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Editor’s note: Amid the Nazi salutes and cheers and hopes for better days or the wailing and gnashing of teeth and fears of worst-case scenarios in the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning victory (depending on one’s political sentiments), one unidentified individual’s observations on the mood encountered before and after the campaign stand alone as best capturing the angst being felt by those finding themselves surrounded by rabid Trump supporters. You can almost feel the frustration of the writer being placed in a potentially hostile environment.

The writer, who identified himself/herself only as “Confused” for very obvious reasons, wrote this as reader’s comment but we felt it was such a well-articulated, poignant message that it deserved to be published as a guest column.

With only minor edits, here is his/her story:

I have always been very private at work and avoided conversations there about politics, religion, science, evolution and diversity. It was just a general awareness of my not fitting in and seeing others getting ganged up on if they disagreed with others, which rarely happened.

Prior to getting hired (I’m from out west), I never thought I would ever experience living somewhere where I felt afraid for my job because I did not agree with the homophobic viewpoints, the entrenched racism, the anti-union sentiment and the fear of anyone of color.

I have stood up to this many times for our clients because I had no idea free speech is only allowed if I agree with them.

During the campaign, I was asked over and over about who I was voting for. I was told lies about both candidates, told racist and sexist jokes and heard people proudly boast of being white. I found ways to walk away or change the subject.

As many have noted in their comments on LouisianaVoice, arguing is futile.

Now I am terrified. I need my job. I can’t afford to move, but thinking of four years of living like this makes me ill. And knowing there is no guarantee it will end in four years only intensifies my anxiety!

I am white, but as terrified as I feel, I can’t even begin to understand how helpless this whole election has felt to those who Trump has attacked verbally and emotionally and now has the power to attack them physically and destroy their lives.

 

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MAGNIFYING GLASS

By Ken Booth

Guest Columnist 

Under the provisions of Louisiana 44:1 et seq. (The Public Records Law), should any local or state government official raise questions as to whether requested records are public, the agency’s custodian of public documents is required to notify in writing the person making the request of the custodian’s determination and the reasons, including the legal basis. Said notice shall be made within three days of the request exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (emphasis added).

The law is pretty plain. It doesn’t say “may be made,” “might be made” or “should be made” within three days. The word used was shall.

MIKE EDMONSON PHOTO

But with the introduction of the new administration, elected and appointed officials in Louisiana seem to have decided they are exempt from provisions of the state law…one of them, the head of the State Police, of all people, even having “manufactured…own loophole for denying public records requests,” as reported by Louisiana Voice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/01/lsp-stakes-out-claim-that-investigations-records-are-exempt-from-public-records-law-if-no-disciplinary-action-is-taken/

Are they perhaps taking their cues from federal officials?  Within the past week, for instance, the State Department told a federal court that processing a demand for documents relating to Hillary Clinton and her aides would take as long as 75 years and would stretch “generations.”

Besides Obama, of course, Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton have regularly invoked executive privilege as a means of protecting documents from public scrutiny.

What brings this to mind are a series of demands for public records recently involving three areas of significant public interest but which have either gone unacknowledged or denied or even fought with lawsuits against the public seeking the records.  That’s a mean stretch even by Louisiana’s political and corruption standards.

When the weekly Ouachita Citizen sought to follow-up on a state audit that pointed to possible payroll fraud involving a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court, the court’s judges balked and denied the paper’s request for disciplinary action taken against court clerk Allyson Campbell over her alleged falsification of time sheets and other public documents.

When the newspaper filed a complaint with the District Attorney, the court filed a lawsuit against the newspaper which from a financial standpoint would effectively throttle further attempts to litigate the issue.

The paper has multiple public requests in at the office of state Attorney-General Jeff Landry which have for weeks gone unanswered.

Similarly, a couple of my own requests (shown here) to the new “transparency-minded” and “aggressive” Republican Attorney-General remain without result except for one letter which said it “may take some time.”

In a June 7th E-mail to Landry’s office, I wrote: “I would very much appreciate either the documents requested sixteen days ago or an opinion from that office on why they cannot be produced. Please know this is a public records request that will not go away silently.”

