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Archive for the ‘Earl Long, Huey Long’ Category

In June of 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law Acts 754 and 779, both of which were designed to curtail the so-called legacy lawsuits and thereby curbing landowners’ rights to hold oil companies responsible for damages to private property where they had drilled.

Everyone it seemed, especially the oil companies and the Louisiana politicians who were beholden to them, rejoiced. Handshakes and back slapping abounded. Those mean old trial lawyers had finally got their comeuppance. More important, the new legislation would ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil money into the campaign coffers of friendly legislators—and governors.

Even U.S. Sen. David Vitter weighed in on the discussion to sputter that the new laws “will ensure that Louisiana remains a leader in responsibly producing great American energy—AND great American energy jobs.”

But before we cue the brass band and break out the flags and apple pie, consider another very telling part of Vitter’s official statement of Nov. 14, 2012:

“To correct the situation (of legacy lawsuits), the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), and other business groups proposed reforms that were introduced as bills at the start of this past state legislative session.”

That’s right. LOGA and LABI proposed the reforms. Apparently, the input of landowners whose property had been ravaged by drilling operations and left cluttered with abandoned equipment was not needed—or wanted. Vitter, never one to back away from an issue important to his Republican constituency, continued:

“The message began to resonate. As a result, the House voted overwhelmingly—82 to 19 — in support of the strong legislation that LOGA and others helped draft. And momentum grew.

“Within a few short weeks, this led to a so-called compromise on the issue, which was passed and signed into law. But, it’s not just a compromise; it’s a solution, because it included all of the major elements of the strong proposed legislation.”

But as my favorite poet, Bobby Burns of downtown Shongaloo once wrote: “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go kaput.”

Just when legislators, LABI, LOGA and Jindal thought it was safe to go back into the courtroom, along comes the Mother of All Legacy Lawsuits.

A lot has transpired in the four months since the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) raised Jindal’s hackles when it filed that massive lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for damages to the disappearing Louisiana coastline, not all of it good for the guv.

His courtroom setbacks are stacking up like dead armadillos on a busy Louisiana highway in the hot summertime but he nevertheless sticks with attorney Jimmy Faircloth, the recipient of more than a million dollars in fees while winning…what was it? Oh, yes, zero cases. Jindal could probably paper the walls of the governor’s mansion with the adverse legal decisions handed down thus far. His national political stock has gone into a free-fall that has him grabbing onto any issue that will give him face time on Faux News or CNN.

Distracted by his ongoing feud with President Obama over health care and the federal lawsuit that has thwarted his school voucher program, his pressing duties as Chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association and his yeoman’s work on behalf of failed Republican candidates (see Virginia governor’s race and Louisiana congressional election), Jindal has had precious little leisure time to tend to pesky little issues facing the state (see health care, budget deficits, federal investigations into multi-million contracts, crumbling infrastructure, flood insurance and that ever-expanding sink hole in Assumption Parish).

The one matter that he did tackle head-on, however, was that ridiculous lawsuit by the greedy SLFPA-E against those poor defenseless oil companies for the destruction of that useless Louisiana coastline that’s good for nothing but as a wildlife refuge…and oh yes, hurricane surge protection.

Jindal believes that the litigation is a crime against nature and just to prove his point, he resorted to his favorite tactic—firing those who dare disagree. But before he could fire three members of the authority who pushed for the lawsuit, he took the added measure of removing a $500,000 annual subsidy the authority has received in years past. Of course Jindal said the funding cutback was unrelated to the litigation. Yeah, right.

And of course Jindal only wants what’s fair for those civic-minded oil companies that dredged and then abandoned some 10,000 miles of canals along the Louisiana coast, decimating the hurricane wind and surge protection the coastal lands and marshes provided before their disappearance.

Oh, did we mention that of those 97 companies named in the lawsuit, 16 combined to contribute a minimum of $171,750 to one or more of Jindal’s three gubernatorial campaigns? And one of those, Marathon Oil, in addition to the $15,000 ponied up for Jindal’s campaigns, chipped in an additional $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children. Marathon subsidiaries then received a cool $5.2 million in state funds.

For a governor who raked in more than $20 million in his three campaigns, $421,750 seems an awfully cheap price for which to sell out the state’s chance to withstand the onslaught of coastal erosion—to turn the tide, if you’ll forgive the bad pun.

The antithesis to the pomposity of Vitter would be the dogmatic candor of Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, the last of the Louisiana populist politicians. Campbell, who ran unsuccessfully against Jindal in 2007, has thrown his unconditional support behind of the authority’s lawsuit and sharply criticized Jindal in the process.

“Jindal’s actions undermine the people and institutions trying to protect Louisiana from coastal erosion and flooding,” Campbell said. “He is shielding from blame the companies partly responsible for the damage.”

