Loyal to Jindal, not students, LSU’s board must go


By Robert Mann

Next January, after taking his oath of office and calling a special session to clean up Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal mess, our next governor should immediately demand the resignation of every member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Appointed by Jindal, the current board not only is unrepresentative of the state (14 wealthy white men and one black woman); its members also abdicated their duty to protect the school. They were silent as mice as Jindal pillaged LSU’s budget.

Like state Education Superintendent John White and some courageous members of the state’s Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, they could have protested Jindal’s misguided policies or publicly challenged his destructive acts. They might have threatened to resign in unison. They did none of that — and for their unforgivable omissions, they should go. All of them.

President F. King Alexander has waged a valiant fight for LSU’s future, as have University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and some other college leaders. Alexander also has rightly prodded students to protest the threatened $600 million in higher education budget cuts. “Sometimes you don’t have to be so polite,” he told students earlier this month.

This past week at the Baton Rouge Press Club, Alexander repeated that admonition. So I tossed out this notion to him: It’s good for students to lobby legislators, many who are finally willing to raise taxes for higher education but whose legislation Jindal will probably veto. You have 15 bosses (the LSU board) who are close to Jindal. Why don’t they stop being so subservient and urge the governor to do more for higher education?

In response, Alexander shared an astonishing story that underscores my argument that this group must go. Alexander said that after he described the dire budgetary situation at the board’s January meeting, some alarmed members sought an appointment with Jindal. An LSU spokesperson told me that board members Ann Duplessis, James Moore, Raymond Lasseigne, Rolfe McCollister and Blake Chatelain joined Alexander for a meeting with Jindal on Feb. 4.

On its face, that’s a positive development. But step back for a moment and consider this disturbing scene: After five years of deep, damaging cuts, these board members apparently did not understand the serious threat to the university until Alexander made what one reporter described as an “impassioned speech — detailing the threat with campuses facing 40 percent reductions in state funding.”

Do they read the papers? Did they assume that Jindal also does not keep abreast of the news? I’m glad they privately urged Jindal to stop the cuts, but aren’t they five years too late? Speaking of little and late, good luck finding any LSU board member who has publicly condemned the looming demolition of Louisiana higher education.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Secret search: LSU Foundation did not advertise position before hiring Moret

Stephen Moret
Stephen Moret

By Robert Mann

The LSU Foundation hired its new CEO this week after a search that a foundation spokesperson said did not include a formal job announcement.

The Foundation announced Monday it had hired Stephen Moret, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s secretary of economic development, to serve as president and CEO.

“That’s correct,” Foundation spokesperson Sara Crow said, when asked if there was no formal advertisement for the position. “The Association of Governing Boards, which has worked closely with our Board of Directors over the past year, was engaged to assist in the search to identify qualified candidates.”

I wonder how long it took this Association of Governing Boards to discover the existence of Moret, one of the more prominent members of Jindal’s cabinet and a person known to have once been angling for the LSU president’s job?

It’s a good thing this Association of Governing Boards came to the rescue or it’s doubtful Moret’s existence and whereabouts could have been determined.

One question left unanswered by this week’s announcement about Moret’s hire is whether he will be promoted to a vice president’s position, which would oversee all of the LSU foundations.

“If the LSU Board of Supervisors ultimately creates the position of LSU vice president for university advancement,” Crow said, “Stephen will likely be considered a candidate to serve in that capacity. In regard to establishing such a position and approving an individual to serve in that capacity, I believe that would be a matter for the LSU Board of Supervisors to consider.”

Postscript: I spoke at length with LSU President F. King Alexander this afternoon. He says he has no plans to create a formal position of vice president for university advancement. However, he said, the various LSU-affiliated foundations will report to Moret. 

In a separate email exchange, Alexander told me the following: 

“The position was announced through the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and at their annual meeting in early January.  It was funded entirely through the Foundation and an external consultant who has worked with improving the effectiveness and strategic direction of the Foundation was hired to encourage applicants throughout the country. Of the numerous people they identified, probably around 13, maybe only one or two were in a position to have their names released.  They only would talk to us if it didn’t get back to their current institution. ”    

In Bobby Jindal’s world, a tax is a tax unless it’s not a tax

Screenshot 2015-03-06 11.34.21
Grover Norquist

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bewildering tax schemes to salvage what’s left of higher education and health care may fail for two simple reasons: They are tax increases that the state’s business community strongly opposes, and they are built on a foundation of ridiculous semantic deceptions.

