Archive for the ‘Regents’ Category

Baton Rouge has always been a city rife with favoritism and appointments bordering on the outrageous and absurd. But now, with a new level of exorbitant salaries pitted against wholesale layoffs of rank and file employees during Piyush Jindal’s administration, the intensity of rumors, hyphens, retreads and big salaries from the “do more with less” governor has been ramped up a notch.

You may wish to sit down to prepare yourself for what may well be the most astounding appointment in Jindal’s tenure—one that should have every LSU alumnus and every LSU professor and instructor, active and retired, metaphorically storming the Governor’s Mansion with torches and pitchforks.

The object of their outrage, however, won’t be there of course.

But before we get too far into the latest developments surrounding the world’s largest state monument to corruption and excess (that would be the 24-story State Capitol building), we are going to go out on a limb and predict that the latest boy genius, State Superintendent of Education John White, is going to realize just how inept and unqualified he is for his job and will be gone by this time next year.

He has quickly become Boy Blunder to Jindal’s Batty Man.

Meanwhile, the Jindalista continues to pillage the state with layoffs, cutbacks, sell-offs and closures, all the while continuing to add to the already top-heavy administrative payroll with more appointments at ever-dizzying salaries.

Jindal apparently is making his appointments these days by remote control because he is rarely in Louisiana to attend to pressing state business.

The latest example of Jindal’s spot-on imitation of Nero was the announcement on Thursday, Aug. 16, that Jindal has been given a speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, later this month.

It’s odd to the point of being downright bizarre that on the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the Republican Party would carry out such a public suicide attempt. The obvious question has to be: What the hell were they thinking? Doesn’t anyone in a decision-making position remember that dreadful 2009 response to President Obama’s State of the Union address?

Now Comedy Central and Youtube will have two separate clips to (pick one) amuse/embarrass/nauseate us.

We can almost hear him now as he blathers on to bored, drunk, or in at least one case, womanizing delegates: “Two things…,” “At the end of the day…,” “Three things…”

Meanwhile, Rome, aka Louisiana, continues to burn at the altar of spurned federal grants, Medicaid and higher education cutbacks and the tragicomedy now known as school vouchers…er, scholarships.

So, how has the state’s Émigré Executive addressed these problems?

For one, he dredges up former staff member Jim Barfield to appoint as the new Secretary of Revenue at more than double the salary of former Secretary Cynthia Bridges who was forced out for doing her job after Jindal signed an alternative fuel tax credit that threatened to break the bank even further.

Then, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), led by Wondering Woman Penny Dastugue and Chas Roemer, appointed Heather Cope, who appears to be even younger and, if possible, more unqualified than White, to the post of BESE executive director.

But more important than either of these is the rumored appointment of current Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) Steve Moret as LSU president/chancellor.

The fix is reportedly in already for Moret’s appointment to replace former LSU President John Lombardi who was fired in April at Jindal’s behest (despite any protestations to the contrary) after being openly critical of budgetary cutbacks to higher education.

Interim President Bill Jenkins, of course, denies the report, but what else could he be expected to do? He didn’t get the call to come back after Lombardi’s firing because of any independent streak of his own. Jindal, as is well known by now, simply does not tolerate independence, candor or free thinking on the part of subordinates.

Jindal already had a solid majority on the LSU Board of Supervisors—quite possibly one of the more politically-charged and possibly the most controversial board in state government—when it voted to fire Lombardi in April. Now he has solidified that majority with the appointments last month of Scott Ballard of Covington and Lee Mallett of Iowa to the board.

Ballard’s company, WOW Franchising, parent company of WOW Café & Winery, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2007.

Mallett had separate contributions of $5,000 each in 2003 and 2006 and five of his companies contributed another $20,000 between 2007 and 2011.

Moret was appointed head of Economic Development when Jindal took office in January of 2008 and has presided over the giveaway of $5 billion a year in corporate tax incentives and exemptions that have been putting the state deeper into the fiscal abyss with each passing year.