It is not the first time Campbell has taken shots at the establishment. He has accused virtually every Louisiana politician, with the exception of former Gov. Dave Treen, of selling out to the big oil interests. “The board (SLFPA-E) has done what virtually no politician in Louisiana has dared to do—confront Big Oil about its destructive coastal practices,” he said. “Mr. Jindal’s response was to replace the board president and vice president with people who will undo the lawsuit.”

Jindal, in arguing against the wisdom of the lawsuit, said it “jeopardizes and undermines our ability to implement the Master Plan.”

Jindal was referencing the 50-year coastal protection and restoration Master Plan which outlines how the state and local governments will restore wetlands and improve on flood protection, particularly for the New Orleans area.

There’re only two problems with that $50 billion Master Plan:

It’s unfunded.

And if something is not done soon, there may not be a New Orleans to worry about in 50 years.

Jindal also called on SLFPA-E to fire its attorneys, claiming they were hired in violation of state law that requires their hiring be approved by the governor.

But then-SLFPA-E Chairman John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, said Jindal was dead wrong (nothing new about that) in his contention that the authority needed his permission to file suit. He said Jindal was relying on the wrong state law that applies to state boards and commissions, not the specific legislation creating the authority. (We can’t help but wonder where Jindal got his legal advice.)

So Jindal took the only action he knows: he fired Barry, Ricardo Pineda and David Barnes and replaced them with New Orleans attorney Lambert Hassinger, Jr., Jefferson Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, and Kelly McHugh of Madisonville, president of the Kelly McHugh and Associates civil engineering and land surveying firm.

And, oh yes, he yanked the authority’s $500,000 annual state subsidy.

But then a strange thing happened. The parishes of Jefferson and Plaquemines filed their own lawsuits against a spate of oil companies. Jefferson filed seven lawsuits and Plaquemines 21, claiming a variety of environmental law infractions, including dredging canals without proper permits and without employing erosion prevention techniques to prevent the encroachment of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico.

And Jindal is powerless to fire the parish leaders or to require that they seek his permission to file suit or that they fire their attorneys.

It brings to mind the 1958 battle between the U.S. Justice Department over desegregation. Then-Gov. Earl Long saw the inevitability of things to come as well as the futility of continued resistance against the federal government. Leander Perez, boss of Plaquemines Parish, that last bastion of segregation, however, did not and vowed to continue the fight. This prompted Long to chide Perez, saying, “Whatcha gonna do now, Leander? The feds got the A-Bomb!”

That quote could be paraphrased today with, “Whatcha gonna do now, Bobby? Those parishes got their own attorneys!”

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Earl Long is generally credited with the following quote:

“Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.”

And so it came to pass that one day just before the Christmas season in the year of our Lord 2010, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Chief of Staff Little Timmy Teepell were sitting across from one another at a table heavily laden with seasonal food winking at each other.

It was the governor who, breaking political protocol, interrupted the silence first.

BJ: I’m bored.

Little TT: Bored?

BJ: Yes, bored. I’ve been stuck here in the state for three whole days now.

Little TT: What do you suggest, Governor?

BJ: A road trip.

Little TT: But governor, all the elections are over. There’s no one to campaign for. And we’ve done the book tour thing.

BJ: Well, I’m bored. What can we do?

Little TT: Well, Governor, the natives are pretty restless. They think you should remain in the state a couple of weeks and work on the budget deficit.

BJ: TWO WEEKS!!!!?? Bor-ring!

Little TT: Seriously, Governor, we need to discuss ways to raise revenue for the state to offset an anticipated $1.6 billion budget deficit next year.

BJ: Isn’t there a hurricane or an oil spill or some other disaster that can give me face time on the TV cameras so I can act governorential?

Little TT: Governorential?

BJ: Yes. You know, where I go on TV and blame the federal government for everything.

Little TT: No there isn’t anything like that right now. Let’s talk about the budget.

BJ: I know! I can take the state helicopter to a little Baptist Church up in Shongaloo and give ‘em a stimulus check.

Little TT: We can do that on Sunday. Today’s Tuesday. Let’s talk about the budget until then.

BJ: All right. But it’s boring. There’re no TV cameras.

Little TT: That’s okay. You’ll get all the TV coverage you want if you solve the budget crisis.

BJ: Really? Oh, boy! What do we have to do?

Little TT: We need to take measures to raise cash to erase next year’s budget deficit.

BJ: That should be easy. I’m a Rhodes Scholar and (laughing) you’re a Roads Scholar. Isn’t that what you said in your interviews, you’re a Roads Scholar?

Little TT: That’s right, Governor, but remember, we were both absent on pothole day.

(Laughter.)