I’m not against raising taxes to support higher education and health care. I only wish Jindal and his allies had the courage to call a tax a tax. The convoluted way they are seeking new revenue undermines their efforts to balance the budget without devastating cuts.

None of their silly machinations would be necessary if Jindal hadn’t surrendered the state to Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Jindal swore an oath to the state’s Constitution, but that’s far less important to him than the solemn anti-tax-increase pledge he made to ATR.

By pledging allegiance to Norquist, he betrayed his constituents and outsourced his judgment on revenue policy to a Washington resident who has no stake in Louisiana’s future. After bringing the state to the brink of financial ruin, Jindal and staff recently prostrated before Norquist. They invited the great revenue savant to opine on their plans to find enough new revenue to close a $1.6 billion shortfall.

“The governor takes his pledge to not raise taxes seriously,” Jindal’s spokesman Mike Reed said. “That is why the administration regularly discusses with ATR proposals that impact the tax code to make sure it does not violate the governor’s pledge to not raise taxes.”

Your eyes do not deceive you. Jindal “regularly” allows Norquist to decide what legislation he can and cannot offer to the Legislature.

In particular, Jindal proposes to narrow the budget shortfall by eliminating the state’s partial refund of the inventory tax that local governments levy on businesses. Under current law, the state rebates the inventory tax to businesses after it subtracts other state taxes they owe. It’s a tax offset for business and a costly annual $450 million state subsidy for local governments.

Jindal wants to revoke those rebates, which means local governments would continue pocketing the revenue from businesses. Along with the elimination of about a dozen other tax credits, this would save the state $526 million. Jindal would apply $376 million of that to higher education and the remaining $150 million to health care.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Bobby Jindal’s Hot Tub Time Machine

Screenshot from C-SPAN of Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent speech to CPAC in Washington, D.C.
Screenshot from C-SPAN of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent speech to CPAC in Washington, D.C.

By Cyril Vetter

I was born and raised in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. When I grew up in the 1950s, it was cool to be stupid. Smart kids, kids who studied, were “fruits” — but if you acted stupid (whether you actually were or not), smoked cigarettes and didn’t try in school, you were cool. If you aspired to more than slamming Falstaff and Sloe Gin at the Town and Country Club on Friday and Saturday nights (after eating delicious rabbit spaghetti you could buy for a quarter at the Knights of Columbus hall), you had no place in the “in crowd.”

In many ways, the Donaldsonville of the 1950s has been writ large by our state and its governor.

On a drive West last summer, I overnighted in Las Cruces, New Mexico. On University Avenue, banners proudly trumpeted New Mexico State University as a U.S. News Tier One University. Tier One — in a place that is so barren, so hot, with no water, no oil, no fisheries, no agriculture . . . no anything. Except a Tier One public university.

We should be ashamed and embarrassed. I am. The tired trope that Louisiana is a “poor state” is a red herring and a copout for incompetence, greed and corruption. We’ve been gifted the richest patrimony of any state in this country. Maybe of anyplace in the world. Yes, it gets hot and humid in July, August and September, but that’s offset by Creole tomatoes.

How did we screw this up so badly? It’s like inheriting a fortune and frittering it away buying racehorses or playing video poker. We pay dearly, and continuously, for our dissipation.

We have one of the highest HIV rates in America — New Orleans and Baton Rouge rank second and third among U.S. cities, respectively — and an administration that refuses to accept the bounty of the Affordable Care Act to address the need for medical care for working class citizens. So they go to emergency rooms, increasing the cost of health care for us all and ultimately forcing closure of some ERs — or they go without medical care and call in sick, which costs their employers.

Our state likewise ranks high on other “bad” lists — for rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, high school dropouts, low birth weight babies and more. We also have the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world and marijuana laws that imprison a disproportionate number of young black males for doing the north Louisiana equivalent of drinking beer.

