Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

By Stephen Winham

Guest Columnist

The 2017-18 budget was enacted in a ball of confusion that allowed an escalation of the blame game.  There was less back-slapping than usual when the latest unnecessary special legislative session ended, but perhaps more back-stabbing.

I heard Gov. Edwards on the radio blaming the legislature for not using recommendations of the latest blue-ribbon committee (Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy) to formulate a plan for resolving the “fiscal cliff” facing us in 2018-19?  I was surprised nobody asked him, “Well, governor, why didn’t you?”

Surely the governor does not believe we have already forgotten that the centerpiece of his tax reform proposal was the previously unheard of and dead on arrival Commercial Activity Tax?  While his proposal did incorporate some of the task force proposals, his brand-new Commercial Activity Tax constituted $832 million of his $1.3 billion proposal.

When Gov. Edwards first talked about the Commercial Activity Tax I thought, “Oh, no, here we go again with another sham like the one Jindal put up in his his one and only stab at tax reform in 2013.”  Then, when Gov. Edwards put his CAT proposal in writing and balanced it with things that made sense, I thought he was proposing something he seriously thought would work.  By the time the CAT was introduced, however, it had already been severely watered down and it was subsequently amended beyond worth before the whole package was withdrawn – In other words, just like Jindal’s ersatz proposal, it never got out of the starting gate – And I came full circle to my original take on it.

Then Representatives Cameron Henry and Lance Harris began the drumbeat we have heard now for many years – “We don’t have a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem.”  That premise was picked up by legislators representing constituencies that believe it to be true (in the absence of a credible contrary argument), and the focus shifted to cuts.  Or did it?

Most of the things everybody considered critical, like full TOPS funding, higher education, and critical needs at corrections seem to have been funded, based on press reports.  State employees were even given a modest pay increase.  Yet no taxes were raised.  Since the Governor proposed an Executive Budget that left $440 million in what he considered priority needs unfunded, how is this possible?  I am still trying to find the answer to that seemingly simple question.

As you already know, state law requires the governor to submit an Executive Budget proposal balanced to the official forecast of revenues.  The legislature is also required to pass a balanced budget.  Although the original appropriations bills are based on the governor’s proposal, the legislature is under no obligation to pass a budget that matches what the governor has proposed.  In fact, there are states where the legislature pretty much ignores the governor’s proposal and starts and ends with its own ideas.  We must never forget that the legislature holds the power to appropriate and enact the budget, not the governor.  Our governor has veto power, including the power to veto line-items, but he does not make the law.  He is responsible for administering the enacted budget in accordance with law.

So, who really is to blame for the abysmal mess in which we find ourselves: the governor, or the legislature?  That’s an easy one – both.

Although the process has become significantly perverted, there should be only one way to balance our state budget on a continuing basis – match projected recurring revenue with projected expenses.  It is possible to do this and to do it in a way that is clearly understood.  At the end of the budget process we deserve a budget we can understand and live with – I am unconvinced we have either.

Governor Edwards did present a balanced budget proposal.  But was it clear and honest in its portrayal of our needs?  The Executive Budget presentation showed a general fund (tax-funded) need of $9.910 billion versus and official revenue forecast of $9.470 billion, leaving a gap of $440 million in unfunded needs.  All constitutional requirements were fully funded.  Here’s how the Governor said he balanced the budget:

  • Carrying forward most of the cuts made in FY 2016-2007 ($120 million)
  • Cutting general fund to the Department of Health ($184 million)
  • Across-the-board cuts in general fund of 2% ($48 million)
  • No funding for inflation
  • Funding TOPS at 70%
  • No funding of deferred maintenance and other infrastructure

If we got additional revenue, the governor proposed restoration of the cuts in hospitals and the across-the-board cuts.  In addition, he recommended full funding of TOPS, pay raises for state employees, technology enhancements, additional funding for prison contracts, match funding for DOTD, a 2.75% increase in the MFP for elementary and secondary schools, and other enhancements.