Landry’s press secretary Ruth Wisher has made sure that reporters know that her boss doesn’t always return her texts. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky-dory.

BOOTH REQUEST

AG RESPONSE TO BOOTH

BOOTH FOLLOW UP REQUEST
           Known records requests to the AG’s office also demand access to a state police report on its investigation into the allegations of possible payroll fraud and destruction or concealment of court documents. A report on the findings from a companion investigation by the Inspector General’s office was released back on April 15th. The state police report is known to be in the hands of the Attorney General.

All of this is at odds with the very public Landry who has been throwing his weight around the capitol lately pushing for control of his agency’s own finances, making national headlines while trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal aliens, and squaring off (at least publicly) with the Gov. John Bel Edwards as if he hopes to succeed him some day.

But Landry and the 4th Judicial District Court in Ouachita Parish are not the only ones playing keep-away with public records.

LouisianaVoice has been repeatedly stymied by the Louisiana State Police with respect to sought after records.

In fact, as a recent LouisianaVoice post notes, Edmonson has manufactured his own loophole for denying public records requests after tiring, he suggests, of the public learning of “far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons.”

Several high-profile cases of alleged improper State Trooper conduct have been determined to have been free of wrong doing and are therefore exempt  from public records laws if no diciplinary action is taken. That’s staking out a rather questionable claim by the Supertindent.

Curiously, however, his agency did release records showing payroll fraud had occurred at Troop D headquartered in Lake Charles when the lieutenant there was accused of having instructed the men under his command to pad their time sheets to reflect work that had not been performed.

Ironically, that’s the same charge investigated by the same LSP against the law clerk in Ouachita Parish, the report of which has been hidden from public scrutiny even amid growing speculation nothing will come of the charges against her or the Judges who approved her bogus time sheets. It should be noted that the Troop D lieutenant was found to have engaged in “no wrong doing” and access to any investigation findings with respect to him has been denied. However, a trooper he supervised and who figured in the padded time sheets was fired.

The Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police is appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate. Edmonson had—and continues to have—the support of Gov. Edwards.

Edwards is also credited with preserving through his influence, at least indirectly, the job of another Jindal administration hold-over department head, Education Superintendent John White. While White actually is appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over which the governor has little control since most board members are elected, his stated support of White certainly didn’t hurt.

JOHN WHITE PHOTO

White, a 2012 BESE appointee, has been under considerable public fire over his steadfast defense of the Common Core program.

White has filed a lawsuit against two individuals seeking public records in five different requests from the Department of Education, presumably to block their access to dirty laundry in that agency as might be said of the lawsuit by the Judges in Monroe against The Ouachita Citizen.

Even considering Louisiana’s notorius reputation for politial scandals, suing private citizens or even the news media by government agencies has plunged the state’s standards to a new low.

As has been pointed out elsewhere the use of unlimited financial and legal resources—all paid for by the taxpayers—to block citizens with limited financial means is a dangerous threat to the very notion of checks and balances that are supposed to protect the public from abuse.

For those elected Louisiana officials to sit back and do nothing to put a stop to this unprecedented assault on the public’s right-to-know is pretty much tantamount to an endorsement of such actions.

And if the civilian public looks the other way when this kind of mess is exposed and doesn’t demand that it stop then expect the level of distrust to grow.

 

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By James C. Finney, Ph.D.

Guest Columnist

(Editor’s Note: James Finney is one of two Louisiana citizens (Mike Deshotels is the other) who was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by State Education Superintendent John White in an effort to thwart efforts by the pair to obtain public records from the Department of Education. White has defended his action by pointing out he is not seeking monetary damages from Finney or Deshotel. He failed to mention, however, that it will cost them money from their personal funds to defend the lawsuit while White has the financial resources of the State of Louisiana at his disposal.)

 

Much has been written about the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, otherwise known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, or the voucher program. To summarize: The Department of Education allows vouchers for almost any private school that wants them (or so it seems) and then performs minimal oversight.

