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An interesting scenario is playing out up in Bossier Parish that could impact the landscape in the 2019 state elections and the 2020 congressional elections with key players being U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson and Bossier Parish Superintendent of Schools Scott Smith.

Back in 2015, there was an uproar over students’ plans to install “prayer boxes” at Airline High School in Bossier City. While the controversy died down rather quickly, it provided a window for then-State Rep. to lead the fight against the ALCU right on into Congress.

Today, the dispute is between the Bossier Parish School Board and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State over last May’s Benton High School graduation ceremonies that opened and ended with prayers and Smith is right in the middle of the controversy.

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/education/2017/09/25/bossier-schools-respond-complaint-graduation-prayers/699983001/

Cynics are asking, “Why Bossier?” and “Why now?”

The scuttlebutt, when plotted out, makes good political sense and a couple of comments from Smith’s wife, former State Rep. Jane Smith only serve to validate the rumors.

But first some background:

During Johnson’s time in the State Legislature, he authored House Bill 707, known as the MARRIAGE and CONSCIENCE ACT, which would have prohibited the state from denying any resident, nonprofit or business a license, benefits or tax deductions if the business took actions “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage.

Critics said the bill had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with discrimination against same-sex marriage and the bill died in committee only to have Bobby Jindal promptly issue an executive order to enforce the intent of Johnson’s bill—a similar one of which had already been struck down in Kentucky by the courts.

JANE SMITH, a former Bossier Parish School Superintendent in her own right who was in her third term and term-limited by the Louisiana Constitution, was appointed by Jindal in 2012 as deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue even though, as she admitted to a friend, she knew “nothing about revenue.”

So, what to make of all this?

Well, word is that Johnson has his eyes on bigger and better things than being a lonely voice among 435 members of the U.S. House.

Governor?

Nope. That plum belongs to U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, presently a not-so-lonely down-home voice among 100. It’s the worst-kept secret in Louisiana that Kennedy wants desperately to challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019.

The plan, according to some observers is for Johnson to run either for lieutenant governor or attorney general. Barring entry by any other candidates in those two races, we would be left with the less-than-desirable choice between Johnson and Billy Nungesser or Johnson and Jeff Landry.

Should that scenario play itself out and should Johnson be elected to one of those statewide posts, that would leave the door wide open for Scott Smith, who those same observers in northwest Louisiana, is already being groomed to run for Johnson’s vacated seat in a special election in early 2020. Johnson is tight with Landry but if Landry opts for a run at higher office, Johnson may feel the job is his by divine right. At any rate, speculation is the deal has already been cut.

Far-fetched? Perhaps not so much. The information making its way down to LouisianaVoice is that Jane Smith is already telling close friends that she has accepted a lobbying job in Washington.

All we can say for certain in all of this is anytime a politician waves a Bible while wrapped in the flag, little good can come from it. Sanctimony is not a trait becoming to anyone.

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U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, himself the victim of an unhinged would-be mass killer, says the Second Amendment means the rights to bear arms is “unlimited.”

I respectfully disagree. (Full disclosure: I own a lever-action .22 rifle I inherited from my grandfather and two handguns. I don’t hunt and I fervently hope I never have occasion to use those weapons. And I don’t harbor irrational fears that someone is coming to take them from me.)

Whenever there is a mass shooting like the one in Las Vegas, there are three things of which we can be certain:

  • There will be renewed calls to address the problem of the easy accessibility to guns, especially automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
  • There will be those members of Congress (and the occasional POTUS), the beneficiaries of large campaign contributions by the NRA who will say, “Now is not the time for that discussion.”
  • There will be those, mainly gun owners steeped in the indoctrination that people will be coming for their guns, who will pose the not-so-rhetorical question, “Why is it when a horrible incident like Las Vegas, certain people start hammering gun control?” (That was a question actually asked in the comment section of a recent LouisianaVoice post.)

Taking the reader’s question first, my response would be because that’s when the image of the carnage brought by these weapons is the freshest on our minds. It’s because politicians are obligated to regurgitate the cliche that they are “praying for the victims” (when most of them haven’t bother to pray in years, if ever, and, truth be known, won’t now) and we are obligated to sigh and shake our heads and ask why this keeps happening and why isn’t something done to keep guns away from these people before our attention is again diverted to LSU and Saints football.

As for that second certainty, I would pose my own question: When the hell is “the right time,” you imbecile? What is your idea of a “right time”—when the outrage has subsided and we return to our daily routines like so many sheep while you continue taking campaign cash from the NRA?

