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We are constantly encouraged to participate in our government.

Our civics teachers in high school drummed into our heads that we should get involved.

Write your representative or senators, we are told, because it’s the best way to make your thoughts known.

Our U.S. representatives and senators even have web pages on which we may contact them about a particular issue.

Do you really want to know just how effective it is to contact your representative or senator?

Do you truly believe a warm-blooded human actually reads your letter?

Are you interested in learning how difficult it is to get your message heard over the hum of the campaign money-counting machines in your congressperson’s office?

If your answer to the last three questions is yes, read on.

I recently went onto Rep. Garret Graves’s web page and clicked on the “Contact” link and sent him an email, the basis of which dealt with the 2016 flood.

I explained that like thousands of other victims, when seeking flood relief, I was directed by FEMA to the Small Business Administration table where I was given an application form for an SBA loan to repair damage to my home which took in 33 inches of water.

No one at FEMA or SBA bothered to explain that applying for a loan made me ineligible for a FEMA grant or even if I was offered a loan and refused it, the fact that it was offered automatically made me ineligible for a FEMA grant.

Read that again: even if I turned the loan offer down, I would be considered ineligible for a grant by virtue of the fact that a loan was offered.

I explained to Rep. Graves that my home was paid for at the time of the flood and that I did not carry flood insurance because we were in one of the highest-elevated parts of Denham Springs that had never even come close to flooding.

I also informed Rep. Graves that like hundreds, perhaps thousands of other victims, I was 76 years old, retired, and would never live to see my now brand-new $124,000 mortgage paid off.

I asked him to look into the possibility of loan forgiveness for the flood victims as had been done for other disaster victims and which was being considered [and subsequently approved] for potential recipients of SBA loans as part of the then-proposed $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Here is the response I received from his office:

 

Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me about COVID-19. As we work to keep Louisianans safe and to minimize the economic damages associated with America’s response to this uniquely challenging threat, let’s keep this fact in mind: In Louisiana, we’ve seen our share of hurricanes, floods, and other disasters; people here know how to be resilient and pull through hard circumstances like this, and I’m confident that we are going to come out on the other side strong.

As you know, the United States is responding to a global outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a new type of coronavirus, called COVID-19. Unfortunately, cases of COVID-19 and instances of community spread of the virus are being reported in a growing number of states. Following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the President of the United States declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency.

Congress – and the entire federal government – is acting quickly to help Americans impacted by the coronavirus. We are working to provide regulatory relief, economic support, and innovations in our private industries to combat this threat. So far, the House and Senate have passed two major pieces of support legislation:

  • On March 4, we authorized $8 billion in emergency funding for health research into COVID-19 to develop high-quality diagnostic kits, more effective treatment plans, and a vaccine to prevent the further spread of the disease.
  • On March 18, President Trump signed a second piece of legislation called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This package was focused on individuals and families and ensures accessible testing, emergency paid leave, and support and flexibility for small businesses. You can read more about this bill here.

Our next step in the Congress is to pass legislation to deliver further assistance for our economy, including financial relief for those businesses and industries that are being hit the hardest by disruptions related to the pandemic response. As this bill comes together, my focus is on making sure the needs of South Louisiana’s families, individuals, and businesses are addressed.

This is a fast-evolving crisis, and things continue to change as new information becomes available every day. Please visit the coronavirus page on my website, where we are posting a running list of information, resources, and useful links to help you navigate this challenge. Additionally, please feel free to call our office or the Louisiana statewide call network (211) if you have additional questions or concerns. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me with your thoughts and hope you’ll stay in contact as this issue progresses.

Sincerely,

Garret Graves
Member of Congress

 

So, there you have it. If you have an issue that’s dear to your heart, just write your congressperson. [S]he’s there to help.

 

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There is a man in Congress who can make Donald Trump appear to be the adult in the room.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Devin Nunes appear to be the voice of reason and restraint.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Lindsey Graham look like a paragon of consistency.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Jim Jordan appear to be a calming influence.

