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I found my old buddy Harley Purvis sitting in his usual spot: in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark at John Wayne’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Light Bulb Emporium in Watson, Louisiana.

But something was decidedly different. The President of the Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist, Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (GLPAARMCSBCSLC) was looking at his cell phone and….smiling.

Harley never smiles.

I slid into the booth opposite him, saying nothing. Without looking up, he pushed his phone across the table at me. “You gotta see this,” he said. “You know how the folks in Baton Rouge used to call us ignorant rednecks out here in Livingston Parish? Well they can’t do that anymore ‘cause so many of ‘em have moved out here for our far superior schools. But if you want to see real country,” he said with a chuckle, “take a gander at this.”

I picked up his phone and saw he was logged onto a story about a couple in Kentucky who had run off the road and hit a utility pole, stirring up an angry hive of bees. For the young lady, clad only in a bikini, it was not a fun experience. But Harley wasn’t amused at their plight. The story had an INTERVIEW with a local resident who was interrupted from feeding and watering his chickens by the impact.

I told Harley it reminded me of the time when I attended my father’s funeral in Nashville. As we sat in the small funeral parlor, one of his step-grandsons began talking to me.

“Ah got to git mah waf’ sumpin’ fer our anneyversary an’ Ah don’ know whut to git ‘er,” he said in an almost incomprehensible Tennessee drawl. I noticed his chin was moving from side to side and in and out in an apparent effort to wrap his mouth around his words as he slurred them out. It was like some kind of caricature from the movie Deliverance.

“Why don’t you get her what I got my wife?” I asked, already feeling guilty for what I was doing.

“Whut’d yew git yer waf’?” I thought for a brief moment he’d dislocated his jaw.

“I got her a solar powered clothes dryer.”

“SO-ler pawered? Ah ain’t never hurd o’ Thet.”

“Well, we just call it a clothes line.”

“Snork, snork, ungh, snork. Thet’s a good ‘un. Snork, ungh, snork.” He was slinging snot all over the room in something akin to a laugh that I had never heard emanate from a human before—all as my father lay in an open casket only a few feet away.

“That’s funny,” said Harley, “but without a video, you can’t really compare it to the bee in the bikini description this guy gives us.”

He had a point, so I decided to change the subject.

“So, what’s your take on the legislature this week?” I knew the answer before I asked and he didn’t let me down.

His face instantly turned into a dark scowl. “Those idiots just took the Louisiana taxpayers for a cool $68,688 in the first three days of the special session and they didn’t do a cotton-pickin’ thing,” he said.

“How so?” I asked.

“Do the danged math. They get $159 per day. There’s 144 legislatures, which is why I refer to ‘em as gross ignorance. And they took a three-day recess as soon as John Bel called the special session. That’s 144 times $159 times three days, which is a $68,688 cost to the taxpayers and they never lifted a finger to address the budget.”

“But he wasn’t through with the lawmakers. “You can talk about deadheads on the state payroll but no one compares to the legislature,” he said. “They are paid a base salary of $16,800 per year, the $159 per diem and each members gets a $1500 monthly office allowance ($18,000 per year) $6,000 in unvouchered expenses, a state phone, and a state computer.

“Altogether, that comes to a cool $7.8 million per year in even-numbered years for the 85-day session and $7.25 million in odd-numbered years for the 60-day session. That’s an average of between $50,340 and $54,315 per year for a part-time job, depending on odd or even year salaries.

“And don’t forget they also get that per diem any time they come to Baton Rouge for committee meetings or for attending legislative-related seminars and conferences—with travel, hotel and meals also paid for by taxpayers. And they take an awful lot of trips to these conferences and seminars.

“And what do we get for our dime? A bunch of lame brains who can’t even elect a capable House speaker to lead them and a Senate president who is a Democrat of Republican, depending solely on which label will get him elected. They just wasted 60 days without coming up with a budget and when the guv calls a special session, they call a three-day recess—all while collecting their damned $159 per day. Maybe weed killer-drinkin’ John Kennedy was right. We do have a spending problem, but it’s not the spending of money on needed programs and infrastructure that bothers me. It’s the spending problem we have with too many contracts going to too many cronies and the spending problem we have when we pay legislators to sit on their backsides and pass meaningless recognitions of constituents, stupid resolutions that don’t carry the weight of law and other silly nonsense like after-hours parties and eating at Baton Rouge’s best restaurants—compliments of lobbyists and special interests—while giving short shrift to what we send ‘em to Baton Rouge for in the first place.

