Complaints and protests had no effect on the decision by Louisiana Tech David Vitter to restrict access to Thursday night’s gubernatorial debate on the Ruston campus, so LouisianaVoice has submitted a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request under Louisiana’s Public Records Law (R.S. 44:1 et seq.) for any documentation revealing Vitter’s thumbprints on the unprecedented decision to bar access to the debate to students, the public and the media.
It is as obvious as that great big elephant in the room that Vitter is Bobby Jindal reincarnated as far as his unwillingness to take unscripted questions or questions not approved in advance. His propensity for appearing only in tightly controlled venues is doing little to blot out the ugly memory of eight years of Jindal’s avoidance of unpleasant questions.
All politicians, of course, would prefer to appear at events that evidence overwhelming support and if a politician is willing to take the risk, he will encounter hostile crowds or, at least an enterprising journalist who isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. Vitter, however, has taken his aversion to such risks to a level at which even Jindal would be envious.
His reasons are quite obvious. He refuses to entertain, let along answer, the BIG question: “Senator, did you break the law?”
Ask Edwin Edwards that and he would likely say, “Sure, but you’re going to have find out for yourself which one it was.”
Ask Paul Newman in his lead role in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean that, and he would simply tear that page out of the law book and say, “That’s a bad law. I just repealed it.”
Ask Jindal that and he’d probably hire Jimmy Faircloth to file suit against the law.
But you just can’t ask Vitter that. Plain and simple, he’s not going to put himself in that position, which presents a conundrum of sorts or, as the late Johnny Carson might say, “A sticky wicket.” The problem I have with that is this man is asking us to place our trust in him and to elect him Governor when he is not willing to accept questions about his moral character.
Moral character. An interesting term and one might justifiably ask what that has to do with his ability to govern. After all, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, JFK, FDR, Bill Clinton, Warren Harding, and 14 other presidents are rumored to have carried on affairs in the White House—some with male partners.
For the answer, I will only point to the fact that Vitter ran as a family values candidate and in 1998 Vitter opined that Clinton “should resign…and move beyond this (Monica Lewinski) mess.” http://cenlamar.com/2010/08/21/can-we-be-honest-about-david-vitter/
But now, after being linked to prostitutes in Washington and New Orleans, doesn’t have so much to say on the subject of infidelity. As a candidate for Louisiana’s chief executive officer, he has instituted his very on “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
And he’s making damn sure no one gets to ask that. Hence, the controlled venues, including barring the media and the public from a “public debate” in a public facility on the campus of Louisiana Tech University Thursday night.
Which must beg the question in the minds of any citizen of Louisiana who can get past the latest exploits of those wild and crazy Kardashians: what else might he refuse to share with the electorate of this state? Will he, like Jindal, shut off the governor’s office from all outside inquiries, including those about legitimate state business? Will he invoke the “deliberative process” as did Jindal for eight long years?
He was uncomfortable enough at Thursday night’s debate when the question of his attack ads against fellow Republicans Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle arose. Of course, he denied his hand in the attacks, saying that he didn’t buy the ads; that The Fund for Louisiana’s Future did.
Well, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future just happens to be his very own Super PAC and while federal law dictates that candidates not involved themselves in the decision-making process of plotting strategy and ad buys with Super PACs, never doubt for a nano-second that it was his hand stirring the pot. After all, Vitter gave a quarter-million dollars of his own money to The Fund for Louisiana’s Future.
So, in a sufficient state of outrage over Vitter’s exclusion of the very public he is asking to elect him, I, Tom Aswell, on behalf of LouisianaVoice has submitted the following public records request of Louisiana Tech President Les Guice:
Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the following information:
Please allow me to review all communications, including text messages, twitter messages, emails and any other written correspondence between any representative of Louisiana Tech University (including any member of the university’s administration and/or the university public information office from U.S. Sen. David Vitter and/or any member of his Senate and/or campaign staff or representative/spokesperson for David Vitter, including aides, public relations firms, advertising agencies, Fund for Louisiana’s Future, or anyone else serving in a capacity to promote his gubernatorial campaign. Such request is limited to any and all discussions of the gubernatorial debate of Thursday, October 15, 2015 at Louisiana Tech University, including, but not limited to any and all parameters, restrictions, and/or criteria of said debate, including any advance questions submitted or to be submitted to such spokespersons and/or David Vitter, any demands, suggestions and/or stipulations as to who may or may not be allowed to attend said debate and any reasons and/or justification given to support such demands, suggestions and/or stipulations.