If that is what you consider the “right time,” then I suggest the “right time” has come for you to resign from Congress and enlist in the military so that you can deploy to some hot spot on the planet that you, as a member of Congress, have deemed important to U.S. interests so you can get your ass shot off defending some vague concept of Liberty and the American Way which I suspect is little more than protecting the financial well-being of war profiteers—big oil, weapons and military aircraft manufacturers, and those companies who move in afterwards to “rebuild” with their contract cost overruns of $100,000 a week like a certain Baton Rouge firm with a contract to help rebuild Iraq.

Speaking of defending America from aggression, has it occurred to anyone else that we didn’t really have much of a terrorist threat in this country until we started sticking our collective noses into the affairs of other countries? Have we, in our indignation of Russia’s interference in our election, ever tallied up the number of elections in other countries that we have interfered in? A hint: the number is more than 80, including places like Central America, South America, Africa, Iraq, Iran, France, Italy and even Israel. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-us-intervention-foreign-elections-20161213-story.html

Try defending America’s honor with statistics like that. Try coming to terms with those facts while popping a blood vessel over some jock kneeling during the National Anthem.

That’s why I was just a little astonished at Scalise’s erroneous interpretation of the Second Amendment. But it is consistent with his political viewpoint and those of his constituents who, incidentally, are the same ones who once elected white supremacist David Duke to the Louisiana Legislature and who elected Bobby Jindal to Congress from the same First Congressional District that Scalise now represents.

Scalise was on Meet the Press Sunday morning when host Chuck Todd asked him about his view on gun laws after the Las Vegas shootings. Instead of answering Todd’s question, Scalise gave the usual B.S. political two-step, saying the focus should be on “the amount of people across the country who over the course of a day or week or month use guns to protect themselves against criminals.”

Huh? But…but, Congressman, did those people at that concert in Las Vegas have an opportunity to defend themselves against the assailant’s automatic weapons? A handgun wouldn’t have been much help in that situation, now would it?

Todd then asked, “Is the right to bear arms unlimited or is there a limit?”

“The Second Amendment really predates the Bill of Rights,” Scalise responded, as if that was an answer to the question. A do-si-do to go with the two-step.

Todd pressed on. “But is it unlimited?”

Incredulously, Scalise finally said, “It is.” (Click HERE to see the interview.)

Okay, I’ll give him that the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2008 in the District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that the Second Amendment “codified a pre-existing right” and that it “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with the service in a militia.”

That was Scalise’s apparent reference to the right to bear arms predating the Bill of Rights. But Scalise did not quote the rest of that opinion, which said:

  • “The right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Bingo. Or should that be touché?

Let’s return to Scalise’s contention that the Second Amendment gives unlimited rights to bear arms.

First of all, I thought Scalise was a conservative but that’s a pretty damned liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment.

But let’s assume for a moment that he’s correct.

Carrying that logic to its natural conclusion, a most liberal interpretation would have to be applied to all the other amendments. Thus, we would have an “unlimited” right to say and write anything we want about anyone at any time simply because the First Amendment gives us unlimited rights to speech and press.

I could, for example, write that Scalise once had a romantic relationship with a nanny goat but had to break it off when his donkey got jealous. Now, is that true? Probably not. I don’t think he owns a donkey. But the by God First Amendment gives me unlimited rights to say and write that.

And if someone wanted to practice a religion that called for its adherents to slaughter all red-haired, left-handed men with big feet by beating them to death with a badminton racket, then the First Amendment gives me unlimited religious freedom so there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.

And if that same religious leader and all his followers wished to hold a parade through downtown Baton Rouge to display the racket-mutilated carcass, then hey, no parade permits need be obtained because the First Amendment gives them the unlimited right to free assembly.

No, Congressman, the Second Amendment does not give unlimited rights. But I know you, like most of your contemporaries in both the House and Senate long ago sold your souls to the NRA, so you are obligated to stick to the game plan despite your own tragic near-death experience with a deranged sociopath who happened to get his hands on a semi-automatic weapon.

And I understand your reluctance to talk about legislation making it more difficult for these people to obtain weapons.

Now is just not the time to discuss it.

 

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No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state’s 4.5 million citizens should be irate.

While this is not a call for the pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.

It’s a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state.

Legislator’s Tulane scholarships.

Tulane is one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.