Before coming to LED, Moret had a lackluster tenure as president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, though at the time of Moret’s appointment, Jindal’s spindoctors lauded his accomplishments at the chamber.

Like Jindal, Moret is an alumnus of the McKinsey Group, a Washington, D.C., think tank that consults with governments and corporations worldwide.

One of McKinsey’s more notable contributions was working with Allstate Insurance to train the company in the best way to deny claims stemming from losses suffered by Gulf Coast residents in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

That should square up pretty well with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) anyway.

Other than those two entries on his curriculum vitae, Moret has little else to qualify him to lead the state’s flagship university. But hey, who needs an academic mind at the helm of a large university?

Such an appointment would further lower the school’s esteem, already pummeled by draconian budget cuts that forced tuition increases and threaten the very existence of the LSU School of Medicine and state teaching hospitals while reducing the position of president to nothing more than political puppet status—even more so than it already is—and heap ridicule on the state in general and LSU in particular.

Oh, well, there’s always football.

The LSU board will be on retreat Saturday (a legally-questionable procedure in that it appears to violate the state’s open meeting law—specific personnel matters certainly may discussed in executive session, but political bodies, including the LSU board, must first convene in public session and then vote to go into executive session) to discuss combining the jobs of president and chancellor.

Jenkins, responding to reports that the decision had already been made to select Moret, snapped, “That’s nuts!” he said, “irrational” that the board would pay a consultant and go through the motions of a national search if the decision were already made.

You could almost envision Jindal’s arm extending from Jenkins’ backside but you could still see Piyush’s lips moving.

Barfield worked as president and chief operating officer for the Shaw Group until becoming Jindal’s first secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (formerly the Department of Labor) before being brought in to serve briefly as Jindal’s executive counsel.

While serving as secretary of the workforce commission, he helped Jindal to fight off legislators’ attempts to overturn Jindal’s rejection of $98 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits–the first of hundreds of millions in federal dollars rejected by MIA Piyush.

Barfield left the administration in January of 2010 to become the chief development officer for Amedisys, a home health and hospice care company. Three months later, on March 17, he and Amedisys each contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign and last December the company contributed another $1,000.

Barfield’s salary will be $250,000 a year, more than twice the $124,000 being paid Bridges and $83,000 more than the $167,000 per year he was earning in his last job in the administration. That $83,000 bump, by itself, could pay the salaries of a couple of laid-off state employees.

Because state law prohibits a cabinet member appointed while the legislature is not in session from making more than his or her predecessor, Jindal simply “created” through slick political subterfuge the position of executive counsel for the Department of Revenue and set the salary at $126,000 in addition to the $124,000 that was paid Bridges.

How’s that for transparency, openness and accountability?

But it does pose three intriguing questions:

• Since Barfield will now be his own legal counsel, does he have a fool for a client?

• Is the proposal to combine the positions of LSU president and chancellor being put on the table for the same reason as creating the position of executive counsel for Barfield—to double the salary for the new appointee to be named by Jindal’s rubber-stamp proxy, the LSU Board?

• And finally, is there any level to which this governor will not stoop to get what he wants, even to the point of circumventing the law?

BESE, meanwhile, apparently was unable to find anyone in Louisiana qualified for its executive director’s post despite Jindal’s oft-expressed desire to “keep the best and brightest in Louisiana.”

Heather Cope comes to us from Seattle, the same place where Jindal reached out and touched Bruce Greenstein for the position of secretary of Health and Hospitals.

Cope brings a boatload of qualifications, none of which would appear to apply to her new post. She reportedly has a desire to expose the problems in education, which led her to work for an education think tank, the prestigious League of Education Voters, which calls itself an advocate of systemic changes in public schools. Ever heard of it? Didn’t think so.

She also enjoys “immersing herself in foreign cultures (domestic and international).” So what, exactly would qualify as a “domestic” foreign culture? Other passions include watching historical dramas, quoting Monty Python sketches and giving lessons to co-workers on the proper use of hyphens.

The only thing missing to wrap up the Miss Congeniality title was world peace but there apparently was enough there to qualify her for a salary of $125,000 per year.

