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State Rep. Dustin Miller (D-Opelousas) has filed HOUSE BILL 724 that would provide an exception to certain provisions of the state ethics code that would allow a Louisiana Department of Health physician to skirt a conflict of interests—in other words, to circumvent the very situation ethics rules were put into place to prevent.

Miller’s bill would allow the physician, Dr. Harold Brandt, to perform in a dual capacity that has already been rejected by the ethics board in a 2016 RULING.

The ruling of July 18, 2016 informed Dr. Sreyram Kuy that he could not accept employment with a healthcare provider that accepted Medicaid payments for medical services because of her position as Medicaid Medical Director, Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Health Services Financing (BHSF) within the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), now LDH.

The decision, written by Jennifer T. Land, read, “The Board concluded…that the Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits you from being employed as a surgeon for OLOL (Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center), other Louisiana licensed hospitals and other healthcare providers that accept Medicaid payments for medical services while you serve as Medicaid Medical Director/Chief Medical Officer of BHSF.”

Land cited the specific section which said the code “prohibits a public servant from receiving compensation for services rendered to the following persons: (1) those who have or are seeking to obtain a business, contractual or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency, (2) those who conduct operations or activities that are regulated by the public servant’s agency, and (3) those who have a substantial economic interest that could be affected by the performance or non-performance of the public servant’s official duty. OLOL, other Louisiana licensed hospitals and other healthcare providers that accept Medicaid payments for medical services are regulated by your agency, BHSF. Therefore, as the Medicaid Medical Director/Chief Medical Officer of BHSF, you are prohibited from being employed by or from providing compensated services to these entities.”

What makes Miller’s bill particularly interesting, however, is that both Dr. Kuy’s predecessor, LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee, and his successor, Dr. Harold Brandt, each worked in that same position without bothering to request an ethics ruling, apparently falling back on the Nike slogan “Just do it.”

In fact, in the case of Dr. Brandt, LouisianaVoice has been informed that he was reappointed to the position with the proviso that Miller’s bill would be introduced in order to change the existing law to accommodate him. This despite the fact that an ethics review was requested of LDH legal to determine if such an arrangement was acceptable, and the answer was no, according to sources.

On Jan. 25, LouisianaVoice published a story in which it was revealed that Dr. Brandt previously served as Medical Vendor Administrator (Medicaid Medical Director) for LDH from April 7, 2016 to Sept. 2, 2017 at a rate of $156.25 per hour while he simultaneously served on the staff of BATON ROUGE CLINIC, which received $83,000 in PAYMENTS from LDH during Dr. Brandt’s tenure at LDH.

the Medical Director serves as chairman of the Medical Quality Review Committee, so LDH legal was asked for a second opinion whether any ethics concerns existed in regards to that capacity.

The response was the following potential issues identified under the Code of Governmental Ethics. The Medicaid Quality Committee (Committee) of the Louisiana Department of Health, Bureau of Health Services Financing, fulfills the role of the Medical Care Advisory Committee required by 42 CFR 431.12.  According to its Bylaws, the Committee provides focus and direction for Medicaid program quality activities that assure access and utilization of quality, evidence-based healthcare that is designed to meet the health needs of all Louisiana Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) recipients through:

  • Establishing and maintaining sound business and clinical practices/benchmarks that ensure a system of internal controls and support optimal performance within established thresholds;
  • Driving meaningful and measurable collaboration between the LDH agencies BHSF, Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), Office of Public Health (OPH), Office of Aging and Adult Services (OAAS), and Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD), with a focus on demonstrating improved care and service for Medicaid recipients by using evidence-based guidelines;
  • Creating and sustaining a vibrant evaluation process for Louisiana Medicaid benefits and services and health care delivery systems that is based on integrity, accountability, and transparency;
  • Offering expertise and experience of Committee members to recommend improvements to BHSF that will serve to better meet the healthcare needs of recipients in a cost efficient manner;
  • Sharing Committee recommendations with recipients, providers and policy leaders; and
  • Forming subcommittees to address specific areas of care, as needed.

