, or $4.85 million. That’s a huge—very huge—chunk of his total contributions. Of that 970, there were 164 (17 percent) from out of state. That’s $820,000—more than the total of all the $5,000 contributions to Edwards and only $30,000 less than those of Dardenne.

Angelle barely had a third as many $5,000 contributors (340 for $1.7 million). Of those 340, no fewer than 81 (24 percent) were from out of state. Like Vitter, the $5,000 contributors made up a sizable block of his total campaign contributions. Where does that leave the $5, $10 and $20 contributors in the overall scheme of things?

From those figures, the numbers dropped precipitously for Dardenne and Edwards. Dardenne received 170 contributions of $5,000 each for a total of $850,000, about half of his total contributions, according to records obtained from the State Ethics Commission. Sixteen, or 9.4 percent, were from out of state.

Edwards recently issued a press release touting the low number of out-of-state contributors to his campaign. Records show that he received 114 contributions of $5,000 each for a total of $570,000. Only three of those, or 2.6 percent, were from out-of-state, in his case, all three from Texas.

This is an important election and Louisiana citizens need to get up off the couch, put down that bag of chips and forget about football for the few minutes that it takes to act on this state’s future.

No matter who wins, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get this state back on the course of recovery after eight years of neglect, abuse, and outright corruption. The new governor is going to inherit a massive deficit, all manner of problems from higher education and public education, the state hospital privatization mess, a world-leading incarceration rate, corporate welfare (Stephen Waguespack’s protestations notwithstanding), and one of the highest poverty rates in the country, to name but a few.

So here is one last question to ask yourself before you enter that voting booth:

Do you vote for the candidate who had the most money to saturate the television airwaves with ads containing half-truths and outright lies, a candidate who is bought and paid for by Wall Street, the pharmaceutical firms, big oil, the major banks and similar special interests or do you vote for the candidate who you truly feel will devote his efforts to addressing the state’s problems head-on?

The state’s future dos not belong to The Fund for Louisiana’s Future. That vote-buying Super PAC is not even in Louisiana; it’s in Washington, D.C.

The state’s future instead belongs to you.

The choice is yours.

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