There is a man in Congress who can make just about anyone else seem like a tower of intellect.

That man is none other than Louisiana’s 3rd District U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, aka the lawman who told Michael Cohen he’d arrested “thousands of people.” (His former boss, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, says the number is closer to six. Maybe.)

Clay Higgins is the former used car salesman who once got CANNED by the Opelousas Police Department—or rather resigned in lieu of firing—for roughing up a citizen and then lying about it.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who then was fired by the St. Landry Sheriff’s Department for trying to commercialize his position as a public information officer with videos, T-shirts, a radio production, and, of all things, photo sessions like he was some kind of slick magazine centerfold model.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who then landed a position in the office of Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope who would soon have his own legal problems.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who fell behind on his child support payments by about $100,000 but assured his ex-wife during his campaign for Congress that once elected, he would have access to all sorts of money.

Clay Higgins is the same one who called for the ERADICATION of all who might have any sympathy for Islamics.

Clay Higgins is the same one who, while tailgating with Trump on a trip to Germany, made a political video at AUSCHWITZ in violation of all manner of protocol and decorum.

Clay Higgins is the same one who ATTENDED A PAIR OF CONFERENCES, one hosted by a hate group and another by climate science deniers.

And while Trump takes his cue from Fox News, Higgins apparently takes his from Louisiana’s version of Rush Limbaugh, MOON GRIFFON.

Apparently taking Griffon’s advice to heart, the Cajun Barney Fife lit into Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday over the governor’s proclamation prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people—including church congregations.

Higgins, who likely hasn’t seen the inside of a church since the last funeral he attended, took particular umbrage at Gov. Edwards’s imposition of size restrictions on groups, saying in a LETTER to the governor, “…the decision to gather should be the choice of the individual or institution and not a mandate by any government entity. The State has no authority to enforce the proclamation nor any ban on worship.”

For whatever reason, Higgins has not deemed to hold Trump to those same standards even though Trump is calling for restricting gatherings to a much smaller number: 10.

Higgins also ignored is own BLOG POST in which he said, among other things, “All Americans, regardless of ideology, must be united in our effort to combat the coronavirus. We must prioritize the health and safety of American families.”

We couldn’t agree more. But sometimes being “united” means making sacrifices. This is one of those times. There is no question that things are going to get tight and people are going to suffer financially. But people are going to feel the economic effects regardless of whether or not John Bel Edwards imposes restrictions on the size of gatherings.

The proclamation makes more sense than that Florida preacher who urged his congregation to keep coming to services, saying, “If we die, we die for Jesus.” That, folks, is the epitome of selfishness; the preacher didn’t want to lose out on any “love offerings.” What an idiot.

In a nearly incoherent VIDEO, a grubby-looking Higgins, looking more like a homeless man than a member of Congress, ranted and rambled like a New Orleans wino about Edwards’s proclamation. While he called the governor’s action “stupid,” it was Higgins who came across as the poster child for stupid. Stand up comic Ron “Tater Salad” White must’ve had Higgins in mind when he said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

New Orleans Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace, apparently in a more charitable mood, refrained from accurately describing Higgins’s idiotic demagoguery for what it was: boorish grandstanding. She let him off the hook by saying he was “just out of line.”

I would add a couple of questions for Higgins:

  • What would you propose as an alternative?
  • Instead of slurring and mumbling some incoherent insult at the governor, why don’t you try and be a part of the solution to a very difficult situation?
  • Is this how the voters of the 3rd District elected you to represent them? Seriously?

A friend, appropriately offended by Higgins’s verbal mooning of the governor [who, by the way has displayed infinitely more leadership characteristics during the coronavirus epidemic than one Donald Trump], said simply, “If this guy gets re-elected, his constituents are as crazy as he is.”

 

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Hey, folks, you want to see how your government really works for you? Read on.

