On the 4th, what the Declaration means for Louisiana

By Matt Higgins

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. —Declaration of Independence, 1776

Americans learn this phrase as school children and many can still recite it today, but far fewer understand the context — and even fewer apply it to their daily lives. It is clear that Louisiana does not live up to the ideal of this phrase, even though it is something most in this state would profess to cherish. Nevertheless, hope is not lost and Louisiana could live up to the ideals of this phrase in the 21st century.

Let me explain.

The rights enumerated in the Declaration are products of the Age of Enlightenment. This was a historical age in Europe and the colonies, where men (almost exclusively white) turned away from traditional authorities like the monarchy and church and sought explanations for phenomena based on natural causes.

It begs the question, then what did Thomas Jefferson mean by the “pursuit of happiness”? While this phrase is not explained in detail, based on the principles of the Enlightenment, we can conclude that it doesn’t mean to have as much fun as possible, what was referred to in the past as hedonism.

Indeed, modern health care methods for sound psychological health include restrictions on human appetites. This phrase means, I believe, the freedom and opportunity to pursue a livelihood that provides sustenance to you and your family, as well as the freedom and opportunity to develop knowledge and wisdom through learning of the natural world; and it means, gaining a deeper spiritual understanding, whatever one’s religious beliefs, even if they do not conform to church teachings.

These rights are enjoyed by Louisiana citizens to a degree that is the envy of billions in the world and, as a result, we Louisianians are fortunate. Nevertheless, the sorry state of liberty and rights in the world does not mean that there are no alarming conditions in this state that threaten these rights.

The Declaration states, “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

It’s no secret state government under the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal has failed to live up to the ideals of the Declaration. One could certainly write a long list of grievances against Jindal (all the ways he failed to uphold his duty). But he is on his way out, so our focus should be on those grievances that will linger after Jindal is gone.

There are several large entities whose goals infringe upon the natural rights of Louisiana citizens. Visiting a web site like OpenSecrets.org provides a list of campaign contributors, broken down by industry, to each of Louisiana’s congressional delegates. Governments, of course, can be a threat to people’s liberties, but so can other entities.  Jefferson wrote in a letter that he feared the banking industry as a threat to liberty more than a standing army.

The argument is not that entities like the oil and gas industry or health care industry are inherently threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But in their present form, where they shower state and federal elected leaders with unlimited money through political action committees, these industries can exert an influence on the state for their own profits that can infringe upon the natural rights of citizens. For example, the oil and gas industry can usurp state law by convincing legislators to pass another law exempting them from restoring wetlands they destroyed while excising oil and gas from the state. Continue reading

David Vitter’s “women problem”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter
Screen shot of U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s online video announcing his candidacy for governor

By Robert Mann

Speaking to a Baton Rouge Rotary club recently about Louisiana’s governor’s race, I noted that Sen. David Vitter “has a woman problem.” The audience — most of them middle-income, white conservatives — erupted in laughter.

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” I said, as the chortling subsided. They thought I meant Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal. But, as I explained, polls reveal that Vitter, unlike his three opponents, faces a significant gender gap. In one recent statewide poll, by Southern Media and Opinion Research, the difference between Vitter’s support among men and women was 15 percent. Among Republican women, the gap was even bigger — 17 percent lower than among Republican men.

After the breakfast, that statistic became real to me. Several women who identified themselves as staunch Republicans sought me out to say that, under no circumstances, would they vote for Vitter. The reason: his prostitution scandal.

I still believe — as I wrote several weeks ago — that a runoff with the race’s lone Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, remains Vitter’s to lose. A Louisiana Democrat has not won a statewide race in since 2008. Whites have largely abandoned the Democratic Party since 2000 and a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race since 2008.

All that said, it’s interesting to note — and probably a bit worrying to Vitter — that his prostitution scandal still dogs him among some women. Vitter can still win, even with the wide gender disparity, but if he doesn’t close that gap, it could make his path to victory uncomfortably narrow and somewhat perilous.

As you might imagine, Edwards vigorously disputed my earlier analysis of his odds of winning. Edwards is a good-natured sort, so when he called to discuss my column, it was not to scold but to nudge me to look more closely at the polling.

