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Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

More than a century ago, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, after a break with his friend and successor to the presidency, sought a then-unprecedented third term after a four-year absence from the political arena. In the process, he challenged Republican William Howard Taft’s re-election. Both men would ultimately lose to Woodrow Wilson.

But it was something that Roosevelt said in seeking to wrest the Republican nomination from Taft before breaking away to form the short-lived Bull Moose Party that resonates as clearly today as it did 105 years ago.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 750-page book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Gold Age of Journalism is a great read and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that chronicles the close friendship between the two men, the exposés of several top magazine writers of the day, and the eventual split between Roosevelt and Taft.

Roosevelt who earned the title of trustbuster during his seven years in office (he succeeded William McKinley, who was assassinated in his first year in office), took on the meat packing industry, big oil, the railroads, and Wall Street banks in an effort to stem what he considered an alarming trend toward consolidation, mergers and monopolistic practices. He railed against the grossly unsanitary meat packing plants as exposed in Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, and he championed the economic plight of the working poor.

He also opposed child labor and fought for an eight-hour work day for women, for women’s right to vote, for worker protection, and for worker retirement benefits—ideas considered radical in his day but accepted today as the norm.

In 1912, he continued his onslaught, Kearns-Goodwin wrote, again taking on the special interests when while acknowledging that “every special interest is entitled to justice,” he said “not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”

He advocated driving the “special interests out of politics” by enacting laws to forbid corporations from directly funding political objectives.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Does it sound as though he might have opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision?

Fast forward to 2017 and the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges did a masterful job in a Wednesday STORY that illustrated just how the tail wags the dog when it comes down to attempts to come up with a revenue plan that makes sense when the interests of big business and industry are pitted against those of the citizens of this state.

In his story, Bridges reported how the Republican-dominated legislature was so overtly beholden to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that even one of its own, Republican State Rep. Kenny Havard of St. Francisville, was appalled and embarrassed—and said so.

Please understand that I am in no way defending or condemning the tax plan put forth by Gov. John Bel Edwards but suffice it to say the business-oriented mindset of lawmakers were going to see to it that nothing that cost business a red nickel was going to pass even if it meant Louisiana households were going to be saddled with higher taxes—and because of the actions of the House Ways and Means Committee, they now will be.

Bridges did one of the best jobs ever in revealing how legislators simply lack the courage, principles, integrity, honesty and, yes, the stones, to turn their backs on campaign contributions and other perks in order to do the right thing.

Too weak-willed to resist the temptation when the think no one is looking, they would rather accept campaign contributions and expensive dinners than to say, “No thanks, I would rather look out for the interests of my constituents.”

Those campaign contributions come from various corporate entities and from corporate officers of countless corporations from both within and outside the state and they are poured into the campaigns of lawmakers for one reason: to buy votes. To claim otherwise would be to be disingenuous, deceptive, and hypocritical.

And just to make sure they get the message, hordes of lobbyists descend on the Capitol like so many swarms of locusts every spring. They are there to remind representatives and senators, lest they have momentary memory lapses, how to vote on any number of bills where there might be a conflict between responsible legislation and the status quo of political favoritism. That’s why on any given night during the legislative session, you can find lawmakers dining at Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants, courtesy of the hundreds of lobbyists who, in turn, feast on the carcasses of bloated legislators. If not restaurant fare, there are always the crawfish boils in the parking lot of the Pentagon Barracks across the street from the Capitol.

The committee not only rejected Edwards’ tax plan but also that of a special blue-ribbon that examined the state’s tax code last year and made recommendations based on its findings.

Bridges quoted Havard, who said, ““If we don’t have the courage to do it now, for God’s sakes… let’s just keep what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Isn’t that the definition of insanity—keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? We’re not going to get different results. The only mistake I made was thinking you could make change … The whole system is set up against change.”