In May 2018, House Concurrent Resolution 47 by State Rep. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge) was approved unanimously by both the Louisiana HOUSE and SENATE.

The RESOLUTION called on the Louisiana Department of Insurance to “assemble a task force to address the high automobile insurance rates and (to) submit a report with findings and recommendations to the Senate and House committees on insurance by March 1, 2019.”

An 11-person task force was chosen on July 31 and Talbot, who received $19,000 in campaign contributions from insurance interests in 2019, was named chairman and Sen. John Smith (R-Leesville) was named vice-chairman. Also named from the legislature was State Sen. Wesley Bishop. [Smith was term-limited and unable to seek re-election in 2019 and Bishop in January pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.]

Other than those three, the committee was pretty much top-heavy with members from the insurance industry. Six members represented:

  • The Property Casualty Insurers Association;
  • The American Insurance Association;
  • The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies;
  • The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana;
  • The Professional Insurance Agents of Louisiana;
  • The Louisiana Department of Insurance.

One of those is Kevin Ainsworth, a registered lobbyist who lists Progressive Insurance among clients he represents before the legislature. He also is an attorney with the politically-connected firm Jones Walker, which has contributed more than $300,000 to political candidates since 2015.

Only two of the 11 members (other than the three legislators) could be considered consumer advocates and one of those has questionable credentials as a former appointee of Bobby Jindal:

  • A representative from the Louisiana Association for Justice, an organization comprised mostly of lawyers who, for the most part, represent consumer plaintiffs in civil lawsuits, and
  • A representative (Chance McNeely) of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association.

McNeely, you may recall, is the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco who was APPOINTED by Jindal as Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance at the Department of Environmental Quality at $102,000 even as the Jindal administration was laying off employees by the hundreds. He didn’t miss a beat when John Bel Edwards became governor, moving seamlessly over to the job as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development at $99,000.

Given Chance’s track record on behalf of the general public at DEQ, the wisdom of his appointment to the insurance task force is questionable at best.

The task force met exactly three times— on Sept. 13, Oct. 18 and Nov. 14—for approximately 90 minutes per session to discuss the complex problem of Louisiana’s high auto insurance rates. And while the meetings were recorded, they were not videoed.

An actuarial subcommittee was appointed and was comprised exclusively of representatives of the insurance industry. The task force never investigated the findings of the actuarial subcommittee.

Moreover, the task force’s actuary report is not posted on any public website nor is it posed in the legislative archives, or the Department of Insurance Archives.

So much for transparency.

The March 1, 2019 deadline for the submission of recommendations to the Senate and House committees on insurance came and went with no recommendations being submitted.

Talbot on March 29, 2019, filed HB 372 entitled “The Omnibus Premium Reduction Act,” named for his task force and consisting of four parts which did little to actually lower insurance premiums.

Not only was there no report released by the task force, but the report has never been made public and no further action, meetings or inquiries have been made by the task force or any of its members to the actuarial subcommittee even though the actuary subcommittee has indicated that the four reform components of the Kirk Talbot bill would not lower rates.

No matter. Talbot and the insurance industry, through radio interviews, social media and numerous newspaper editorials, trumpeted the “drastically lower premiums” HB 372 would produce. Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), though not a member of the task force and though he never attended any of the committee’s three meetings, testified on the House floor that the task force bill had been thoroughly vetted

Even though the task force did not, in fact, “thoroughly vet” or investigate in any other manner the findings of the actuarial subcommittee, and upon information and belief by some observers that the task force was caught off-guard by the results of the actuarial subcommittee, it chose to run with the bill anyway because of political pressure from the insurance industry.

An army of lobbyists was engaged to pushing the bill through the legislature. It did pass the House by a vote of 69-30 but never made it to the Senate floor.

“It is clear…that the bill, heavily marketed by the insurance industry, was designed to increase rates under the subterfuge of reducing rates,” one opponent said of HB 372.

