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In 2016, her first year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) successfully sponsored Senate Bill 466 which provided a procedure for the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Administration to seek approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the legislature to proceed with the sale of a state hospital.

The bill, which may have stymied Bobby Jindal’s privatization blitz had it been in effect at the time he jettisoned state hospitals to private contractors, passed the House, 97-0 but met resistance in the Senate before passing by a 25-11 vote.

That same year, Hewitt sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 which, in a classic example of bureaucratic redundancy, requested the Division of Administration “to provide a report of all the reports required of the executive branch by statute and resolution.”

Inexplicably, in 2018, she voted against SB 117 by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have required any state contractor to comply with the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.

Typical of the backwater mentality of the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that has kept this state from entering the 21st Century, the bill failed by an 18-20 vote.

The resistance to legislating equal pay for women parallels the Louisiana Legislature’s stubborn insistence on beating back repeated efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. Even Arkansas has recognized that a person simply cannot subsist on $7.50 an hour.

But now Louisiana. I wonder if it has ever occurred to our political leaders that the determination to keep wages low might just have a little to do with the state’s perpetual bottom ranking in everything but poverty, obesity, crime and football?

That vote probably contributed in large part to her selection as “National Legislator of the Year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for its rigidly conservative political positions that favor the privileged over those who actually get the work done.

ALEC has long been in lockstep with the Republican Party that promotes tax breaks for the wealthy and valuable incentives and exemptions for corporations while placing the tax burden on the working class.

ALEC likes to describe itself as non-partisan but that description is about as far from the truth as possible. The organization has a long and sordid history of supporting big oil, big pharma, banking and insurance companies over the rights of injured workers, minorities, the environment, affordable prescription drugs and public education.

And it opposes equal pay for women.

Was I being overly harsh in describing LABI and the Republican Party of obstructing progress in Louisiana? Perhaps, but consider this: In Louisiana, the earnings gap between men and women just happens to be the largest in the nation.

Progressive? Hardly.

Women in this state make 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same job, according to the Association of American University Women (AAUW).

But Hewitt apparently navigates on a level that puts her out of touch with reality. She holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU and put that degree to good use managing major deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell Oil.

Chances are she received comparable pay as male engineers at Shell and I can only say good for her. She earned it.

But she seems to forget that not everyone can be so fortunate. Perhaps it never occurred to her as her career advanced that other women deserve equal pay for equal work as well.

There can be no rationalization for not recognizing that fact.

It reminds me of an old television commercial by Eddie Chiles who said, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one.” Which is just a cute way of saying, “I got mine; it’s too bad if you didn’t get yours.”

Just a touch of arrogance there. Personally, I’d rather own the Boston Red Sox or the New York Times. But you see, lofty aspirations like that are simply out of reach for the unwashed masses.

Equal pay should not be.

ALEC, which bestowed its “National Legislator of the Year” honors upon Hewitt, has among its membership corporations hit hardest with penalties for employment discrimination. ALEC member CSX Transportation was recently fined $3.2 million for employing unfair and unnecessary tests designed to steer women into lower-paying occupation. In 2005, ALEC member Federal Express was fined $3.4 million fir discrimination against a woman.

But be proud, Louisiana. A woman legislator just got a national award from ALEC.

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Just the good ol’ boys
Never meanin’ no harm
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

                                  —Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard by Waylon Jennings

The recent actions of State Rep. STEVE PYLANT (R-Winnsboro) most probably were not the intended consequences of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017.

Pylant represents House District 20 which includes all or parts of the parishes of Caldwell, Catahoula, LaSalle, Tensas and Franklin.

In 2013, Pylant was one of only two members to vote against a bill to give special consideration to veterans of the armed forces who are arrested or convicted of a crime: “I support veterans 110 percent,” he sniffed at the time, “but when someone violates the law, we should be fair and impartial, no matter who they are. Everyone has problems … I don’t think it’s fair to be more lenient on some than others because of their military background.”

He currently serves a vice chair of the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice and in 2015, he voted against reducing the penalties for the possession of marijuana.

The following year—and again in 2017—he voted against Senate Bill 180 (Act 343) which provided exemptions from prosecution for anyone lawfully possessing medical marijuana.