“I don’t want to see any more taxes imposed on the middle class of this state any more than the next guy. But for the life of me, I don’t see why we can’t ask the corporations to pull their share of the load instead of getting more and more tax breaks from the state in exchange for low-paying jobs—if they create new jobs at all. I have a friend who says if we give corporations a tax break, they will make more money and give more jobs to the citizens of the state. That sounds good in theory but we’ve got plenty of evidence that this trickle-down economics just doesn’t work. They make more money to give higher salaries to their CEOs and to help their boards of directors see big increases in their stock options. That’s all the trickle down you get.

“But these clowns let LABI pull their strings like some kind of wizard puppet master, which is exactly what that organization is—a giant puppet master pulling the strings of a bunch of brainless marionettes.”

He paused for a minute to catch his breath. “And I don’t give the governor a free pass, either. I told him right after he got elected that he oughta appoint retired executives to his cabinet posts at salaries of $1 per year. We have plenty of qualified people with the expertise to run a tight ship and I know there are those who would gladly do it on a voluntary basis. We have retired corporate CEOs, retired college presidents, and even retired rank and file people who have good, God-given common sense. But what did John Bel do? He told me. ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then promptly put people in place paying them more than Bobby Jindal was paying his people.

“And that ain’t all,” he said. “I have some figures on some other agencies and programs that I’ll be sharing with you in due time and I guarantee it’ll grill your cheese when you see the numbers.”

I’d gotten an earful so I excused myself and came home to write this while it was fresh on my mind.

Ol’ Harley’s always good for a quote or two.

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I have to be honest with you and let you know—finally—that the inspiration for many of my stories comes not from my own diligent research but from my best friend who only now, after more than six years of my writing LouisianaVoice, has begrudgingly consented to my publicly acknowledging his sage observational talents.

That acknowledgement is long overdue and I am happy to tell you about my good friend and mentor, Harley Purvis, the resident political guru of John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Lightbulb Emporium in Watson, Louisiana. (John Wayne proudly boasts that he has the largest selection of used light bulbs in the state.)

If Watson was incorporated, which it is not, Harley would most surely be the mayor—if, that is, he could be talked into offering himself as a candidate, which he most probably would not. In his own words, he much prefers shaking a few bushes and jerking a half-hitch in the egos of various political officer-holders. “I’d rather be outside the tent peeing in than inside peeing out,” he says in his usual matter-of-fact tone.

The highest office he ever aspired to was his current position as President of the Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC). He was elected president by acclamation since he was the only member to ever read a book—several, to be accurate.

Nobody runs for office in Livingston Parish without dropping by John Wayne’s to pay homage to Harley as he occupies the booth in the back in the corner in the dark, (a phrase he readily admits he stole from the late Flip Wilson). “I liked it when he said that and I especially like it since that’s where I sit at John Wayne’s,” he says as he takes another sip from his special dark roast coffee blend (Community Coffee, of course) found only at the Bar-B-Que House and Used Lightbulb Emporium.

Coffee is a tad gamier at John Wayne’s than at those hoity-toity places like Starbucks. That’s partly because John Wayne doesn’t throw out the previous day’s coffee grounds from Monday to Saturday night. He simply adds a half measure to the previous day’s grounds and runs the water (and any leftover coffee) through again for peak financial efficiency. You almost have to scrape the stuff out of your cup but Nobody’s complained yet. That’s probably because it will take your breath away.

John Wayne’s is a natural habitat for political groupies of all stripes and nobody disrespects anybody else’s political views at John Wayne’s. Hillary supporters and Trump backers rub shoulders without incident though, admittedly, Trump supporters far outnumber those who voted for Hillary here in Livingston Parish in general and at John Wayne’s in particular. Civility is a tradition that enhances the popularity of the place.