That’s not surprising. Several years ago, I had a legislator introduce a bill that would’ve mandated a 10% premium reduction for anyone who voluntarily took a defensive driving class, the idea being if a person volunteered for a defensive driving class, s/he would become a better driver, thus reducing the accident rate and, in the process, lower the cost of insurance claims. You’d think the insurance industry would welcome such a bill but instead, their lobbyist came out with guns blazing and shot the bill down in committee.

So now, it’s 2020 and as we are set to open a new session on Monday, no fewer than 59 bills dealing with some form of insurance have been pre-filed, 11 of which deal with auto insurance rates. Most of those 11 are redundant, with only about four separate issues actually being addressed.

And good luck getting any of those passed.

All of which goes back to my oft-repeated rhetorical question: Who do our elected officials really represent?

 

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You’d think Gov. John Bel Edwards would be a little better at reading the tea leaves.

After all, it was Louisiana’s teachers who first pushed him over the top to win the governor’s election over David Vitter in 2015.

And the teachers again provided needed support when he was challenged by businessman Eddie Rispone who had the backing of would-be kingmaker Lane Grigsby.

So, how did Edwards reward teachers for their support?

A raise of $1,000 per year in 2019. That’s $83 per month before taxes—and that was nearly four years into his first term before he got around to doing that much.

Yes, I know a lot of workers in Louisiana didn’t get raises of $83 per month but before jumping in with that argument, consider what teachers are expected to do (other than teach in a classroom) and how their salaries stack up with other states.

Last April, the NEA released FIGURES that showed Louisiana’s teachers (before that $1,000-per-year boost) still ranked 13th lowest in the nation.

And those same figures showed that the national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, had actually decreased 4.5 percent over the previous decade. Teachers were paid 21.4 percent less than similarly-education and experienced professionals, the NEA study revealed.

The national average teacher salary increased from $59,539 for the 2016-17 school year to $60,477 for 2017-18,

The average pay for teachers in Louisiana was $50,256.

So, what did Edwards to this year to try and bring teacher into alignment with other states when he submitted his proposed budget for next year?

Crickets chirping. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip.

And his wife was a teacher before he was elected governor. His daughter is a school counselor.

As might be expected, teachers took umbrage at the governor’s slight—as well they should have.

An acquaintance offered a defense of sorts for the governor’s omission. “The Republican legislature wouldn’t approve another teacher pay raise anyway, so he just didn’t brother.”

My response to that is, “So what? Put it in the budget and put the onus on the legislators. Let them explain why Louisiana cannot support its teachers. There are, by the way, part-time legislators who pull down more than starting teachers in this state.

Gov. Edwards did finally reverse himself, but only after teachers bristled publicly. But you’d never know he truly felt their wrath when he offered up a $500 per year raise. That’s $42 per month, a little more than a dollar a day. You can’t even go to McDonald’s with that.

If Edwards is considering a run at John Kennedy’s Senate seat, he’d do well to remember the teachers.

And don’t give me that worn-out B.S. about teachers only working nine months a year. That’s pure bunk. No sooner than the school year is over than teachers must turn their attention to the coming year by preparing lesson plans, cleaning out classrooms, re-stocking supplies and attending meetings.

Teachers endure problems we can only imagine in our jobs. As a news reporter, I would get irate calls from subjects of my stories but try sitting across the desk from an arrogant parent who won’t accept the explanation that their kid, who never received discipline or help with his homework at home, is disruptive, a problem student and deserved that poor grade or suspension.

Teachers must watch for signs their students are abused at home. Ever had to do that in your job? Ever had to look at a bruised child and asked him or her to tell you what happened? It’s a pretty depressing responsibility and can leave teachers sickened with nightmares.

Sometimes teachers are called on to stop a bullet to save a child—and they do it, Alex Jones’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Test papers are taken home by teachers who, while the rest of the family is watching American Idol, must plod through 25 or 30 test papers for grading. They sacrifice time with their own families so they can devote time to their jobs.

