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Archive for the ‘Senate’ Category

John Sachs, a good friend and an old—and I do mean old (flies leave fresh dog poop just to follow us around) Ruston High School classmate (Class of 1961) is something of a political activist.

He learned well at his father’s knee. Dr. Tony Sachs, longtime head of the Louisiana Tech University Department of English had something of a liberal bent at a time when it was extremely unfashionable in north Louisiana, a trait he passed down to son John and daughter Elizabeth.

The word liberal has been turned into something nasty over the years but all it really implies is that its adherents believe that the poor that are entitled to the same rights as the rich, that people of color are entitled to the same protection under the law as whites, that women deserve the same opportunities—and pay—as men, that gays are entitled to the same consideration as straights, that the religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) are personal and should not be infringed upon, and that no one—NO ONE—should be deprived of his or her rights under the law.

In short, the liberal is rock steady in his support of non-discrimination in all areas of society—a resolve difficult to find in so-called conservatism, particularly of the Republican stripe.

After all, it is a document called the Declaration of Independence that proclaims:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

That brings us to the point of all this:

What gives Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or anyone else the right to deny a dying child critical health care?

All those Republican members of the House and Senate who pay lip service to our military men and women but want to scrap Obamacare without a viable replacement are little better than pathological liars.

Let me explain.

Have you ever been to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall where the names of 58,000 Americans killed are inscribed? Well, there would be a lot more names had it not been for the Hmong, an ethnic tribe of the Golden Triangle of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The Hmong were America’s secret weapon. They protected our radar stations in Southeast Asia and rescued and cared for downed pilots. Without their assistance, many more Americans would have died in that terrible war.

After the war, many Hmong settled in the U.S. One particularly intelligent Hmong girl, a teenager, fell ill with a rare illness that was extremely expensive to treat. She lives in Minnesota and Obamacare got her the medical care she so desperately needed. With the scrapping of Obamacare, she loses her insurance and with a pre-existing condition, it will be cost-prohibitive to get insurance—if she can get it at all.

Thanks Mitch, thanks Trump and thanks John Kennedy.

The reason I single Kennedy out when all of Louisiana’s congressional delegation but Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, voted to kill Obamacare, is that John Sachs wrote Kennedy to plead with him to consider all the ramifications of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, there was much wrong with the ACA but there are also weaknesses—glaring weaknesses—in our tax code, our sentencing guidelines for criminal acts, our campaign finance laws, and the laws enacted to protect American citizens from predatory Wall Street greed mongers, to name only a few. If there is a problem with a law, the duty of Congress is to address specific problem areas and pass bills to eliminate the flaws, not scrap the law in its entirety.

I have yet to see a single Republican member of the House or Senate rushing to tweak a tax code heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy, or advocating revamping the criminal code, or reining in Wall Street (to be completely fair, it was Obama’s own Attorney General Eric Holder who punted his responsibility to prosecute the criminal element that brought about the 2008 financial crash). And other than McCain-Feingold, there have been precious few attempts by either party to reform campaign finance laws.

After John Sachs sent his letter to Kennedy, this is the canned (but typical) response he received from Louisiana’s junior senator:

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

Obamacare was sold as something that would provide millions of uninsured Americans with access to affordable healthcare.  Unfortunately, Obamacare failed on those promises.  Americans were promised lower health insurance premiums.  In reality, premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent this year for the millions of Americans in the exchanges.  Americans were promised “if you like your plan you can keep it.”  What really happened is that 4.7 million Americans were kicked off their health care plans by Obamacare.  Americans were also promised more choice when purchasing health insurance, but a large part of the country has only one insurer offering plans on the Obamacare exchanges.  That’s not choice. 

Americans deserve better.  I am focused on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with personalized, patient-centered health care that will be affordable.  Americans should not be forced to buy insurance they don’t like, don’t need, and cannot afford.  I’m working to make sure they won’t have to for much longer.

As you know, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act on May 4.  Also, a draft Senate bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released on June 22.  I am carefully studying it in its entirety to see how it would impact Louisianans.  As I am reviewing, I will be sure to keep your concerns in mind.  Thanks again for writing.

If he is really that appreciative, why didn’t he conduct town hall meetings during a recent recess? Instead, he was nowhere to be found.