Fast forward to the budget ultimately enacted last week.  No additional revenue was raised.  TOPS is fully funded.  State employee pay raises are there.  Nobody is publicly claiming devastating cuts have occurred and the governor says he is happy with the budget.  We mullets (as the late C. B. Forgotston called us) are left to scratch our heads over how this is possible.  How is it possible to go from needing $440 million in additional money for a minimally adequate budget to needing ZERO while making most people happy?  What got cut?  How will the cuts affect people and businesses?  Until somebody answers these questions, we mullet mushrooms are left in the dark – and that is apparently where our “leaders” would as soon we stay.

We deserve better – all of us.  None of the following are unrealistic demands.  We need to start making them of our elected officials:

  1. An Executive Budget proposal that the governor truly believes in and is willing to fully defend. If, for example, 100% funding TOPS is not a high enough priority to be included in his base recommendations, then he should stand behind continuing the FY2016-2017 level of 70%.
  2. An Executive Budget proposal and an enacted budget that avoid across-the-board cuts. Across-the-board cuts only make sense if all programs are of equal value.  That is certainly not the case.  Further, after successive years of across-the-board cuts, the result can only be greater mediocrity and ineffectiveness.
  3. An Executive Budget proposal and enacted budget that make clear, concrete cuts anybody can understand with clear explanations of exactly how services are going to be reduced or eliminated.
  4. A progressive tax system that matches recurring revenue with recurring needs after all cuts possible have been made.
  5. Elected officials willing to hold their appointees to the highest standards possible with zero tolerance for the waste and abuses reported almost daily.
  6. Elected officials willing to put partisan politics aside in furtherance of the greater good.

Governor Bobby Jindal portrayed himself on the national stage as a budget-cutter par excellence.  If he was, why did he rely on tricks to “balance” annual budgets and leave Governor Edwards (and us) with a huge budget hole?

Why has Gov. Edwards not yet offered up a balanced budget he is willing to stand behind?  Why has the legislature not enacted a budget that makes sense and is sustainable in the future?  Is it a lack of courage, or is it an unwillingness to face reality?  It must be both, plus the partisanship that has recently made a political game of everything.

The governor and the legislature have competent staffs who have clearly defined our problems for many years.  A series of blue-ribbon panels and well-paid private contractors have studied the problem and recommended solutions for decades.  It is difficult to find evidence either individuals or businesses are overtaxed in Louisiana.  It is very easy to find low rankings of our state on infrastructure and quality of life issues important to both individuals and businesses.

We are mere pawns in the blame game – but we don’t have to be.   Let’s let our elected officials know we will no longer accept being held hostage to an incompetent and unresponsive government.  We want solutions, not the cop-outs and excuses we have been getting for way too many years.

Stephen Winham spent 21 years in the Louisiana State Budget Office, the last 12 as Director. He lives in St. Francisville.

Read Full Post »

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).

Read Full Post »

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Karma’s a bitch.”

“What goes around comes around.”

No matter how you say it, good intentions sometimes bring unjust punishment and sometimes those good intentions result in very bad results.

Just ask Donald Broussard of New Iberia.

Last July 8, Broussard was rear-ended in Lafayette Parish by a hit-and-run driver who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler in adjacent Iberia Parish and was killed.

Yet it was Broussard who was indicted by an Iberia Parish grand jury last week for NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE.

You are probably thinking about now that there has to be more to this story—and you’re right, there is more to it.

You see, Broussard did the unpardonable: On July 1, a week before the auto accident, Broussard was the impetus behind a RECALL of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Broussard was one of the organizers of the Justice for VICTOR WHITE III Foundation which filed a petition last July 1 to force a recall election.

White, you may recall, was the 22-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in the back seat of a sheriff deputy’s patrol car in March 2014. The official report said the gunshot was self-inflicted. The coroner’s report said he was shot in the front with the bullet entering his right chest and exiting under his left armpit. White’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time.

Ackal, of course, skated on that issue and was later indicted, tried and acquitted on federal charges involving beating and turning dogs loose on prisoners, proving beyond any lingering doubts that he is a force to be reckoned with. But when you’ve got retired federal judge and family member FRED HAIK helping with the defense, you tend to land on your feet.

All of which brings us to the latest woes to beset Broussard.