In the face of all this, we have a governor who, although he is a graduate of an Ivy League university, continues to demonstrate his solidarity with 1950s Donaldsonville by championing policies that are not future focused and seem oblivious to the competitive realities of today’s globally connected economy. Continue reading

Does Louisiana really need a lieutenant governor?

By Robert Mann

Rarely in the history of Louisiana politics have so many spent so much to acquire so little power. I’m talking about this year’s lieutenant governor’s race, which has drawn several big names willing to spend big money to capture an office that has little authority and even less influence.

Former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who lost a bitter race to incumbent Jay Dardenne in 2011, is running again. He has so far raised $2.2 million, including $900,000 in personal funds. Jefferson Parish President John Young is running, too, and has raised $1.8 million.

At least two other candidates have announced: Opelousas state Sen. Elbert Guillory and Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden. Holden, the only Democrat in the race, hasn’t released his campaign finance report, so we don’t know what he will spend. Guillory has spent about $37,000, which is almost $3,500 more than he has raised.

This won’t be the state’s first expensive lieutenant governor’s race. Last time, in 2011, Nungesser outspent Dardenne $2.75 million to $1.45 million. Dardenne, who is now running for governor, overcame Nungesser’s huge financial advantage to hold onto his office.

Which raises the question: Exactly what did Dardenne hold on to?

The state Constitution is straightforward about the lieutenant governor’s limited powers: “The lieutenant governor shall serve ex officio as a member of each committee, board, and commission on which the governor serves. He shall exercise the powers delegated to him by the governor and shall have other powers and perform other duties in the executive branch authorized by this constitution or provided by law.”

The one real bit of potential power originates from this wording in the Constitution: “When the governor is absent from the state, the lieutenant governor shall act as governor.”

Given that Gov. Bobby Jindal has spent much of his time outside Louisiana in the past seven years (at least 165 days in 2014 alone), Dardenne should be among the most consequential people in Louisiana politics. In fact, if we followed the Constitution, Dardenne could rightfully claim the title “co-governor.”

That would, of course, require someone to inform Dardenne when Jindal is away so that he could fulfill his constitutional duties. That rarely happens, as Dardenne reported several years ago.

Instead of waiting for official notification of Jindal’s chronic absences, Dardenne should just start showing up for work on the fourth floor every day. God knows Louisiana could use a full-time chief executive.

Among his additional duties, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor oversees the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT). To Dardenne’s credit, he has not appointed a department secretary. He runs CRT himself. He has done so with considerable passion, integrity and talent.

But the fact remains that Louisiana essentially elects its tourism director and people like Dardenne, Nungesser and Young are willing to spend millions to get that job. That’s probably because the office is viewed as a stepping-stone to the governor’s office.

But it isn’t.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Will Alabama be example or warning to Louisiana leaders on same-sex marriage?

By Robert Mann

Louisiana gay rights activists are understandably saddened that Alabama has achieved marriage equality while Louisiana remains one of the 13 states where same-sex marriage remains illegal. “What about Louisiana?” someone grumbled on Equality Louisiana’s Facebook page. “Why is our state always behind?”

I appreciate the frustration, but I’m grateful the Yellowhammer State went first. If Louisiana’s leaders pay attention to events in Alabama, the next week or two will be instructive when same-sex marriage is finally legalized here (most likely this summer).

The questions in Alabama are simple: After a federal judge has declared Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, will its leaders honor the rule of law or will they impose their religious beliefs on citizens in defiance of the Supreme Court? Do they believe human rights are a matter of prevailing public opinion and Biblical interpretation or do they recognize the primacy of the U.S. Constitution?

So far, the answers are mixed for a state that gave us momentous civil rights protests (Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham) and some of the nation’s most infamous racists (George Wallace and Bull Connor). Some Alabama officials have obeyed the federal order — a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay — and have awarded marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Earlier this past week, 19 of 67 counties were obeying the federal court.

In doing so, those officials disregarded Alabama’s Republican chief justice, Roy Moore, who prohibited the state’s probate judges from issuing those licenses.

Defiance of federal courts is Moore’s shtick. In 2003, his flouting of a federal court order prohibiting display of the Ten Commandments at the state’s judicial building got him bounced from the state’s Supreme Court. He clawed his way back onto the court in 2012 and is now itching for another dramatic showdown with the feds.