Altogether the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs. https://admission.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw771/f/LegislativeScholarshipFAQ.pdf

So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?

Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/10/22/deja-vu-all-over-again-house-clerk-butch-speer-denies-public-access-to-tulane-legislative-scholarship-records/

The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators’ respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982 and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their “in-your-face practices of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.

The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport who gave his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years’ worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_13a.htm

The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.

She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.

Here is Adams’s letter to Moreno:

Dear Rep. Morano (sic):  

I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at  a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.  

For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship – worth over $150,000 in free tuition – to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.

According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), “State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno’s campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008.”

Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son’s Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno’s political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008. 

Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics? 

Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.

Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You’ve proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 – qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You’ve passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant – a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It’s just beyond insulting!  

What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?  

We don’t need this corruption in New Orleans city government.  

I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism. 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn V. Adams

 

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If you really want to know what’s wrong with our political system and the people we elect to office, it can be summed up in the current race for State Treasurer.

Here are the Duties of that office:

According to Article IV, Section 9 of the Louisiana Constitution, the treasurer is head of the Department of the Treasury and “shall be responsible for the custody, investment and disbursement of the public funds of the state.” The Treasury Department website outlines the treasurer’s duties:

  • receive and safely keep all the monies of this state, not expressly required by law to be received and kept by some other person;
  • disburse the public money upon warrants drawn upon him according to law, and not otherwise;
  • keep a true, just, and comprehensive account of all public money received and disbursed, in books to be kept for that purpose, in which he shall state from whom monies have been received, and on what account; and to whom and on what account disbursed;
  • keep a true and just account of each head of appropriations made by law, and the disbursements under them;
  • give information in writing to either house of the Legislature when required, upon any subject connected with the Treasury, or touching any duty of his office;
  • perform all other duties required of him by law.
  • advise the State Bond Commission, the Governor, the Legislature and other public officials with respect to the issuance of bonds and all other related matters;
  • organize and administer, within the office of the State Treasurer a state debt management section

https://www.treasury.state.la.us/Home%20Pages/TreasurerDuties.aspx

Nowhere in al that does it even once say or even imply that the job has once scintilla to do with:

  • standing with President Trump to create new jobs or to cut wasteful spending, as former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis would have us believe in her TV ads;
  • fighting to make drainage and infrastructure top priorities in the state budget, as State Sen. Neil Riser insists in his TV ads;
  • having the guts to say “No! No to bigger government, no to wasteful spending and to raising your taxes,” as former State Rep. John Schroder proclaims in his TV ads, or
  • stopping cuts to education, healthcare and wasteful government spending, as the TV ads of Derrick Edwards insist.

http://www.wafb.com/story/36425632/la-treasurer-candidates-launch-tv-ads-analyst-calls-them-flimsy-on-duties-of-office

So, why do they insist on campaigning on issues in no way related to the actual duties of the position they are seeking?

For the same reason candidates for Baton Rouge mayor (former Mayor Kip Holden and State Sen. Bodie White, who ran unsuccessfully for the job, come to mind) consistently campaign every four years on improving schools and reducing the number of school dropouts when the mayor’s office has zilch to do with the school board:

They consider the average voter to be unsophisticated, ignorant fools who don’t know any better. Or they’re so stupid they don’t know any better themselves. Those are only two choices.

Period.

Their campaign ads clearly illustrate the complete and total disdain the treasury candidates have for Louisiana voters. They obviously think they can throw up (ahem) fake news and pseudo issues that leave voters in complete darkness about each candidate’s relative qualifications to hold the job.

And by so doing, they send a loud message that neither is qualified for—or deserving of—the job.

When John Kennedy, who had previously served as Secretary of Revenue, an appointive position, ran for treasurer in 1995, he ran a somewhat relevant ad that said, “When I was Secretary of the Department of Revenue, I reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent.”

That ad carried a message that actually resonated with small business owners drowning in paperwork and which at least sounded germane to the office of state treasurer—never mind that it was physically impossible to reduce anything by 150 percent. Once you reduce something by 100 percent, you’re at zero.

All of this rant about the four candidates for treasurer and the lame campaign rhetoric of candidates for Baton Rouge mayor—and just about any other political office you can name—just illustrates to what lengths politicians will go to cloud the real issues and to shy away from discussing matters they can actually address when in office.

How many times have you heard a candidate for U.S. Representative or U.S. Senate implore you to send him to Washington so that he can “make a difference”?

It’s disingenuous at best, fraud at worst.