One point he made, supported by internal poll numbers his campaign provided me, is that many voters are not as acutely aware of Vitter’s prostitution scandal as one might presume. It exploded eight years ago, which is a lifetime in politics. And while Vitter survived the scandal to win re-election in 2010, he never faced the barrage of attacks that he will endure in the coming months.

Lest you charge me with relying too heavily on Edwards’ own numbers, I should note that the case for Vitter’s rough ride is also supported by recent numbers in an independent poll conducted in May by Market Research Insight (MRI), financed by more than a dozen prominent Louisiana business executives. A Florida firm, MRI is headed by respected Louisiana native Verne Kennedy, who has worked mostly for GOP campaigns. With the permission of the poll’s sponsors, Kennedy gave me the results, including some of the internal numbers, or “cross tabs.”

First, after examining this and other polls, it is increasingly difficult to see how either Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle can leapfrog Edwards to claim a runoff spot with Vitter. Anything can happen in Louisiana gubernatorial politics, which I noted a few weeks ago, but time is running out for Dardenne and Angelle. One of them needs to make a move — and soon.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Poll: Louisiana governor’s race still looks like a Vitter-Edwards runoff

By Robert Mann

Despite media reports to the contrary – and claims by the gubernatorial campaign of Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle – it does not appear that the dynamics of Louisiana governor’s race have shifted much, if at all.

That’s the conclusion of a statewide poll conducted in May by respected LSU alumni Verne Kennedy. Kennedy’s firm, Market Research Insight, is conducting a series of private polls this summer and fall for a group of Louisiana business executives. With the permission of the poll’s sponsors, Kennedy gave me the poll, including the internal numbers, or “cross tabs.” (I wrote about this in my current column on NOLA.com | Times-Picayune.

Contrary to Angelle’s claim, the race still appears to be headed toward a runoff between Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite.

The Ouachita Citizen obtained Kennedy’s numbers, but appears to have reported them incompletely and in the most favorable light possible for Angelle.

In the horse-race survey of the four major candidates, Angelle does appear, at first blush, to have surged into third place ahead of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Angelle was at 18 percent (combining his 10 percent with the 8 percent who said they were “leaning” toward him). The combined totals for the candidates (“for” plus “lean”) were: Vitter, 31 (23 + 8); Edwards, 20 (15 + 5); Angelle 18 (10 + 8); and, Dardenne, (8 + 5).

However, Kennedy did what any smart pollster who knows Louisiana politics would do: He redistributed the black vote to reflect longstanding, historical voting patterns. In other words, he recognizes that Edwards is likely to get the vast majority of the state’s black vote (assuming no prominent black candidate enters the race).

In major, contested statewide races for decades, the Democratic candidate has almost always earned more than 90 percent of the black vote. For example, in last year’s U.S. Senate primary, former Sen. Mary Landrieu earned 94 percent of the black vote. There is no reason to expect that Edwards will do any worse than 90 percent of the black vote, which is why Kennedy redistributed those votes.

Keep in mind, this poll was not originally intended for public release. Kennedy’s role is to give his clients the best possible insights into what the numbers mean and their implications for the race. He released the numbers to me hoping to clear up what he believes is a mischaracterization of the poll by the Angelle campaign.

The Ouachita Citizen and Angelle’s campaign reported Kennedy’s numbers before the redistribution. After the black vote is redistributed to reflect reality, the race looks more like this:

Vitter            29

Edwards      29

Angelle         17

Dardenne    12

Uncertain    13

In other words, according to Kennedy’s May poll, Angelle was nowhere near overtaking Edwards for a runoff spot with Vitter.

The fact that Kennedy only polled one runoff scenario (Vitter vs. Edwards) also appears to reflect the pollster’s strong belief that neither Dardenne or Angelle will make the runoff. (I have previously reflected on the volatility of Louisiana governor’s races, but for now we will assume that Kennedy’s apparent judgment is sound.) Continue reading

Bobby Jindal: How a one-time GOP star became another scheming religious charlatan

By Robert Mann

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who declared his candidacy for president last Wednesday, is passionate about what he calls “religious freedom.” In speech after speech over recent years, the Indian-American governor – a convert from Hinduism to Catholicism in his teens – warns Christian evangelical audiences that liberals are hell-bent on squelching religious speech.

On Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling affirming same-sex marriage rights, Jindal reacted with predictable outrage. He cast the ruling as an assault on Christian values.

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” Jindal said in his statement. “This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.

“The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies,” Jindal added, previewing a struggle over whether businesses may deny services to same-sex couples. “That would be a clear violation of America’s long held commitment to religious liberty as protected in the First Amendment.”

Long before he declared his candidacy, some political observers pegged Jindal as the presidential hopeful most likely to rely on his policy chops to win support for a White House bid (he ran the University of Louisiana System, served as the state’s secretary of Health and Hospitals and was an assistant secretary of George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services).

Instead, the former Rhodes scholar has emerged as the candidate most eager to cash in on his religious faith.

Jindal routinely speaks at churches and religious gatherings in early primary and caucus states. He delivered the spring 2014 commencement speech at Virginia’s Liberty University, asking the graduates, “What happens when our government decides it no longer needs a ‘moral and religious people?’”

This is how Jindal answered his question: “It is a war – a silent war — against religious liberty. This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.”

Jindal clearly wants to be seen as religion’s field general in this imaginary war. Last January, Jindal presided over a controversial prayer rally, ”The Response,” on the campus of Louisiana State University. The American Family Association, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group,” helped sponsor the event. Moments before he announced for president at a convention center in Kenner, Louisiana (just outside New Orleans), Jindal invited photographers to snap pictures of him in a prayer circle of evangelical pastors.

In December 2013, when Phil Robertson, of A&E’s once-popular reality show “Duck Dynasty,” was caught making homophobic remarks in a GQ article, Jindal rushed to Robertson’s defense. He claimed that the network’s brief suspension of the show and the criticism of Robertson’s odious remarks were a violation of the reality star’s free speech rights. ”I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” Jindal said in defense of Robertson, now an icon of the religious right. “It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

In March, after the governors of Indiana and Arkansas withdrew their support of legislation that permitted businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, Jindal stepped boldly into the fray of religious intolerance. In his speech opening the 2015 Louisiana Legislature in April, Jindal pushed a bill similar to those proposed in Arkansas and Indiana, counting it among his top priorities.

“There used to be bipartisan support for the principle of religious liberty,” Jindal told lawmakers. “However, these days, some think diversity of belief is too risky and scary to be tolerated. But that’s wrong … In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination.”

Continue reading on Salon.com at this link.

Bobby Jindal’s shipwrecked campaign

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal made official on Wednesday (June 24) what we’ve known for years: He believes – all evidence to the contrary – that he is supremely qualified to be president.

Like a dog that hears a faint sound his owners cannot, Jindal’s ears must detect the quiet voice of God urging him to run. After all, he told us he was earnestly praying about the decision. Thus, one must conclude that after assessing his infinitesimal chances (he’s at 1 percent in the national polls and is likely the nation’s least popular governor), Jindal has faith that his flagging campaign is poised for a miracle.

Those looking for anything new in Jindal’s announcement did not find it. In fact, the whole run-up to the event in Kenner had all the suspense of an episode of the 1960s TV sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.” Like Gilligan, Jindal is shipwrecked on a tiny isle of public opinion. To reach the home for which he longs – the White House – he must escape the atoll of GOP ambivalence where he’s been stranded for years. Unfortunately, the voters – just like Gilligan’s audience – know that he’s not going anywhere.

Not unlike the desperate castaways on the TV show, each week finds our governor concocting some madcap escape scheme: He utters something bizarre on a national news program. He launches a furious attack on Hillary Clinton. He delivers a fiery speech to evangelical voters in Iowa or South Carolina. He pens a perplexing op-ed in a national newspaper. Nothing works. He remains marooned.

Not quite over the horizon, a frustrated Jindal spies the mainland of public approval where stand more-popular candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. Jindal’s every scheme to escape his lonely spit of land inevitably flops, often in a pitiful manner (just Google “Jindal no-go zones“). Alas, he and his skipper/campaign manager, Timmy Teepell, are mired in a comical cycle of promise and hope followed by failure and disappointment.

It’s no wonder Jindal is stuck. He lacks the skills to build a sturdy vessel. Like Gilligan’s ill-fated SS Minnow, Jindal’s nascent campaign is not seaworthy.