Crowds are a lot bigger on Saturday mornings because during the week, the gravel truck drivers are busy running up and down LA. 16 picking up loads of gravel at the pit north of Watson and hauling them to their destinations. They don’t have time to dawdle over raunchy coffee and day-old Krispy Kreme Do-nuts.

Except for Harley Purvis, that is. Harley’s there every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. He’s retired with nothing but time on his hands. In his early seventies, he has hearing aids for both ears but doesn’t wear them because he’s married—coincidentally, the same reason he occupies his regular booth at John Wayne’s on a daily basis except for Sunday. That’s church and that’s the one thing his wife Wanda Bob insists on.

He watches both CNN and Fox News. He reads the Baton Rouge and New Orleans papers as well as the New York Times and Washington Post online. There’s a sadness in his eyes these days. He’s happy to download news from the Internet but Harley’s old school and he’s disgusted with the state of the newspaper industry. But mostly, he’s frustrated that newspapers couldn’t see the Internet threat to print journalism when it first appeared on the horizon several years ago. Or if they did, they didn’t adjust, which is why the Times-Picayune only prints three days a week in New Orleans now.

Today, he sat at his booth with a Baton Rouge Advocate lying on the table in front of him. As I slid into the booth opposite him, he shook his head as he looked at the headline in the paper. “Everybody talks about a do-nothing Congress, but this Louisiana Legislature sure gave ‘em a run for their money this year,” he said. “This is just about the sorriest bunch we ever had in Baton Rouge.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked as I took out my notebook and pen.

“I call it the Jindal Syndrome hangover,” he said. “Before we got that little twerp in the governor’s office, the legislature occasionally screwed up and did something progressive. The Stelly Tax Plan was a good example of that. So, what was the first thing Jindal did? He gutted the state’s ethics laws and let a couple of his friends off the hook when they already had ‘em on ethics violations.

“That’s the way it’s been since 2008. We thought we’d made a little progress when John Bel got elected but nothing’s changed. The Republicans aren’t going to pass any of his programs. That might be okay if they had an alternative plan. But what’s their plan? They don’t have one and we just keep kicking that can down the road. They’re Grover Norquist’s lap dogs.”

Harley got up and walked to the coffee urn and refreshed his day-old coffee. Returning, he took a sip and said, “They filed almost a thousand bills at the beginning of this year’s session. Know how many the governor’s signed into law? About a dozen,” he said, answering his own question before I could say a word.

“They spent way too much time caught up over those Confederate statues in New Orleans. That’s a can of worms in itself. You removed the statues but it could be just a start. What’s next, changing the names of Jefferson Davis Parish? Leesville? Jackson Parish? Beauregard Parish? Jefferson Parish? I dunno, Maybe the Daughters of the Confederacy have a valid complaint over the names of Lincoln, Union and Grant parishes.”

While Harley will readily offer his critique of Louisiana politicians, he, as one of the few admitted 70-year-old liberal Bernie Sanders supporters in Livingston Parish, is no less willing to offer his view of Washington.

“Whether you like Trump or hate him,” he said, leaning over the table towards me as if preparing to share some deep dark secret, “the thing that I just can’t wrap my brain around is why the Republicans in Congress can’t grow a set and think for themselves instead of obediently serving as Trump apologists every time he says or does some incredibly stupid—and that’s every day. There’re just some things you can’t defend, but they do anyway.

“They’re putting so-called party unity far ahead of the country’s interests. There are people in this country who because of circumstances over which they have no control, cannot afford health care. Yet the Republicans blindly follow Trump’s lead in taking health care away from these people. If Obamacare is broken, fix it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You have people who are on Social Security disability who are legitimately disabled. You don’t pull the rug out from under these people.

“And you want to know who’s front and center in his blind loyalty to Trump? Our very own Sen. John Neely Kennedy. The guy is an embarrassment to the entire state. And you notice that when members of Congress were holding town hall meetings during the recess, you couldn’t find Kennedy with a sheriff’s posse.

“Those guys up there in Washington are bought and sold by the lobbyists. Look what Billy Tauzin did before he left Congress. He steered a bill through Congress that prohibited Medicaid and Medicare from negotiating the price of pharmaceuticals. That was a huge win for the pharmaceutical industry. Then he quit and became head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers (PhRMA).