So, on Oct. 14, be sure to go to the polls and cast your vote for one of the four frauds running for treasurer.

It’s the Louisiana way.

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Before Louisiana voters trek to the polls in record low numbers on Oct. 14, there are a few things to consider about State Sen. Neil Riser, one of four candidates for the job of state treasurer, who, besides failing to help landowners being fenced out of their hunting lands, actually took campaign cash from a family member of the one erecting the fences.

Riser, author of that infamous bill amendment in the waning minutes of the 2014 legislative session that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an additional $100,000 or so per year in retirement benefits, has received some other interesting contributions as well.

The Louisiana Safety Association of Timbermen gave $2,500 to his senate re-election campaign in March 2014 and only 18 months later filed for BANKRUPTCY on behalf of its self-insurance worker’s compensation fund, leaving quite a few policy holders in the lurch.

Several nursing homes have contributed $2,500 each to his treasurer campaign. The nursing home industry, heavily reliant on state payments on the basis of bed occupancy, consistently benefited from favorable legislation by the Louisiana Legislature over the past decade that discouraged home care for the elderly.

But by far the biggest beneficiary of Riser’s legislative efforts is Vantage Health Plan, Inc., of Monroe which contributed $1,000 in 2015 to his Senate re-election campaign and another $1,000 to his treasurer campaign in March of this year.

Vantage has received six state contracts totaling nearly $242 million during the time Riser has served in the State Senate.

But it was Riser, along with Sens. Mike Walsworth of West Monroe, Rick Gallot of Ruston and Francis Thompson of Delhi, who pushed Senate Bill 216 of 2013 through the Legislature which cleared the way for the state to bypass the necessity of accepting bids for the purchase of the state-owned former Virginia Hotel and an adjoining building and parking lot. That was done expressly for the purpose of allowing Vantage to purchase the property for $881,000 despite there being a second buyer interested in purchasing the property from the state, most likely for a higher price.

By law, if a legislative act is passed, the state may legally skip the public bid process to accommodate a buyer. This was done even though a Monroe couple, who had earlier purchased the nearby Penn Hotel, wanted to buy the Virginia and convert it into a boutique hotel. Thanks to Riser and the other three legislators, they were never given the opportunity.

And Vantage, from all appearances, really got a bargain. The building was constructed in 1925 at a cost of $1.6 million and underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984, according to documents provided LouisianaVoice, all of which should have made the property worth considerably more than $881,000. Read the entire story HERE.

Internal documents revealed concerns by Vantage that if the building were to be offered through regular channels (public bids), “developers using federal tax credits could outbid Vantage.”

Another document said, “VHP (Vantage Health Plan) fears that public bidding would allow a developer utilizing various incentive programs to pay an above-market price that VHP would find hard to match.”

Finally, there was a handwritten note which described a meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. Beside the notation that “Sen. Riser supports,” (emphasis added) there was this: “Problem is option of auction—if auction comes there is possibility of tax credits allowing a bidder to out-bid.”

All of which raises the obvious question of why did the Jindal administration turn its back on the potential of a higher sale price through bidding, especially considering the financial condition of the state during his entire term of office? We will probably never know the answer to that.

One might think that that kind of effort on its behalf would be worth more than a couple of thousand in campaign cash to Vantage. Vantage could have at least shown the same gratitude as the relative of the owner of 55,000 of fenced hunting property in Riser’s district.

When landowners in Winn, Caldwell and LaSalle parishes felt they were being fenced out of their hunting rights back in 2013, they did what any citizen might do: they went to their legislator for help–in this case, Riser, who paid the obligatory lip service of expressing concern for landowners Wyndel Gough, Gary Hatten, and Michael Gough but who, in the end, did nothing to assist them.

Instead, as so often happens today in politics, he sold out to the highest bidder.

One the $5,000 contributors to Riser’s campaign is none other than Hunter Farms & Timber, LLC, of Lafayette. An officer in that firm is Billy Busbice, Jr., of Jackson, Wyoming.

William Busbice Sr., one-time chairman of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, and Junior’s father, is a partner in Six C Rentals Limited Partnership of Youngsville, LA. Which purchased and proceeded to fence in some 55,000 acres of prime hunting land a few years back.

The original LouisianaVoice story on that dispute can be read HERE.

All of which only serves to underscore the long-held perception that we in Louisiana, by continually electing the type of public officials who are interested only in the next big deal, get the kind of representation we deserve.

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