BJ: That’s funny. A Roads Scholar. Pothole day. I get it. What does that mean?

Little TT: Don’t worry about it. It was just a joke. Now to generate some revenue, we need to sell off some state assets.

BJ: Like what?

Little TT: Well, we can sell all those new state buildings that Governor Foster built and then lease the space back. That should gives us about a hundred million or so up front.

BJ: But didn’t I read somewhere once that selling any fixed asset on a sale-leaseback basis is an act of desperation triggered by cash flow problems?

Little TT: But that’s precisely where we are: We’re desperate because we have cash flow problems.

BJ: But it would place us, the seller, in the position as a long-term lessee. Isn’t that the same as a debtor or bond obligor? That seems like a quick fix to a long-term problem. It’s just deferring a permanent resolution to a problem and not fixing the underlying problem.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve been reading your old campaign literature again, haven’t you? You need to eighty-six that. Drop the rhetoric; you won the election.

BJ: Oops, I forgot.

Little TT: We can also sell a couple of state prisons—those in Winn and Allen parishes. That should bring in about $64 million or so.

BJ: Won’t the buyer just work the mortgage payments back into what he charges the state to house state prisoners?

Little TT: Governor, have you been talking to legislators and not telling me?

BJ: Sorry.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve got to stop that. Legislators aren’t your friends. Now focus. We can also draw against future lottery revenue to get another infusion of cash.

BJ: But what if somebody living in a trailer park wins the lottery? I don’t want him knocking on the front door of the governor’s mansion asking for his money.

Little TT: Don’t worry about that. Listen to me. These are all short-term solutions. It will give us one-time money to cover recurring expenditures but it doesn’t matter. By the time those people in north Louisiana who elected you figure it out, you’ll be well on your way to running for president.

BJ: And you’ll be my little Karl Rove. TT, I see where you’re going with this and I like it. Hell….I mean heck, we can sell the state police cars and put them on bicycles. That should work. When I was in Oxford doing my Rhodes Scholar bit, they had Bobbies on foot. We can call ‘em Bobbies on bicycles. Voters will love that.

Little TT: That would be pretty drastic. The state police would probably need cars….

BJ: How ’bout if I just sold my soul?

Little TT: You already did that to get elected.

BJ: How about selling some of the state golf courses?

Little TT: That’d probably look pretty bad. We just bought the Tournament Players Club in New Orleans and took over the Poverty Point club up in Delhi and we’re in the process of building a couple of others. How could we explain the sudden change? Those golf courses are viable investments. Even as we speak, we’re in the process of taking bids on the construction of a miniature golf course at City Park in New Orleans. What I’m saying, Governor, is we’re committed on these expenditures.

BJ: How about selling the Pentagon Barracks?

Little TT: Can’t do that, either. We have legislators living in them and the new owners might raise their rent from the $300 they’re paying now to a level comparable to other apartments. The legislature is already mad enough. We can’t risk that.

BJ: How about cutting higher education and health care benefits then?

Little TT: Now you’re thinking like the governor I know and respect. Let’s sing some nice Christmas carols:

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
Jindal all the way;
Oh how sad
Is his wishy-washy way—HEY!

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
On another flight
Oh how nice we all do feel
When he is out of si–ight.

Away at a fund raiser
No one does he dread;
Not running for president,
At least that’s what he said.

But from afar
We know what they say,
Move over Obama,
Jindal’s on his way.

Oh, little state of Louzian
How sorry is your plight;
With Bobby selling all our jails,
Citizens now feel pure fright.

While in our dark streets linger
A refracted gleam of light;
From guns and knives will lives
Be lost in thee tonight.

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            The fiscal news from Baton Rouge continues to be bad. Besides a projected $319 million deficit for the current fiscal year that ends in seven weeks, there have been moves to privatize state services, a sell-off of state assets, layoffs, and now a massive oil spill that threatens the state’s seafood industry.

            There are those who insist it didn’t have to be that way but 60 years ago, on June 5, 1950, everything changed. That’s the day that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all of the submerged land from the shores of coastal states belonged not to the states, but to the federal government.

            It was a devastating decision that affected coastal states from Texas to Florida. An earlier decision, in 1947, had a similar affect on California. The ultimate cost to the states estimated as high as $300 billion, according to the late Mike Mansfield, former senator from Montana. Mansfield, writing in the May 4, 1953 Congressional Record, was critical of the decision by the Eisenhower administration to returned title of the submerged land back to the states.

            Eisenhower’s action, which was approved by the House on April and by the Senate on May 5, reversed a proclamation by President Truman in 1945.

