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Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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By Steve Winham, guest columnist

I have a regular monthly breakfast with venerable politician and retired state fire marshal, V. J. Bella.  As a legislator, V. J.  never shied away from taking bold actions (think cabbages inside motorcycle helmets hit with baseball bats) and his background and devotion to the cause made him uniquely qualified as fire marshal.  He is also a good friend.

Among other topics, we always have lengthy discussions about Gov. Edwards.  At our most recent breakfast last week, V. J. said he believes Gov. Edwards is running for re-election too early.  He may have a strong point and, based on recent press reports, the game is already afoot to discredit him every way possible by at least one Republican PAC (America Rising). It has already launched a website to gather negatives about Edwards.  The plan, of course, is to stress his failures, including those dealing with our budget, economy, infrastructure, education, etc.

If the governor attempts to please as many people as possible over the remainder of this term in hope of being re-elected, how can he possibly recommend the very difficult and unpopular solutions necessary to begin to move us up from dead last among the states by most measures.  In an ideal world, making those hard choices would endear him to the public and ensure his re-election.  Unfortunately, the real world is not the political world.

If, in my dreams, I was Gov. Edwards, I would announce today that I am not running for re-election as governor, nor running for anything else.  I would then make dramatic changes unilaterally and push a legislative agenda that would move our state forward without a care for my personal political future.

As a bonus, taking bold, but politically unpopular actions would allow legislators to blame everything their constituents didn’t like on me.  That worked well for legislators even in the good times, so it could work even better now  –  “I put that rodeo arena in the capital outlay bill, but the governor vetoed it.  Vote for me and I’ll get it in there when we get rid of him next election.”

There is no question our budget is seriously broken.  Nor is there any question that is our major problem.  Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Our educational system continues to decline – Both strongly contribute to our stagnant economy and enhance a basic distrust of our government.  Businesses cannot reasonably plan because they have no idea how they will be taxed over time.  People dependent on state services have no assurances for the future.

All state services not completely protected continue a steady march toward total breakdown.  At the same time, we see almost daily news reports of waste, fraud, and corruption within government.  The public has lost faith in the ability of government to do anything right.

The first thing I would do is call my cabinet together and tell them I am tired of seeing news reports about things they should have been paying enough attention to catch and fix.  It’s not that hard to get a handle on these things.  It is a simple matter of working down the chain of command and holding people accountable at every level.   More on this later.

I would use the excellent January 2017 report of the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy and other information to put together a firm proposal of both expenditure cuts and revenue measures to permanently fix the gap of $1.2 billion that will result from expiration of sales taxes in July 2018.  Further cuts are unlikely to be popular, but they will be much more popular than additional taxes.

Since people are fed up with government, and because I believe it is needed now more than ever, I would do something I recommended in 1990.  I would take existing staff from the budget and accounting sections of the Division of Administration to create a small entity called the Office of Effectiveness and Efficiency.  I would send this team to every department, beginning with the most troublesome one and working down. They would take a common-sense look at how things are being done and recommend changes to make them better.  I would expect full cooperation from my cabinet secretaries.

Restoring the public’s faith in government is a daunting task, but it should be of highest priority.  Until people begin to have this faith, they will never believe anybody in government cares about waste or providing the best services possible and they will certainly not enthusiastically support sacrifices to support such a system.  It is simply not possible to begin to restore faith in government if political commitments override all other concerns.

We desperately need stability to achieve anything in this state.  Pandering to popular beliefs not supported by facts to win elections clearly does not work for the greater good.  An objective look at what has happened since our most recent presidential election should tell you that.

So, I would challenge Gov. Edwards to take the bold step of not seeking re-election and to announce it immediately so he can be free to fight the battles necessary to set us straight.  If he did, he might just find people begging him to change his mind and run again after all – And, if that happened, it would put a whole new, and ironic, spin on V. J.’s view.

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Perhaps it’s time to direct some hard questions to Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, after all, is technically Mike Edmonson’s boss. Besides holding the title of Superintendent of State Police, Edmonson is also Deputy Secretary of DPSC.

LeBlanc only recently came through an intensive investigation into the Corrections, also under the DPSC umbrella. That investigation cost Angola Warden Burl Cain and several of his family members their jobs.

And yet DPSC general counsel Kathy Williams notified retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet by letter dated last Thursday (March 2) that DPS would not consider his complaint against the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association because Louisiana State Police (LSP) “considers the matter closed.”

She may wish to revisit that decision.