“With all that special-interest influence in Washington, the only way to get a congressman’s attention is to drag a dollar bill on a string down the hall of the House or Senate. And it ain’t much different over at the State Capitol. The oil, banking, and business interests own the Legislature and the Koch brothers and Wall Street own Washington.”

I wanted to hear more but the regular monthly meeting of the LPAARMCSBCSLC was getting ready to convene in emergency session to consider the expulsion of a member who had gotten too big for his britches. As Secretary, I had to keep the minutes.

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More than a century ago, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, after a break with his friend and successor to the presidency, sought a then-unprecedented third term after a four-year absence from the political arena. In the process, he challenged Republican William Howard Taft’s re-election. Both men would ultimately lose to Woodrow Wilson.

But it was something that Roosevelt said in seeking to wrest the Republican nomination from Taft before breaking away to form the short-lived Bull Moose Party that resonates as clearly today as it did 105 years ago.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 750-page book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Gold Age of Journalism is a great read and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that chronicles the close friendship between the two men, the exposés of several top magazine writers of the day, and the eventual split between Roosevelt and Taft.

Roosevelt who earned the title of trustbuster during his seven years in office (he succeeded William McKinley, who was assassinated in his first year in office), took on the meat packing industry, big oil, the railroads, and Wall Street banks in an effort to stem what he considered an alarming trend toward consolidation, mergers and monopolistic practices. He railed against the grossly unsanitary meat packing plants as exposed in Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, and he championed the economic plight of the working poor.

He also opposed child labor and fought for an eight-hour work day for women, for women’s right to vote, for worker protection, and for worker retirement benefits—ideas considered radical in his day but accepted today as the norm.

In 1912, he continued his onslaught, Kearns-Goodwin wrote, again taking on the special interests when while acknowledging that “every special interest is entitled to justice,” he said “not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”

He advocated driving the “special interests out of politics” by enacting laws to forbid corporations from directly funding political objectives.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Does it sound as though he might have opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision?

Fast forward to 2017 and the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges did a masterful job in a Wednesday STORY that illustrated just how the tail wags the dog when it comes down to attempts to come up with a revenue plan that makes sense when the interests of big business and industry are pitted against those of the citizens of this state.

In his story, Bridges reported how the Republican-dominated legislature was so overtly beholden to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that even one of its own, Republican State Rep. Kenny Havard of St. Francisville, was appalled and embarrassed—and said so.

Please understand that I am in no way defending or condemning the tax plan put forth by Gov. John Bel Edwards but suffice it to say the business-oriented mindset of lawmakers were going to see to it that nothing that cost business a red nickel was going to pass even if it meant Louisiana households were going to be saddled with higher taxes—and because of the actions of the House Ways and Means Committee, they now will be.

Bridges did one of the best jobs ever in revealing how legislators simply lack the courage, principles, integrity, honesty and, yes, the stones, to turn their backs on campaign contributions and other perks in order to do the right thing.

Too weak-willed to resist the temptation when the think no one is looking, they would rather accept campaign contributions and expensive dinners than to say, “No thanks, I would rather look out for the interests of my constituents.”

Those campaign contributions come from various corporate entities and from corporate officers of countless corporations from both within and outside the state and they are poured into the campaigns of lawmakers for one reason: to buy votes. To claim otherwise would be to be disingenuous, deceptive, and hypocritical.

And just to make sure they get the message, hordes of lobbyists descend on the Capitol like so many swarms of locusts every spring. They are there to remind representatives and senators, lest they have momentary memory lapses, how to vote on any number of bills where there might be a conflict between responsible legislation and the status quo of political favoritism. That’s why on any given night during the legislative session, you can find lawmakers dining at Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants, courtesy of the hundreds of lobbyists who, in turn, feast on the carcasses of bloated legislators. If not restaurant fare, there are always the crawfish boils in the parking lot of the Pentagon Barracks across the street from the Capitol.

The committee not only rejected Edwards’ tax plan but also that of a special blue-ribbon that examined the state’s tax code last year and made recommendations based on its findings.