I doubt Jindal’s minders allow him to read mine and other columns critical of his misrule. But if the governor should somehow escape his bubble long enough to read this, he might gain some insight into why he will not be the GOP nominee.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

It’s time for the Louisiana governor’s candidates to get specific

By Robert Mann

They may be sparring at forums almost every week, but three of the four contenders for Louisiana governor must believe that mystery is an attractive quality in a candidate. Explore their websites and you’ll discover pretty pictures and flattering biographies, but few policy specifics.

Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, for example, shares his list of “25 Books to Best Understand Louisiana,” but little about health care and education. I couldn’t locate one detailed policy prescription on his site.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle’s campaign site peddles coffee mugs and a $21.95 apron that declares, “I’m With the Cajun.” It does not, however, have specific policy proposals, other than links to news stories about his vague plans. Angelle’s site does feature a new spot that announces his support for “equal pay” for women. Asked for details, however, Angelle’s campaign manager told me those wouldn’t come until his boss is governor.

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, provides more detail than Angelle or Dardenne on his website, but only about education, health care and the military. Regarding education, you’ll learn that Edwards will end “double digit annual tuition increases while prioritizing more state support for higher education to make the state a true partner with parents and students to keep cost of higher education low while consistently moving toward the southern average in total funding.”

Where will Edwards find the money for this? He gives no details on his website. Perhaps, instead of a page on the military, something about the state’s enormous budget woes would be more useful.

So far, U.S. Sen. David Vitter is the only candidate to publish a lengthy plan for how he would govern. It’s 36 pages long and gives voters useful insights into the policies that would guide a Vitter administration. For example, page seven – “Stabilizing the Budget Through Spending & Tax Reform” – is far more detailed on this issue than anything presented by the other candidates.

Dardenne and Angelle may have policy plans – and they’ve discussed them at the various forums – but they haven’t published them, at least, on their websites. Aren’t those the logical places for interested voters to search for candidates’ policy prescriptions?

Edwards offers more details than Angelle and Dardenne but still falls short of what we should expect from a major gubernatorial candidate. Even Vitter’s so-called “blueprint,” while more satisfying than anything published by his opponents, is not a true, detailed policy blueprint.

Political scientists might counter that this policy ambiguity doesn’t matter much. People choose candidates using other factors, including party affiliation, personality, slogans and name recognition. Perhaps that’s true. Voters rarely vote on policies alone.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the news media and the public shouldn’t pin down the candidates now – only four short months from the Oct. 24 election – and force them to cough up more details about how they would govern. (Which is exactly what moderator Clancy DuBos did skillfully at a recent forum in Westwego.)

All the candidates (except for Edwards, who serves in the House) escaped the 2015 legislative session without disclosing how they would have voted on most major bills that lawmakers debated.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

LSU, you have a problem

Screenshot 2015-06-16 17.47.24

By Robert Mann

If the LSU Student Government Association (SGA) wanted to alienate some of higher education’s most dependable allies — lawmakers who, over the years, have vigorously fought Gov. Bobby Jindal’s deep budget cuts to the state’s universities — they stumbled on a perfect way to do so on Tuesday.

If student government leaders wanted to make LSU President F. King Alexander’s job much harder in next years’s special legislative session, by alienating some key Democrats, they did it well with their Louisiana Legislature Higher Education Report Card.

Alexander inspired the report card. It was his suggestion. What I am sure he could not have anticipated is that the SGA would end up giving D’s and F’s to some of the legislators who have fought valiantly for LSU and other universities throughout the years.

He could not have imagined a scenario in which, for example, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson would end the session with an F (partly for her vote against Jindal’s phony SAVE credit bill) while people like Speaker Chuck Kleckley and House Appropriations Chair Jim Fannin — Jindal’s budget cutting handmaidens — would be given A’s.

I’m sure he could not have imagined that stalwart opponents of Jindal’s cuts, like reps. Stephen Ortego and Sam Jones, would be awarded F’s, while longtime Jindal enablers, like sens. Mike Walsworth and Bodie White, would get A’s.

These are not Alexander’s grades. These are grades the students handed out. But, judging by Peterson’s Twitter account, Alexander and LSU officials may have some fence-mending to do.