In 2017, he voted in favor of Senate Bill 70 (Act 108) that make misbranding or adulteration of drugs under certain circumstances a felony.

He also supported drug testing of welfare recipients and the right of concealed carry in restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages;

That seems about right for the man who, before entered the Louisiana Legislature in 2012, served for 16 years (1996-2012) as the high sheriff of Franklin Parish.

So, with all those law and order credentials, how did it come to be that Rep. (formerly Sheriff) Pylant would come galloping in on his white horse to secure a property bond of $90,000 to spring four convicted felons from jail in Catahoula Parish in December 2018?

Perhaps they weren’t members of the military, thus earning them greater consideration for leniency.

Or perhaps one of those arrested is the brother of a member of the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the judge, a tad more adherent to the law than those seeking to exert political influence, noted that he could not grant bail to one and not the others.

All or none, in other words, so Rep. Pylant obligingly ponied up the $90,000 property bond for all four defendants, each of whom had prior drug convictions as well as other assorted convictions spread among them.

The four were said to have been hunting on private property in Tensas Parish and were originally booked on promises to appear in Catahoula court on bonds of $5,000 each as set by Judge John Reeves. But Seventh Judicial District Attorney Brad Burget said when he reviewed the clerk’s file that showed the four were all convicted felons, he determined that “an appropriate bond” had not been set.

Booked on Dec. 8 were Jamie Dewayne Roberts, 45, Michael S. Linder, 49, and Trampas Barton, 43, all of Wisner, and Steve Drane, 50, of Gilbert.

Roberts, at the time of the arrests, was armed with a CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle and in addition, had a concealed .22 magnum North American Arms revolver in his front pocket. Barton had a Model 7400 Remington 30.06 rifle. Linder had in his possession of CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle, and Drane had a Browning A bold 325 WSM rifle.

Convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms.

Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards said that after the four were booked, he received a call from Bryan Linder who asked that his brother, Michael Linder, be released on a PTA—promise to appear in court.

Bryan Linder works for the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office, the office once headed by Rep. Pylant, so it’s pretty easy to connect the dots on how things went down from that point.

But, for the moment, let us examine those felony conviction records of the four.

  • Jamie Dewayne Roberts: possession of methamphetamine in 2010; theft of anhydrous ammonia (used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, or meth) in 2016, an indication he didn’t learn much from his first conviction.
  • Trampas Barton: Distribution of methamphetamine in 2016, five additional convictions for burglaries and two more for drugs.
  • Michael S. Linder: Manufacture of methamphetamines.
  • Steve Drane: Manufacturing meth and on parole until 2021.

At least they weren’t involved in the possession or distribution of marijuana. That’s something Pylant, as your basic law and order representative, just couldn’t abide.

So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross

                            —The Law is for Protection of the People, Kris Kristofferson

 

 

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Republican members of the Louisiana Legislature are pretty smug about their ability to block any proposed legislation or budget put forward by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Witness the antics of Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) as he danced to puppeteer/House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) in rejecting the findings of the Revenue Estimating Conference, effectively killing any chance Edwards had of implementing badly needed pay raises for Louisiana’s public school teachers.

But do Henry and Barras, members in good standing of the “Caucus of No,” give a damn about teachers or, for that matter, the state as a whole?

You can check that box No.

And the same can be said for Attorney General Jeff Landry, who would far rather take pot shots at the governor than do his job.

The only thing—and I stress the only thing—important to them is winning. Defeating any proposal of the governor in an effort to cast him in a bad light as the 2019 election approaches is considered a victory for them.

It’s a damned shame that grown-ass men put their own interests and the interests of their precious political party (be they Republican or Democrat) over the good of the citizens of this state. They would rather point fingers of blame for failures and grab credit for successes than come together to try and lead this state out of the backwater world of financial, educational, environmental, and cultural existence for which it has become notorious.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the number of legislative sessions we’ve had over the past three years:

  • 2016: 4 (one was the organization session held ever four years, so realistically, we shouldn’t count that one).
  • 2017: 3—Regular session and two special sessions—just to try and pass a state budget.
  • 2018: 4—Regular session and three special sessions—same problem.