Most of the cabinet level positions pay more than the state’s top elected officials, including Jindal, receive in salary.

A quick review of a partial list of cabinet level salaries in the Piyush Jindal administration as reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate:

• Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret: $320,000;
• Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein: $236,000;
• Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater: $204,400;
• Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch: $137,200;
• Louisiana Workforce Development Executive Director Curt Eysink: $137,000;
• Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc: $136,700.
• Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham: $123,600.

And that doesn’t include the secretaries of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and Development, Veterans Affairs, Commissioner of Higher Education, Superintendent of Education and all those former legislators (including two cabinet level positions—Veterans Affairs and Wildlife and Fisheries) appointed to all those six-figure income positions.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Laissez les bon temps rouler.

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For one who insists—to the point of banality—that he has the job he wants, Gov. Piyush Jindal certainly spends a minimal amount of time doing it.

He also is the same Piyush Jindal who insisted that his appointments would be made on the basis of “what you know, not who you know.”

When you examine his appointments against campaign contributions, that second proclamation quickly takes on the same empty ring as the first. But those contributions do go a long way in explaining how he got that job that he loves so much.

Remember, Jindal also said the bulk of his contributions were in amounts of $100 or less. What he did not explain was that he was the talking about the number of contributions, not the amounts. The large contributions—$500 to $5,000—easily eclipsed the amounts given by small donors.

But extensive research by Capitol News Service shows that the high rollers, the big money backers, tended to garner highly desirable appointments to important boards and commissions—and in some cases, high-paying state jobs.

Appointees to six major boards or commissions produced more than $963,000 in campaign contributions to Jindal, according to campaign finance records.

So much for “what you know, not who you know.”

Those boards/commissions include:

The LSU Board of Supervisors, possibly one of the more political of all the boards;
The State Board of Regents for Higher Education;
• University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors;
• State Board of Commerce and Industry;
• Louisiana Economic Development Corp. Board;
• Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome) Board.

Following are some examples of Jindal’s appointments and their contributions, dating from his 2003 campaign for governor to July 31, 2012:

LSU Board of Supervisors

• Chester Lee Mallet, Lake Charles—$30,000 in personal contributions and contributions from five separate corporations;
• Scott Ballard, Covington—$5,000 from his company, WOW Café & Winery Franchising;
• Jack Lawton Jr., Lake Charles—$26,000 from Lawton, his company and family members;
• Robert “Bobby” Yarborough, Baton Rouge—$15,000;
• Garrett “Hank” Danos, Larose—$18,500 from Danos, his company and family members;
• Ray Lasseigne, Bossier City—$17,232 from Lasseigne and his company, TMR Exploration;
• Ben Mount, Lake Charles—$1,000 from his wife, then-State Sen. Willie Mount;
• James E. Moore of Monroe—$21,500 from Moore and his company, the Marriott Courtyard of Monroe;
• R. Blake Chatelain of Alexandria—$28,000 from Chatelain and his wife.

Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education

• Raymond J. Brandt of Metairie—$5,000
• Roy O. Martin of Alexandria—$17,000 from Martin, family members and his business, Roy O. Martin Lumber Co.;
• William “Bill” Fenstermaker of Lafayette—$20,500 from Fenstermaker and C.H. Fenstermaker & Associates;
• Chris Gorman of Shreveport—$20,000 from Gorman and his company, Tango Transport;
• Joe Farr of Monroe—$5,000;
• Ed Antie of Lafayette—$10,500 from Antie and his company, Network USA (Antie withdrew his nomination when it became clear he would not be confirmed by the Legislature because of a contract one of his companies had with the Regents—a conflict of interests.)
• Robert Bruno of New Orleans—$5,000;
• Charlotte Bollinger of Lockport—$52,850 from Ms. Bollinger, various other family members and seven different companies run by the Bollinger family;
• W. Clinton Raspberry Jr., of Shreveport—$10,000 through his two companies, W. Clinton Raspberry, Jr., Investments, and Crestview Woods Timber and Minerals;
• Roland Toups of Baton Rouge—$9,500;
• Joseph C. Wiley of Gonzales–$7,125 from Wiley and his company, the Excel Group.

