By general consensus, State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) is regarded as one of the most principled, most respected members of the Louisiana Legislature.
Over the past several legislative sessions, he has annually introduced bills to force more transparency in the governor’s office by requiring greater accessibility to records kept under protective wraps by a governor already vested with more power than virtually all of his 49 contemporaries.
It has been a lonely fight with his fellow lawmakers mysteriously reluctant to stand up to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Still, he has soldiered on, willing to strive in near solitude for more openness in the executive branch.
So why, then, has he suddenly pre-filed Senate Bill 79 which would only give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks?
Adley, in reflecting on experiences with four previous governors—Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco—said he had “never seen the kind of things I’ve seen in this administration.”
He cited the Louisiana Transparency and Accountability Web site on which Jindal is quoted as saying, “I have advocated for transparent government, as I believe that the bright light of transparency and public access should extend to every corner of the state budget. An honest government has nothing to fear from openness.”
That being case, Adley said, “Why does the governor fight attempts to open his office’s records? You’re either for transparency or you’re not.”
Adley’s bill would do two things: give Jindal the authority to reject nominees to the two boards and require the committee that chooses nominees to present him a longer list of candidates from which to select members.
The bill, as written, would all but abolish restrictions that prohibit politicians from determining who is appointed to the two boards. It would serve as a major boost to Jindal who has sought to replace members of the east bank authority to support litigation against more than 90 oil and gas companies.
The bill also provides that rejected candidates would be ineligible for re-nomination and if new names were not submitted by the nominating committee, the governor would then be enabled to make the selections himself.
On the surface, given Adley’s penchant for openness and accountability, the bill defies logic since it is obviously a counteroffensive to attempts by The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.
Jindal has made no secret that he would refuse to appoint members to the board who support the lawsuit and he has already kicked three members off the authority who supported the litigation, including former chairman John Barry.
SLFPAE is attempting to force the oil and gas companies to restore the wetlands or pay SLFPAE for damages, with the money going to the state’s coastal restoration efforts.
The lawsuit claims that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes heretofore had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge, a reality abundantly clear to residents of New Orleans. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.
Adley’s SB79 should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.
As that AT&T commercial says, it’s not complicated.
Adley has owned Pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and, more importantly, has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.
Adley could claim that the contributions had no bearing on his opposition to the litigation or to his filing a bill that flies in the face of his call for more openness on the part of the governor’s office, but such an argument would be disingenuous at best and downright dishonest and self-serving at worst.
Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee.
Somehow, it seems to us that a more appropriate committee assignment might have been the Natural Resources Committee. Or perhaps the Environmental Quality Committee or even the Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee.
We are told, however, that the assignment to that committee is appropriate in that Senate rules vest jurisdiction of legislation affecting levee boards with Transportation, Highways & Public Works, though an argument could be made that because the bill deals with appointments subject to confirmation, that it could have been assigned to the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee.
The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?
Robert Adley. (318) 965-1755, email@example.com
Other members and their oil and gas-related contributions in descending order (and their contact information that we gave you earlier):
- Gary Smith (D-Norco)—(985) 764-9122, firstname.lastname@example.org, $21,500;
- David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans)—(504) 361-6356, HeitmeierD@legis.la.gov, $13,500;
- Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville)—(318) 687-4820, email@example.com, $11,000;
- Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa)—(985) 732-6863 firstname.lastname@example.org, $7,000;
- Dale Erdy (R-Livingston)—(225) 686-2881, email@example.com, $4,000;
- Troy Brown (D-Napoleonville)—(985) 369-3333, firstname.lastname@example.org, $0 (as in nothing, nada, zilch).
This lawsuit, as District 5 Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Foster Campbell (D-Elm Grove) has said on many occasions, is about holding the oil and gas companies accountable for the damage done to Louisiana’s coastline. “If your neighbor runs his car into your fence and knocks it down, you would expect him to pay for the repairs,” the Bossier Parish native said. “That’s all this litigation is about—holding someone accountable for the damage done to our property.”
Opponents, including the ultra-Tea Party blog The Hayride, have latched onto the claim that the lawsuit has earned Louisiana the designation as a “judicial hellhole.”
By providing the contact information of the committee members who will be considering Adley’s bill, we have given both opponents and proponents an opportunity to pass their sentiments on to their elected officials.
And that, friends and neighbors, is called democracy in action in a representative government.