Legislators Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) and Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) put their fingers on the problem in 2017 when they dubbed the philosophy of putting corporate interests above individual taxpayers as ”OBSTRUCTIONIST POLITICS.”

And therein lies the problem. The big moneyed interests—big oil, big Pharma, banks, payday lending, nursing homes, communications companies, and insurance companies—all working together under the umbrella of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, pour money into legislators’ campaign funds, forevermore buying the undying loyalty of their lapdogs who, by pushing a red or green button mounted on their desks, control the fate of four million Louisiana citizens.

When it comes to you,  with your $25 donation, having your complaint about high cable TV bills, high drug prices, or unfair lending practices going up against their hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, legislative parties, meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris, and the occasional “companionship” during a deep-sea fishing trip, just who do you think is going to be heard?

Again: don’t believe me? Then attend a legislative committee hearing on a bill in which you have an interest. Sign the card to speak for or against the bill. If your position is contrary to the committee members’ positions that have already been bought and paid for, just watch their eyes glaze over as you testify. Or, they might even get up and leave the committee room to take an “important” phone call or just get a cup of coffee. The point is, they ain’t listening to you.

Having said all that, I now bring to the witness stand the latest findings of 24/7 Wall Street, that private research firm that publishes dozens of lists and ranks each day, from the best wines or automobiles to companies projected to downsize to the most obese state, poorest state, state with the biggest gap in gender pay to today’s published results:

The BEST and WORST RUN STATES in AMERICA.

The survey is based on many metrics, including, but not limited to:

  • The ability to attract new residents (new money and new demand for goods and services);
  • The strength of the job market;
  • Diversity of economy;
  • Per capita GDP;
  • Crime rate

Do you want to even hazard a guess as to where Louisiana ranked?

You got it.

Dead last. 50th. Anchor position.

The top three, in order were Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Utah’s state minimum wage is $7.25 but Washington has the nation’s highest at $11.50 and Oregon is fourth-highest at $10.75

The bottom five, in order, are West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska, New Mexico, and….

Louisiana

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Alaska’s minimum wage is $9.84 per hour and in New Mexico and West Virginia it is $8.25. In Mississippi and Louisiana, however, the minimum wage is still $7.25 even though the LIVING WAGE CALCULATOR says the living wage for a single adult in Louisiana ranges from a low of $9.46 per hour in Avoyelles Parish to $11.40 for several parishes in the New Orleans area. Here is the living hourly wage for a single adult in the following Louisiana parishes:

  • ACADIA: $9.62
  • ALLEN: $10.20
  • ASCENSION: $10.89
  • ASSUMPTION: $10.13
  • AVOYELLES: $9.46
  • BEAUREGARD: $10.20
  • BIENVILLE: $10.20
  • BOSSIER: $10.98
  • CADDO: $10.98
  • CALCASIEU: $10.20
  • CALDWELL: $10.20
  • CAMERON: $10.20
  • CATAHOULA: $10.20
  • CLAIBORNE: $9.88
  • CONCORDIA: $9.88
  • DESOTO: $10.98
  • EAST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • EAST CARROLL: $9.96
  • EAST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • EVANGELINE: $9.88
  • FRANKLIN: $9.88
  • GRANT: $10.83
  • IBERIA: $10.31
  • IBERVILLE: $10.02
  • JACKSON: $9.88
  • JEFFERSON DAVIS: $10.20
  • JEFFERSON: $11.40
  • LAFAYETTE: $10.79
  • LAFOURCHE: $11.27
  • LASALLE: $9.92
  • LINCOLN: $10.69
  • LIVINGSTON: $10.89
  • MADISON: $9.88
  • MOREHOUSE: $10.20
  • NATCHITOCHES: $10.25
  • ORLEANS: $11.40
  • OUACHITA: $11.01
  • PLAQUEMINES: $11.40
  • POINTE COUPEE: $10.89
  • RAPIDES: $10.83
  • RED RIVER: $10.34
  • RICHLAND: $9.88
  • SABINE: $10.14
  • BERNARD: $11.40
  • CHARLES: $11.40
  • HELENA: $10.89
  • JAMES: $9.73
  • JOHN THE BAPTIST: $11.40
  • LANDRY: $9.54
  • MARTIN: $10.79
  • MARY: $10.32
  • TAMMANY: $11.40
  • TANGIPAHOA: $10.90
  • TENSAS: $9.88
  • TERREBONNE: $11.27
  • UNION: $11.01
  • VERMILION: $9.79
  • VERNON: $10.77
  • WASHINGTON: $9.90
  • WEBSTER: $9.78
  • WEST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • WEST CARROLL: $9.88
  • WEST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • WINN: $10.20