The students are tested, but the Department works hard to make sure taxpayers don’t get to see any useful data. The program is based on a premise that it helps poor kids access private schools. But “poor” is 2.5 times the poverty level which, for a family of four, means an annual income of $59,625 is low enough to put a kid in a private school at taxpayer expense. And, of course, the state refuses to release any data about how many children are at which ends of that range of income. And the point is, allegedly, to allow kids to escape failing public schools.

Never mind that the students may have never attended a public school. Ever.

But this post isn’t about that voucher program. It’s about the sneaky alternative that funds private schools by way of tax rebates. The Tuition Donation Rebate Program allows donors to fund private school tuition and recoup most of that donation as a tax rebate.

As might be expected, there are middlemen taking their cut of the money. At the beginning of the program, there was only one such organization—Arete Scholars Louisiana. The registered agent, Gene Mills, he of the Family Forum, has apparently neglected the paperwork required to keep charter 41200779N active with the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Mills, founder of Louisiana Family Forum, was the centerpiece of an extraordinary post by Jason France on his Crazy Crawfish blog in October 2012. https://thecrazycrawfish.com/tag/louisiana-family-fourm/

Founded in 1998, Louisiana Family Forum included as its “Independent Political Consultant” and “Grassroots Coordinator,” former State Sen. Dan Richey. http://www.lafamilyforum.org/about/

As an example of the family values for which Family Forum supposedly stands, Richey, while serving as a state senator from Ferriday in the 1980s, gave his allotted Tulane scholarship to a Caddo Parish legislator’s daughter in exchange for that legislator’s awarding of his scholarship to Richey’s brother as a means of circumventing the informal prohibition against giving the scholarships to immediate family members.

Superintendent John White’s Department of Education, with the approval of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), thought it was critical that there be multiple organizations available to help people support private education rather than pay taxes. So they gave grants of up to $499,750 to ACE Scholarships Louisiana (charter 41590796K) and up to$500,000 for New Schools for Baton Rouge Excellence Scholarship Fund (charter41726088K) so that these limited-liability corporations could each set up their business of accepting donations, funneling them to private schools, and providing the documentation required for the donors to get tax rebates from the Louisiana Department of Revenue.

According to the Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice 2015 Annual Report, which was submitted to BESE but not accepted, the tuition donation rebate program started in 2013-14 with Arete.

Arete’s 2013-14 Arete’s 2014 Annual Report indicates that the organization disbursed 14 scholarships, worth a total of $60,975.02, and all funded by the Atlanta Falcons.

No, that’s not a typo: Those Atlanta Falcons. That amount was confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Revenue: One unnamed taxpayer was issued a rebate in the amount of $60,975.02 in tax year 2014.

According to the state’s 2015 annual report cited above, there were two Student Tuition Organizations active in 2014-15: Arete and ACE. Arete’s 2015 Annual Report confirms the number of scholarships reported by the state, 50, at 24 schools, with a total value of $180,381, while ACE Scholarships Louisiana LLC’s 2015 Annual Report reports 13 scholarships, three schools, and a total of $40,780.67.

The donors of note on Arete’s annual report include the Atlanta Falcons, Chik-fil-A, James Garvey and several other individuals. ACE’s donors were David George and Edward Rispone. According to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, the total of rebates awarded in 2015 was $101,659.85, and they ranged in size from $950 to $47,105.

The numbers exploded in 2015-16, though, especially for ACE.  The state’s voucher report indicates that Arete awarded (as of March 2016) 205 scholarships at 50 schools, ACE awarded 558 scholarships at 77 schools, and New Schools awarded 13 scholarships at four schools. The names of the schools, donors and dollar amounts likely won’t be available for several months, however.

The targets for total scholarship awards (remember those half-million dollar contracts a few paragraphs above) were 1,000 for this year and 1,250 for 2016-17 (ACE) and 75 and 125, respectively for New Schools. So apparently New Schools aimed low and shot lower. Perhaps that’s a good thing, in that taxpayers will see less revenue diverted away from the state’s coffers. On the other hand, this spreadsheet indicates that, as of the end of 2015, New Schools had already collected $300,000 on its contract, and ACE had already collected $249,874.98.

It’s interesting what a person can learn from availing themselves of their rights under Louisiana’s public records law (Title 44).

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 isBy Tom Aswell and Ken Booth

If there was ever any question that there is a deliberate ongoing effort by the Louisiana State Police (LSP) to deny access to public records, those doubts were laid to rest by a pair of responses to LouisianaVoice—one from LSP and the other from the Office of Inspector General.

It all began innocently enough with a routine request made for files into the turmoil and legal battle among judges of the 4th Judicial District Court which includes the parishes of Ouachita and Morehouse.

Judge Sharon Marchman filed suit against four of her colleagues on the 4th JDC bench over her claims that they were covering for a legal clerk who Marchman suspected was not at work during times she was being paid. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/05/05/disorder-in-the-court-guest-columnist-ken-booth-reveals-disturbing-events-that-taint-several-judges-of-4th-jdc/

Oddly enough, the clerk is the highest-paid law clerk in the 4th JDC—despite the fact that she is not even an attorney, normally the number one criteria for a law clerk.

The clerk, Allyson Campbell, is the sister of prominent Monroe trial lawyer Catherine Creed, the daughter of George Campbell, regional president of Regions Bank who in turn is married to the daughter of another prominent attorney, Billy Boles who was instrumental in the growth of Century Telephone and who is a major contributor to various political campaigns.

Another major screw-up in 4th Judicial District Court (and again Judge Larry Jefferson is right in the middle of it all)

State Police were reported last June to be conducting a joint investigation, along with the OIG, but no report on that investigation has ever been issued by either agency.

So naturally, in keeping with our uncompromising belief in the public’s right to know, we asked.

Here is the identical request made by LouisianaVoice to both agencies on May 5:

Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the following information:

Please allow me to review the file on the Fourth Judicial District 2015 investigation.

Here is the response received on Wednesday, May 11, from LSP:

Mr. Aswell, I have been advised that the district attorney for the 4th JDC considers this an open matter as he is awaiting additional information.  Therefore, any responsive records maintained by LSP are not subject to release at this time as they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to R.S. 44:3(A)(1). With kindest professional regards, I am,

Sincerely,

Michele M. Giroir

Attorney Supervisor

But wait. A full day before receiving the LSP denial (on Tuesday, May 10) we received quite a different response from the OIG. OIG 4TH JDC REPORT

On the first page, OIG General Counsel Joseph Lotwick explained that “records prepared or obtained by the Inspector General in connection with investigations conducted by the Inspector General shall be deemed confidential and protected from disclosure.”

But Lotwick, in that same letter, also said he was attaching a copy of an April 15 letter from Inspector General Stephen Street to 4th JDC District Attorney Jerry Jones “as it is a public record.” The five-paragraph letter of nearly a month ago noted that the 4th JDC management controls “did not make possible a determination of the hours Ms. Campbell worked on any given workday. Investigators confirmed that alleged violations of policy applicable to Ms. Campbell were investigaged (sic) and addressed by 4th JDC authorities.

“Because the available facts do not provide sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal offense, we are closing our file and taking no further action in this matter.”

So, despite claims by LSP that the investigation remains open, Louisiana’s Inspector General Stephen Street says an investigation by his department along with detectives from the state police found nothing wrong with the work hours of a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court.

A state audit had pointed to possible payroll fraud when an inspection of time sheets revealed the chief law clerk had turned in time sheets for work on days she was not even at the courthouse. Those time sheets were approved by her supervising judges.

The 41-year-old law clerk, Allyson Campbell was also a society columnist for the News-Star, the Monroe daily newspaper at the time.

According to lawsuits filed against her by an attorney alleging she destroyed or concealed files in his cases before the court, Campbell, who indicated she might be doing her job at a Monroe restaurant/bar frequented by lawyers, business people and Judges.

Documents show one picture obviously taken in a restaurant was captioned “Seafood nachos at the office.”

In 2014 Campbell published a column entitled A modern guide to handle your scandal, declaring “half the fun is getting there and the other half is in the fix.”

“Send it out,” she wrote. “Lies, half-truths, gorilla dust, whatever you’ve got. You’re no one until someone is out to get you.” She continued, “That special somebody cared enough to try and blacken your reputation and went and turned you into a household name? Bravo. You’re doing something right.”

The allegedly falsified Campbell time sheets, said to have been borne out by courthouse security camera video showing she was a no-show there on the questioned “work days,” and a subsequent allegation of cover-up by four Ouachita Parish District Court Judges, prompted Judge Marchman, to file a federal court lawsuit against all of them for retaliating against her for “trying to expose Campbell’s history of payroll fraud and document destruction” while acting under color of law.

Whether Marchman was aware is not known, but Street had by then already decided interviews his office had conducted at the courthouse led him to conclude “the available facts do not provide sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal office, [and] we are closing our file and taking no further action in this matter.

In his April 15 letter to Jones, Street outlined how “several 4th Judicial District Judges, as well as other local attorneys, “the current and former court administrator, employees of the Clerk of Court, (Louise Bond),” and other court employees and assistants, as well as Campbell herself, were interviewed. Campbell, he wrote, had denied destroying or hiding or destroying any court records or pleadings.”

District Attorney Jones at the outset referred the allegations of wrongdoing to the State Police who wound up working in concert with the IG’s north Louisiana investigator, Heath Humble.

Since then, the DA has consistently referred all questions regarding the status of the case to the office of the Louisiana Attorney General, Jeff Landry.

Accordingly, my public records request for documentation or any statement regarding the status of the investigation long since closed by the local and state investigators was answered by Shannon Dirmann, an Assistant Attorney General who wrote on May 9: “Our office is in the process of determining what, if any, records are subject to this request, and, if so, whether any privileges or exemptions apply. This may take some time. You will be notified whether records have been located and are responsive.” (Emphasis added) In other words, “we’ll get back to you.”

Interesting indeed, since Lotwick responded to a similar records request one day later (on May 10) from LouisianaVoice with a copy of Street’s letter to Jones—“as it is a public record.”

“I trust that this response is sufficient,” he wrote in his letter to LouisianaVoice.

Well, certainly more sufficient—and much more informative than anything provided by LSP.

 

 

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The time has come to stop blaming Bobby Jindal. (Yeah, I know, I probably won’t. The man simply spread too much carnage during his eight clueless years occupying one office in theory while running for another in runaway delusional fantasy.)

But now it’s a new day and the torch of ineptness has been passed to his enablers, holdover members of the Louisiana House and Senate.

Legislators convened in Baton Rouge Sunday in special session to address a $900 million budget deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and to take steps to head off a $2 billion budgetary shortfall for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

They have one chance to get it right. One chance, and one only.

If their performance over the last eight years is any indication, they won’t. Here’s why:

Louisiana elected officials who have signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge
Paul Hollis* State Representative Republican
John Alario State Senate President Republican
Jack Donahue State Senate Finance chairman Republican
Gerald Long State Senator Republican
Fred Mills State Senator Republican
Barrow Peacock State Senator Republican
John Smith State Senator Republican
Steve Carter State Representative Republican
Greg Cromer State Representative Republican
Cameron Henry State Representative Republican
Dorothy Hill State Representative Democrat
Valarie Hodges State Representative Republican
Sam Jones State Representative Democrat
Dee Richard State Representative No Party
Alan Seabaugh State Representative Republican
Scott Simon State Representative Republican
John Schroder State Representative Republican
Kirk Talbot State Representative Republican

*Paul Hollis signed the federal Americans for Tax Reform pledge when he was running for U.S. Senate. He is not listed as one of the people who signed onto the state government pledge.

These are returning legislators who swore an oath to a man who does not live in Louisiana, who has never held office. Yet, he appears to command loyalty from a handful of legislators who feel it is more important to serve his interests over those of their constituents, the ones who elected them to office. (Rep. Dee Richard of Thibodaux told LouisianaVoice last year that when he signed the pledge, he had no idea who Norquist was and had never heard of him.)