Bridges quoted Havard, who said, ““If we don’t have the courage to do it now, for God’s sakes… let’s just keep what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Isn’t that the definition of insanity—keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? We’re not going to get different results. The only mistake I made was thinking you could make change … The whole system is set up against change.”

So now, Louisiana businesses and industries will continue to enjoy the same tax breaks, exemptions and credits perpetuated for years and ramped up by Bobby Jindal. Meanwhile, the burden, as always, will fall onto the backs of middle class Louisianans.

And the legislature will continue its annual struggle with the budget and the state will keep right on lurching down the road trying to contend with midyear cutbacks as revenue shortfalls continue and roads and bridges and physical facilities at colleges and universities fall farther and farther behind on desperately needed maintenance and as governmental services to the developmentally disadvantaged and the mentally ill continue to be cut—all so business and industry may never be called upon to help shoulder its share of the burden—and so the legislative perks may continue unabated.

Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War Simon Cameron would love Louisiana politics. It was Cameron who said, “An honest politician is one who, when bought, stays bought.”

Well, you can rest easy tonight in the knowledge that, by that measure, we have one of the most honest legislatures in the nation. They stayed bought and they will continue to reap campaign contributions and they will continue to shove expensive food and liquor down their gullets, courtesy of the special interests, namely LABI and its members.

Voting in favor of the bill by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, were Reps. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans; Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans; Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; Ted James, D-Baton Rouge; and Major Thibaut, D-New Roads.

And, oh, in the interest of full disclosure, here are the names of those who killed Shadoin’s bill in order to keep corporate taxes down and your taxes high (and to allow themselves to continue receiving corporate campaign funds and to keep eating at Ruth’s Chris and Sullivan’s Restaurants, compliments of the lobbyist at the end of the table) were:

  • Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport (seabaugha@legis.la.gov);
  • Barry Ivey, R-Central (iveyb@legis.la.gov);
  • John “Jay” Morris, R-Monroe (morrisjc@legis.la.gov);
  • Jim Morris, R-Oil City (larep001@legis.la.gov);
  • Dodie Horton, R-Haughton (hortond@legis.la.gov);
  • Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge davisp@legis.la.gov);
  • Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez (schexnayderc@legis.la.gov);
  • Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice (devillierp@legis.la.gov);
  • Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles (dwights@legis.la.gov);
  • Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge (huvalm@legis.la.gov);
  • Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, candidate for State Treasurer (stokesj@legis.la.gov).

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As a recovering Republican, I feel I am in a unique position to suggest that all political party labels be abandoned in favor of candidates representing constituents as opposed to clinging stubbornly to the blind loyalty of some group of adherents referring to themselves as Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.

Civilized countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have no legal political parties (although the media sometimes mistakenly refer to opposition groups as “parties”). If it’s good enough for them, it should suffice for us.

For once, I’d like to see a politician who is defined not by some label but by his own core beliefs and principles, formed independently and absent the dictates of a so-called “party” which is supported by special interests who dictate the philosophy of its labeled and packaged candidates.

I would much prefer to vote for someone because of he or she actually stands for something rather than putting party loyalty above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt had the political courage to stand up to his own Republican Party and demand corporate health regulations and to fight monopolistic trusts. Somehow, that courage has evaporated in the interest of party unity which, of course, encourages a more reliable flow of campaign contributions from the vested interests.

I don’t say this as a way of placing my intellect above that of my contemporaries (God knows that would be a foolish assumption on my part) but the two major parties in this country—all the way down to our petulant legislature—long ago arrived at loggerheads with each other to the detriment of those who put them in office.

It’s more than a little sickening to watch. Besides, we already have The Jerry Springer Show.

In a recent discussion with an old friend and long-time political observer, he noted that Democrats as a group refuse to accept anything proposed by Republicans and Republicans as a group counter in kind. Can anyone really wonder that Congress has a lower approval rating than porta-potty cleaner-uppers? (Coincidentally, it might be worth mentioning that the longer Congress is in session, the greater the demand for porta-potty cleaner-uppers.)

