Louisiana’s traumatic bonds with Big Oil


By Robert Mann

What is it about the oil and gas industry that engenders such steadfast devotion from our political leaders? In case you hadn’t noticed, Louisiana’s government has long functioned as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil.

Maybe it’s the millions in campaign cash the industry bestows on governors, members of Congress and state legislators. While I suspect money is largely the culprit, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The other day I stumbled across a curious psychological malady that might help explain why Louisiana’s leaders are so faithful to Big Oil. It’s known as “traumatic bonding,” described by one expert as the “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”

In such situations, one victim has written, there exists an “imbalance of power, with one person more in control of key aspects of the relationship.” The “victim engages in denial of the abuse for emotional self-protection.”

That’s actually a decent characterization of Louisiana’s stormy relationship with Big Oil or, as I’ll call it here, “Mr. Big.”

For decades, we were infatuated with Mr. Big. He charmed us with sweet talk and showered us with gifts. He was good for our economy. He offered us well-paying jobs and plentiful revenue from his severance taxes.

In time, however, we discovered Mr. Big’s dark side. He’s occasionally domineering, insecure and sensitive to slights. He exhibits a troubling unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions, which has included spoiling our coast.

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Booming economy? Jindal orders yet another spending freeze

By Robert Mann

If Louisiana’s economy is booming as Gov. Bobby Jindal keeps telling us, then why is he always mandating mid-year budget cuts and spending freezes?

Friday brought us yet another mid-year budget freeze, by virtue of an executive order Jindal issued late in the afternoon.

A booming economy of the kind Jindal boasts produces ample revenues for government. If businesses are booming, as Jindal assures us, then companies are hiring, payrolls are growing and those new employees are paying more in taxes. They’re buying more consumer goods, meaning increased sales tax revenues and added employment for the companies selling those goods.

In short, a real booming economy produces adequate government revenue. At the very least, a healthy state economy doesn’t force government leaders into constant mid-year budget cuts, garage sales of state assets and late-Friday budget freeze announcements (you’d almost think Jindal didn’t want us to notice that he’d been forced to freeze spending again).

Here’s the order Jindal issued. Many in the press received it, but as of early Friday evening it had not been posted on the governor’s website.

EXECUTIVE BRANCH – EXPENDITURE FREEZE

EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. BJ 2014 – 4

WHEREAS, pursuant to the provisions of Article IV, Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, as amended, and Act 14 of the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, the Governor may issue executive orders which limit the expenditure of funds by the various agencies in the executive branch of State government (hereafter “expenditure freeze”); and

WHEREAS, underlying assumptions and needs in the development of the current year’s state budget would be altered by a decline in the State’s revenues and the interests of the citizens of our State are best served by implementing fiscal management practices to ensure that appropriations will not exceed actual revenues; and

WHEREAS, in preparation of the budget challenges in the ensuing year, Executive Order BJ 2014-1 Limited Hiring Freeze issued on January 15, 2014, is updated periodically, is related to the Expenditure Category of Personal Services, therefore Personal Services Expenditures will not be addressed in this Executive

Order; and

WHEREAS, to ensure that the State of Louisiana will not suffer a budget deficit due to fiscal year 2013-2014 appropriations exceeding actual revenues and that the budget challenges in the ensuing fiscal year are met, prudent money management practices dictate that the best interests of the citizens of the State of Louisiana will be served by implementing an expenditure freeze throughout the executive branch of state government;

NOW THEREFORE, I, BOBBY JINDAL, Governor of the State of Louisiana, by virtue of the authority vested by the Constitution and laws of the State of Louisiana, do hereby order and direct as follows:

SECTION 1: All departments, agencies, and/or budget units of the executive branch of the State of Louisiana as described in and/or funded by appropriations through Acts 14 and 44 of the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature (hereafter

“Acts”), shall freeze expenditures as provided in this Executive Order.

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Bobby Jindal’s health care jalopy

By Robert Mann

In late 2007, before Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, I addressed a group of health insurance executives in New Orleans eager to learn about what Louisiana’s new governor had in store for them. Jindal is a health care expert and a policy wonk, I advised them. You may not like what he’ll propose for your industry, I warned, but brace yourselves for lots of innovation and policy experimentation.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The famously wonkish Jindal proved a conventional and unimaginative politician who, after more than six years as governor, has no major innovative idea to his name.

When it comes to public policy, Jindal sells used cars. From education to health care to economic development, the governor has sold us a collection of dilapidated conservative ideas and practices. That’s why, near the end of two terms, he has launched his nascent presidential campaign by outsourcing policy production to an Alexandria, Va., think tank, “America Next.”