So now, Louisiana businesses and industries will continue to enjoy the same tax breaks, exemptions and credits perpetuated for years and ramped up by Bobby Jindal. Meanwhile, the burden, as always, will fall onto the backs of middle class Louisianans.

And the legislature will continue its annual struggle with the budget and the state will keep right on lurching down the road trying to contend with midyear cutbacks as revenue shortfalls continue and roads and bridges and physical facilities at colleges and universities fall farther and farther behind on desperately needed maintenance and as governmental services to the developmentally disadvantaged and the mentally ill continue to be cut—all so business and industry may never be called upon to help shoulder its share of the burden—and so the legislative perks may continue unabated.

Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War Simon Cameron would love Louisiana politics. It was Cameron who said, “An honest politician is one who, when bought, stays bought.”

Well, you can rest easy tonight in the knowledge that, by that measure, we have one of the most honest legislatures in the nation. They stayed bought and they will continue to reap campaign contributions and they will continue to shove expensive food and liquor down their gullets, courtesy of the special interests, namely LABI and its members.

Voting in favor of the bill by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, were Reps. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans; Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans; Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; Ted James, D-Baton Rouge; and Major Thibaut, D-New Roads.

And, oh, in the interest of full disclosure, here are the names of those who killed Shadoin’s bill in order to keep corporate taxes down and your taxes high (and to allow themselves to continue receiving corporate campaign funds and to keep eating at Ruth’s Chris and Sullivan’s Restaurants, compliments of the lobbyist at the end of the table) were:

  • Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport (seabaugha@legis.la.gov);
  • Barry Ivey, R-Central (iveyb@legis.la.gov);
  • John “Jay” Morris, R-Monroe (morrisjc@legis.la.gov);
  • Jim Morris, R-Oil City (larep001@legis.la.gov);
  • Dodie Horton, R-Haughton (hortond@legis.la.gov);
  • Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge davisp@legis.la.gov);
  • Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez (schexnayderc@legis.la.gov);
  • Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice (devillierp@legis.la.gov);
  • Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles (dwights@legis.la.gov);
  • Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge (huvalm@legis.la.gov);
  • Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, candidate for State Treasurer (stokesj@legis.la.gov).

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As a recovering Republican, I feel I am in a unique position to suggest that all political party labels be abandoned in favor of candidates representing constituents as opposed to clinging stubbornly to the blind loyalty of some group of adherents referring to themselves as Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.

Civilized countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have no legal political parties (although the media sometimes mistakenly refer to opposition groups as “parties”). If it’s good enough for them, it should suffice for us.

For once, I’d like to see a politician who is defined not by some label but by his own core beliefs and principles, formed independently and absent the dictates of a so-called “party” which is supported by special interests who dictate the philosophy of its labeled and packaged candidates.

I would much prefer to vote for someone because of he or she actually stands for something rather than putting party loyalty above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt had the political courage to stand up to his own Republican Party and demand corporate health regulations and to fight monopolistic trusts. Somehow, that courage has evaporated in the interest of party unity which, of course, encourages a more reliable flow of campaign contributions from the vested interests.

I don’t say this as a way of placing my intellect above that of my contemporaries (God knows that would be a foolish assumption on my part) but the two major parties in this country—all the way down to our petulant legislature—long ago arrived at loggerheads with each other to the detriment of those who put them in office.

It’s more than a little sickening to watch. Besides, we already have The Jerry Springer Show.

In a recent discussion with an old friend and long-time political observer, he noted that Democrats as a group refuse to accept anything proposed by Republicans and Republicans as a group counter in kind. Can anyone really wonder that Congress has a lower approval rating than porta-potty cleaner-uppers? (Coincidentally, it might be worth mentioning that the longer Congress is in session, the greater the demand for porta-potty cleaner-uppers.)

My friend, who spent his career in state government, confided in me that he promised himself long ago that if he ever became jaded with his job, he would retire. He is now retired.