Today, FBI agents fanned out across the state to simultaneously serve federal grand jury subpoenas on 18 State Troopers, LouisianaVoice has learned. Included among those served were officers and directors of that very same LSTA that DPSC refuses to investigate.

One report indicated that the LSTA board of directors was in its monthly meeting Wednesday when federal agents walked in and served each board member with his subpoena.

LouisianaVoice has not learned the date of the grand jury nor was the specific subject readily available. But because troopers from across the state were served, it would seem reasonable to assume that the thrust of the federal investigation is the laundering of campaign contributions by the LSTA through the association’s executive director David Young, a story LouisianaVoice broke more than a year ago.

It was not immediately known if Young was one of those served on Wednesday.

It was also learned that the FBI has already interviewed some of those slapped with subpoenas today.

The LSTA board is comprised of trooper representatives from each of the eight state police troops. The individual troop headquarters are located in Baton Rouge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Kenner in Jefferson Parish, Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish, Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Lafayette in Lafayette Parish, Monroe in Ouachita Parish, Bossier City in Bossier Parish and Gray in Terrebonne Parish.

Neither Edmonson, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy nor Director of Management and Finance Lt. Col. Jason Starnes were among those handed subpoenas. Only LSTA officers, directors and former officers and directors were served.

Regardless, reports out of State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge say command personnel have been in “full panic mode” all afternoon as they hunkered down in meetings. As my grandfather used to say, you probably couldn’t pull a needle out of their butts with a John Deere tractor. A federal grand jury subpoena, after all, is less welcome than an IRS audit letter—and who knows? That might not be far behind.

LSTA general counsel Floyd Falcon cannot represent any of those served if their legal interests should conflict with those of the association, as they quite likely will. That means that each of those served will have to retain his own legal counsel.

With that many having been served subpoenas, it’s likely that at least one, maybe several, will roll over and give the feds information they’re looking for in order to cut a deal. The scramble will be to see who can give up whom first because that’s will will likely get the best deal. What’s not likely is for any of them to lie because we’re sure they are all keenly aware that lying to the FBI, even if not under oath, can get a quick trip to a federal facility where one can work in the laundry for 20 cents per hour.

One thing you can expect out of all of this: there will be no united front. Targets are almost certain to turn on each other as the cannibalization begins in earnest. Edmonson already has thrown the four men who drove the expedition to California—and his secretary—under the bus.

And make no mistake: the clock is ticking on Gov. John Bel Edwards. Mike Edmonson, Charles Dupuy and Jason Starnes represent baggage he simply cannot afford to carry into his campaign for reelection. That campaign cranks up in less than two years.

Edmonson needs to go and he needs to take LeBlanc with him.

Back to you, Kathy Williams.

 

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One thing about Louisiana politics: the only constant is that the rumors are never ceasing.

Another is that even though the rumors may be baseless, sometimes the logic behind them can actually make sense.

Sort of.

That is, if anything in Louisiana politics makes sense.

And so it is that those close to Gov. John Bel Edwards have been called upon to deny rumors—and they have—that he is courting the Republican Party as he ponders the political practicality of a switcheroo, a-la Buddy Roemer, John Kennedy, John Alario, and former U.S. Reps. Billy Tauzin and Rodney Alexander.

Still, according to a high-ranking State Republican Party official, Edwards’s intermediaries have been talking with State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere about that very possibility. Efforts by LouisianaVoice to reach Villere for a comment have been unsuccessful.

Gov. Edwards’s office categorically denies the report, hinting if anything, it was the Republican Party that asked him to the dance.

Either way, it’s now got both sides flinging rocks at each other with the next governor’s election nearly three years away yet.

As with any decision of such magnitude, fraught with perils as it would certainly be (it worked for Kennedy and Alexander but not so much for Roemer), there are plenty of pros and cons.

First the pros:

Remember those old (and I do mean old) Tareyton cigarette ads in which some happy smoker sporting a black eye proclaims that he/she would rather fight than switch?

Image result for i'd rather fight than switch

Well, in Edwards’s case, it could be that he’d rather switch than fight.

The worst-kept secret (if, indeed it is still a secret to anyone) in the state is that Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry is in a four-year campaign mode for the governorship. And Landry takes verbal (and legal) swipes at Edwards at every opportunity in his blatant self-promotion.

With $3 million already in his campaign coffers, what better way to cut the attorney general off at the knees than to take away Landry’s fund-raising capabilities while adding to his own? As one political observer put it, “If Edwards switches to Republican, $3 million might be enough. Landry won’t be able to buy a Chik-fil-A sandwich. Edwards would be the beneficiary of that scenario because the Republican money would allow him to raise even more cash.”