After months of labor, Jindal and his advisers finally rolled out their first big policy initiative: “The Prescription for Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Care Reform.” Jindal went to Washington on Wednesday to present what some mistakenly characterized as a fresh policy prescription, founded on the proposition that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed.

“Gov. Jindal’s ‘new’ plan is an obvious attempt to drape himself with the aura of gravitas that his governorship has failed to produce.”

Perhaps, like me, Washington’s policy mavens once regarded Jindal as an innovator and policy expert. If they study his plan, however, they’ll realize that his new vehicle is just a high-mileage contraption cobbled together with used parts that Republicans have been selling for years.

Seemingly blind to the fact that most Americans oppose repealing Obamacare, Jindal staged a junkyard sale of second-hand proposals, offering retreads like health savings accounts and “lawsuit reform.” Jindal salvaged another vintage GOP idea — turning the federal government’s most successful and popular program, Medicare, into a privatized voucher program.

He did unveil a redesign of Medicaid, a $100 billion block grant alternative to the current program. But while we wait for Congress and President Obama to realize the brilliance of that idea, wouldn’t it be sensible and humane to accept the federal Medicaid expansion dollars now on the table? Why must Louisiana’s working poor receive their health care only from a vehicle of Jindal’s design?

Jindal’s used-car special, however, wasn’t a total flop. He offered several decent suggestions, including guaranteeing better access for individuals who change jobs and cross-state insurance purchasing. (Even these commendable ideas are previously owned.)

But don’t mistake Jindal’s concern about your health care for a desire to improve or enhance the Affordable Care Act. As with most Republican leaders, it’s repeal the current law or nothing. Nothing, of course, is what he’ll get.

If Jindal truly cared about “his” ideas, he would work to build support for them as improvements to a health insurance law that’s here to stay. He won’t for one simple reason: Jindal’s plan is really about caring for the health of his presidential ambitions.

If Jindal were the policy expert he pretends to be — if he actually cared about devising an innovative alternative to the Affordable Care Act — he would have proposed something serious and bold when Congress debated the bill in 2009.

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Louisiana’s strange attraction to Edwin Edwards

Louisiana Gov. Richard Leche on the steps of LSU's Law School in the 1930s. Before Leche's federal conviction, the building was known as "Leche Hall." (Photo courtesy Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University)

Louisiana Gov. Richard Leche on the steps of LSU’s Law School in the 1930s. Before Leche’s federal conviction, the building was known as “Leche Hall.” (Photo courtesy Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University)

By Robert Mann

It’s not often that I agree with Gov. Bobby Jindal, but when it comes to Louisiana’s reputation for corruption, he got it right. In his first inaugural address in January 2008, Jindal noted that we are “a state with poor leadership . . . stuck in the past, [with] leaders who were unconcerned with the future.” Jindal correctly observed, “In our past, too many politicians looked out for themselves.”

What Jindal left unspoken, however, has always struck me as equally significant. If he had been completely forthright, he would have acknowledged that all those crooked leaders didn’t just appear like some provincial governor appointed by a distant prime minister. Our lords of misrule didn’t stage coups. The people trekked to the polls to elect each of the corrupt men and women whose memory Jindal invoked.

We’ve tolerated – even celebrated – our dishonest politicians for generations, none more so than former Gov. Edwin Edwards. The Cajun Prince’s four terms as governor weren’t mistakes, like Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom prosecutors hustled off to prison after voters discovered their grievous error.

We elected  the flamboyant Edwards to lead Louisiana over three decades. All the while, as he entertained us, our collective eyes were wide open to his contempt for our ethics laws and the curious way many of his friends became rich. Our ballots enabled every dishonorable moment of his tenure.

Now, after serving eight years in a federal prison, and three weeks on an A&E network reality show, Edwards is back as a candidate for Congress from Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District.

Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Edwards, as if he’s been our only corrupt leader. He’s simply the most prominent member of a rogue’s gallery of dishonest and unethical officials we’ve elected over the years – a list that includes U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whom voters returned to office in 2010 despite a prostitution scandal.

Jindal, of course, claimed a mandate to transform our politics. In his inaugural address, he heralded “a new era” in Louisiana government. Yet, his own administration is embroiled in a federal investigation over the questionable awarding of a large state contract for handling Medicaid claims. It appears that corporations have used First Lady Supriya Jindal’s nonprofit foundation to curry favor with her husband’s administration. And, as a NOLA.com|Times-Picayune investigation revealed, Jindal has awarded dozens of prominent state positions to his campaign contributors.

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Jindal: AWOL in the battle for “religious freedom”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

By Robert Mann

Considering the passion Gov. Bobby Jindal devoted to his big speech on religious liberty earlier this month at the Ronald Reagan Library, you’d think he would have been all over the airwaves this week.

