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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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No sooner had The Donald pulled off the biggest political upset since dewey-defeats-trumanthan the speculation on who would hold which cabinet position had begun. And it got downright scary.

There was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani being touted as Attorney General.

Yep. That’s all we need: A doddering old has-been who has all he can handle to remember his own name standing in as the premier legal authority in the land. He’s probably the only one who could make John Mitchell look good.

And Newt-for-God’s-sake-Gingrich as Secretary of State?

And the Republicans thought Hillary was bad in that role?

Next thing you know, Trump will be tossing out Charles Koch’s name as Secretary of the Interior.

And how about Chris Christie as Secretary of Defense?

Or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Secretary of the Treasury? I mean, look what he’s done for that state’s finances.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, in a story quickly picked up by state media, a familiar name (to Louisianans, that is) is being pitched as a potential choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Bobby Jindal.

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not. http://www.wdsu.com/article/report-former-gov-bobby-jindal-being-considered-for-cabinet-role-in-trump-administration/8263712

For some reason the locals believe that because he worked for former Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of Health and Hospitals and for former President George W. Bush as a special adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he somehow has a shot at a similar role in the Trump administration.

I would refer those reporters to chapters 30 through 37 of my book Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Those chapters include the sordid details of how Jindal single-handedly dismantled the state’s model public teaching hospital system to benefit a few greedy political hangers-on—even to the point of signing off on a contract containing 50 blank pages. A rhetorical question: would anyone reading this ever sign his or her name to any document containing even one blank page?

As an added bonus, I would refer you to Chapter 17 of the book which details how Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols landed a cushy lobbying position with Ochsner Health System after helping negotiate a deal whereby Ochsner would partner with Terrebonne General Medical Center to take over operation of the state’s Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

At least the WSJ thought to mention failed GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson as also being under consideration for the Health and Human Services post.

That would, after all, make a little more sense. After all, Carson did pipe up from time to time on behalf of Trump’s candidacy. We heard nary a peep from the Louisiana wannabe wunderkind Piyush Jindal after he removed himself from the Republican presidential sweepstakes last November…and no one noticed (of course they didn’t notice while he was running, either). All he did was join the board of some Texas corporation and quickly fade from memory—helping the Republican Party but crushing my book sales in the process.

Hey, Donald, here’s a heads-up. After Tuesday’s race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, there are two former U.S. Representatives who ran unsuccessfully for the upper chamber who are now unemployed.

And they both just happen to be doctors.

But how can you trump (pun intended) a Rhodes Scholar?

If James Comey wasn’t doing such a splendid job, you might even consider Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to head up the FBI. Think how regal he’d look sitting behind old J. Edgar’s desk.

But while you’re at it, you may be needing a new Secretary of Immigration and Border Protection. We understand David Duke just pulled an astonishing 3 percent of the vote in that same U.S. Senate race and may be looking for something to do. And we already know the rapport he has with minorities. Why, he’d fit right in.

And while you’re at it, you may be on the lookout for someone to replace Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.

There’s this fellow who previously did such a stellar job running the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—into the ground. Troy Hebert did even worse than Duke, racking up a whopping .5 percent of the vote in the 24-person Senate race. That’s one-half of one damn percentage point. Imagine what he could do for Homeland Security.

He may even still have his badge from his ATC days.

Yep, Donald, if you’re looking for washed up political has-beens to lead your administration—and it appears that you are—we have a boatload of ‘em down here in Louisiana.

Take your pick.

Please.

(Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

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Colorful. Vindictive. Unorthodox. Illegal. Underhanded. Flamboyant. Egotistical. Unethical. Dishonest. Freewheeling. No holds barred. Down and dirty. Deceitful. Unprincipled. Crooked. Bombastic. Pompous. Arrogant. Self-serving. Zealous.

These are just a few adjectives (believe me, there are many, many more) used by various news reporters down through the ages to describe Louisiana politics and its practitioners.

It may not compare to the quote about U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper by George Smathers, his opponent for the U.S. Senate in Florida way back in 1951:

“Are you aware,” Smathers told a rural, largely unsophisticated gathering, “that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy and that he and his wife matriculated together before they were married.”