University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors

• E. Gerald Hebert of Kenner—$16,000;
• Jimmie “Beau” Martin, Jr., of Cut Off—$19,278 from Martin and his company, B&J Martin, Inc.;
• Carl Shelter of Lake Charles—$6,000;
• Jimmy Faircloth of Alexandria—$25,000 from Faircloth and his law firm (Faircloth was later appointed Jindal’s executive counsel);
• John LeTard of Zachary—$5,000;
• Andre Coudrain of Hammond—$30,000 from Coudrain and his law firm;
• Edward J. Crawford, III, of Shreveport—$11,000 from Edward Crawford, Edward J Crawford, III, of the same address, and Edward J Crawford, IV;
• Greg Hamer, Sr., of Morgan City—$16,750;
• Paul Dickson of Shreveport—$39,000 from Dickson and his pharmaceutical company.

Louisiana State Board of Commerce and Industry

• Richard Lipsey of Baton Rouge—$28,000 from Lipsey, his wife and his company, Lipsey Properties;
• R.K. Mehrotra of Baton Rouge—$6,000;
• Kevin Langley of Baton Rouge—$14,000;
• Millie Atkins of Monroe—$13,000 from CenturyTel, for whom she is employed as a corporate communication associate;
• Lance B. Belcher of Baton Rouge—$20,000 from Belcher and three of his companies;
• Bryan L. Bossier, Sr., of Woodworth—$33,500 from Bossier, his wife, Phillip Bossier of the same address and two of his companies;
• Gorgon Burges of Amite—$9,000;
• Mark Delesdernier, Jr., of New Orleans—$5,500 from Delesdernier and Fiver Marine Services, for whom he serves as chief executive officer;
• P. Andre Fruge of Lafayette—$1,000;
• Richard A. Gonsoulin of Houma—$31,000 from Gonsoulin, family members and his company, Lebeouf Brothers Towing;
• Ronnie Harris of Gretna—$1,000;
• Jerry N. Jones of Shreveport—$11,000 from Jones and his law firm;
• William V. “Bill” King of Lake Charles—$10,000;
• Marty A. Mayer, Jr., of Covington—$5,000 from his company, Stirling Properties;
• Stephen Moret of Baton Rouge, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development—$2,000;
• Gale Potts Roque of Natchitoches—$5,000 from Mac-Re, LLC, for whom she is employed as government relations and property manager;
• Charles J. Soprano of Alexandria—$13,000;
• Greg Walker of Baton Rouge—$6,000.

Louisiana Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors

• Mike Saucier of Covington—$7,000 from Saucier and his company, Gulf States Real Estate;
• Rob Stuart, Jr., of Baton Rouge—$11,000;
• Harry Avant of Shreveport—$5,000;
• A.J. Roy, III, of Marksville—$8,750;
• Thomas A. Cotten of Baton Rouge—$500;

Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome) Board of Commissioners

• Robert Bruno of New Orleans—$28,500 from Bruno, his wife and his law firm;
• Davie Chozen of Lake Charles—$18,238 from Chozen and his company, Chozen Business Services;
• Tim Coulon of Harvey—$7,500 from Coulon’s political campaign and Coulon Consultants;
• Ron Forman of New Orleans—$2,000;
• Julio Melara of Baton Rouge—$25,500 from Melara and Rolfe McCollister, Jr.; Melara is president and McCollister is publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report;
• William C. “Bill” Windham of Bossier City—$25,000 from William and Carol Windham;
• William Henry Shane, Jr., of Kenner—$21,000 from Shane and his architectural firm;
• Mike Polito of Baton Rouge—$20,000 contributed through three of his companies;
• Dave Roberts of Baton Rouge—$10,000;
• John Amato of New Orleans—$15,000 from Amato and his wife;
• Peter Egan of Covington—$19,400 from Egan and five of his companies;
• Ed Markle of New Orleans—$17,000 from Edward and Gloria Markle and two of his companies.

