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There’s mischief afoot in Ascension Parish and things are getting a little trashy concerning Parish President Clint Cointment and his relationship with the owner of a local company called Trash Rangers which has a long-term sweetheart contract with the parish.

Complicating matters even more, the parish, Trash Rangers and its president, Dustin Clouatre, were named defendants in a lawsuit filed by an unsuccessful candidate for parish president. Cointment promptly fired the parish’s long-time legal counsel, O’Neal Parenton, and hired the same attorney who represents Clouatre. That could conceivably create a conflict of interest in the event that Clouatre and the parish end up pitted against each other over some issue as co-defendants in that litigation.

But the hiring of attorney Jean Paul Robert to represent both the parish and Clouatre means that the parish now appears to picking up the legal costs of Clouatre who is a contractor but not a parish employee.

It’s a tangled story but LouisianaVoice will attempt to pull the string that unravels the entire mess. But to do so, it’s necessary to rewind to Feb. 7, 2019, when Murphy Painter, then a candidate for parish president and on invitation from Clouatre, appeared in Clouatre’s office at Hughes Insurance Agency in Gonzales to discuss the possibility of Hughes Insurance’s possibility of getting the book of insurance for the parish government if he should be elected.

Unbeknownst to Painter, Clouatre taped their conversation and Wade Petite, campaign manager for Painter’s opponent, Clint Cointment, began circulating the news on his Web blog that he was in possession of a tape of alleged wrongdoing by Painter.

The wrongdoing alleged by Petite claimed that Painter covered up the rape of five girls under the age of 12 during his tenure with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Going back even further, Petite and District Attorney Ricky Babin had also taped then-Parish President Kenny Matassa giving money to Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson in 2016 but Matassa was acquitted of bribery at trial. Matassa’s biggest sin, it appears, was in beating Cointment for parish president that year.

In Painter’s case, Babin called him before a grand jury over the accusations but he was never charged with anything. In fact, the rape case presented to the grand jury occurred at a time when Painter was not even with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. Painter, however, withdrew from the runoff election after the furor over what he insisted – and still insists – was an altered tape.

Painter has since filed suit against Cointment, Petite, Petite’s online publication, the Pelican Post, Clouatre, Hughes Insurance, and DA Babin. Hughes Insurance was dismissed and the court ruled that Babin had qualified immunity and was also dismissed. The other four remain as defendants and Painter has filed appeals on the two who were dismissed.

Cointment won the parish president’s race by default after Painter pulled out and one of his first official acts was to sign a no-bid $1.4 million contract for the parish’s book of insurance with Hughes Insurance with Clouatre as the agent of record.

But then, as if that were not enough, things began to get really dicey.

It seems that besides being an insurance agent, Clouatre also owns a trash pickup service called Trash Rangers. He’s nothing if not diversified.

In another no-bid situation, Cointment terminated the parish’s contract with its trash pickup company and awarded the contract to Trash Rangers for commercial trash pickup in the parish. The only signatures on the contract, which ran from July 22, 2021 to July 22, 2023, were those of Cointment as parish president and Clouatre as owner/president of Trash Rangers.

The contract also awarded Trash Rangers the right to store its equipment on a corner of the grounds of the parish-owned Lamar-Dixon Expo Center at the brother-in-law rate of $600 per month compared to $3000 per month that it charges other short-term tenants like the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Entergy, Dixie Electric, and Cat5 Resources — entities which would use the expo center as a staging area in the event of an emergency or natural disaster like a hurricane.

There are ethical questions about a public body giving something of value to a private person or company but that doesn’t seem to matter to Cointment who also agreed to allow Trash Rangers to supply a number of dumpster bins and roll-off containers for Lamar-Dixon’s use during events held here and to charge the parish $600 per container it empties when full.

In a magnanimous gesture, Cointment also approved an addendum that gives Trash Rangers, as a sponsor at Lamar-Dixon, the right to use the parking lot area for storage of equipment on a full-time basis, gives full advertising rights at the center, and even provides a link for Trash Rangers on the Lamar-Dixon Web page.

So, now the Ascension Parish government – and parish taxpayers by necessity – are in the trash business with Clouatre.

Clouatre is rumored to host elaborate parties on his $1.4 million yacht and his $400,000 Greek fishing boat that he paid $40,000 to have shipped to him, according to his boasts on his Facebook page.

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The big news out of Washington this week was President Biden’s UNEXPECTED WIN with the anticipated passage of several major pieces of legislation following a flip-flop by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

But lost in all the hoopla was a Louisiana connection that goes back 12 years which illustrated in no uncertain terms how big money from corporate lobbies can influence legislation detrimental to Americans, particularly limited-income elderly citizens.