The Committee’s functions are advisory and shall include:

  • Monitoring ongoing metrics and ensuring findings are reported on a regularly scheduled basis (quarterly or annually);
  • Ensuring key quality initiatives are identified to align with regulatory and business requirements;
  • Overseeing quality improvement projects and ensuring coordination and integration of the quality improvement activities;
  • Reviewing performance results and providing feedback and recommendations to the MCO action plans; and
  • Participating in the evaluation of the Medicaid Quality Program by evaluating the quality, continuity, accessibility, and availability of the medical care rendered within Louisiana.

The Secretary of LDH appoints all non-permanent Committee members, which must include board-certified physicians and other health professionals familiar with the medical needs of low-income population groups and with the resources available and required for their care, in accordance with 42 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 431.12(d).  Additionally, the members of the standing subcommittees are appointed by the Louisiana Medicaid Medical Director, who serves as the permanent Chair of the Committee.

La. R.S. 42:1113B prohibits an appointed member of any board or commission, member of his immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a substantial economic interest from bidding on or entering into or being in any way interested in any contract, subcontract, or other transaction which is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the agency of such appointed member.

As such, La. R.S. 42:1113B would prohibit Medicaid providers from serving, despite 42 CFR 431.12(d) effectively requiring they be appointed to the Committee or subcommittees. LDH should consider proposing an amendment to the Code of Governmental Ethics to provide an exception for Medicaid providers appointed to serve on the Medicaid Quality Committee or any of its subcommittees.

Unconfirmed reports said that Brandt prevailed upon Gov. John Bel Edwards to write Dr. Gee to request that he be allowed to continue serving as Medical Director for LDH.

An attempt was made to reach Dr. Brandt at LDH but his phone line was forwarded to a non-working number. The Department of Civil Service has no record of his employment after last Sept. 2.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request of LDH for all correspondence between Dr. Brandt and Edwards, between Dr. Brandt and Dr. Gee and between Edwards and Dr. Gee relative to Brandt’s employment.

LDH received an email today (April 3) from LDH to the effect that it would take 30 days to provide such records. It takes only a simple keystroke to retrieve such messages from email files, however. They can be produced in a matter of seconds.

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Taking their cue from Alabama Sheriff TODD ENTREKIN, several members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would cut food expenditures for prisoners and college and university students while increasing the percentage of prisoner work-release pay that the state receives in an effort to boost revenue as the state rushes headlong toward the June 30 fiscal cliff.

HB-4118, co-authored by a dozen Republican legislators who received the highest ratings from the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), would slash funding for inmate meals three days per week in an effort to help make up budgetary shortfalls.

The bill has been endorsed by AFP, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, and Attorney General Jeff Landry as an effective cost-saving measure that would, at the same time, continue to allow generous tax breaks for business and industry to remain untouched. Also remaining intact would be tax incentives for movie and television production in the state.

In Alabama, existing legislation allows sheriffs to collect a salary supplement as a percentage of savings achieved.

Entrekin, Sheriff of Etowah County in Alabama, recently came under heavy criticism when it was learned that he cut back on his jail’s food budget by eliminating meat for prisoners for all but a couple of days per month but then used the money saved to purchase a beach house for $740,000. HB 4118, while similar to the Alabama law, would have built-in safeguards against any surplus being diverted for personal use.

“Sheriff Entrekin, who runs only a single county jail in Alabama, was able to save approximately $250,000 per year for three years. Granted, he abused the intent of the law by using his surplus funds for personal gain,” said State Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) in a joint statement announcing their introduction of the bill. “If surplus funds are properly allocated back to the state instead of to individuals as was the case in Alabama, that misuse of funds can be avoided. With 50,000 prison inmates and more than 200,000 college students in Louisiana, imagine how much we would be able to save by employing the same paradigm.”

HB 4118 would cut servings of meat, milk and juice by three days a week for 50 weeks per year—Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for state-run prisons and all colleges and universities and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for parish jails and privately-run prisons. State appropriations for those institutions would be cut accordingly.