No living wage for a single adult in any of the 64 parishes was given at $7.25, so how the hell do our LABI-bought, packaged, and owned legislators think a single mom and two or three kids can subsist on $7.25 an hour?

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Ah, but the 2019 regular session convenes at noon on April 8. The booze will flow again, sumptuous food will abound in Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants and deals can be made.

Of course, campaign contributions may not be made during the session, but not to worry; all that will be taken care well in advance of the fall of the gavel to open the session.

It’s Louisiana and we’re number by-gawd 50 and we worked hard to get there.

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There is so very much going on at both the state and national level and LouisianaVoice has stumbled upon a thread that connects, however tenuously, the events swirling around Donald Trump and the redacted information coming out of the special prosecutor’s office and the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s office and a couple of familiar state political players—via the NRA.

That’s a helluva salient lede. I was taught by Wiley Hilburn, my Louisiana Tech journalism professor, to write, short, succinct sentences in my opening paragraph. I don’t think a 63-word opening sentence would have cut it in my classes, but it’s the best I could do. And just for lagniappe, throw in a little Russian spy story for added spice.

First, a couple of observations on the local level. To the surprise of a few observers, some interesting wannabes have dropped out of next year’s governor’s race and a couple of others have jumped in.

Businessman Eddie Rispone filed official paperwork back in October and on Thursday, 5th District U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who on Monday said he was too busy in Congress to run, changed his mine and entered the race, saying, “I intend to win.”

In between, two who certainly had their eyes on the office, Attorney General Jeff Landry and on Sunday, Dec. 2, U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, opted out. Landry and Kennedy, both Republicans, have kept up continuous barrages of criticism of Gov. John Bel Edwards and are expected to continue taking shots through their respective press offices that attempt to deflect any of Edwards’s positives and to create, if they have to, negatives. real or imagined.

By “creating,” I mean people like Rep. Cameron Henry of Metairie who refused to go along with the Revenue Estimating Conference recently—apparently as an attempt to thwart the governor’s efforts to raise teachers’ pay. Louisiana’s teachers would do well to remember the actions of Henry and House Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia, both of whom seem to exist only to block any legislation proposed by Edwards.

Barras would be wiser to try and resolve the myriad of problems plaguing the sheriff’s office in his home parish than spending time picking fights with the governor. As for Henry, he just seems to be a wet-nosed upstart who needs a nap and a pacifier.

But, unless there’s another Republican, a heavy-hitter who can legitimately go toe-to-toe with Edwards, it appears from right now, 10 months out, the governor will return for another four years in office. He’s proven himself to be a champion of the state’s teachers, he’s favored by the all-powerful (some say all too-powerful) Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association (his brother is sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish), he’s for raising the minimum wage (an entirely sensible thing to do), and his Obamacare expansion, like it or not, has brought a lot of federal money into the state. And he hasn’t raised taxes.

(As a side note, I heard AFL-CIO President Louis Reine on the Jim Engster Show on Thursday and a caller took him to task because of his support for raising the minimum wage above the impossible-to-live-on $7.25 an hour rate, claiming it would hurt business and hurt the very people Reine and the AFL-CIO purport to want to help. That caller obviously does not live on minimum wage, or he would never be so dense as to oppose a decent living wage for working people. Other states have raised the minimum wage and seen no ill-effects on business—or workers. It’s a false argument (dare I say fake news) promoted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry whose members enjoy $3 billion per year in tax exemptions, credits, and incentives—at the expense of the working people of this state who have to make up the tax shortfall created by those breaks.)

But back to the governor’s race. Who do you know who is still in his 40s , has already served three years as a congressman and eight years as governor (who would love to eclipse Edwin Edwards’s record of four terms), who is so ego-driven that he thought he was presidential timber, and who writes for the Wall Street Journal so as to keep his name before the public?