The story in Sunday’s Daily Iberian reads, “A New Iberia man who was instrumental in the drive to recall Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal last year has been indicted for manslaughter in the aftermath of an alleged road rage incident that left a Bossier City man dead in July.”

Here’s the chronology of events:

Moments before the fatal crash, Rakeem Blakes, 24, rear-ended a Cadillac driven by Broussard at the corner of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and U.S. 90 in Lafayette Parish which is just up the road apiece from Iberia Parish.

Broussard said he followed Blakes after Blakes fled the scene when Broussard approached his car but denied that he chased Blakes. “The guy hit me,” Broussard said. “I got within 20 feet of him so I could get his license plate number. I gave it (the license number) to the (911) dispatcher and they told me to fall back, so I fell back.” Broussard said reports that he had a gun were ridiculous. “I don’t even own a gun, he said. “I told the State Police they could search my car. They just handed me my license and let me go on my way.”

Broussard said Blakes was driving erratically, causing a hazard for other drivers.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé said the case involving Broussard was turned over to his office for review in November following completion of the LSP investigation.

In what has to be one of the most convoluted reviews of any investigation, Assistant District Attorney Janet Perrodin presented the case and the grand jury last Friday returned a true bill indicting Broussard for manslaughter and “aggravated obstruction of a highway,” which led to Blakes’ death.

Unexplained in this bizarre episode was how Broussard created an “aggravated obstruction” when it was Blakes who rear-ended him and subsequently fled the scene. Duhé, in some pretty fancy verbal footwork, said state law allows a manslaughter charge to be brought when an offender “is engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person. Aggravated obstruction of a highway is the performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered,” he said.

That’s one helluva stretch, Mr. DA. It’s also one of vaguest laws ever cited in bringing an indictment against someone. I mean, go back and read it.

Manslaughter: when one is “engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person.”

Aggravated obstruction of a highway: the “performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered.”

And we know that a district attorney can make a grand jury dance a ballet in a septic tank if he so desires. It’s all in what information is provided the grand jury and what is withheld. By those definitions, any one of us could be arrested, jailed, tried and convicted at just about any time for any perceived offense.

But we won’t be. This was tailored just for Mr. Broussard who had the temerity to take on a powerful sheriff who has shown his proclivity to exact revenge against those who would dare stand up to his authority.

Broussard’s bond on the manslaughter charge was set at $75,000 and bond for the aggravated obstruction charge was set at $10,000.

Given any semblance of justice, there’s not a chance in hell of a conviction.

But whoever said there was a semblance of justice in this ludicrous drama being played out in the heart of Acadiana?

Only the most naïve of the naïve would discount a good-ol’-boy, back scratchin’ network within the local power structure, especially if it benefits a powerful sheriff bent on revenge against an adversary. Even if that adversary  is, by all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing other than making the sheriff angry.

The recall effort eventually failed for a lack of sufficient signatures but that doesn’t mean that Ackal doesn’t have a long memory and the propensity to call in favors from friends in the right places.

And even if the charges are dropped or if Broussard is acquitted, it’s going to cost him plenty in legal fees.

And that’s how you spell revenge when you are a ruthless sheriff who can tweak the so-called justice system to do your bidding.

Read Full Post »

As I listened to testimony on Public Radio during Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearings on efforts by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, I was struck by a number of things, all of which precipitated thoughts that were something akin to, for lack of a better term, free-association.

I’m not into psychoanalysis or Freud, but it was borderline eerie how the testimony carried me back through this country’s darkest moments, culminating with the traumatic years of Watergate and Richard Nixon.

Three similarities struck me all at once, similarities that are not so much striking as chilling.

First, the indignant shock of having an adversary interfere with our elections is nothing more than what the old folks back in Ruston used to call the chickens coming home to roost.

This is in no way meant to apologize for Donald Trump because, quite frankly, he scares me to death. Nor am I justifying meddling in our electoral process by Vladimir Putin. If he did corrupt our democratic process—and all evidence certainly points to that—it is reprehensible on his part and treasonous on the part of any American, including Trump, who might have had a hand in that scheme.

But I would suggest it might be a bit disingenuous to beat our breasts about interference in free elections when one considers our own track record in that dark little chapter of American history that they don’t teach in schools.