The Washington Post yesterday published a story that said Biden was on the cusp of securing passage of several major pieces of legislation on the climate, extension of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), increased minimum corporate taxation, and cost savings through reduced cost of Medicare prescription drugs.

It is that last one – officially the PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICING REFORM bill – that goes all the way back to the year 2003 and the decision by a Louisiana congressman to exit Congress through the revolving door to a multi-million-dollar lobbying job.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, who in 1995 switched from Democrat to Republican, announced in 2005 that he was leaving Congress after 25 years but it was what he neglected to say that was important.

Before heading out the door, he rammed through Congress the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill which contained a provision that prohibited Medicare from negotiating the price of prescription drugs. Consequently, the cost of drugs under the program fell under the Beltway cliché of “it is what it is,” more bluntly, the price of prescription medication was what the drug companies said it was. Period.

Oh, the bill also prohibited the importation of identical, cheaper drugs from Canada and elsewhere, thereby pretty much locking up a monopoly for American pharmaceutical companies.

What made the pill even more bitter to swallow is what Tauzin did next.

Literally the day after his retirement from Congress, he strolled down to K Street and settled into an $11.6 million job as (wait for it) head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, aka Big PhRMA.

That generous five-year contract made him the highest-paid health-law lobbyist in DC and the envy of K Street.

It also prompted Public Citizen President JOAN CLAYBROOK to say at the time, in something of an understatement, “It’s a sad commentary on politics in Washington that a member of Congress who pushed through a major piece of legislation benefiting the drug industry, gets the job leading that industry.”

His role in shepherding the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill came just two months before he resigned as chair of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce which oversaw the drug industry.

It was not Tauzin’s only questionable flirtation with the healthcare industry. From 2005 to 2020, he served as a board member of LHC GROUP, a provider of in-home healthcare and hospice services, being paid $152,000 in 2006 while in Congress and $263,000 in 2020.

The pharmaceutical industry and Republicans in Congress, needless to say, are almost apocalyptic in their OPPOSITION  to the reforms in pricing. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), in a typical snit over anything Democrats propose, no matter the merit, has threatened to block other pieces of legislation if Democrats proceed with the price reconciliation process.

The 12 years of the prohibition on negotiations has likely cost the federal government (US taxpayers and the country’s elderly Medicare recipients) untold millions – perhaps billions – of dollars in unnecessarily inflated prescription drug prices.

It was not an oversight; it was a deliberate, calculated ploy designed to enrich the pharmaceutical industry – and in the process, a single member of Congress.

We have that former congressman, our very own Billy Tauzin, to thank for that.

And we now have Joe Biden, the subject or relentless attacks from the right, to thank for his efforts to rectify that deliberate maneuver.

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Remember that story LouisianaVoice did when the IRS formally designated the Family Research Council (FRC), headed by Baton Rouge native Tony Perkins as a CHURCH?

Well, apparently there were a few others who didn’t take the news too well. Forty members of Congress have asked the IRS and the Treasury Department to INVESTIGATE “alarming patterns” of right-wing advocacy groups registering as churches.

Churches, of course, are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

That’s the theory, at least.

While FRC was already a non-profit and exempt from federal income taxes, the designation has the added advantage of further shielding such groups from other financial reporting requirements and allows them to more easily avoid audits.

Of course, the 40 members of Congress demanding an investigation are all Democrats. No Repugnantcan would be so crass as to suggest an investigation of such a staunch advocate of a church-state merger as FRC.

Perkins, a former Louisiana state legislator who has parlayed his obsession with gays into a national position as president of FRC, never passes up an opportunity to take a shot at the LGBQT community, even going so far as to say that God sends natural disasters to punish them. “God is trying to send us a message” about gay marriage and legalized abortion, he once said.

That was before his own Baton Rouge home was DESTROYED in the 2016 flood that inundated much of South Louisiana.

The flood, which he said was of “Biblical proportions,” was not attributable in his eyes to any LGBQT or abortion issue, however. Instead, he saw the flood as an OPPORTUNITY for Christians to “use this as an incredible, encouraging spiritual exercise to take you to the next level in your walk with an almighty and gracious God who does all things well.”

As one of the thousands of victims of that same flood, I can readily attest that the event was anything but an “opportunity” for those of us who were left homeless by the devastation. At least he had a motor home to house his family on a temporary basis while his home was being repaired. To be sure, that’s more than most had.

Funny, isn’t it, how this sanctimonious man with a direct link to God’s will can see a disaster one way when it affects others but quite differently when it hits closer to home?