What might be the odds that Bobby Jindal might somehow think he can fool the people of this state again? Especially with Timmy Teepell telling him how smart and how great he is—all the while raking in consulting fees for himself and his firm, OnMessage?

But wait!

What did I just read about Donald Trump, the NRA and OnMessage? Oh, yes, that story (CLICK HERE) on Daily Kos about how the NRA illegally coordinated $30 million in political spending to benefit Trump in the 2016 election. The NRA, it turns out, was infiltrated by accused Russian spy MARIA BUTINA who was working for powerful Russian banker ALEXANDER TORSHIN. Donald Trump Jr. met with Torshin at a private dinner hosted by the NRA.

And much of that $30 million, it turns out, was RUSSIAN MONEY funneled through the NRA.

The NRA used an apparent shell firm called Starboard Strategic, Inc. to produce ads for Senate candidates who employed a Republican consulting firm called OnMessage. Starboard Strategic and OnMessage both share the same Alexandria, Virginia, address as National Media, which had staff members working for Trump. By law, Trump campaign staffers and National Media staffers were required to be completely and totally separate. Otherwise, the limits on campaign contributions would’ve been $5,000, not $30 million.

Guess who is a partner in the OnMessage firm? None other than Baton Rouge’s very own Timmy Teepell, the political guru to whom Bobby Jindal turns for those sweet nothings whispered in his ear—for a very bigly fee, of course.

But back to MARIA BUTINA: She’s in jail as I write this, pondering a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. But who was she photographed with at an NRA event? None other than Bobby Jindal, who I’m sure was clueless (as he is about most things) as to her real motives as a Russian agent.

JINDAL AND THE RUSSIAN SPY

But then, not all Republican operatives may have been completely ignorant of her intent. She had a boyfriend. His name is Paul Erickson. He’s a Republican operative and you can read about him HERE and HERE.

To paraphrase our late friend C.B. Forgotston, not even Alex Jones (https://www.infowars.com/) can make this stuff up.

 

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H24/7 WALL STREET, that independent service that publishes a multitude of surveys each day, has published a list of 38 metropolitan areas in the U.S. which have the highest poverty rates.

Four Louisiana metro areas made the list, ranging from 10th to 37th poorest.

New Orleans was not on the list, most likely because the affluent parishes of Jefferson and St. Tammany are included in the greater metropolitan area of the Crescent City.

The rankings are based on latest data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 24/7 Wall Street survey noted. And while poverty is on a general decline in the U.S. with 13.4 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, all four of the Louisiana metropolitan areas included in the list had poverty rates that exceeded 20 percent, as did 38 of the 382 metro areas reviewed in the U.S.

Seventeen of those 38 areas were in Texas and Georgia (5 metro areas each), Louisiana (4) and West Virginia (3). Texas had three cities ranked as the worst areas with McAllen, Texas ranked worst in the nation with a poverty rate of 30 percent, an unemployment rate in the highest 10 percent at 7.4 percent and a median household income of $37,106, also among the worst 10 percent.

All four Louisiana metropolitan areas—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, Hammond, and Alexandria—had unemployment rates that ranked among the highest 25 percent and three—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, and Alexandria—had median household incomes ranked among the worst 10 percent.

Monroe was the 10th poorest metro area in the nation, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (11th), Hammond (30th), and Alexandria (37th).

While the national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2017, Monroe had a jobless rate of 5.3 percent, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (5.5 percent) and Alexandria and Hammond (5.7 percent).

To review the complete list, go HERE.

Louisiana followed the trend of having a high poverty rate that coincides with low educational attainment and a large share of available jobs in low-paying sectors.

It’s a familiar story for the state that seems to have become locked into an unbreakable pattern of low positives and high negatives. Elected officials, meanwhile, continue to ignore the factors that keep its citizens among the lowest paid, unhealthiest, and worst educated in the nation.

And whenever efforts are exerted toward reversing the trend, there are always certain self-serving or bought-and-paid-for legislators standing by to block those efforts and lobbyists with different agendas who will wine and dine the lawmakers.

Even more disheartening, we continue to re-elect them.

Whoever said we get the government we deserve…..nailed it.

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