Teachers dip into their own pocketbooks to purchase materials for their classrooms. And believe me, that isn’t cheap. I knew a teacher in Lincoln Parish who bought shoes for a child who had none.

They are saddled with tons of paperwork other than test grading and they are burdened with bureaucratic requirements in preparation for standardized testing and if the kids don’t do well, it’s the teacher who bears the brunt of evaluations by politicians who decide who is and who isn’t a good teacher—without ever meeting the teacher or sitting in her classroom.

Teachers must step in to stop fights and God help her if she’s a little too physical with the kids. Might as well go ahead and retain legal counsel.

And sometimes a teacher spots potential in a kid no one else has seen. They take the student under their wing, nurture his/her talents, and develop a kid everyone thought had no future into a productive citizen. On that point, I speak from experience. Thank you, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Peoples and Mr. Ryland. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teachers deserve better, Gov. Edwards. As a friend suggested, “Go big or go home.”

You gave state police enormous pay raises. You gave your cabinet members substantial increases.

Teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees deserve nothing less than the same consideration you’ve given state troopers and cabinet members.

You’re beginning to look a lot like Bobby Jindal.

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A politically-conservative organization is set to launch its campaign to rethink the issue of capital punishment next week in Baton Rouge but a press release on Tuesday indicates the group is more concerned with the cost of capital punishment in terms of dollars than in the human cost of lives adversely affected by numerous documented cases of wrongful convictions.

Louisiana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, “a network of conservatives who question the alignment of capital punishment with their conservative principles,” will hold a news conference to officially announce the group’s formation next Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Capitol Park Event Center’s Fishbowl Conference Room at 702 River Road North in Baton Rouge.

Speakers scheduled for the event include:

  • King Alexander of Lake Charles, a member of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee;
  • David Marcantel of Jennings, member of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee;
  • Robert Maness of Madisonville, member of the St. Tammany Republican Parish Executive Committee and unsuccessful candidate for a number of elected offices;
  • Marcus Maldonado of New Orleans, described as a “liberty activist;”
  • Hannah Cox, national manager, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Louisiana is one of 12 state-based CCADP groups the press release says are “part of a nationwide trend of conservatives rethinking capital punishment.”

“The latest study shows the death penalty costs Louisiana taxpayers nearly $16 million a year more than life without parole, and this waste of money is a big reason why conservatives in Louisiana are speaking out against the death penalty,” Cox said. “For a state with one of the highest violent crime rates, Louisiana is flushing away enormous resources that could be used to make its people much safer.”

What the news release did not say was that no fewer than 60 Louisiana inmates have been exonerated after it was determined that they were wrongly convicted, according to the National Registry of Exonerations which lists more than 2500 exonerations nationwide.

Of those 60 Louisiana exonerations, 15 were on death row awaiting execution.

One of the principal reasons for the high number of wrongful convictions is that prosecutors are not held accountable in a country where virtually all but judges and prosecutors must answer for their actions.

District attorneys want a high rate of convictions to hold up to the public when re-election time comes around and if they have to fudge with the evidence in order to obtain a conviction, many prosecutors have no compunctions about doing so.

And why not? It’s practically impossible to successfully sue a district attorney for his actions and judges are absolutely immune.

A good example of how difficult it is to extract some measure of retribution from a DA can be found in the case of John Thompson of New Orleans. Convicted of a murder he did not commit because the DA withheld exculpatory evidence, he spent 14 years on death row before the Innocence Project of New Orleans obtained his freedom. He sued DA Harry Connick and won a $14 million judgment that was appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court which struck down the award. For 14 years of his life taken away by subterfuge on the part of the prosecutor, he got nothing.

Thompson died in 2017 at the age of 55, just 14 years after his 2003 exoneration. Fourteen years on death row followed by 14 years of freedom during which time the courts deprived him of any remuneration for the “inconvenience” of 14 years behind bars and now…he’s dead.