Truman, in his Continental Shelf Proclamation, said that federal government had jurisdiction over all the mineral resources in the lands beneath the oceans out to the end of the U.S. Continental Shelf. Immediately after he issued the proclamation, the federal government initiated litigation against the states, claiming sovereignty over all offshore resources. Truman reasserted that position on Jan. 16, 1953, just before leaving office when he issued an executive order that set aside the submerged lands of the Continental Shelf as a naval petroleum reserve.

The issue of tidelands mineral rights didn’t appear of major importance to either Louisiana or the federal governments other than shrimpers and oystermen, until technology progressed sufficiently to drill in offshore waters. In November of 1947, the first such well was completed in 16 feet of water in the Ship Shoal area in the Gulf of Mexico, about 12 miles south of Terrebonne Parish. After that, all bets were off.

            Just as with California, litigation soon followed as the federal government filed suit against both Texas and Louisiana over control of more than four million acres of submerged land. Then, in the early fall of 1948 came one of the biggest negotiating blunders in the history of Louisiana politics that ultimately led to the landmark Supreme Court decision that will in all probability go unnoticed by most on its 60th anniversary on June 5.

            The players included President Truman, Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn, Gov. Earl K. Long, Lt. Gov. Bill Dodd, and Plaquemines Parish boss Leander Perez. Lurking in the shadows was the man who would emerge central to the decision by Long to refuse a generous offer from Truman that would cost Louisiana upwards of $100 billion, according to Dodd. That man was 29-year-old Russell Long, Earl’s nephew and the son of Huey P. Long.

            Dodd, in his book Peapatch Politics, laid out the details of a deal gone bad as a result of Russell Long’s political ambitions and Perez’s determination to protect his questionable control of mineral-rich Plaquemines Parish with Earl Long and Dodd caught in the tug-of-war between the federal government and Louisiana.

            In 1948, Russell Long was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Perez, who was also head of the Democratic State Central Committee, ran his own less sophisticated but equally prosperous version of Huey’s old Win or Lose Oil Company in Plaquemines and, according to Dodd, was not above a little blackmail and extortion to protect his fiefdom. Rayburn was Truman’s emissary who was instructed by the president to make what in hindsight was a more than generous offer to Louisiana to settle the federal lawsuit against the state.

            In that fateful autumn of 1948, Rayburn called Dodd and Louisiana Attorney General Bolivar Kemp to a Washington meeting. Also in attendance in Rayburn’s office were Perez, Texas Attorney General Price Daniel, several representatives of the Department of Interior, as well as others.

            Rayburn, without fanfare or ceremony, offered to settle the Tidelands dispute with Louisiana by offering the state two-thirds of all revenues accruing from mineral bonuses, leases, and royalties in the two-thirds of a three-mile band extended from the Louisiana coastline outward into the Gulf of Mexico. Rayburn also offered the state 37.5 percent of all revenues in the Tidelands outside the three-mile band. In addition, Rayburn said the federal government would drop its lawsuit against the state. It was a much better offer than the state had anticipated and everyone present except Perez was ready to jump at the offer.

            Perez told Rayburn that he would recommend to Gov. Long that the offer be rejected, prompting Rayburn to explode. “This ain’t no compromise,” he said. “It’s a gift, and you better take it while the president is in the mood to give it to you.”

            Perez, who as attorney for Plaquemines Parish’s various levee boards, was in a position to dictate how and to whom the levee boards leased their lands. Many of those leases went to corporations he and his family controlled, reaping him millions in much the same manner in which Huey Long had structured his Win or Lose Oil Co. With no intention of losing any of his power, he got to Earl Long first and convinced the governor that the state was being sold a bill of goods by Truman and Rayburn. He insisted, moreover, that the state would prevail in the federal litigation against the state even though California three years earlier had lost an identical lawsuit.

            Perez, who was backing States’ Rights presidential candidate Strom Thurmond for president, controlled the state Democratic ticket and threatened to take Russell off the States’ Rights ticket, which would, in effect, hand the U.S. Senate seat to Shreveport Republican Clem Clarke. Earl wanted his nephew to win the election and eventually capitulated to Perez’s demands to reject Truman’s offer, prompting Baton Rouge Morning Advocate Editor Maggie Dixon, a close friend of the governor, to remark, “Earl is gonna trade our chances to be a tax-free state in order to elect that little tongue-tied nephew of his to the U.S. Senate.”

            Dodd, in his book, speculated that the immediate loss to the state was $66.5 billion, not including billions more paid in bonuses and leases, plus the severance taxes that would have amounted to about a fourth of the total value of production. Dodd said the cost as of 1986, when he wrote his book, was “$100 billion plus,” with future losses as much as $10 billion a year.

            Still, given the track record of the legislature to fritter away past “embarrassments of riches,” one would have to wonder how such an influx of revenue might have taken legislators from embarrassment to humiliation in emptying the state coffers.

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