There’s no mistaking that Kennedy is in complete lockstep with Trump and that’s really strange. If you recall, Kennedy fought Bobby Jindal during Jindal’s entire eight-year reign of error, goading Jindal to cut contracts and repeating the mantra, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” And now we have Crump who is Jindal 2.0 and Kennedy practically wets his pants trying to make Grump happy. Witness Kennedy’s fawning over Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions during their confirmation hearings. DeVos was a horrible person to put in charge of educating our children and Sessions is a throwback to Southern demagogues Strom Thurmond and George Wallace.

Kennedy invokes the Chump mantra of 4.7 million Americans being kicked off their health care plans by Obamacare, yet he conveniently ignores the fact that McConnell’s plan would strip 23 million Americans of their healthcare.

How can Kennedy reconcile those numbers and still call himself an advocate of Louisiana citizens? Is this his idea of compassion?

Is he an intimidated, frightened, cowering little man afraid to stand up to the bully or is his behavior an indication of blind, unquestioning loyalty to Frump in the belief that it will enhance his own political career?

If the latter is the case, I would strongly suggest that Kennedy has misread the tea leaves and hitched his wagon not to a falling star but a plummeting one.

 

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You just gotta love Louisiana politics.

No, really. It’s probably the only institution where one can set up his own little fiefdom, reward those in positions to promote his career, get caught up in multiple scandals, be forced to resign and be commended, appreciated, and otherwise recognized for his years of “dedicated and distinguished” service.

Take, for instance, Senate Concurrent Resolution 122, hereafter referred to as SCR 122, by State Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), which commended, expressed appreciation and otherwise praised former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. It passed by a 27-0 vote with 11 members either absent or not voting.

The resolution, which runs on for three full pages when a single paragraph would’ve sufficed, concludes with:

“BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby commend and express appreciation to Superintendent of Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael David Edmonson on his retirement after thirty-six years of dedicated and distinguished service in law enforcement, including nine years as superintendent, and does hereby extend to him and his family full measures of continued success and happiness in their future endeavors.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be transmitted to Mike Edmonson.”

It seems entirely fitting that this resolution would have been authored by Alario. After all, his son John W. Alario, serves as the $115,000 a year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission. That’s in the Department of Public Safety, where Edmonson also served as Deputy Secretary until his resignation.

LouisianaVoice also reported in September 2014 that John W. Alario’s wife, Dionne Alario, was hired in November 2013 at a salary of $56,300 to work out of her Westwego home supervising state police personnel in Baton Rouge—something of a logistics problem, to say the least. Well today, she is still there and now pulls down $58,500 per year. And she still works from home.

We were perfectly willing to let go of the Edmonson story after he resigned. But Sen. Alario’s resolution, however, compels us to review some of the highlights of Edmonson’s tenure as Superintendent of State Police.

Our first encounter with Edmonson came at the end of the 2014 legislative session when we learned that Charles Dupuy, who would rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, conspired, along with State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Gov. Bobby Jindal, to sneak the amendment to Senate Bill 294 during the closing minutes of the session that allowed Mike Edmonson a “do-over” on his decision to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at his pay at that time of his decision to participate in DROP.

The major problem with that little plan is that it left other state troopers and state employees who similarly opted to enter DROP and then received significant promotions or raises out in the cold because the amendment did not afford the same opportunity for them. Before it was revealed by LouisianaVoice and before State Sen. Dan Claitor successfully filed a lawsuit to prevent the move, Edmonson was in line for a whopping pension increase estimated as high as $100,000 per year when the raises to state police were factored into the equation. (Claitor, incidentally, was one of those voting in favor of Alario’s SCR 122 demonstrating, we suppose, that he does not hold grudges.)

Here are some other Edmonson actions we wrote about in 2014:

  • “Consultant” Kathleen Sill, placed on the state payroll and being paid $437,000 plus $12,900 in air travel for 21 flights for her between Baton Rouge and her Columbia, S.C. home.
  • DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux’s taking a $46,000 cash payout incentive to retire early from her $92,000 per year salary as Deputy Undersecretary, plus about $13,000 in payment for 300 hours of accrued annual leave and then re-hiring herself two days later—with a promotion to Undersecretary and at a higher salary of $118,600—while keeping the incentive payment and annual leave payment. Then-Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis ordered her to repay the money but Davis resigned before she could follow through on her instructions. Under her successor, Paul Rainwater, the matter was quietly forgotten.
  • Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie who, while employed in an offshore job, was simultaneously on the payroll for seven months (from April 2, 2012 to Nov. 9, 2012) as a $25 per hour “specialist” for the State Police Oil Spill Commission.
  • Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, who worked as a “specialist” for State Police.