Just so there are no misunderstandings about what information I am entitled to, below are some major requirements of the Louisiana Public Records Act (R.S. 44:1, et seq.) and remedies that are available to us for non-compliance with the law:
LOUISIANA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT, L.R.S. 44:1 ET SEQ
WHAT ARE PUBLIC RECORDS UNDER THE ACT?
To be “public,” the record must have been used, prepared, possessed, or retained for use in connection with a function performed under authority of the Louisiana Constitution, a state law, or an ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of a public body. This definition covers virtually every kind of record kept by a state or local governmental body. La. R.S. 44:1(A)(1). In Louisiana, a “public record” includes books, records, writings, letters, memos, microfilm, and photographs, including copies and other reproductions.
WHO CAN REQUEST PUBLIC RECORDS?
In Louisiana, any person at least 18 years of age may inspect, copy, reproduce or obtain a copy of any public record. La. R.S. 44:32. The purpose for the document request is immaterial, and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason, except to justify a fee waiver.
HOW TO MAKE A PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST
A request to review or copy a public record is made to the custodian of the records. The custodian is the public official or head of any public body having custody or control of the public record, or a representative authorized to respond to requests to inspect public records.
You may also make an oral request in person to inspect a public record. At that time, the public record must be immediately presented to you, unless the record is not immediately available or is being actively used at the time. If the public record is not immediately available, the custodian must promptly notify you in writing of the reason why the record is not immediately available and fix a day and hour within three days (excluding Saturday, Sunday, and legal holidays) when the records will be made available.
Enforcing The Public Records Law
A custodian who determines a record is not public, must provide written reasons, including the legal basis, within three working days. If a requester is denied a public record by a custodian or if five business days have passed since the initial request and the custodian has not responded, the requester may file a civil suit to enforce his right to access. The custodian bears the burden of proving that the record is not subject to disclosure because of either privacy rights or a specific exemption. The law requires the courts to act expeditiously in such suits and to render a decision “as soon as practicable.” If the requester prevails in the suit, the court will award reasonable attorney’s fees and other costs. If the requester partially prevails, the court may, at its discretion, award reasonable attorney’s fees or an appropriate portion thereof. (The custodian and the public body may each be held liable for the payment of the requester’s attorney’s fees and other costs of litigation; however, the custodian cannot be held personally liable for these fees and costs if he acted on advice from a lawyer representing the public body.) The court may also award the requester civil penalties of up to $100 for each day the custodian arbitrarily failed to give a written explanation of the reasons for denying the request. In addition, if the court finds that the custodian arbitrarily or capriciously withheld a public record, it may award actual damages proven by the requester to have resulted from the custodian’s action. (The custodian may be held personally liable for the actual damages unless his denial of the request was based on advice from a lawyer representing the public body.)
In addition to civil remedies, the law also provides criminal penalties. Anyone with custody or control of a public record who violates the law or hinders the inspection of a public record will be fined $100 to $1,000, or imprisoned for one to six months upon first conviction. For a subsequent conviction, the penalty is a fine of $250 to $2,000 or imprisonment from two to six months, or both.
We amended this request about five minutes after we sent it after we received additional suggestions from a reader. The amended requests reads thus:
Any and all documents related to the Louisiana gubernatorial debate held on the Louisiana Tech campus on October 15, 2015.
Requesting specifically any and all e-mails, documents, audio files, digital files, and printed matters related to the debate rules, venue choice, reasons for not allowing an audience and press to be able to watch the event.
Requesting specifically any and all e-mails, documents, audio files, digital files, and printed matters from or to David Vitter, his office, his staff, including Luke Bolar, and others to any employee or volunteer at LA Tech since April 15, 2015. Requesting specifically any and all e-mails, documents, audio files, digital files, and printed matters from or to President Les Guice with the words “debate,” Vitter, “Edwards,” “Angelle,” “Dardenne,” “Senator,” “Governor,” or “Sen.”
Requesting a written rationale for not allowing students, staff, faculty, or the community to view the debate in person on campus.
Requesting a written rationale for the decision to allow certain radio and television stations to broadcast the event. and not allowing others.
Requesting a list of names, titles, and e-mail addresses for all persons involved in any way with planning, promoting, facilitating or decision-making related to the debate.
(Disclaimer: Not that it matters, but I am a 1970 graduate of Louisiana Tech.)
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