Political scientist DOV LEVIN, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, has conducted independent research that shows that the U.S. attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries at least 81 times between 1946 and 2000. Those efforts, often covert in their execution, included everything from CIA operatives running successful presidential campaigns in the Philippines during the 1950s to leaking damaging information on Marxist Sandinistas in order to sway Nicaraguan voters in 1990. Altogether, the U.S. likely targeted elections in 45 sovereign nations around the world during this period.

The second thing that struck me was the concern over leaks expressed by committee members during the questioning of FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Administration Director Admiral Michael S. Rogers. Some seemed far more concerned with leaks of classified information about surveillance of American citizens than with the accuracy of what has been going on with the Trump administration and its close ties with Russia. U.S. Rep. Trey GOWDY (R-S.C.) used most of his time trying to establish that there was no exception for reporters who published classified material. He hinted that those reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information.

He’s a poor student of history—and of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech and a free press via the First Amendment.

He also must have a short memory, or perhaps he’s just a lot younger than I.

In the dustup to Watergate, the Nixon administration in 1971 did its dead-level best to squelch the publication by The New York Times of a highly classified document that came to be known as THE PENTAGON PAPERS.

Officially entitled United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, it was a U.S. Department of Defense history of the U.S. political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

So dull was most of its narrative that it could have served as a cure for insomnia. But other parts literally crackled with insights into how Lyndon Johnson “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress,” wrote The Times. The papers also revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scale of the war by bombing nearby Cambodia and Laos and conducted coastal raids on North Vietnam, none of which were reported in the mainstream media.

The papers were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study.

And before there was a Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972, there was the September 1971 break-in of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist by Nixon’s White House Plumbers, so called because of their attempts to stop leaks.

Now, nearly half-a-century later, Trump advisor Stephen Bannon says the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and admonishes them to “keep its (sic) mouth shut and just listen for a while.” He is followed by Rep. Gowdy who suggested on Monday that reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information.

Well, looking back some 46 years, the publishing of the Pentagon Papers was probably the best thing that ever happened to this country because it revealed just how duplicitous our Vietnam policy was and just how badly—and often—our leaders lied to us. So I can’t help but wonder if the leaks of classified information today may be yet another informational breakthrough that will ultimately expose even more lies and deceit.

Which brings me to my third point.

So, perhaps Gowdy and his colleagues should not wax so indignant about leaks. Perhaps they should tone down their rhetoric a bit because there were some other stories, editorials and essays which appeared in The Nation magazine over a period of six decades as layer after layer was peeled off the rotting onion that was Watergate—and beyond—which turned out to be eerily prophetic in their characterization of Nixon and what might follow if we as a responsible electorate did not remain vigilant and informed.

Those essays, editorials and stories have been compiled into a fascinating book entitled Smoking Gun: The Nation on Watergate, 1952-2010. Following are excerpts from that book.

Robbins Burling, on Dec. 10, 1973, wrote an article headlined “Impeachment—or Else: The Future of the Presidency.” Here are a few highlights from that article:

  • “Our most serious danger is not the tyranny of the next few years. It is that if we fail to root out the tendencies toward tyranny shown by the present (Nixon) administration, we shall set precedents that will lead inexorably to more vicious tyrannies in the future. How do we prevent, not just in the years but in the decades to come, a repetition of the horrors that we have recently endured?”
  • “Would-be tyrants will always aspire to the Presidency, and an occasional rascal is certain to gain the office. What we need is to remake the Presidency so that such men cannot do irreparable damage.”
  • “If the President escapes punishment this time, every future President will know himself to be immune from punishment. It will not be long before another man with tyrannical inclinations turns his own band of henchmen loose upon the nation. The next time we may not have a Congress controlled by the opposition party. The next group of burglars may be less clumsy than the bunch that bungled the Watergate job. If future Presidents know they are safe from punishment, we can be certain that they will abuse their powers. They will subvert the system that put then into office.”