Surely, if Jindal really believed what he said about a “silent war” on religious liberty, he should have publicly begged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to sign legislation, passed by her state’s legislature, to permit business owners to deny service to gays, lesbians and other people on religious grounds.

Brewer, of course, vetoed the legislation after it became a national embarrassment to the Republican Party and cast Arizona in a most-negative light. Even the NFL threatened to pull next year’s Super Bowl from the state. In the end, Brewer had no choice but bow to the will of her state’s business leaders and reject to this morally repugnant bill.

But, all the while, Jindal was silent.

He had, as best I can tell, absolutely nothing to say about an issue that, only days before, he was promoting with great passion and enthusiasm.

In his highly publicized speech, Jindal alerted the Reagan Library audience that “the freedom to exercise your religion in the way you run your business, large or small, is under assault.”

Using a case against Hobby Lobby as an example, Jindal said:

None of this matters to the Obama administration. The argument they have advanced, successfully thus far, is that a faithful business owner cannot operate under the assumption that they can use their moral principles to guide the way their place of business spends money. According to the administration’s legal arguments, the family that owns Hobby Lobby is not protected by the First Amendment’s “free exercise” of religion clause.

That’s the part of the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

The Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder argue that because “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.” A federal judge agreed: since Hobby Lobby is a “secular” corporation, they have no right to be guided by the religious beliefs of their ownership.

Then, Jindal turned to the heart of the matter, the real reason for his speech and the scenario that he hoped would strike fear in the hearts of his conservative audience: business owners and others might be required by the government to provide services, in violation of their religious beliefs, to gays and other objectionable people.

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Bobby Jindal’s White House Potshot

istockphoto_3887591_democrat_vs_republican_on_white1

By Robert Mann

As the nation’s governors left the White House last Monday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was furious. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, he muttered, was a “cheap-shot artist.”

Give Malloy credit for perception. He has sized up Jindal nicely. What’s perplexing, however, is why would any politician be shocked when another politician does what politicians do?

Jindal had hijacked an ostensibly bipartisan press briefing of his fellow governors as they emerged from a meeting with President Obama. As they spilled onto the White House driveway, Jindal seized a prime spot before the waiting microphones. He questioned the president’s commitment to strengthening the economy, charging that if Obama were serious about creating jobs, he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Regarding the economy, Jindal added that Obama “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” with his demand for an increase, to $10.10 from $7.25, of the federal minimum wage. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” Jindal said.

That partisan dig clearly angered Malloy, a Democrat, who almost shoved Jindal aside to respond. “That’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard,” Malloy scoffed.

Jindal had the last word, leaping back with this riposte: “If that’s the most partisan thing he’s heard all weekend, I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement. I think we can grow the economy more if we would delay more of these Obamacare mandates.”

The spat sent some Washington and Louisiana political observers to their fainting couches. “A reputation for not playing well with others is not a good thing in national politics, just as it is not in Baton Rouge,” the Baton Rouge Advocate worried in an editorial.

As regular readers of this column know, I am no Jindal admirer. That said, why should we criticize him for behaving as any citizen of the United States might if given the chance? Is there something sacred about the White House driveway? All citizens, including governors, are entitled to visit the White House and pillory the president.

If Obama and others can defend the right of the punk band Pussy Riot to protest Russian government policies, including staging a provocative performance in a Russian Orthodox Church, then why should anyone expect White House guests to check their First Amendment rights at the door in the name of decorum?

That Jindal can deride the president at the White House and live to tell about it is among the qualities that make our nation great. How long would a legislator in North Korea live if he attacked President Kim Jong Un on the driveway of his palace?

As Jindal said later, “in America we don’t have a king.” Quite right.

As he insists on his right to speak truth to power, however, Jindal might pause to reflect on his own troubling intolerance of dissent in Louisiana. Baton Rouge is littered with the political bodies of individuals who lost their jobs for defying a governor who sometimes governs like a king.

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Jindal should take his own advice on GOP’s Obamacare attacks

Gov. Bobby Jindal in a recent video by the Republican Governors Association.

Gov. Bobby Jindal in a video by the Republican Governors Association.

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal is back with some more advice for his Republican Party: quit spending so much time criticizing Obamacare.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Jindal said:

“There are still too many folks who would tell you the president’s unpopular, Obamacare is unpopular and when your opponent is self-destructing you stay out of his way — just make this election a referendum on that. . . . I think that’s a huge mistake. If we want to earn the majority, we have to be offering detailed policy solutions, detailed ideas of what we would do differently. I don’t think it is enough to say, ‘Just repeal Obamacare.’

Such strange advice, coming from someone who seems so very obsessed with repealing Obamacare.

Just a few days ago, Jindal wrote an op-ed in Politico, “Obamacare is anything but compassionate.”