“We wouldn’t want to make such cuts for prisons on Sundays or during the weeks of Thanksgiving or Christmas because that would just not be the Christian thing to do,” the statement by Henry and Harris said. “Colleges and universities are out during those weeks anyway, so they would not be affected during those times.”

They said the potential savings to the state, calculated at a minimum of $3 per meal at which meat, milk and juice are eliminated, would be an estimated $22.5 million per year at prisons and $75 million at institutions of higher learning, or a total of $97.5 million per year.

Public schools would be exempted from the more restrictive diets for now, they said.

Operators of prisons and jails typically receive about 60 percent of the earnings of each prisoner who participates in a work-release program. That amount would be increased to 75 percent if HB 4118 becomes law. Additionally, a processing fee of one dollar would be added to the sale of each soft drink and snack to the prices presently charged by prison commissaries, according to provisions of the bill. Currently, prisoners are charged $3 for soft drinks and $5 for snacks.

“These people are in jail for committing crimes,” the two lawmakers’ joint statement said. “They get free housing, food, clothing and they’re learning a trade. There really isn’t any need for them to earn money on top of those benefits.

“This bill will allow the state to protect the valuable incentives for businesses and industry which provide jobs for Louisiana’s honest, hard-working citizens,” they said. “The bill protects the same jobs that will be available to the college students when they graduate. We’re asking students to sacrifice a little now for greater rewards in the future.”

Though the bill’s language doesn’t specifically say so, the same cuts could also be applied at hospitals now operated as part of the public-private partnerships implemented by the Jindal administration, which would produce additional savings although no estimates were provided for the medical facilities.

If approved, the new law would go into effect one year from today.

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When U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy went on record before the Senate Judiciary Committee as supporting the nomination of 5th Judicial District Court Judge Terry Doughty to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, they put themselves, by extension, squarely at odds with the doctrine of separation of church and state.

That doctrine, Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore notwithstanding, is a cornerstone of American democracy but one which Doughty, like Moore, has chosen to ignore when dealing with defendants who come before him in his drug court.

While many of the DECISIONS dealing with the separation of church and state handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court border on the ridiculous, there is one that stands out. In the 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court established a three-part test for determining if an action of government violates the First Amendment’s separation of church and state provision:

  • The government action must have a secular purpose.
  • Its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion.
  • There must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.

It’s important to note that in his confirmation hearings, Doughty boasted of the work of his drug court and that if confirmed, he would be interested in developing a drug court PROGRAM at the federal level patterned on the one he established in the 5th JDC, which is comprised of the parishes of Franklin, Richland, and West Carroll.

So, what’s so wrong about the district’s drug court?

Only that Doughty mandates that defendants enter into either Alcoholics Anonymous or CELEBRATE RECOVERY, both of which are faith-based recovery programs.

In September 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to order a parolee to attend AA or affiliated programs because requiring attendance at a religion-based treatment program violated the First Amendment.

In handing down its RULING, the court said what while it “in no way denigrate(s) the fine work of (AA and Narcotics Anonymous), attendance in their programs may not be coerced by the state.”

While LouisianaVoice takes no position as to the merits of AA or Celebrate Recovery, we do recognize that the Bill of Rights calls for the separation of church and state. By that, it simply means the State shall neither establish a specific religion nor prohibit the practice of such. And the only way to ensure that is for the government to take a hands-off approach to the observance of any religious practice, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, or any other belief.

Doughty doesn’t seem to get that and it is his close association with Celebrate Recovery that gives us pause.

In his questionnaire he completed for submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Doughty falls woefully short of any published writings, reports, or policy statements but does include numerous references to his affiliation with Celebrate Recovery. Those references include:

  • August 11, 2011: Guest Speaker, “Inventory, Lesson 10,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville, Louisiana.
  • January 11, 2012: Guest Speaker, Richland Celebrate Recovery Program, Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center, Rayville, Louisiana.
  • September 9, 2012: Speaker, Richland Celebrate Recovery Program, Delhi United Methodist Church, Delhi, Louisiana. “I discussed how the Richland Celebrate Recovery program works with the church.”
  • January 3, 2013: Presenter, “What to Do When You Get Out,” Celebrate Recovery Inside, Richland Parish Detention Center, Rayville, Louisiana.
  • January 27, 2014: Speaker, “Starting a Celebrate Recovery Program,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Olanchito, Honduras.
  • February 14, 2014: Guest Speaker, Celebrate Recovery Graduation, Richland Parish Detention Center, Rayville.
  • June 10, 2014: Guest Speaker, Celebrate Recovery Graduation, Richland Parish Detention Center, Rayville.
  • August 5, 2014: Presenter, “Starting a Celebrate Recovery Program,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Olanchito, Honduras.
  • September 17, 2015: Speaker, Welcome Address, Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville.
  • December 3, 2015: Speaker, “Lesson 10—Spiritual Inventory Part I,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville.
  • June 27, 2016: Presenter, “Maintaining a Celebrate Recovery Program,” Honduras Celebrate Recovery, Olanchito, Honduras.
  • July 28, 2016: Speaker, “Spiritual Inventory Part I,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville.
  • August 14, 2016, Presenter, Report on Celebrate Recovery Honduras Mission Trip, Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville.
  • August 28, 2016: Presenter, Report on Celebrate Recovery Honduras Mission, Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville.
  • March 16, 2017: Speaker, “Lesson 10—Spiritual Inventory Part I,” Richland Celebrate Recovery, Rayville, Louisiana. I discussed the benefits of making a spiritual inventory.

So, exactly what is Doughty’s affiliation with Celebrate Recovery? Why Honduras? And who paid for his trips to that country? Why is there nothing in his questionnaire responses to indicate that he ever spoke at an AA event? There are, after all, AA MEETINGS in all three parishes in the 5th JDC.

There was no immediate information available as to who paid for his three trips to Honduras in 2014 and 2016 to speak on behalf of Celebrate Recovery but if Celebrate Recovery paid for his trip and/or his lodging and meals, it could present a potential ETHICS violation for Doughty.

Under General Prohibitions as set out in Louisiana R.S. 42:1111-1121, the Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits the “receipt of a thing of economic value by a public servant for services rendered to or for the following:

  • Persons who have or are seeking to obtain a contractual or other business or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency;
  • Persons who are regulated by the public employee’s agency;
  • Persons who have substantial economic interests which may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the public employee’s official duties.

Celebrate Recovery would obviously have a “substantial economic interest” in the performance of Doughty’s official duties as a judge mandating that defendants in his court enter into programs offered by Celebrate Recovery.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham may have been a bit premature in pushing for Doughty’s nomination and Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy might have been wise to vet the judge a little better before testifying on his behalf before the Judiciary Committee. Kennedy was dogged in his questioning of Matthew Spencer Peterson, whose nomination was subsequently withdrawn. Peterson, of course, is not from Louisiana, so Kennedy could afford to pepper Peterson with embarrassing questions without any risks to his political future.

But Kennedy might have served his Louisiana constituents better if he had been a little more thorough in his examination of Doughty’s qualifications.

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Bobby Jindal said in a 2015 address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that teachers are still at their jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe.

That was when he was touting his ambitious education reform package that was designed to promote and enrich the operators of charter and virtual schools by pulling the financial rug from under public education in Louisiana.

That, of course, only served to further demoralize teachers and to punish those students from low-income families who could not afford charter schools but all that mattered little to Jindal. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his former chief of staff Steve Waguespack now heads LABI.

Lest one think that sorry attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession went away in January 2016 when Jindal exited the governor’s office, leaving a fiscal mess for his successor, John Bel Edwards, think again.

Here’s a little wakeup call for those of you who may have been lulled into a false sense of security now that the husband of a teacher occupies the governor’s office: That disdain for public education has carried over into the halls of Congress via this proposed new tax bill now being ironed out between the House and Senate.

Much has already been written about how the tax bill is supposed to benefit the middle class when in reality it does just the opposite—yet those blindly loyal zealots, those supporters of child molesters, those adherents of the Republican-can-do-no-wrong-because-they-wrap-themselves-in-a-flag-and-wave-a-bible-in-one-hand-and-a-gun-in-the-other mantra continue to drink the Kool-Aid and cling to the insane theory that Trump, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have their best interests at heart.