So, why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and admit that our political system no longer functions as a two-party, give-and-take forum? When you had someone like Sam Rayburn as Speaker of the House, things got done in Congress even though there was Republican opposition. That’s because while there was opposition, the two sides left room for compromise. With Newt Gingrich, we instead got a governmental shutdown. (Rayburn, the longest-serving House speaker in history, by the way, died broke while our own Bobby Jindal, by contrast, became a multi-millionaire during his three years in Congress.)

Elected office is no longer considered a public service; it is instead, an avocation in and of itself, a stepping stone to the next move up. Witness the shameless pursuit of the presidency by Jindal and the equally self-serving ambition of Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to oust John Bel Edwards as governor. Accordingly, you will not hear the first utterance by Landry, Graves or Kennedy in support of anything proposed by Edwards.

Likewise, should Donald Trump ever say or propose anything with a scintilla of original thought or meaningful purpose, you will never hear Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat speak out in support. That just isn’t done any more. There’s no civility in politics, no room for compromise.

Witness the banal, hackneyed behavior of the Louisiana Legislature, particularly over the past 10, 20, 30 years.

Because the state has systematically failed to pay its mandated share into the state retirement system, we’re now saddled with an insurmountable unfunded liability in each of the state retirement systems.

For decades, taxpayers of Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes have been paying a millage to construct the Comite River Diversion Canal project to prevent flooding. The project is no nearer completion today than it was 25 years ago and we have the delays to thank, at least in part, for that horrendous flood of last August. And now guess what? After pissing away the monies that were supposed to have gone to flood control with those millage collections, some legislators, in their collective buffoonery, now want to snatch nearly $200 million from federal monies intended for flood victims to use instead for flood control.

It’s almost like gasoline taxes that were supposed to have gone to repair our roads and bridges and the revenue from gaming that was supposed to fund public education. Of course, as soon as those gaming funds were approved, the legislature jerked an identical amount from other funding, the Support Education in Louisiana First Fund, and the result for public education was another version of the old shell game. Now you see it, not you don’t.

Fast forward to the Jindal years when state employees suddenly found themselves going six years on end without a pay raise. Now those Jindal years have spilled over into the Edwards years and those same legislators are still playing a game called kick the financial can down the road and state employees are still falling further and further behind the inflationary curve. Prices are up, health insurance is up, but salaries remain stagnant—with the exception of State Police (not to be confused with Department of Public Safety officers who undergo the same training but have not enjoyed the 30 percent pay raise received by State Troopers).

And now, House Bill 302 by House majority leader Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) would assess parolees an additional $37 fee per month (from $63 to $100), the money to be used to fund a pay increase for parole officers. As has become almost a ritual, the vote was split along party lines.

It’s really a beautiful thing to watch these guys cherry pick their personal little projects—like Harris’s fee assessment. I’m sure the rest of Louisiana’s civil service employees are applauding his magnanimous gesture toward the beleaguered parole officers.

Not to diminish the seriousness of their plight, but parole officers aren’t the only state civil service employees who are hurting. And Harris is not the only member of the legislature who is completely out of touch with the daily struggles of state employees, many of whom were victims of last year’s floods.

This is serious business and Harris and his colleagues should get together and try to figure out how the state’s fiscal problems can be addressed without the same old tired political rhetoric spouted along party lines. It’s time for compromise and hard decisions and the legislature, as a body, is not showing any inclination of making those hard decisions.

The governor’s plan is not perfect—far from it. But neither is the continued petty bickering of the legislature getting anything done. You’re not being paid to come to Baton Rouge to participate in some kind of elementary school blame game. You were sent here to solve problems and put this state back on sound financial footing.

Instead, you plaster an “R” or a “D” to your respective foreheads and start squawking like a couple of tomcats in a dark alley—even as you hold out your hands for political contributions from the special interests who pay you to just keep squawking like you always have.

A hint: We can see you and we can hear you and you’re not impressing anyone.

Drop the party labels and declare yourselves not as Republican or Democrat but as Louisianans.

Do the right thing. Do your jobs.

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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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