Moore may have most Alabamians with him on the question of whether the Bible sanctions gay marriage. That doesn’t mean those same citizens will ultimately affirm his brazen defiance of the rule of law. Any state wishing to attract jobs and tourists should probably be advertising its business climate and lovely beaches, not the bigotry and lawlessness of its chief justice and local officials.

That’s what Gov. Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, state legislators and parish clerks of court might consider before they imitate Moore. It’s what the various candidates for governor should ponder, as well, because the ultimate Supreme Court decision will come during this year’s race to replace Jindal.

It’s a safe bet that our gubernatorial debates will not feature high-minded discourse about the primacy of the Constitution. And Jindal, running for president, will demagogue this issue with relish (after all, we can’t let Alabama best us in football and interposition).

What those candidates and other public officials say and do will determine if Louisiana is viewed, like Alabama, as a state living in the pre-civil rights past or if it respects the law and resides in the 21st century.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

The concession speech Jindal won’t give, but which could salvage his legacy

Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.
Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.

By Robert Mann

Here’s how Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign will probably end: he will finish sixth or seventh in the Iowa caucuses about this time next year. Almost broke, he will forgo the New Hampshire primary (that state allows crossover voting, so he stands little chance there).

He will then limp into South Carolina. There, his dreams for the White House will meet their humiliating end. He will be crushed again. After a day or two, he will hold a press conference in Tallahassee (or Madison) in which he will throw his support and his zero delegates to Jeb Bush (or Scott Walker).

Jindal’s reputation, already in shreds in Louisiana because of his disastrous handling of the state’s finances, will sink to its lowest level. He’ll be out of office by then, so it won’t make much difference to voters who are celebrating the end of his wretched tenure. David Vitter or Jay Dardenne will be governor by then, working furiously to clean up the stinking fiscal mess that Jindal left behind.

The narrative about Jindal will be about what it is now, only almost every person in the state will ascribe to it: in hapless pursuit of the presidency, Jindal ignored Louisiana’s problems because the solutions to those problems conflicted with his national ambitions.

Jindal refused to lead and he allowed the state to go under. When the state needed him most, during the 2015 legislative session, he was never around. On rare occasions he appeared in Baton Rouge, his presence was a hindrance. He did nothing to help the state. Every Machiavellian move was made with Iowa and South Carolina in mind.

People will say that Jindal left Louisiana far worse than he found it. Many will say – and some of them will be prominent Republicans – that Jindal was the worst governor in Louisiana history.

The overriding narrative will be that Bobby Jindal sacrificed Louisiana on the altar of his presidential ambitions.

By March or April of 2016, Jindal will be back in Baton Rouge, living in temporary housing and sulking – trying to figure out what to do next with his life and career.

His political Svengali, Timmy Teepell – who is today telling him he has a real chance to win the GOP nomination – will be busy counting all the money he made off Jindal’s embarrassing, quixotic quest for the White House. (Smiling, Teepell will think to himself: “Dang, I was right. You can make a lot of money off a losing presidential campaign.”)

That’s one way Jindal’s presidential campaign can end – and it’s the most likely outcome.

But, there is another way Jindal could give up his presidential hopes.

This way would give him a chance to salvage something of his reputation and, more important, it might do some good for his state.

Jindal won’t take this route, of course, but if he did, it would transform his political stock, in Louisiana and beyond. While it wouldn’t earn him the presidential nomination, it could repair what’s left of his reputation in Louisiana and it might even make him a viable candidate for a cabinet post, if Bush or Walker should defeat Hillary Clinton in November 2016.

The scenario that Jindal will never choose would involve Jindal delivering a speech in the next week or two in the press conference room on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. During that press conference, Jindal would say something like this:

It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to be president and that I thought I had the qualifications for that difficult job.

Our country desperately needs a president who is willing to take on radical Islam, defeat it and send its murderous adherents straight to hell.

Our country needs a president who knows how to spark an economic rebirth in this country for the beleaguered middle-class.

Our country needs a president who can enact a responsible and effective health care plan.  Continue reading