In a somewhat related matter, a $100 million replica of NOAH’S ARK was built a few years ago in Kentucky, a state which has been deluged in recent days in its own flood “of Biblical proportions,” resulting in nearly three dozen deaths so far (the search for victims continues as this is being written).

One is given to wonder if operators of the exhibit, the recipient of considerable tax breaks by the State of Kentucky by the way, offered any of those thousands of unfortunate victims an opportunity to ride out the flood – or more important, shelter – when their homes were washed away.

If you happen to believe in karma, Noah’s Ark Encounter SUED ITS INSURANCE CARRIER in 2019 after heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on an access road to the attraction, causing more than $1 million in damage. The ark was not damaged but apparently the blocked road cost considerable lost revenue in the form of admission fees and T-shirt and coffee mug sales.

While some might see the irony in that, the insurance companies did not but they did eventually settle for an undisclosed amount. Strange that the Bible doesn’t mention any landslides or insurance coverage in its story of Noah’s Ark and the flood.

The Southern Poverty Law Group has designated FRC as an anti-gay extremist hate group, which alone should give the IRS pause in designating the organization as a church.

But there’s more. In 2016, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appointed Perkins to his unsuccessful Repugnantcan president nomination campaign’s “advisory council for religious liberty.” Following that stint, Perkins played a major role in formulating the Repugnantcan Party platform which included a provision for sending LGBQT people to gay conversion therapy.

If the Family Research Council ever craters, perhaps there’s a job waiting for Perkins at the WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH.

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Not content with sabotaging medical benefits for US military veterans suffering from the ill-effects of toxic burning in the Mideast conflict, Sen. John Kennedy also voted last Wednesday to shoot down efforts to put the US on better footing in competing with China in the manufacture of computer chips.

The bill, HR 4346, aka the CHIPS Act, passed the Senate by a 64-33 vote with Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joining 13 other Republicans in voting in favor of the bill, which passed in the House by a 243-187 vote.

True to form, Louisiana’s five Republicans in the House – Steve Scalise, Garret Graves, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, and Julis Letlow – voted no, pretty much falling in line with Ohio Rep. “Gym” Jordan who recent told POLITICO that Republican senators shouldn’t vote with Democrats to pass bipartisan bills backed by President Joe Biden.

That utter lunacy is also consistent with the stance of Rush Limbaugh who said when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 that he hoped Obama was a complete failure as President.

Rather than pull for the success of whomever occupied the Oval Office because his/her success would necessarily be reflective of the success of the US, people like Limbaugh, Jordan, and McConnell have openly expressed their desire to block any program of any Democrat president.

To me, that exemplifies the Republican philosophy of putting party above country and that somehow just seems wrong to me. And I’ll go on record here and now if the situation is reversed and Democrats united across the board to block all legislation offered up by a Republican president, that would be equally self-serving and certainly unpatriotic.

There is no place – or shouldn’t be – for such mentality in Congress.

Kennedy sniffed that the bill, officially known as the Supreme Court Security Funding Act of 2022, represented corporate welfare at a time when the country needs to “freeze our spending of what’s in the budget and spend extra money only on defense for obvious reasons.” (Emphasis added)

Well, there you have it. The guy who votes for massive corporate tax breaks also advocates that we pour even more money into defense “for obvious reasons,” while not a word is uttered about improving education (not by dictating what can and cannot be taught, but by investing in little ignored things like teacher pay), infrastructure (our interstate system is beginning to crumble, bridges are falling down, and water and sewer lines are corroding), and the environment.

Nope. Don’t need all those things. Instead, we can throw more money at the Pentagon but not for medical care of VETERANS of a frustrating 20-YEAR WAR that has already cost the US $6.4 trillion (with a ‘T’) and more than 10,000 American lives, including military personnel and contractors.

That is John N. Kennedy’s idea of fiscal responsibility, a philosophy shared by Louisiana’s Republican House delegation.

The only members of our state’s delegation to vote in favor of lowering costs to Americans, advancing scientific research, creating jobs, and enhancing national security were Sen. Bill Cassidy and Democratic Rep. Troy Carter.

“A nationwide shortage of semiconductor chips has severely disrupted American manufacturing,” said Carter. Production has allowed, prices have spiked and the US has experienced “increasing dependence on unfriendly foreign nations,” he said. “Only 12 percent of semiconductor chips are currently manufactured domestically – a dramatic drop from 37 percent in the 1990s while foreign competitors are investing heavily to dominate this critical national security issue industry.”

Statistically, by apportioning each state’s population to its voting senators, the vote represented 73 percent of the US population, according to the government tracking service that reports on voting by both chambers.

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How John Kennedy supports our troops…

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