Last November, when Obama visited New Orleans, Jindal made a point of attacking the president’s health reform bill.

In October 2013, Jindal appeared on Fox News to attack Obamacare.

Last September, Jindal attacked Obamacare in a speech at the National Press Club.

Last August, Jindal wrote a column for the Fox News website, “ObamaCare’s ‘navigator’ program ripe for disaster.”

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When marriage equality is a constitutional right, how will Louisiana leaders respond?

Marriage equality photo

By Robert Mann

When the day comes that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns all state laws outlawing same-sex marriage, how do you suppose Louisiana’s political leaders will respond? Will our governor and Legislature bow to the Constitution, as interpreted by the high court? Or, will they resist and declare war on the justices, as many Southern politicians did in the 1950s after the court unanimously ruled against public school segregation?

I’m hoping for the former, but experience tells me to expect the latter.

Southern states have rarely been at the forefront of social progress. Most, including Louisiana, did not revoke their laws against interracial marriage until after the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving vs. Virginia. Alabama finally repealed its ban in 2000. Mississippi’s Legislature didn’t ratify the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery, until 1995.

Lest you sneer too much at these examples of embarrassing, retrograde behavior in other states, recall that as recently as 2009, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish refused to marry an interracial couple. Consider that Gov. Bobby Jindal refuses to accede to the Supreme Court’s recent annulment of the Defense of Marriage Act. Note  that Louisiana has not repealed its anti-sodomy legislation, which the Supreme Court annulled in 2003.

In 2012, after East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies were discovered still enforcing the anti-sodomy law – entrapping gay men at a local park – gay rights advocates and other decent, sensible individuals were outraged. For a moment, it appeared the Legislature would finally repeal the law. State Rep. Pat Smith has drafted legislation to abolish the odious language, but the consensus at the Capitol is that the unconstitutional law isn’t going anywhere.

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Legislators thinking for themselves: A revolt in Jindal’s ranks?

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter

By Robert Mann

Tuesday’s Baton Rouge Advocate did not deliver good news to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Does he have a budding revolt on his hands? (In other states, this is known as “legislators thinking for themselves.”)

Does the small spark of independence we’re seeing portend a difficult legislative session for Jindal this spring?

Here’s why there may be some cause for concern (or celebration, depending on one’s point of view):

In a front-page story about the growing costs of the state’s TOPS program, Jindal’s handpicked House Education Committee chairman, Steve Carter, implies that nothing will change with the state-funded college tuition program until Jindal quits taking orders from the widow of late Louisiana oilman Patrick Taylor.

Here’s how reporter Koran Addo reports it:

Another problem is that TOPS, in its current form, has one very strong supporter in Phyllis M. Taylor, chairwoman of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which supports issues ranging from educational projects to law enforcement causes throughout the state.

House Education Committee Chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said Gov. Bobby Jindal won’t support any changes to TOPS unless Phyllis Taylor agrees.

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A simple budget-cutting plan for Jindal and lawmakers

Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy

Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy

By Robert Mann

Almost every year since he’s been governor, Bobby Jindal and his legislative minions have rummaged around for ways to balance the budgets they undermined by slashing income taxes in 2008. They’ve spent massive amounts of one-time money, held a garage sale of state assets and launched a tax amnesty program.

Now, Jindal has outsourced his savings search to a management consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, paying it $5 million to unearth $500 million in cuts.

I’m no management consultant, but here’s how I’d save a quick $5 million: Cancel that agreement and get serious about the billions that state officials spend unilaterally each year on unregulated consulting contracts.

Ask those who work or have worked for the state and they’ll tell you that their organizations waste millions of dollars each year on no-bid personal services, professional services and other contracts. In 2012 alone, Louisiana government spent $5.28 billion on professional, personal and consulting contracts.

Here’s how it works: Some senior official decides something needs to be done or studied. That official simply draws up a “professional service” or “personal service” contract and awards the work to the favored company or individual.

That’s how Jindal could spend $5 million of our money on the Alvarez and Marsal arrangement without putting the work out to bid.

That’s how we got a $94,000 contract with a California consultant to “assist students to learn valuable social skills through organized play on their recess and lunch periods.” That’s how the Department of Health and Hospitals can pay an individual $19,500 to “coordinate two Golden Glove Boxing tournaments.” That’s how the state can spend $57,100 to “inform and educate” the Hispanic community on seat belt usage.

The list of wasteful and silly contracts that state Treasurer John Kennedy shared with me is dizzying. Many state contracts fund vital work. Others, however, are a shocking waste and would never have been awarded if officials were required to first seek bids or legislative approval.

And there’s virtually no regulation or oversight of these contracts – that is until the Legislative Auditor’s Office takes note, which it recently did.

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