Nearly nine months later and only three weeks after Nixon’s Aug. 8, 1974, resignation, Mark Harris on Aug. 31 wrote a scathing article entitled “Nixon: A Type to Remember.” In it, he listed some of Nixon’s characteristic traits:

  • He asserts that poor people are dishonest (“welfare chiselers”) but he lines his own pockets.
  • He prefers capital punishment, prisons and other forms of punishment to rehabilitation and education.
  • He favors legislation assisting the rich, the powerful, the corporate and the military.
  • He is always discussing himself, even when he hopes you will think he is talking about, say, international relations.
  • He suddenly reverses himself.
  • He denies that he will reverse himself.
  • He presents himself as a “manly” man.
  • He commands young men to go to war, but he does not wish to pay his taxes.
  • He employs the media to publicize himself; he condemns the media when they displease him.
  • He calls for “unity” while dividing.
  • He advocates economy but he spends lavishly, especially for such products as military machinery.
  • He speaks often of bargaining from strength (but) when he traveled to Russia his situation was weaker than any President’s had ever been.

But it was Gene Marine, writing “What’s Wrong With Nixon?: Public Life of a Cardboard Hero” way back on the Aug. 18, 1956, when Nixon was still Eisenhower’s Vice President, who said it best:

  • “Among Nixon’s critics the idea is widespread that he is quite without convictions (and) that the cardboard figure he presents is in fact all there is to him: the face turned ever toward personal gain, the back turned always on scruple or principle—no more to him than that.”

And now, as the House Intelligence Committee plows through information on leaked documents—then and now—interference in democratic elections—then and now—and shadowy deals by a paranoid, self-absorbed, President—then and now—does any of this bring on a faint sense of déjà vu?

Read Full Post »

Louisiana State Police (LSP) captains were called in to headquarters in Baton Rouge on Monday to hear the news that had already leaked out across the state that Superintendent Mike Edmonson was stepping down but officially, the head of LSP’s public information office said he knew nothing of reports that he said were “above my pay grade.”

But truth be told, after the way LouisianaVoice has latched onto the sorry story at LSP, had I been in Doug Cain’s position, I probably would’ve done the same thing. I hold no ill will toward him because he was in an unenviable position. On the one hand, his job is to inform the public but on the other, he had a boss to whom he answered. I’m old enough to grasp the realities of the situation.

That boss, while defiantly denying he would resign as late as last Friday when LouisianaVoice first said he was on his way out (and we did say it first), ended his 36-year career at State Police with a whimper today with his announcement that he would resign his position as the longest-tenured superintendent in LSP history.

Today’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate carried the STORY of Edmonson’s announced retirement and in so doing, tied his decision to the “widening controversy” surrounding that San Diego trip taken by Edmonson and 15 subordinates to see him receive a national award.

But that trip, including the side trip taken to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon by four troopers in a state vehicle en route to San Diego, is not the story of what is really wrong at LSP. As one veteran observer of law enforcement noted, the San Diego trip is a mere symptom of a much larger problem festering in the bowels of State Police headquarters. It was never the story.

This was a story of a State Police Superintendent who once told a group of sheriffs at a roundtable meeting at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge that when it came to choosing between State Police and the sheriffs, his loyalty was with the sheriffs.

There are the ever-persistent rumors of parties, too many parties being held in conjunction with official functions. They simply did not coalesce with what the image of law enforcement is supposed to be about.

There are reports, growing in number even as this is being written, of junkets to New York in private jets paid for by a police uniform vendor, to the Washington Mardi Gras celebration paid for by a local contractor, to Cancun on the private jet of a north Louisiana supporter, and of trips to gaming conferences in the company of the owner of video poker machines (Edmonson is ex-officio member of the State Gaming Commission).

There were seemingly endless reports documented and posted by LouisianaVoice of inconsistent discipline of State Troopers, depending on whether or not the trooper was in the inner circle of the Edmonson clique.

A trooper with multiple prescriptions for a controlled narcotic, instead of being disciplined for showing up to work impaired, was promoted and made commander of Troop D in Lake Charles.

A married lieutenant who, along with a few buddies and a couple of single female “bartenders,” took a borrowed limo to a Vicksburg casino. At the casino, he took one of the girls, who was underage, onto the floor of the casino to play blackjack. He was apprehended by Mississippi gaming officials and tried to negotiate his way out of the situation by proclaiming he was a Louisiana State Police lieutenant and “can’t we work something out?” He was fined $600 by Mississippi officials and promoted to commander of Troop F by Edmonson.