And then there are the spouses brought into the fold.

  • Jason Starnes benefitted from two quick promotions from 2009 to 2014 as his salary jumped from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase. Three years later, he makes $150,750 an overall increase of 152 percent.
  • As if that were not enough, his then-wife Tammy was brought in from another agency as an Audit Manager at a salary of $92,900. Today, she makes $96.600. So not only did make nearly $11,700 a year more than her husband initially (until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel), she also was in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.
  • In January of 2008, just before Edmonson was named Superintendent of State Police by Gov. Bobby Jindal, State Trooper Charles Dupuy was pulling down $80,500. Today, the one-time Edmonson Chief of Staff makes $161,300, a bump of more than 100 percent.
  • Kelly McNamara and Dupuy, both troopers, met at work and eventually married and Kelly Dupuy’s star began ascending almost immediately. Her salary has gone from $65,000 in 2009 to $117,000 today
  • On Sept. 7, 2011, Mike Edmonson’s brother Paul was promoted from lieutenant to Captain, filling the spot previously held by Scott Reggio. On Oct. 10, 2013, Paul Edmonson was again promoted, this time to the rank of major. This time however, he was promoted into a spot in which there was no incumbent, indicating that the position was created especially for his benefit.
  • His rise has been nothing less than meteoric. Since December 2006, he has gone from the rank of sergeant to lieutenant to captain to major at warp speed and his pay rose accordingly, from $57,500 to $136,800 a year, a 138 percent increase—all under the watchful eye of his brother.

Doesn’t it give you a warm fuzzy to know that the good folks like Alario and Riser (who also, of course, voted for SCR 122) are looking out for us?

And isn’t it interesting, by the way, to know that Angele Davis, who tried to get Jill Boudreaux to repay her ill-gotten gains from her pseudo-early retirement, is pitted against Riser, who tried to sneak that illegal pension boost for Edmonson, in the upcoming election to succeed John Kennedy as State Treasurer?

As our late friend C.B. Forgotston would say if he were with us: You can’t make this stuff up.

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An updated variation of the infamous Mike Edmonson Amendment has made its way into the 2017 legislative session in an effort to help yet another public official scratch out a little more money from the public fisc.*

*fisc (fisk) noun: The public treasury of Rome.

It’s really amazing how these legislators can work so diligently on behalf of certain connected individuals while ignoring much larger problems facing the state.

As much as LouisianaVoice criticized Bobby Jindal during his eight years of misrule, it was the legislature that allowed him to do what he did. It was the legislature that brought about the state’s fiscal problems by refusing to stand up to his ill-advised “reforms,” and it’s the legislature that has steadfastly refused to address those problems with anything approaching realistic solutions.

But when there’s a chance to help one of their own: stand back, there’s work to be done.

Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) has introduced House Bill 207 aimed specifically at benefiting U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Louisiana, it seems, has this pesky little dual office holding/dual employment law that might otherwise prove a hindrance to Cassidy’s ability to moonlight by teaching at the LSU Health Science Center while serving in the U.S. Senate.

Carter wants to remedy and if you don’t think this bill was written specifically for Cassidy, here’s the particulars of the bill:

“To enact R.S. 42:66(E), relative to dual officeholding and dual employment; to allow a healthcare provider who is a member of the faculty or staff of a public higher education institution to also hold elective office in the government of the United States…”

The bill would provide an exception to the current law which prohibits “certain specific combinations of public office and employment, including a prohibition against a person holding at the same time an elective or appointive office or employment in state government and an elective office, appointive office, or employment in the U.S. government.”

We could be wrong, but it just seems to us that serving in the U.S. Senate is a full-time job that demands the full attention of whomever happens to be representing Louisiana in that august body.

It was just such an amendment in 2014 that helped prove the eventual undoing of Edmonson’s career and his political aspirations. The word was that Edmonson planned to seek the state’s second-highest office in 2015—and was considered a fairly viable candidate.