There are many others but space does not permit running all at one time. We will have follow-up stories detailing other major contributors who received appointments from Jindal.

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The clock has run out on Gov. Bobby Jindal and like the Honey Badger, he’s now yesterday’s news insofar as any aspirations either one may have had for bigger and better things.

Realistically, time had run out on Louisiana’s wunderkind some time ago even though like a loyal trooper, he keeps soldiering on—perhaps hoping for a prestigious cabinet position like Secretary of Health and Human Services, something he denies aspiring to.

“I would not consider a cabinet post,” he sniffed like the spoiled little boy that he is after being passed over for the vice presidential nomination by Mitt Romney. “I consider being the governor of Louisiana to be more important and the best job there is.” Well, it is the only job he has for the moment and if he doesn’t challenge Mary Landrieu in 2014, we’re stuck with him through 2015.

Break out the champagne.

We can only surmise that Secretary of Education is out of the question since both Romney and Paul Ryan advocate that department’s abolishment in favor of state and local control (read: vouchers), although Romney has tempered his position somewhat.

But Jindal’s real quandary is not that he was passed over for vice president, but that he needs desperately to advance his career quickly—before all his “reforms” as governor come crashing down around him, doing even more damage to his reputation than that disastrous response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

That image as the crusading reformer who gets things done against all odds is already beginning to wear thin in Louisiana and it’s only a matter of time before the national media begin to take a critical look at his administration. The Washington Post and New York Times already have.

Beginning with his repeal of the Stelly Plan only a few months into his first term—the move is costing the state about $300 million a year while benefiting only couples earning more than $150,000 per year or individuals making $90,000 per year—through this year’s veto of a car rental tax renewal for New Orleans, Jindal his consistently found ways to cut taxes while doling out tax breaks to corporate entities.

In 2011, the legislature could not muster the votes to override a Jindal veto of a cigarette tax renewal and the renewal had to go before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment—which easily passed.

While he defiantly categorizes tax renewals as “new taxes,” to which he is adamantly opposed, he has no compunctions about cutbacks to higher education that force colleges and universities to increase tuition. He considers the tuition hikes as “fees,” not taxes.

While turning up his nose at federal grants for early childhood development ($60 million), broadband internet installation in rural parishes ($80.6 million) and for a high-speed rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans ($300 million), Jindal, upon slashing funding for parish libraries throughout the state, apparently saw no inconsistency in suggesting that the libraries apply for federal monies in lieu of state funding.

The grumblings began ever-so-slowly but they have been growing steadily. The legislature, albeit the right-wing Tea Party splinter clique of the Republican Party, finally stood up to Jindal toward the end of this year’s legislative session and refused to give in on the governor’s efforts to use one-time revenue to close a gaping hole in the state budget.

Other developments that did not bode well for the governor include:

• A state budget that lay in shambles, resulting in mid-year budget cuts of $500 million because of reductions in revenue—due largely to the roughly $5 billion per year in corporate tax breaks;

• Unexpected cuts to the state’s Medicaid program by the federal government which cost the state $859 million, including $329 million the first year to hospitals and clinics run by Louisiana State University—about a quarter of the health system’s annual budget. Those cuts will mean the loss of medical benefits for about 300,000 indigent citizens in Louisiana;

• Failed efforts to privatize state prisons, even though he did manage to close two prison facilities and a state hospital without bothering to notify legislators in the areas affected—a huge bone of contention for lawmakers who, besides having their own feathers ruffled, had to try and explain the sudden turn of events to constituents;

• Revelation that he had refused to return some $55,000 in laundered campaign funds from a St. Tammany bank president;

• Failed efforts to revamp the state employee retirement system for civil service employees. State police were exempted—perhaps because they form his security detail. And despite questions about the tax or Social Security implications, Jindal plans to plunge ahead with implementation of the part of the plan that did pass without the benefit of a ruling by the IRS—a ruling that could ultimately come back to bite him;