But sometimes the actions of a prosecutor can be so egregious that the protections against legal liability must be stripped away to allow the exoneree to seek recompense for the damages done to him and his family.

Apparently, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick felt that 21st JDC District Attorney Scott Perrilloux may have committed such a breach of protocol and ethics in a Livingston Parish murder conviction when she ruled that a lawsuit by Michael Wearry could go forward.

Dick, chief judge for the U.S. Middle District, ruled that Perrilloux’s “alleged use of intimidation and coercion to produced fabricated testimony went beyond the scope of the prosecutor’s role as an advocate of the state” by costing Wearry more than 20 years of his life on death row.

In light of Judge Dick’s ruling and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that called the entire case “a house of cards,” Perrilloux’s claim of prosecutorial immunity came up pretty thin.

The Wearry case stems from the brutal murder of 16-year-old pizza delivery boy Eric Walber whose body was found on a gravel road not long after he delivered pizza to a remote area in Livingston Parish in 1998.

The lawsuit was filed against Perrilloux and Marion Kearney Foster, former Livingston Parish Chief of Detectives who, together, built their case against Wearry on the basis of the testimony of then 10-year-old Jeffrey Ashton who has since recanted his testimony, claiming he was threatened by Perrilloux and Foster and that Perrilloux coached him on his trial testimony..

He now says he was nowhere near the crime scene and that he never saw Wearry,” said Ashton, now 30. “I seen none of that. On the night that everything happened, I was not in Springfield, period. We was at the Strawberry Festival (in Ponchatoula).”

Ashton says Perrilloux and Foster threatened to take him to juvenile hall if he didn’t say what they wanted him to say in his testimony and that “you’re going to be there for life.”

The case languished for two years before a jailhouse snitch told authorities he participated in the murder and named Wearry and four others. The problem with Sam Scott’s story, however, was that he got several details about the crime wrong.

He said the murder occurred on Blahut Road but police reports show that it actually happened several miles from there, on Crisp Road.

The jury wasn’t told, for example, that Scott gave five statements over two days, getting both the color and make of the car wrong. In his initial statement, he said that Walber was shot but he was not. He was kidnapped in his own vehicle and then beaten before being run over several times.

Moreover, Wearry’s then-girlfriend, Renarda Dominick, said she and Wearry were at a Baton Rouge wedding reception until well beyond the time of the murder but prosecutors, never eager to admit wrongdoing, claim he could have participated in the murder after returning from the reception.

Like Ashton, Dominick said authorities went so far as to arrest her for traffic tickets she had already paid in an effort to get her to change her story.

Undaunted by the double-team scolding from Judge Dick and the U.S. Supreme Court for his office’s sloppy work, Perrilloux immediately began planning to re-try Wearry. But Wearry’s lawsuit forced an abrupt change of plans. With the lawsuit hanging over him like the sword of Damocles, Perrilloux quickly agreed to a plea deal with Wearry in December 2018, just a month before his scheduled retrial for first-degree murder. Wearry entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter and agreed to a 25-year sentence with credit given for more than 20 years already served.

Whether or not Wearry was involved, this was the best deal for him. Even if he was innocent, it was his only chance of not having to endure another grueling trial at the hands of a prosecutor who had already shown his propensity to win at any cost, even if it meant bending the rules to the breaking point. And another conviction would mean Wearry would never get out of prison.

And again, whether or not Wearry was involved, the actions by Perrilloux and Johnson are inexcusable. These people are elected to protect us, not to resort to unethical behavior to obtain a dubious conviction in order to bolster their resumes at election time.

With most public officials, we ask only for honesty and integrity. With prosecutors and judges, the bar must be set higher because they deal with human lives and the consequences can be catastrophic. With them, we must also demand absolute adherence to the highest standards of justice. No one is perfect, but perfection must be the objective.

Every time.

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