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Over the years, I have taken Troy Hebert to task over his tenure as head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). I even had to give a deposition in a lawsuit filed against Hebert by one of the agents he fired.

But I would be remiss if I did not now point out that we are in complete agreement on at least three issue: the failure of both political parties to represent Americans, lobbyists, and campaign finance.

On August 27, Hebert appeared along with Melissa Flournoy on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio. Both served in the Louisiana Legislature and Engster had them on together to present their viewpoints from the left (Flournoy) and the right (Hebert).

Flournoy correctly pointed out that gubernatorial candidates Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham are placing far too much emphasis on their being in lockstep with Donald Trump, who has proven that anyone can indeed become president—even the mentally deranged.

“I’m a little surprised (they) have embraced the President so much. I’m ready for them to talk about their vision for Louisiana and the kind of leadership they can provide,” she said. “I don’t think liking the President is good enough reason to be governor. I’m ready for the governor’s race to pivot to the real issues in Louisiana—education, health care, infrastructure and making Louisiana better.

“People don’t want to talk about solutions. We stand on different sides of the street and shriek at each other when we really ought to be focusing on solutions where we can work together.”

Hebert, a staunch Trump supporter. As a former legislator and member of the Jindal administration, nailed it when he said, “Neither party is getting done what needs to be done in this country.”

Hebert would seem qualified to speak to that issue, having been a member of each party but who now calls himself a “conservative independent. I served on both (parties) and just couldn’t take either one of them.”

He then fired a broadside at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “As somebody who was in the legislature for 16 years as both a senator and a representative, I think big business owns the legislature and owns many officials.

“The little man is either dead or on life support in the legislature,” he said. “Why don’t you just pull up the campaign finance reports and find out who gives to these candidates.” LABI, he said, is “so blatant that they hinge their support on … a report card they give every year. And you have to score a certain percentage in order to receive funding from LABI when you run for re-election.

“I can’t tell you how many times I approached legislators with a bill I thought was a good idea to help the little guy and they said, “… This is a really good bill but the problem is LABI is against it and if I vote for it, they’re going ding me on their report card and I’m not gonna get money.”

Flournoy agreed, saying that LABI and the Chemical Association control and big corporations “… control and influence every decision made in Louisiana. They’re looking out for their interest and not for the people of Louisiana.”

Hebert, while agreeing with Flournoy, took his argument a step further by attacking the emphasis on money politics and how it even affects the media.

“The media judges a candidate’s ability by how much month they have in the bank. If you look at every report when the news comes on, when they talk about this governor’s race, they don’t talk about their ideas or what their policies are. They talk about how much money they’ve raised.

“When I ran for the U.S. Senate (in 2016), they had a debate put on by LPB (Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and you had to have a million dollars in order to be on the debate stage. So, the media also is responsible and is guilty for bringing money into play.

“The regular working guy who would want to run for office, the media won’t even let them in.”

Turning to the 2020 presidential campaign, Hebert said Joe Biden is probably the only Democrat in a crowded field who could give Trump a decent run but because he’s more moderate. “But watch the Democrats cannibalize Joe Biden. He’s going to be eaten by his own. The people in charge of the Democratic Party will not allow Joe Biden to be the nominee.”

Flournoy, while agreeing that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, said she does not believe we have seen the candidate who will end up running against Trump. “There’re going to be some late entries,” she said.

If I were a TV news analyst, I would sum up that appearance by pointing out that Melissa Flournoy and Troy Hebert are in agreement on more issues than those on which they disagree and that the common culprit is the influence of LABI and its big business membership on the Louisiana Legislature to the detriment of the citizens of Louisiana.

But the really unique aspect of Hebert’s diatribe against the influence of big money and big business on politics is that as he spoke, I found myself nodding in full agreement with someone about whom I had written many negative stories.