• A failed effort by the Sabine River Authority to sell water to a corporation headed up by two major Jindal campaign contributors—Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport and Aubrey Temple of DeRidder;

• A school voucher system that is nothing less than a train wreck, a political nightmare. State Education Superintendent John White, after Jindal rushed the voucher program through the legislature, rushed the vetting process for the awarding of vouchers through the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, abetted by members Penny Dastugue, Jay Guillot and Chas Roemer—quickly turning the entire process into a pathetic farce;

• A school in New Orleans run by a man calling himself an “Apostle,” a school in Ruston with no facilities—classrooms, desks, books or teachers—for the 165 vouchers for which the school was approved, tentative approval of vouchers for a school in DeRidder that could not even spell “scholarship” on its sign and for a school in Westlake that teaches that the “Trail of Tears” led many Native Americans to Christianity, that dragons were real, that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at the beginning of time (6,000 years ago, the approximate age of earth, according to its textbooks), that slave owners in America were kind, benevolent masters who treated slaves well, and that the Ku Klux Klan was a helpful reform-minded organization with malice toward none (Don’t laugh, folks; this is what many of these fundamentalist schools who qualified for vouchers are teaching.);

• Then there’s that charter school in Delhi that held girls to a slightly higher standard than boys. Any girl who became pregnant was expelled and any girl even suspected of being pregnant may be ordered to undergo an examination by a doctor of the school’s choice. The boy who gets her pregnant? Nothing. No punishment, no responsibility. Only after being subjected to public exposure, ridicule and criticism did the school alter its policy;

• A state legislator who said she approved of vouchers for Christian schools but not for an Islamic school in New Orleans because this country was founded on the Christian principles of the founding fathers, neglecting for the moment that the founding fathers were for the most part, Deists;

• And to top it all off, White smiles condescendingly and tells us that the criteria applied for approval of vouchers for these schools is part of the “deliberative process,” a catch-all exemption employed by the administration when it doesn’t wish to provide what are clearly public records—an administration, by the way, that touts its so-called “transparency.” Fortunately for the public, the Monroe News-Star is taking White’s pompous behind to court over that decision. (Confidentially, it is the humble opinion of LouisianaVoice that White never had any criteria and that he is creating policy and criteria on the fly because he simply is in way over his inexperienced, unqualified head as the leader of the agency charged with the education of our children. And that perhaps is the most shameful aspect of the entire voucher system and the single biggest act of betrayal on the part of a governor equally overwhelmed by the responsibilities of public office—especially an absentee governor.)

So as the Jindal Express rumbles down the track like a bad motorcycle going 90 miles per hour down a dead-end street (with apologies to Hank Snow) and things begin to unravel on the home front, just where is this absentee governor?

Well, it seems that rather than remain in the state and address the problems that are piling up and growing more complex with each passing day, he seems to prefer to spend his time stumping for Romney—or auditioning for a cabinet position he says he won’t accept—after seeing his chances for the vice presidency fall by the wayside.

A mature governor, a caring governor, a capable governor—one who is truly concerned about the welfare of his state—would defer from flitting all over the country spouting rhetoric on behalf of his presidential candidate in favor of remaining at home and addressing problems that are very real and very important to the people who elected him. Romney, after all, never once voted for Jindal.

There could be only one motive for turning his back on nearly 600,000 voters who first elected him in 2007 and the 673,000 who re-elected him last fall: he doesn’t really care about Louisiana and its people; he cares only about Bobby Jindal and those who can help him in the advancement of his political career.

If Gov. Jindal was truly concerned about the welfare of Louisiana, he certainly would have provided us with an encore of his hurricane and BP spill disaster performances: he would have headed straight to Assumption Parish to grab some TV face time at the Bayou Corne sinkhole and then flown away in a helicopter even as a ghost writer busied himself penning a book sequel: Failed Leadership and Fiscal Crisis: the Crash Landing.

That’s the very least he could do.

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LouisianaVoice will soon have a sister publication in the form of an online state newspaper, according to publisher Tom Aswell.

The new feature, which will be published online in newspaper format, will be a weekly publication geared exclusively to Louisiana political news.