The late C.B. Forgotston called it “the lowest of a lot of low points” in Louisiana’s sorry legislative history. He said legislators, who had “already abdicated their constitutional responsibility to Bobby Jindal” were pleading with a non-resident of Louisiana “for help doing their jobs.”

Eleven state representatives—we called them “The Elastic Eleven” at the time—turned their collective backs on their constituents in particular and on the state in general in order to suck up to Norquist and to advance their own political agenda. In short, they were afraid to take a bathroom break without Norquist’s permission.

Their letter to Grover Norquist sought his blessing before they voted to pass the Student Assessment for Valuable Education, or SAVE credit program, which created money out of thin air via a higher education tax credit to cover a nonexistent student fee. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/06/08/eleven-republican-members-of-house-ways-and-means-committee-go-groveling-to-grover-norquist-for-direction/

Now, thanks to that little shell game, Louisiana’s colleges and universities teeter on the brink of unmitigated disaster. It’s not as if we were never warned: https://louisianavoice.com/2015/06/05/save-guest-columnist-wonders-if-grover-norquist-holding-compromising-videos-of-louisiana-legislators-bobby-jindal/

So why should we expect a different outcome now?

For one thing, we no longer have a delusional governor hell bent on leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight for the White House. Now we have a grownup on the fourth floor and not a gaggle of adolescent Milton Friedman theorists who refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

LouisianaVoice offers a guest column by Dayne Sherman on the threat to higher education as well as this link to Stephen Sabludowsky’s Bayou Buzz political blog: http://www.bayoubuzz.com/bb/item/1061467-jon-bel-edwards-dogged-by-kill-lsu-save-the-tigers-mentality

Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula. He is the author of two novels and he blogs at http://talkaboutthesouth.com/

Below is his guest column:

Don’t blame the messenger for TOPS crisis

Similar to Rip Van Winkle, Louisiana just awoke from a long sleep. Eight years to be exact. While Jindal wrecked the state, the citizens snoozed, except for a few political watchdogs here and there howling in the night to no avail.

The moment Louisiana resurrected was Thursday, Feb. 11 at 4 PM. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced TOPS payments to universities were being suspended. TOPS, college scholarships, is the most beloved socialist welfare program in Louisiana history.

Residents went from deep slumber to screaming in minutes. With college football also on the chopping block, we now know the dead can indeed rise from the grave.

It’s time to face the facts. Louisiana has an enormous structural deficit, approximately $1 billion this year, and $2 billion next fiscal year.

However, despite a Republican governor in Jindal and a Republican dominated House and Senate who created this fiscal crisis, some are incredibly, amazingly, and even ignorantly blaming the new governor—just a month in office—for these cuts.

It can’t be said enough, as everyone should realize, Jindal and the senators and representatives we elected are to blame for this fiasco. John Bel Edwards was one of those heralding voices who fought the foolishness, and he was elected to fix the mess.

Look, Edwards wants to protect TOPS and higher education. But Louisiana can’t cut its way to prosperity, nor can the state print money. The special legislative session ironically starts on Valentine’s Day, though love will not be in the air.

This budget crisis can be fixed with responsible tax increases and realistic cuts, which is all Edwards has suggested. It’s simple but will take intestinal fortitude.

The Republicans in the House, led by Taylor Barras (the figurehead Speaker) and Cameron Henry (the real Speaker), have done nothing but try to hamstring the Edwards administration in order to score political points. Sources say plans have been crafted to end the session as soon as it starts and go home with nothing accomplished as a way to cripple the new governor.

Therefore, I am calling for a new Speaker vote on the first day of the session. Remove Barras and send Henry to the kiddie table where he belongs. I don’t care which Republican takes the helm, as long as he or she is willing to work with Edwards and quit playing obstructionist games detrimental to Louisiana.

My advice for those who care about Louisiana is to go see their legislators. Look them straight in the eye and say the Washington-style politics is over. Fix the budget and protect TOPS or resign. Raise taxes, craft a responsible budget, and save the state. No more failures. No more excuses. Put Louisiana first.

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