LouisianaVoice broke the story of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and his tacking an amendment onto an otherwise benign bill that would have given Edmonson between $50,000 and $100,000 per year in additional retirement income. Because of the resulting furor over that amendment, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) successfully sued to block the increase in Baton Rouge district court.

A veteran political observer recently told us, “If you hadn’t broken that story, Mike Edmonson would be lieutenant governor today.” (We don’t know about that but at least he’d be better than what we now have in that office.)

Remember in the 2014 senatorial race between then-incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger U.S. Rep. Cassidy when Landrieu claimed Cassidy was paid for time lecturing classes not supported by his time sheets?

Jason Berry, publisher of The American Zombie Web blog said that on no fewer than 21 occasions over a 30-month span, U.S. Rep. Cassidy billed LSU Health Science Center for work supposedly performed on the same days that Congress was in session and voting on major legislation and holding crucial committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act.

“On at least 17 different occasions,” Berry wrote, “he (Cassidy) spent multiple hours in LSU-HSC’s clinics on the same days in which he also participated in committee hearings and roll call votes.”

Landrieu said at the time of the revelations that Cassidy, while claiming to serve the poor, was in fact, “serving himself an extra paycheck. That’s not right. It could be illegal and it looks very much like payroll fraud.”

The arrangement apparently also troubled then-Earl K. Long Hospital Business Manager William Livings who said in an email to Internal Medicine Department Head George Karam, “We are going to really have to spell out exactly what it is he does for us for his remuneration from us. Believe me, this scenario will be a very auditable item and I feel they will really hone in on this situation to make sure we are meeting all federal and state regulations.”

In addition to Cassidy’s salary, Berry said, LSU also paid for his medical malpractice insurance, his continuing education and his licensing fees, “expenses that can easily total in the thousands.”

And now Carter wants to make it all nice and legal—but only for Cassidy. All other state employees who would like to do a little double-dipping to supplement their income can just fuggedaboutit.

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In the nearly six-year history of LouisianaVoice, I have written more than 1,600 posts averaging about 1,500 words each (about two million words total).

This will likely be the shortest post ever.

U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy VOTED in favor of confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a post for which she is totally and completely unqualified. This is the woman who favors guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears.

We expected no less of Cassidy after his fawning all over her during the confirmation hearings. I mean, the man embarrassed himself with his unbridled admiration of incompetence.

With Kennedy, we held onto the slim chance that he would show a spark of independence and/or intelligence (though in his TV ads during the campaign, he professed to having backed Donald Trump “from the beginning”).

But in the end, it appears that he’d “rather drink weed killer” than show that he had a spine or a shred of integrity. (On the other hand, in another of his tasteless ads he did say, “You oughta have a gun,” so maybe it was the grizzly bear comment that compelled him to vote in favor of confirmation.)

Whatever.

Just remember that one vote if you don’t remember anything else about John Kennedy.

 

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There are times when, after you break a major story about official wrongdoing and after the requisite denials by those involved, everything gets quiet and the story seems to have hit a dead end. Or at least been placed in a state of suspended animation.

But generally, if you are willing to be patient and wait long enough, the story gets new life with the surfacing of new information.

So it was a year ago when LouisianaVoice and New Orleans Fox8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik simultaneously broke a STORY that Troy Hebert, former director of the Office of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (and furtive candidate for the U.S. Senate last fall—he got one-half of one percent of the vote), was under investigation by the FBI for:

  • Extorting sex from a New Orleans woman, Sarah Palmer, in exchange for approval of a liquor license for the French Quarter restaurant she managed, and
  • Illegally steered applicants for liquor licenses to attorney Chris Young for representation through Young’s sister, Judy Pontin, executive management officer for the New Orleans ATC office.

Now, thanks to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Hebert by a former ATC agent, those same issues have surfaced again.

Documents concerning still another issue, the suppressing of an investigation into a Baton Rouge bar following a 2012 accident involving a patron of the bar who had a blood alcohol content of .307 when he struck and killed two cyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

LouisianaVoice wrote in a February 2016 POST that Hebert wrongfully took control of the investigation and personally exonerated the Bulldog Bar from any wrongdoing. Chris Young was legal counsel for the Bulldog.

The only problem for fired ATC agent Brett Tingle, who filed the lawsuit against Hebert, it’s possible that none of Hebert’s repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition will be allowed into testimony.