“This will be a free-subscription publication because we want everyone in Louisiana—and elsewhere—to have access to what elected and appointed officials are doing that affect the daily lives of Louisiana’s citizens,” Aswell said.

The name of the new publication will be Louisiana Free Press and will be accessible via the link http://www.louisianafreepress.com, Aswell said.

Louisiana Free Press will be supported 100 percent by advertising revenue and our coverage will be broadened from publishing a single story at a time. There will be multiple stories posted each Friday and the coverage will vary greatly.

Several writers will be contributing coverage of many more agencies than have historically been covered by LouisianaVoice.

These writers will be covering the Louisiana Supreme Court proceedings, Louisiana Attorney General opinions, audit reports of all state and local agencies as they are provided by the Legislative Auditor’s office. Moreover, coverage of agencies will be increased—agencies like the Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Department of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Board of Regents, University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors and the Public Service Commission, the governor’s office, the lieutenant governor, state treasurer and the legislature, as well as other more obscure state boards and commissions.

“We feel it is important that Louisiana’s citizenry remain informed about what their public officials are doing in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere,” Aswell said.

“This is an ambitious endeavor but for too long, too many agencies, board and commissions have operated under the radar of the media,” Aswell said. “We anticipate that is about to change.

“That is not to say that everything we write will be of an investigative nature or that each story will be some major exposé. Most will be of a routine nature but will provide news otherwise not available to the public.”

LouisianaVoice will issue further updates as the schedule for launching Louisiana Free Press develops.

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Remember last year’s incredible fiasco precipitated by Gov. Piyush Jindal when he spurned that $80.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to provide high speed broadband internet to rural areas of Louisiana?

Well, it’s back—perhaps to bite him in the gluteus maximus.

State Superintendent of Education John White has released a report that shows Louisiana public school students and teachers are lacking the technology to enter the digital age.

The Louisiana Technology Footprint report discusses technology guidelines that provide a snapshot of the current state of digital readiness of school districts and campuses in the state.

Louisiana Believes, the highly-touted plan by the department includes, among other goals, one for all schools to be digital-ready by 2014-2015.

The report provides districts with an initial footprint picture of network, bandwidth and device requirements need to fully implement online assessments by the 2014-2015 school year and full digital readiness thereafter.

“Data and technology specifications…indicate school campuses in Louisiana have 197,898 devices available for online testing but only 67,038 (33.9 percent) met new device standards,” the report says.

Only five districts—Ascension, City of Bogalusa, Red River, St. James and FirstLine Schools of New Orleans—meet the minimum device readiness requirements and only two—Ascension and St. James—meet both device and network readiness guidelines for online testing, it said.

It was last Oct. 26 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division (NOAA) issued its final termination letter for the grant after repeated efforts to get the state to comply with its request for additional information.

The project, which LouisianaVoice learned was opposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), would have created 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes in Louisiana and would have supported several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

That could have complimented the Board of Regents’ $20 million Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) project, designed to extend high-speed networking capabilities in the state.

But Jindal, whose wife’s charitable foundation received considerable funding from AT&T, apparently preferred that the project be carried out by private companies—such as…oh, say AT&T, for example.

The governor refused to re-apply for the grant because what he termed a “heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private business.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu call Jindal’s stated reason “hogwash.” She said the grant would not have interfered with private enterprise and in fact, would have granted money for private companies to lay the cable. “We weren’t trying to create a government broadband system,” she said.

Almost a year before the final rejection of the grant, ALEC, at its annual meeting in San Diego in August of 2010, passed a resolution opposing initiatives targeted at providing universally accessible broadband service because of “the unnecessary, burdensome and economically harmful regulation of broadband internet service companies, including the providers of the infrastructure that supports and enables internet services…”

Looks like someone forgot to tell White about Jindal’s opposition to expanded availability to that evil internet.

In fact, White, in his report, encourages school districts to join a statewide consortium that will aid in consolidated purchasing and contracts as well as providing technology services and support.

Wonder who’ll get the contract to form that consortium?

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