These delusional people get all bent out of shape when a jock refuses to kneel at a football game because they consider it an affront to our military (it’s not) while this tax bill rips more than $40 billion from HUD, including programs that help provide housing for homeless VETERANS. How’s that for honoring our fighting men and women? Where the hell are your real priorities?

Any of you die-hard Republicans out there on Medicare? Are you ready to take a $25 billion HIT? You will under this tax “reform.”

All you Trump supporters who have been so critical of the federal deficit prepared to see that deficit increased by a whopping $1.4 trillion? Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy are. So are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves.

Those of you with college kids presently on tuition exemptions like TOPS might want to get ready; your son or daughter is going to have to declare those benefits as taxable income. Is that why you voted Republican?

And while all this is going down, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the proposed tax “reform” will eliminate the tax on inherited fortunes (you know, the kind that made Donald Trump Donald Trump) and will maintain the “carried interest” loophole which taxes the fees of private-equity fund managers (read: the mega-rich, Wall Street bankers, etc.) at low capital gains rates instead of the higher income tax rates.

But after all that’s said and done, the part of the tax bill that really turns my stomach, the part that sticks in my throat, is a provision that is of so small an amount as to be insignificant—if it weren’t for the principle of the whole thing.

Call it a carry over from Jindal, a snub of teachers, or whatever, it’s galling.

Here it is:

Teachers, particularly elementary teachers, traditionally spend hundreds of dollars per year of their own money on materials and supplies for their classrooms. And it’s not for them, it’s for the children. Keep that in mind, folks. While there are parents out there who would rather buy meth and booze and cigarettes than supplies for their kids, there are teachers who quietly enter the school supply stories and stock up so that kid will have a chance.

Call it personal, if you wish, and it might well be. When I was a student at Ruston High School, I was injured right after school one day. My English teacher, Miss Maggie Hinton, never hesitated. She led me to her powder blue 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and took me to Green Clinic—and paid the doctor to patch me up. You never hear the Jindals of the world tell those kinds of stories. They don’t fit their agenda.

Under the present tax laws, these teachers, who on average spend $500 to $600 per year (school principals, by the way spend an average of $683 of their own money annually on snacks and other food items for students, decorations and supplies like binders and paper), can take a tax deduction of up to $250 for those expenditures. (And to interject a very personal story, once, while I was making a purchase for a school in Livingston Parish at Clegg’s Plant Nursery, the owner would not accept my money. He donated the items because he, too, supports public education.)

Now understand, that’s a tax deduction of up to $250, not a tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar tax cut. A deduction benefits the teacher only $40 or so off her taxes. But at least it’s something.

The Senate version of the new tax bill would double that deduction to $500, thank you very much.

So, what’s my beef?

Nothing much…except the HOUSE version would eliminate the deduction in its entirety.

That’s right. While the Republicans want to take care of the fat cats (those in Trump’s income bracket would realize tax breaks of approximately $37,000), teachers, under the House version of this tax bill would no longer get even that paltry $40. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Thank you, Garrett Graves, et al.

That really angers me and it should anger every person in Louisiana with even a scintilla of a conscience.

Because teachers are my heroes. Nearly fifty-seven years after graduating from Ruston High School, my heroes are still named Hinton, Ryland, Perkins, Garner, Lewis, Peoples, Edmunds, Barnes,  Johnson, Garrett & Garrett (any I omitted is only because I took no classes under them). They took a personal interest in a kid with no real promise and made him a little better person. They and my grandparents alone have stood the test of what a true hero should be.

And I am proud to defend the honor of teachers everywhere in their memory.

And the fact that five Louisiana House members—who, by the way, are all up for reelection in 2018—voted for this tax “reform” bill that slaps my heroes in the face really pisses me off.

Did I mention those five are up for reelection next year? That’s 2018, less than a year from now.

A smart voter remembers who represents him.

Those not so smart should go fishing on election day.

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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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