 

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If Louisiana’s working citizens—particularly those struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, pay for their children’s educational needs, clothe their families, buy gasoline and pay insurance premiums—are paying attention, they will soon know who their legislators represent—the aforementioned working people or the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

State Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) cartert@legis.la.gov has introduced SB 155, backed by Gov. Edwards, to raise the state’s stagnant minimum wage from an incentive-choking $7.25 to $9.00, effective July 1, 2020. If approved, it would go to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

It’s time. In fact, it’s way past time.

The same goes for the long overdue equal pay for women legislation. Louisiana currently pays women about 60 percent of what men earn for the same job. That’s unthinkable.

Equally unfathomable is that similar bills have failed to gain traction in past legislative sessions.

Gov. Edwards is on record as supporting both measures.

Women are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.

HB 289 by Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport) nortonb@legis.la.gov provides equal pay for women and HB 63 by Rep Joseph Bouie, Jr. (D-New Orleans) bouiej@legis.la.gov would require any contractor who enters into a contract with a public entity to comply with the Equal Pay for Women Act. Both bills are pending before the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

That committee membership is weighted 9-6 in favor of Republicans. Members include Reps. Patrick Jefferson, Chair (D-Homer) jeffersonpo@legis.la.gov, Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches) coxk@legis.la.gov, Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) duplessisr@legis.la.gov, Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) james.ted@legis.la.gov, Ed Larvadain, III (D-Alexandria) hse026@legis.la.gov, Vincent J. Pierre (D-Lafayette)  pierrev@legis.la.gov, Blake Miguez, Vice Chair, (R-Erath) miguezb@legis.la.gov, Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) amedeeb@legis.la.gov, Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall) bagleyl@legis.la.gov, Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) crewsr@legis.la.gov, Reid Falconer (R-Mandeville) falconerr@legis.la.gov, Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) hortond@legis.la.gov, Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro)  mcfarlandj@legis.la.gov, Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) seabaugha@legis.la.gov, and Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs)  simons@legis.la.gov.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for a decade and anyone who thinks even a single person with no dependents can survive on $7.25 per hour is woefully out of touch with reality.

Anyone who believes that is spending far too much time on the golf course.

Anyone who believes that, you can bet, has never had to do so.

LABI President Stephen Waguespack, a alumnus of the Bobby Jindal administration, will throw all his organization’s resources into an all-out effort to defeat Carter’s bill just as he has with past efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Waguespack can afford to do so, too, because he’s being paid a comfortable six-figure salary to represent the interests of big business over those of working stiffs.

His condescending comment about a minimum wage being being a “one size fits all” approach is both arrogant and deliberately misleading.

Waguespack will be in the State Capitol corridors every day. Legislators are forbidden from accepting campaign contributions from any of the four LABI political action committees, but they know if they vote the way he wants, those contributions will flow in once the legislative session adjourns.

In the meantime, nothing prevents him from wining and dining key members of the legislature. Key members like, say, certain members (read: Republican) members of the Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee, which will decide whether or not Carter’s bill moves forward to the floors of the House and Senate.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), risern@legis.la.gov

Riser should (but likely won’t) be all-in on raising the minimum wage. After all, it was he who tried to slip that amendment onto a rather benign bill back in 2014 that would’ve given then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson a healthy six-figure increase in his yearly retirement.

Carter is vice-chair and he should have allies in Sens. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) barrowr@legis.la.gov, Wesley T. Bishop (D-New Orleans) bishopw@legis.la.gov and Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans) morrelljp@legis.la.gov.

Republicans on the committee include, besides Riser, include Sens. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) johnsr@legis.la.gov and Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) peacockb@legis.la.gov

Other southern states that have held the line at $7.25 include Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Arkansas has already raised its minimum wage to $11. Shoot, even West Virginia has a state minimum wage of $8.75.

Altogether, 26 other states have a minimum wage higher than Louisiana and 19 of those are already at $9 or above.

The U.S. has an income disparity that should be embarrassing—and it’s only getting wider. The haves keep getting richer and the have-nots keep sinking in poverty and the Stephen Waguespacks of the world couldn’t care less as long as they can keep corporate board members fat and happy.