A trooper who twice had sex with a female while on duty (once in his patrol car, no less), was barely disciplined at all.

Troopers at Troop D were given days off for making a minimum number of DWI arrests, no matter if the driver was actually drinking. Just make the arrest and let the district attorney dismiss the case—you’ll still get credit for the stop—that was the unwritten policy.

Another trooper at Troop D owned a daytime construction company. So, instead of working a full shift at night, he would work a couple of hours and then go home to sleep the rest of the night so he could work his private job during the day. This was allowed to go on for an extended period of time until LouisianaVoice revealed what was taking place.

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux was allowed to take a buyout for early retirement but stayed retired only a single day before coming back with a promotion and about $55,000 in early buyout money which she was ordered to return—but did not. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

When she finally retired for good, Edmonson, appearing before a compliant State Police Commission stacked with his supporters, pushed through the creation of a new lieutenant colonel position to take over her duties. In pitching the position, he told the commission that it would create no additional cost and that it was not being designed specifically for Maj. Jason Starnes.

Guess what? Starnes got the job, the promotion, and a $25,000 raise. Now he administers Management and Finance for LSP despite having no accounting degree or background. When member Lloyd Grafton asked about Edmonson’s promise of no additional expense, no one on the commission seemed to remember.

It was Grafton who first used the term “money laundering” when discussing how the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) funneled LSTA funds through the personal checking account of its executive director David Young so that political contributions could be made to key political candidates. Young subsequently submitted expense reports for reimbursement of the campaign contributions. Grafton should know a little about money laundering: he is a retired ATF agent.

The LSTA did refuse Edmonson’s request that the association pen a letter to Governor-elect John Bel Edwards recommending that Edmonson be reappointed superintendent. Edwards reappointed him anyway.

And, going back to 2014, there was that surreptitious amendment inserted onto an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the regular legislative session. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) did the honors in introducing the amendment. Passed overwhelmingly over the promise that it would have no financial impact on the state budget, it instantly awarded Edmonson a healthy bump in retirement income.

Edmonson had, years earlier, entered what was referred to as DROP, a special retirement plan that was said to be “irrevocable” which at the time locked in his retirement at about $76,000. At the time the amendment was approved, it would have meant an additional $55,000 to his retirement but with the recent pay increases pushing his salary to its current level of $177,400, it would have meant a retirement increase of a whopping $101,000.

LouisianaVoice was notified of the amendment via an anonymous letter. That was when Mike Edmonson first appeared on our radar.

Then State Rep. John Bel Edwards, who unwittingly voted for the amendment, subsequently called for House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to investigate the maneuver but the invertebrate Kleckley refused.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) then filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge and a district court judge struck down the amendment.

Edmonson, true to form, at first denied any knowledge of the amendment but later admitted that one of “his people” came up with the idea and he gave the approval.

That was pretty much in line with the blaming of his secretary for using a signature stamp to approve overtime pay for that San Diego trip and his decision to throw the four who drove to San Diego under the bus for taking an unauthorized detour—even though it has since been learned by LouisianaVoice that he knew the route the four were taking and was in touch by text and phone the entire trip.

That’s the Edmonson persona. He has consistently shirked responsibility for actions that could cast him in a bad light and basked in the glow when things went well. He even is said to have told a retiring trooper—a veteran of two tours in the Mideast wars, no less—that he was a coward and a disgrace to his uniform in a late-night telephone conversation.

While other media have only recently joined in the investigation of LSP and Edmonson (and make no mistake, it was heartening to see them doing solid investigative work), LouisianaVoice has been there all along. This was not a sprint to LouisianaVoice, it was a marathon. And if this sounds a little vain and boastful…well, it is.

And it isn’t over. LouisianaVoice has pending numerous public records requests with LSP on other matters within the agency. We do not intend to let Edmonson’s resignation diminish our ongoing examination of why one man was allowed to bring a great department into such disrepute and disgrace.

The rank and file Louisiana State Troopers deserve better.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »