As I have mentioned before, I am a recovering Repugnantcan. I registered the same day that Gov. Edwin Edwards signed into law the bill creating the single primary system in Louisiana back in the mid-1970s and stayed with the party until midway through Bobby Jihad’s first term – hey, even newborn puppies have to be given the opportunity to open their eyes.

About the same time that I was transitioning, Caroline Fayard, a former (unsuccessful) candidate for Louisiana lieutenant governor came under fire when she made the observation that Republicans “EAT THEIR YOUNG.”

That wasn’t exactly an original expression. An earlier version said, “Old people vote and Republicans eat their young.”

But since Fayard first uttered those words, the expression has morphed into “Republicans eat their own,” with the most recent case in point being Liz Cheney, stripped of her House leadership position because she had the audacity to proclaim that Donald Trump actually lost the 2020 election.

One writer recently wrote that “For eight years, they tried to get a Cheney for lying. Finally, they got one for telling the truth.”

Regardless where or when the expression originated, the claim has never been in sharper focus than it is today as Repugnantcans scramble to tighten voter restrictions, loosen gun-toting restrictions and generally rewrite history even as the images of carnage remain fresh in our minds.

Elected officials like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes, Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Jim Jordan and John N. Kennedy would have us believe the unbridled riots of Jan. 6 were something other than what we witnessed in horror that day.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) says he never felt threatened by the mob. Our own Sen. Kennedy, while condemning the violence instigated by Trump, nevertheless joined with five other senators in voting to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona.

Scalise, being the self-serving weasel he is, simply kept silent on Trump’s role in inciting the rioters to storm the Capitol, taking what he felt was the safe route to keeping his Minority Whip position rather than showing true leadership by holding Trump accountable.

Gaetz, along with such reliable chroniclers of truth Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin, tried to tell us the rioters were actually members of Antifa or Black Lives Matter.

And when five of our Six Repugnantcans voted to challenge the election results, talk show host, aka Mouth of the South Moon Griffon said they “did the right thing.”

What’s really puzzling is that the Repugnantcans have long identified themselves as the anti-communist stalwarts, yet they are now perfectly willing to look the other way in the face of hard evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election that put Trump in office.

I was repeatedly accused of something called TDS during the presidential campaign last year. TDS is “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” and for some reason the fanatics who supported the Tangerine Toddler unquestionably and unconditionally were the ones accusing those who questioned his actions of suffering from the ailment.

It would seem to me that one who pledges absolute fealty to a demagogue would be the one who suffers from TDS, but that’s just me.

But the top prize for TDS has to go to U.S. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Georgia).

He tops anything ever said by Clay Higgins, John Kennedy or Ron Johnson – and that’s saying a lot.

A story in yesterday’s Washington Post quotes Clyde as downplaying the events of Jan. 6 as “acts of vandalism” and suggested it was a “boldfaced lie” to call what happened that day an “insurrection.”

I’m sorry, congressman, but I can’t make the mental stretch necessary to say that the killing of a Capitol police officer was a simple “act of vandalism.”

But Clyde wasn’t finished.

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos, pictures,” the Post quoted Clyde as saying. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Orderly fashion? Staying between the stanchions and ropes? Normal tourist visit? What the hell have you been smoking, Congressman? Which TV footage were you watching? The one I was watching (in real time, by the way) didn’t look anything like a “normal tourist visit.”

And then there is Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), who the same Post article said accused the Justice Department of “harassing peaceful patriots” for its attempts to identify and arrest those who stormed the Capitol that day. “Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters,” Gosar said. “The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime.”

And all this time, I thought the Repugnantcans were in favor of law enforcement and the punishment of criminals.

Finally, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) regurgitated the Antifa claim. He supported his view by opining that the attack was premeditated and so could not have been incited by Trump. Never mind the indisputable fact that Trump had literally SPENT WEEKS whipping supporters into a collective froth with his false claims of fraud, all capped off by his call to march on the Capitol.

Sorry, Repugs, you can’t change history. Sen. Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

But Gloria Steinem may have said it best when she said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

And the sad truth is Repugnantcans do, in fact, eat their own.

Just ask Liz Cheney.

An editorial cartoon on Wednesday said that the Ringling Circus was boycotting Arizona, citing the “unfair competition from the vote audit circus” because it had “the best clowns.”

You can now add Louisiana to that list of boycotts by Ringling because there’s just no way their clowns can hold the line when pitted against certain of our legislators.

Take Reps. Valerie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette), Kathy Edmonston (R-Gonzales), and Mark Wright (R-Covington). Somebody please take them.

Okay, old joke but what the House Education Committee did on Wednesday was certainly no laughing matter, though all three should have been wearing big, oversized shoes, red noses and orange wigs. In fact, that goes for all eight committee members who voted to report Hodges’ House Bill 352 favorably.

Committee Chair Garofalo, as noted by committee member Rep. Ken Brass (D-Vacherie), somehow managed to spend the entirety of the testimony on the bill in another committee room but still managed to make it back in time to vote in favor of the bill – without benefit of hearing any of the testimony. Meanwhile, he left it to Wright, who had problems with committee procedure and the rules of order, to preside over the debate.

So, what’s the big deal about HB 352? The answer is self-proclaimed historian/author DAVID BARTON of Dallas, Texas, and his outfit called Wallbuilders. Wallbangers might be a better name for it.

Wallbuilders is a company that offers a line of textbooks that purport to teach American history and civics but with a decided flair for omitting the uglier aspects of our history like Native American genocide, SLAVERY and such messy details as our third President fathering children by a slave woman. In fact, one of its books, THE FOUNDING FATHERS AND SLAVERY, places the blame for slavery in this country on Great Britain, claiming that “…the Founders vigorously complained against the fact that Great Britain had forcefully imposed upon the Colonies the evil of slavery. For example, Thomas Jefferson heavily criticized that British policy.”

Good to know. The book goes on to say that “even the Virginia Founders were not responsible for slavery, but actually tried to dismantle the institution.” Perhaps that explains how Richmond became the Capital of the Confederacy.

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Wallbuilders’ updated history books put the onus on the Southern Poverty Law Center for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capital.

Hodges, testifying on behalf of her bill, co-authored by Rep. Edmonston, assured committee members that because she served as a missionary in Mexico for a couple of decades, she knows “how it feels to be judged by the color of my skin.”

Seriously? How about in your own country, Rep. Hodges? Ever been judged by the color of your skin in the good ol’ US of A?

But I digress. Among other things, HB 352 mandates the teaching of:

  • The “Founding Principles (capitalized, no less) of the United States of America” (somewhat subjective as those founding principles (capitalized) will presumably be what Wallbuilders deems them to be;
  • Federalism and the Federalist Papers;
  • American exceptionalism;
  • Globalism and the United Nations;
  • Immigration policy;
  • Due process and equal justice under the law (something that most probably should be taught many of our political leaders who seem to believe they are a law unto themselves).

“Textbooks and instructional materials…shall accurately reflect the contributions and achievements of ordinary Americans and promote an understanding of the history and values of the people of the United States and Louisiana, including the free enterprise system, the benefits of capitalism, private property, constitutional liberties, the value of a constitutional republic and traditional standards of moral values,” the bill says.

It also says, “Political activism of one point of view over another has no place in formal education…” That’s rather strange coming from Hodges considering she once endorsed the concept of church-affiliated schools receiving state charters – until an Islamic school in New Orleans applied for one. She nearly popped a blood vessel over that, declaring she had not meant her endorsement of faith-based schools to extend quite that far.

Not said, but certainly understood, considering Barton’s presence and endorsement testimony at Wednesday’s hearing was that Wallbuilders stands to reap a windfall should HB 352 become law. Why else do you think Barton would make an appearance to push the bill other than to see the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) forced to approve his books for grades one through 12?

Representatives from the Louisiana State Department of Education and BESE, by the way, were on hand to oppose the bill – to no avail.

And then there’s that bill by committee chair Garofalo that’s sort of hanging out there in limbo because he was sufficiently stupid as to piss off the legislative Black Caucus with his insensitive remark that his HB 564 would allow educators to teach “the good” about “slavery.”

Uh…and what good would that be, Garofalo? All those good ol’ blues and spiritual songs? Sewanee River? Old Man River?

Like Hodges, Garofalo lives in some kind of dream world. His bill would prohibit the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” like the myth that the U.S. or the gret stet of Looziana is “fundamentally, institutionally or systemically racist or sexist.”

Really, Rep. Garofalo? And the fact that there is no systemic racism or sexism would explain why Blacks are much more likely to be pulled over by police and why women earn approximately 60 cents to ever dollar a male makes for performing the same job?

Perhaps the complete absence of sexism would explain why LSU finds itself in quite the legal pickle over its handling of sexual harassment complaints on campus. You think maybe?

No racism? Well, that surely explains all those private and charter schools popping up all over the state, now, doesn’t it? They certainly weren’t created so the poor and black kids could be dumped into low-performing public schools while all those middle- and upper-class kids trotted off to their private or charter schools, were they?

And all those dirt-poor Native American reservations just couldn’t be a symbol of systemic racism. Nor could the attacks on Islamic citizens, Asians, and the demands that Latinos “speak English.” (Would you ever suggest to a member of the Sicilian Mafia that he “speak English”?)

Don’t believe me? Well, read on to the bottom of page 4 of Garofalo’s bill: “…[A] charter school …and the school’s officers and employees shall be exempt from all statutory mandates or other statutory requirements that are applicable to public schools and to public school officers and employees…”

Well, that certainly clashes with that provision in Hodges’ HB352 that stipulates that there shall be “equal justice under the law.”

A Louisiana legislator whose umbilical cord is attached intransigently and unapologetically to the oil and gas industry (no conflict there) authored a couple of bills in the current session which would do far more to protect the industry than it does Louisiana citizens or its environment.

House bills 617 and 549 would, in order, (a) make Louisiana a “fossil fuel sanctuary” in defiance of President Biden’s environmental plans and (b) change the status of natural gas pipelines from “transport vehicles” to “facilities,” a subtle difference in vernacular that would remove the authority of State Police to impose FINES against pipeline companies for failing to report natural gas leaks in a timely manner.

And while The Guardian, the superb British publication, REPORTED on HB 617 by State Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City), the House has already given near-unanimous (97-0, with seven representatives not voting) approval of HB 549, which would drastically change the reporting requirements on and responsibility for natural gas leaks.

Both bills by McCormick, who Guardian reporter Sara Sneath pointed out runs M&M Oil and who before becoming a legislator, was a member of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, the powerful industry lobbying group, dovetail nicely with Louisiana’s long tradition of fealty to the petrochemical industry in Louisiana but which appear to run counter to the health interests of his constituents and to protection of Louisiana’s air quality.

Calumet Refinery, for example, was hit in 2013 with a $326,000 fine for nine air violations and a group of oil companies, including Calumet, offered residents of a mostly Black neighborhood in his district a paltry $2.7 million to SETTLE several lawsuits over health problems suffered by 703 plaintiffs that had dragged on for decades.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy may express his anger at Biden’s description of the corridor along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as “cancer alley,” but facts are facts, no matter how inconvenient they may be. The corridor had that name – with good reason – long before Biden appeared on the scene even as vice president in the Barack Obama administration.

Because of fears that the EPA could revoke the state’s authority to enforce federal rules and possibly because of the Legislative Fiscal Office’s estimate of the possible lost of nearly $7.3 million in federal funds, McCormick’s fossil fuel sanctuary bill was tabled. That didn’t prevent him from sniffing, “I don’t know who would have a problem with it (the bill), honestly.”

But the House passage of his HB 549 raises new fears with attorney Isaac Jackson who says an obscure state statute could shield oil and gas companies from legal liability for damages they might cause. Unreported gas leaks that spark explosions could be a classic example of the unintended consequences of LA R.S. 30:51.

Jackson, who is a former general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, a former assistant attorney general and a former employee of Exxon, says it would be difficult to portray him as anti-oil and gas.

“At the same time,” he said, “I am concerned that the oil and gas/petrochemical lobby has wielded so much influence with regulators and legislators that laws have been shaped to have certain oil and gas companies avoid liability for damages they admit to causing.  I can tell you from first-hand experience in the industry that most oilfield operators are good operators.  But these laws are designed to protect only the few, worst ones. That’s not how the law should work.

“This is why I am concerned about a curious law of unclear intention, unclear origin, with no legislative history, and which is broadly worded in a dangerous way. The law’s key language is not typical of other laws. The vague wording of the law makes it susceptible to disagreement in how it might apply. But that uncertainty is also what makes it dangerous,” he said.

A plain reading of Revised Statute 30:51 indicates that it creates what Jackson calls a “secret” three-year countdown clock within which a state or local official must sue an oil and gas operator to enforce a penalty, otherwise known in legal circles as prescription. “That alone is enough to raise one’s eyebrows,” Jackson said. 

Under normal Louisiana law, the countdown clock for holding the violator responsible would begin only upon the regulator learning of the violation. But this odd law starts the clock regardless of any knowledge to the regulator. Instead, the law uses the curious term “made known” and states that the clock begins when an operator “makes known” a violation to the state attorney general. “What does it even mean to ‘make known’ to the attorney general?” Jackson asked rhetorically. “A postcard? An oral statement made in passing? A formal letter? No one knows because the law is so oddly worded.”

Left unsaid by Jackson was the well-known predisposition of the current attorney general to protect the oil and gas industry at all costs. AG JEFF LANDRY has consistently FOUGHT EFFORTS by Gov. John Bel Edwards and individual parishes to hold the industry accountable for the vast damage it has inflicted on Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

“Here’s a good question for those who doubt the possible implications of this law: if this is not a get-out-of-jail free card to bad industry actors, then what actually is the alternative purpose and effect of the law?” Jackson asked.

He said the state must be honest with itself. “In the oil and gas context, bad operators do not write to notify their local and parish officials when the operator commits a violation for the same reason citizens do not write letters to the police to self-report speeding violations. With this law on the books, bad operators have a perverse incentive to cover up violations and quietly notify the attorney general, knowing that he may not alert local governments and state regulators,” he said. 

“This is a bad law and it should be changed. Until it is changed, local district attorneys should advise local and parish government clients of the dangers associated with Revised Statute 30:51 and push the attorney general for a formal policy ensuring that the public and officials are notified of each violation “made known” to the attorney general. And unless district attorneys warn their clients of the dangers associated with this law they perhaps risk falling short of their obligation under Revised Statute 16:2(C) to render faithful and efficient services.”

The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association (LSA) is apparently on-board with House Bill 609 but not without some good old-fashioned horse trading, aka deal-making.

HB 609, by State Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge), would tear down the wall of so-called qualified immunity that for years has protected law enforcement officers from lawsuits when they commit misconduct, violate an individual’s rights or break the law.

Qualified immunity exists under both federal and state statutes and extends immunity from lawsuits to prosecutors as well and courts have generally UPHELD THE PRINCIPLE even though the concept is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The unofficial doctrine has fueled the frustration of human rights activists.

Jordan’s bill would change that and while the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have sparked the national debate over qualified immunity, it is a LOUISIANA CASE that lies at the heart of his bill.

The crux of HB 609 says, “No element of qualified immunity shall be available to peace officers as a defense to liability for claims brought under the laws of Louisiana for wrongful death, physical injury or personal injury inflicted by peace officers through any use of physical force in a manner determined by the court to be unreasonable.”

The proposed law would apply to commissioned police officers, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, marshals, deputy marshals, correction officers, constables, wildlife enforcement agents, state park wardens, probation and parole officers, military police officers, security personnel employed by the Louisiana Supreme Court or any Louisiana court of appeal, officers, employees, contract workers or volunteers with any prison, jail, work release facility, or correctional institution.

So, what are the conditions laid out by LSA in exchange for its support of the bill?

If you guessed money, you’d be correct.

When all these sheriffs in Louisiana cast longing eyes at the per diem paid to house prisoners, the race was on to build more and bigger local prisons to accommodate state inmates. The fact that the new facilities would allow the sheriffs to offer jobs in their respective parishes was a convenient plus, politically speaking.