There’s also this: as a Republican governor, he would be able to do what he could not as a Democrat: name his choice for Speaker of the House.

Another, a former state official, said, “The Democratic Party in Louisiana is gravely disappointing and I have to wonder the extent to which what is happening here is replicated in other states and at the national level, i. e., if Democrats in power have essentially given up on their own party.

“As you know, (State Rep.) Karen Carter Peterson and former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu tried to talk JBE out of even running (they wanted to support Dardenne) and it took him forever to get support from the national party in D.C.

“When is the last time our state party has come up with a viable candidate for anything? Was Hillary Clinton really the best the party could come up with as a POTUS candidate? Really? JBE got elected because the stars were aligned against Vitter—and look how long it took Republicans to essentially give up on Vitter. I had/have some hope for JBE. If he jumps ship, I guess the only place to go is independent which, to me, is like ceding all power to the Republicans and their führer.”

Another possible benefit to crossing over is Donald Trump. As vindictive, petulant, petty, vile and vicious as he is crazy, Trump would never hesitate to hit Louisiana where it hurts if it had a governor who insisted on partisan politics: the state treasury.

Louisiana already is the second most-reliant on federal funds of the 50 states. We are behind only Mississippi (but barely) in slopping at the federal trough. To see a cut in the influx of federal dollars for a variety of programs would only add to the already draconian budgetary woes facing the state.

On the con side, there is the obvious potential political fallout.

Politicians who change parties sometimes have a tough time of it, said a state employee who tends to keep his finger on the political pulse. “They are despised in the party they leave, and they are not trusted in the party they join. Buddy Roemer and John Connolly of Texas come to mind. However, Richard Shelby of Alabama changed from the Democratic Party to the GOP back in the mid-1990s, and he is still in the United States Senate.”

Finally, a Baton Rouge attorney said Edwards has been a difficult governor to figure out. “He is a real enigma and very disappointing, thus far, to me as a moderate conservative who voted for him. I cannot imagine how the progressives and the left feel at this point.

“I have been unable to figure out what his goals are,” the attorney, a former state employee, said. “He is obviously very indebted to many groups, such as the Sheriffs’ Association. That, it clearly appears to me, keeps him from doing many things that would make him more successful.”

As we said, one source wired into the Edwards camp says it just ain’t so but we’ve all heard promises and denials before from our elected officials that in the end, turned out to be just so much hot air. He already is pro-life and pro-gun so half the battle’s won if he decides to go over.

So, the question is this: is this a non-story story on a slow news day or something major in the offing? The rumors and the denials are equally strong at this juncture so we’ll wait and see.

Edwards spokesperson Richard Carbo, reached by LouisianaVoice, expressed shock at the report. “Let me check this out and I’ll get right back to you. Give me five minutes.”

Two hours later he replied by text message: “I can confirm that neither the governor nor his ‘intermediaries’ have been in contact with the state GOP about changing parties.”

Carbo quickly followed with a second text that accused the Louisiana Republican Party of planting the rumor: “First the state GOP floats this idea, then backtrack(s) when the governor shows no interest. The governor did not have a single conversation regarding political parties. He’s too busy cleaning up their (Republicans’) budget mess. Roger Villere should stick to negotiating illegal Iraqi oil deals. He’s better at that than party leadership.

“Unless there’s a source named, the onus is on them,” he said.

His reference to Villere’s “negotiating illegal Iraqi oil deals” was in reference an April 12, 2016, LouisianaVoice STORY about Villere’s and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s comedy of errors in being taken in by a con man promoting an oil deal with Iraq.

All of which just serves to support our advice: Never listen to what politicians say. In this case, observe instead, the governor’s action on the issues: taxes, education, higher education, etc. to get a true sense of which direction the political winds are blowing.

But above all else, remember that it’s the sincerity of the B.S. factor that trumps everything else (and no, that’s not a reference to anyone).

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Attorney General Jeff Landry is a busy man.

Since taking office a year ago, he apparently has personally made 35 arrests and announced nine other arrests by his office for such crimes as child pornography, elder fraud, Medicaid fraud, workers comp fraud, public corruption, and even for attempted murder.

I don’t know if he packs heat on those arrest sorties. Shoot, I didn’t even know the State Constitution gave him actual arrest powers. Just shows how little I know, I suppose.

Obviously, he was too busy fighting Gov. John Bel Edwards to take an active role in bringing those other nine to justice but his crack investigative teams were certainly up to the task.