Federal Judge John DeGravelles of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, currently has under advisement Hebert’s motion for protective order filed by attorney Renee Culotta which would, if granted, prohibit Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, from posing any questions at trial about Hebert’s relationship with Palmer and/or Young.

In Hebert’s deposition taken in December in preparation for trial in the Tingle matter, Hebert repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when Palmer’s name was brought up by Smith, as illustrated by the following exchanges:

  • Smith: “Do you recognize this (redacted) document?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Do you know a lady by the name of Sara (sic) Palmer?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Have you engaged in any infidelity during your marriage to Dawn Vick?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “That’s not a Fifth Amendment matter.”
  • Smith” I’m going to show you Exhibit No. 9 (redacted). What is this document, sir?
  • Hebert: I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “So with respect to Exhibit No. 9, you’re exercising your Fifth Amendment right”
  • Hebert: “I answered the question.”
  • Smith: “I’ll show you (exhibit) No. 10 (redacted). Do you recognize the Exhibit No. 10?”
  • Hebert: “I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the exhibits were redacted in Hebert’s Memorandum of Support for obvious reasons, the motion did note that exhibits eight and nine were “documents concerning” Louisiana Oyster House, dba Star Steak and Lobster (the restaurant managed by Palmer), notably a notice of violation and renewal applications. Exhibit 10, Culotta said, “concerned Chris Young documents previously attached to Hebert’s deposition as Exhibit 10-12.”

Interestingly, in his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Protective Order, Hebert said that while he has not been indicted and there is “no active criminal case” against him… “It is clear Hebert has been under investigation by the FBI, and should he provide answers to these questions, he could face indictment and criminal prosecution.” (Emphasis added.)

And this memorandum, we should point out, was written by Hebert’s attorney, Renee Culotta, who is being paid thousands of dollars while under contract to the Attorney General’s office as a contract attorney—just as she was in a previous lawsuit against ATC, that of Lisa Pike, a former ATC employee who also sued Hebert. The terms of that settlement have been held confidential by the court.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request for Culotta’s billing for legal representation in the Pike matter. Her billing in the defense of the Tingle lawsuit would not be made available because the case is ongoing.

Culotta said in the memorandum that allegations by Palmer against Hebert “occurred in January 2016, well after Tingle’s work for and termination from the ATC. Tingle did not participate in any issue concerning Sarah Palmer and/or Steak and Lobster, and no facts about Palmer or Steak and Lobster are contained in (Tingle’s) complaint.

“Likewise, the issues concerning Chris Young (i.e., whether Hebert gave preferential treatment to Young and/or referred clients to Young as part of an illegal scheme) are also not a part of this lawsuit and are not relevant to and have no bearing on whether Hebert allegedly retaliated against Tingle because of Tingle’s participation in the race discrimination charges and lawsuits filed by three African-American employees.

Tingle’s counsel’s questions and discovery concerning Chris Young and/or Sarah Parker were only meant to embarrass and harass Hebert,” Culotta said in her memorandum.

“Hebert cannot fully defend himself in the civil case (i.e., by explaining his position concerning Young, Palmer and (t)he Star Steak and Lobster license renewal) while the threat of criminal prosecution is looming.

“Plaintiff cannot have it both ways: if he intends to pursue this evidence, he then must agree to a stay in order that Hebert can defend himself without threat of criminal prosecution.

“Defendant Troy Hebert respectfully requests (that) this court issue a protective order forbidding plaintiff’s counsel from discovering, asking any questions about or referencing Chris Young, Sarah Palmer and/or the Star Steak and Lobster restaurant going forward in this litigation. To the extent plaintiff claims these issues are relevant, then Hebert respectfully asks the court to stay the proceedings until the statute of limitations has run on any criminal charges that could be brought in connection with these matters.” (Emphasis added.)

Now I don’t pretend to be a legal scholar. Journalism schools (or at least the one I attended) sadly do not require any courses in law even though any career journalist is going to be covering courtroom procedure at some point during his career.

That said, it appears to me that someone is one helluva lot more concerned with potential criminal exposure than any civil liability.

But then, that’s understandable. If a public official is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he is the one who is penalized. If, on the other hand, a civil verdict is returned against that same individual, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays whatever judgment is assessed.

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