But when the feds upped the ante by paying a lot more to house illegal immigrants, those same civic-minded sheriffs cast aside state prisoners in favor of the federal detainees, who brought in bigger bucks.

Many of the sheriffs even farmed out the operations of their local jails to private companies while cutting themselves in for a share of the easy money. The former sheriff of St. Tammany Parish got himself into a peck of trouble for setting up a deputy’s family to run the parish prison and in St. Bernard Parish, the sheriff simply over-built his prison, costing the parish a lot of money for building housing far fewer than its capacity. The sheriff of East Carroll Parish actually went to jail over his scheme to build and run four private prisons.

 Some even established their own work-release programs whereby prisoners were leased to local concerns which paid the inmates minimum wage. Of course, the sheriffs and private companies RAKED OFF A SHARE of the prisoners’ meager earnings as recompense for running the programs – never mind the state was already paying them to house the prisoners.

And just to ensure they could get most of what the prisoners were able to keep for themselves, commissaries were established that charged OUTRAGEOUS PRICES for Honey Buns and soft drinks.

Not wanting to leave any money on the table, phone systems were set up whereby extortion-level prices were charged for collect phone calls home to loved ones.

If you ordered my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, you might find yourself wondering why the LSA doesn’t do more to clean up its image instead of spending time trying to enrich its members. (You can order the book for $30 by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this post or by sending a check to LouisianaVoice, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727.)

So, in exchange for its “support” of Jordan’s bill, the LSA wants to increase the per diem for housing state prisoners from $24 to $30 and is demanding to be allowed to charge even more for snacks and drinks from local commissaries.

And an increase in the already high prices of collect phone calls is reportedly also among the LSA’s wish list for its support of what should be a basic right in the first place.

And all this time, we thought scalping was illegal.

It’s finally here.

After years in the research and writing that saw thousands of pages of records rescued from a historic flood, my fifth book, Murder on the Teche: A True Story of Money and a Flawed Investigation is now available.

Dr. Robert Chastant, a highly successful and widely respected New Iberia orthodontist, was brutally murdered on Dec. 13, 2010 at his horse farm near his home. The killer, a Mexican illegal who worked for Chastant, was quickly apprehended and confessed to killing the doctor with a claw hammer. But, he told authorities, he was paid $1,000 by Chastant’s wife, Laurie, to kill her husband. Her possible motive? The difference between approximately $80,000 she would have received under a pre-nuptial agreement and more than $2 million in insurance and benefits.

Murder on the Teche contains the classic ingredients: money, a love triangle, murder and a bitter fight among Chastant’s third wife Laurie and his children. The inexperienced, bumbling investigators who overlooked or ignored obvious clues that may have revealed the involvement of a second person did little to alleviate tensions.

Laurie Chastant was never questioned as a suspect in the murder. Was it ineptness on the part of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office or did the fact that Laurie’s father was – and is – a sheriff’s deputy in a nearby parish who had worked with Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal when both were Louisiana State Troopers influence authorities to consider Viera the lone killer?

I undertook this book after being contacted by Dr. Chastant’s brother, Paul Chastant, an architect living in Texas. He directed me to Lafayette attorney James Daniels, who represented his brother’s estate in the myriad legal fights. Daniels graciously provided me with boxes of legal documents which were sitting on the floor of my den when 33 inches of river water invaded my home in the flood of 2016. As I dejectedly stared at the soaked documents, my heroic wife Betty said, “Well, let’s get busy drying them out.” We then laid every single page on 8X4 plywood sheets in the hot August sun. The result was we saved every single page. While not in the best of shape, they were usable.

The result was this book, which you can order from me for $20 (the $17.95 price, plus shipping) by clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this post to pay by credit card or you can mail a check to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727. (This is not a donation to the LouisianaVoice fundraiser: I promised no more of that until September. This is separate and apart from the LouisianaVoice non-profit.)

You may also order by clicking on the CAVALIER HOUSE ad on this page. That will take you to the web page of Cavalier House Book Sellers in Denham Springs.

Finally, you may order direct from DVille Press, my publisher, by clicking on www.dvillepress.com

Whichever method you choose, I sincerely hope you enjoy the book.

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