Here are some sample headlines to stories released by his overworked public information office:

You have to admit that’s a pretty impressive laundry list of activity by Landry who, in addition to running hard for governor, must also dispense legal advice to various political subdivisions of the state as well as doling out consumer tips about how to ward off con artists and various scams.

Oh, I almost forgot: He also is personally rescuing New Orleans from its ongoing crime wave by busting a few individuals for pot possession. Apparently he’s been watching that classic 1936 film REEFER MADNESS that warned us about the homicidal/suicidal effects of Marijuana.

In case you don’t wish to watch the entire riveting movie, here is a short TRAILER to the film.

Here are some comments made by Landry in those news releases:

  • “Our office will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of making our communities safer,” said General Landry. “We will do all that we legally can to bring child predators to justice.”
  • “Medicaid fraud robs much-needed services from our State’s vulnerable,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry.  “Our award-winning fraud detection and prevention unit will continue working hard to uncover, investigate, and arrest criminals who defraud Medicaid.”
  • “Our office is on the front lines investigating, arresting, and educating to help stop the awful occurrence of seniors being targeted and preyed upon by scammers,” said General Landry. “We want to help Louisiana’s people avoid falling victim to mortgage, contractor, charity and other types of frauds commonly perpetrated on senior citizens.”
  • “Our office will investigate and apprehend those who exploit our State’s children,” said General Landry. “We will continue to bring child predators to justice.”
  • “I have an unwavering commitment to protect our children, and my Cyber Crime Unit will keep working tirelessly to investigate and arrest those who have exploited children,” said General Landry. “We will continue to use all resources at our disposal to apprehend and prosecute child predators.”
  • “My office and I will do all that we legally can to protect our State’s children from predators,” said General Landry. “We will continue to work with all law enforcement partners to catch child predators and bring them to justice.”
  • “My Cyber Crime Unit works around the clock to investigate and arrest child predators,” said General Landry. “We remain focused on these efforts in an attempt to prevent innocent children from being exploited.”
  • “Our office will continue to be a model agency in arresting illegal criminals and stopping them from exploiting our State’s children,” said General Landry. “We will keep working closely with our local, state, and federal partners to make our streets safer by bringing child predators to justice.”

But here’s the best one, assuming you like cruel jokes:

“As Louisiana Attorney General, I will do all I can to end public corruption,” said General Landry. “The federal government has had to step in many times to help enforce these laws and protect the public. The federal government should not, and will not, be alone in this mission under my administration.”

“Under my watch, we will enforce state ethics laws and not just rely upon the federal government to take the lead on this issue,” continued General Landry. “The people of Louisiana should know government officials, elected and appointed, are accountable for their actions.”

You gotta love that, given how we thought all this time the State Ethics Commission was responsible for enforcing state ethics laws with those fines that are never collected.

From the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE:

  • The task force made 11 arrests in New Orleans between October and December, his office said. Those arrests included six counts of marijuana possession, three counts of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, one count of illegal possession of a firearm and one count of illegal possession of a stolen vehicle. They also included four counts of producing and distributing fake drugs.
  • During the same three months, NOPD made a total 5,463 arrests, the department said.

Kinda going after the low-hanging fruit, aren’t you General? Not to mention pissing off the local law enforcement types with your headline-grabbing tactics for doing basically nothing.

And from the Baton Rouge MORNING ADVOCATE:

  • While he did not rule out a run for governor, Landry, 46, said he remains focused on his current job. He said he “despises people” who use one political office as a stepping-stone to the next. (Emphasis added.)

And of course, in the interest of being ever-vigilant on behalf of Louisiana’s citizens, he blocked John Bel Edwards when the governor attempted to retain some attorneys to sue oil and gas companies over the wreckage inflicted on the state’s coastal marshes. Granted, the attorneys Edwards wanted to hire were high-dollar but with one exception, they also had impressive success records in prior litigation against the oil industry.

But he said he “despises people” who use one political office as a stepping-stone to the next.

Didn’t a recent governor also insist he had the job he wanted—until after his re-election, when he openly and unabashedly chased an elusive Republican presidential nomination?

Between the ineptness of the Ethics Commission, the Office of Inspector General, and the Attorney General’s office, I’m reminded of the story about the baby chick questioning his mother about how he came to be:

BABY CHICK: Mom, was I born?

MOTHER HEN: No, you were hatched from an egg.

BABY CHICK: Was the egg born?

MOTHER HEN: No, the egg was laid.

BABY CHICK: Are people laid?

MOTHER HEN: Some are, but others are chicken.

The point here being maybe they’re all just a little chicken when it comes to enforcing ethics laws.

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