But there are other ways to undercut a political opponent without ever resorting to smear tactics, half-truths, or innuendo and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican, may have just found a way to damage the aspirations of two of his Democratic opponents for the U.S Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter.

Besides the descriptions applied to Louisiana politics in the opening paragraph, astute politicians—particularly conservative Republicans—have allowed two other words to creep into the political lexicon: Evangelicalism and Privatization—as homage to two blocs that have gained considerable stroke in recent years: the religious right and disciples of Milton Friedman’s free market economy.

Boustany, however, also is effectively employing Subterfuge and Misdirection in the tried and true fashion of a slight of hand stage magician and no one has noticed.

Until now.

So, in light of his somewhat low-key TV ads, how is he attempting to obtain an edge through furtive means?

Two words: Joshua Pellerin.

Since 2012, Pellerin, manager of Pellerin Real Estate Holdings and of Pellerin Energy Corp., has contributed at least $8,800 to Boustany’s campaigns for the U.S. House and, since 2015, another $6,800 to his campaign for the Senate.

PELLERIN’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO BOUSTANY’S HOUSE CAMPAIGNS:

boustany-1 boustany-2 boustany-3 boustany-4 boustany-5 boustany-6

PELLERIN’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO BOUSTANY’S SENATE CAMPAIGN:

PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC SEE MEMO ITEM/ VERIFIED NON-CORPORATE/CONTRIBUTION FROM PARTNERSHIP. PARTNERS EXCEEDING REPORTING THRESHOLD ITEMIZED AS MEMOS. LAFAYETTE LA 70503 08/06/2015 $1,000
PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC SEE MEMO ITEM/ VERIFIED NON-CORPORATE LAFAYETTE LA 70503 10/20/2015 $500 X
PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC SEE MEMO ITEM/ VERIFIED NON-CORPORATE LAFAYETTE LA 70503 08/06/2015 $1,000 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER SEE MEMO ITEM/ VERIFIED NON-CORPORATE/PARTNERSHIP ITEMIZATION MEMO BROUSSARD LA 70518 08/06/2015 $900 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER SEE MEMO ITEM/ VERIFIED NON-CORPORATE/PARTNERSHIP ITEMIZATION MEMO BROUSSARD LA 70518 08/06/2015 $100 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER [MEMO ITEM] PARTNERSHIP: PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC BROUSSARD LA 70518 10/20/2015 $500 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER [MEMO ITEM] PARTNERSHIP: PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC BROUSSARD LA 70518 08/06/2015 $900 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER [MEMO ITEM] PARTNERSHIP: PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC BROUSSARD LA 70518 08/06/2015 $100 X
PELLERIN, JOSHUA PELLERIN ENERGY GROUP, LLC OWNER BROUSSARD LA 70518 02/09/2015 $2,600

Pellerin also is the former manager of Preventive Vascular Screenings, LLC, and Pellerin Imaging Group, LLC.

Boustany is a cardiovascular surgeon, which makes the connection between the two men logical and explains why Pellerin would give financial support to Boustany’s campaigns for the U.S. House and now the U.S. Senate.

Wait. The U.S. Senate?

If you scroll down the list of the 24 candidates vying for the U.S. Senate, you will see that number 21 on that list (they’re in alphabetical order) is none other than Democrat Joshua Pellerin.

So we have a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate contributing $5,600 to the campaign of one of his leading opponents for the position—a Republican, no less.

That doesn’t make any since.

Unless….

Unless Pellerin is a “dummy” candidate inserted into the race in an effort to draw votes away from fellow Democrats—Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard.

So who is the “dummy” candidate on the Republican side to draw votes from Boustany’s biggest challenger, fellow physician and Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming? Why, that would be none other than the ultimate dummy, David Duke. Fleming and Duke are battling for much of the same constituency—the Trumpers—and while Duke is destined to finish near the bottom, Fleming’s biggest hope is to pull enough votes from the former high potentate, imperial wizard, exalted grand sovereign (or whatever they call themselves these days) to sneak into the runoff.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time such a dummy candidate has been propped up to split an opponent’s vote. There were rumors, denied by Edwin Edwards, that he had his supporters contribute to the campaign of Tea Party Republican Lenar Whitney two years ago in an attempt to boost her into the runoff which would have greased the skids for him to waltz into Congress. If true, it didn’t work as Garrett Graves ran a strong second to Edwards in the crowded primary and then easily defeated the former governor in the runoff.

The biggest problem facing Boustany is getting Pellerin’s name out there before a sufficient number of Democrat voters. For his part, Pellerin, who has amassed a war chest of only about $300,000 (as opposed to more than $4.3 million in contributions to Boustany), has been making the rounds of Democratic forums in South Louisiana.

With only three weeks before the Nov. 8 election and with such a meager bank account (much of which was contributed by several physicians in the Lafayette area), Pellerin’s best hope to gain name recognition will be those public forums. And with so few Louisiana voters inclined to vote for Democrats these days, it won’t take much chipping at the Campbell-Fayard base to deal crippling blows to their campaigns.

And typical for Louisiana, all it may take is a dummy.

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Contests for the U.S. House and Senate are going virtually unnoticed as the nation becomes more and more transfixed, shocked—and disgusted—at each new charge of sexual abuse and deleted emails that arises in a sordid presidential race no one dared imagine could ever happen in this country.

Also generally overlooked are scores of local elections scattered across Louisiana’s landscape.

One of those is the race for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Incumbent Mayor-President and erstwhile candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kip Holden is term-limited and has now set his sights on the 2nd Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Predictably, the job has attracted quite a few applicants—12 to be precise. One of those is Republican State Sen. Bodi White of Central, coincidentally, the largest fundraiser to date.

With just over three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, White has begun his TV ad blitz. And like candidates before him (including Holden in his initial run) has included a campaign promise to “improve public education” by “building more schools.”

White knows full well there is no way he can make good on such a preposterous promise because the mayor-president has absolutely zero to do with education. That’s the responsibility of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board into whose operations the mayor and parish council have no input.

He knows that but to voters who do not know, it sounds wonderful, like a promise from on high. And that’s the sad part; voters are generally uneducated on the issues and their decisions are often based on cockamamie sound bytes like the one currently being aired by White. He could just as easily say he’s going to build a wall along our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. There are, I’m certain, voters who would buy into that just as quickly.

But there’s more to white than blustering campaign rhetoric.

In 2008, he introduced a bill in the Legislature to create the Central Recreation and Park District and take Central out of BREC (BREC is an acronym for Baton Rouge Recreation—we don’t get it, either).

On May 6, 2008, he revealed his ownership interest in a tract of land BREC wanted for a park. Then on May 14, 2008, White and BREC director Bill Palmer announced a “compromise” under which White would withdraw this legislation to take Central out of BREC.

That “compromise” consisted of a resolution for BREC to purchase some of White’s business partner’s land and develop the adjacent land for the company by whom White was employed.

Not too shabby a deal if you can swing it and apparently his position as a state representative gave him just the political stroke to pull it off. No abuse of his office there.

In addition, BREC agreed to pay Parcel 52, LLC, $130,000 to help build a 750-foot-long road with curbs and sidewalks to the BREC site. The road goes through the center of the eight-acre commercial property owned by Parcel 52, LLC, and adds significant value to the commercial property, which could be developed for 10-20 commercial sites or offices. http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/politics/bodi-white-proof-that-louisiana-has-low-standards-brec-bribed-him/28772800/

Parcel 52, LLC was registered with the Secretary of State. The partners in the company were Brandon and E. Gordon Rogillio, Jr.  and Rep. Mack (Bodi) White. White, who later relinquished his interest in the property, is a realtor who works for Brandon Rogillio. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

Gordon Rogillio later explained that White invested nothing in the property and received nothing in the transaction. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3427

White’s boss prospered nicely, however, and therein lies the possible quid pro quo.

A timeline provided by a local newspaper, the Central City News, published by former State Rep. Woody Jenkins, further revealed details of the entire transaction: http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

In a throwback to the days of raging newspaper wars (days we sorely miss, by the way), a rival publication, Central Speaks, attempted to exonerate White from any wrongdoing in the BREC flap. http://www.centralspeaks.com/old/rep-bodi-white-brec-sports-park-just-the-facts/

Just another day in good old-fashioned Louisiana politics.

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