And many legislators couldn’t care less as long as they can keep the campaign contributions coming in.

So, fight back. The average worker can’t take time off to go to the Capitol to lobby legislators. Stephen Waguespack can because that’s precisely what he’s paid to do. It’s an uneven playing field.

But you can contact your legislator—early and often—and let him/her know that this is an election year and you have a lethal weapon—the ballot.

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If you are a school teacher in Louisiana or if you have a teacher in your family, here are nine names you should remember next October when voters march to the polls to elect a governor, 39 state senators and 105 state representatives:

These are the nine members of the House Education Committee who yanked $39 million from local school districts—money that could have gone to supplement an already insulting pay raise for teachers, provide classroom supplies and help absorb increases in health insurance premiums.

Oh, and just in case you’d like to thank them, here are the five who voted to keep the $39 million in the Minimum Foundation Plan as adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE):

The $101 million for teacher pay raises (safe, for the moment) and the $39 million for local school districts were pat of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to move Louisiana back to the Southern Regional Average.

Instead, the nine Republicans, led by committee chairperson Landry voted to send the MFP back to BESE with a request to cut the $39 million for local school districts.

Landry, who has been less than a friend to public education throughout her legislative career, was steadfast, stating from the start she was going to make the recommendation to send the MFP plan back to BESE.

Edmonds, in an attempt to give credence to Landry’s position, raised the point that Louisiana spends $12,153 per student which he said was $3,000 more than Texas and $2,000 more than Florida. He managed to get Superintendent of Education John White to acknowledge that the state ranks 46th in efficiency of funds spent on students.

And while saying there will likely be no new funds for early childhood education, Edmonds somehow managed to overlook the fact that Texas pays its state legislators $7,200 per year, less than ONE-THIRD of the $22,800 for Louisiana legislators.

That’s right: Louisiana spends $10,000 more per year on legislators to come to Baton Rouge to hobnob with lobbyists, to enjoy sumptuous meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris than it does to education our children.

Let that sink in: $22,800 per legislator for a part-time job (and if they have to travel to Baton Rouge or anywhere else on state business, they get $164 per diem, plus travel expenses).

At the same time, we spend $12,153 per student.

It’d be pretty interesting to find a ranking of the state’s “efficiency of funds spent” on legislators.

Louisiana’s students are the second-poorest in the nation, White said, ahead of only Mississippi.

But what’s important is the tons of additional REVENUE many legislators earn as attorneys, accountants, etc., representing state and local governments. There are literally more hidden perks to being a legislator than could be listed here—and I have unlimited space.

But I digress. Landry, in order to bolster her disdain for public education in general and Gov. Edwards in particular, even called on Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) to address her committee on the $39 million proposal.

In case you might not be aware, if Henry had an alias, it would be: “Dedicated political enemy of John Bel Edwards, no matter what Edwards might propose.”

So, what it all boiled down to was the Republicans in the legislator led by Henry and Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), unable to block the pay raises of $1,000 per year for teachers and $500 per year for support staff, were damn sure going to throw up as many roadblocks as they could for any additional funding for teachers—even at the cost of depriving local school districts desperately needed funds for resources and salaries.

At a press conference at the conclusion of Tuesday’s committee meeting, the Louisiana Public School Coalition urged BESE to stand firm on its MFP proposal and to push legislators approve it as is.

White showed how political loyalties can shift, even at full throttle. First appointed by Bobby Jindal and reappointed during the Edwards administration, he said, “The previous administration swung and missed badly” at early childhood education.

Even more revealing that the fate of the $39 million was sealed well in advance was the participation—or lack thereof—of committee members. Each of the five Democrats asked several relevant questions and made valid points while fewer than half of the nine Republicans had a word to say during discussion of a pretty important piece of legislation. And those who did speak, like Edmonds, did so only as a means of supporting Landry’s motion.

The others were strangely mute—almost as if they already had their marching orders from Landry, Henry and Barras.

And that’s how democracy in the gret stet of Looziana works.

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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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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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