My friend, who spent his career in state government, confided in me that he promised himself long ago that if he ever became jaded with his job, he would retire. He is now retired.

So, why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and admit that our political system no longer functions as a two-party, give-and-take forum? When you had someone like Sam Rayburn as Speaker of the House, things got done in Congress even though there was Republican opposition. That’s because while there was opposition, the two sides left room for compromise. With Newt Gingrich, we instead got a governmental shutdown. (Rayburn, the longest-serving House speaker in history, by the way, died broke while our own Bobby Jindal, by contrast, became a multi-millionaire during his three years in Congress.)

Elected office is no longer considered a public service; it is instead, an avocation in and of itself, a stepping stone to the next move up. Witness the shameless pursuit of the presidency by Jindal and the equally self-serving ambition of Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to oust John Bel Edwards as governor. Accordingly, you will not hear the first utterance by Landry, Graves or Kennedy in support of anything proposed by Edwards.

Likewise, should Donald Trump ever say or propose anything with a scintilla of original thought or meaningful purpose, you will never hear Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat speak out in support. That just isn’t done any more. There’s no civility in politics, no room for compromise.

Witness the banal, hackneyed behavior of the Louisiana Legislature, particularly over the past 10, 20, 30 years.

Because the state has systematically failed to pay its mandated share into the state retirement system, we’re now saddled with an insurmountable unfunded liability in each of the state retirement systems.

For decades, taxpayers of Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes have been paying a millage to construct the Comite River Diversion Canal project to prevent flooding. The project is no nearer completion today than it was 25 years ago and we have the delays to thank, at least in part, for that horrendous flood of last August. And now guess what? After pissing away the monies that were supposed to have gone to flood control with those millage collections, some legislators, in their collective buffoonery, now want to snatch nearly $200 million from federal monies intended for flood victims to use instead for flood control.

It’s almost like gasoline taxes that were supposed to have gone to repair our roads and bridges and the revenue from gaming that was supposed to fund public education. Of course, as soon as those gaming funds were approved, the legislature jerked an identical amount from other funding, the Support Education in Louisiana First Fund, and the result for public education was another version of the old shell game. Now you see it, not you don’t.

Fast forward to the Jindal years when state employees suddenly found themselves going six years on end without a pay raise. Now those Jindal years have spilled over into the Edwards years and those same legislators are still playing a game called kick the financial can down the road and state employees are still falling further and further behind the inflationary curve. Prices are up, health insurance is up, but salaries remain stagnant—with the exception of State Police (not to be confused with Department of Public Safety officers who undergo the same training but have not enjoyed the 30 percent pay raise received by State Troopers).

And now, House Bill 302 by House majority leader Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) would assess parolees an additional $37 fee per month (from $63 to $100), the money to be used to fund a pay increase for parole officers. As has become almost a ritual, the vote was split along party lines.

It’s really a beautiful thing to watch these guys cherry pick their personal little projects—like Harris’s fee assessment. I’m sure the rest of Louisiana’s civil service employees are applauding his magnanimous gesture toward the beleaguered parole officers.

Not to diminish the seriousness of their plight, but parole officers aren’t the only state civil service employees who are hurting. And Harris is not the only member of the legislature who is completely out of touch with the daily struggles of state employees, many of whom were victims of last year’s floods.

This is serious business and Harris and his colleagues should get together and try to figure out how the state’s fiscal problems can be addressed without the same old tired political rhetoric spouted along party lines. It’s time for compromise and hard decisions and the legislature, as a body, is not showing any inclination of making those hard decisions.

The governor’s plan is not perfect—far from it. But neither is the continued petty bickering of the legislature getting anything done. You’re not being paid to come to Baton Rouge to participate in some kind of elementary school blame game. You were sent here to solve problems and put this state back on sound financial footing.

Instead, you plaster an “R” or a “D” to your respective foreheads and start squawking like a couple of tomcats in a dark alley—even as you hold out your hands for political contributions from the special interests who pay you to just keep squawking like you always have.

A hint: We can see you and we can hear you and you’re not impressing anyone.

Drop the party labels and declare yourselves not as Republican or Democrat but as Louisianans.

Do the right thing. Do your jobs.

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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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