Louisiana should treat the Rick Perry case like Ebola

By Robert Mann

Can’t I believe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a wretched person and a terrible governor without also wishing to see him behind bars?

For some reason, with some political partisans, the two opinions are not mutually exclusive.

For those not paying attention in the past 24 hours, a Texas grand jury has indicted Perry, the outgoing Republican governor who appears to be running for president. The charge: public corruption.

It’s a complicated case and you can read all about it on the web. Long story short: a county district attorney who also runs a Texas public corruption unit got arrested for drunk driving in 2013. She spent 45 days in jail, but refused to resign. This DA was also investigating Perry for some unrelated potential criminal activity. Perry tried to force her to resign. She wouldn’t, so Perry vetoed her budget in an attempt to force her from office.

Perhaps the DA should have done the right thing and stepped down. Perhaps the allegations she was investigating would have led to Perry’s indictment on other charges. We may never know. Perhaps Perry could have found another way to push her from office.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

But this case is not merely about criminal activity. It’s about a disturbing trend in American politics. To sum it up: I can’t beat you at the polls, so I’ll indict you. I may not send you to jail, but I’ll send you into political purgatory.

This story, sadly, is about the criminalization of American politics.

I’m not suggesting that politicians never commit crimes for which they should be imprisoned. Richard Nixon comes to mind, as does Louisiana’s own Richard Leche, a corrupt governor convicted and imprisoned in the early 1940s.

I think Gov. Bobby Jindal is an awful governor who falsely professes to care about our children and who tolerates unethical behavior within his administration. I think Sen. David Vitter is a disgraceful hypocrite. His election as governor in 2015 would sully the office, which is saying quite a lot.

But I don’t believe either man should be thrown into jail.

Is it possible that a public official could so poorly represent his constituents that some of them actually die (Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has almost certainly resulted in deaths) and yet shouldn’t be sent to prison?

In fact, in our political system, that’s exactly the case. In the end, I’d rather see the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire reject Perry for president because he was a terrible governor. In our system of government, we should find that kind of judgment much more satisfying than seeing someone tossed into jail after being tried on politically motivated charges.

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Could the LSU Board of Supervisors get any older, whiter?

LSU system photo

By Robert Mann

It’s not enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal has stuffed his LSU Board of Supervisors with white males (there is only one woman and one African-American and they are the same person); he’s now appointed a white male who doesn’t even reside in Louisiana.

It’s well known that former U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, once of Shreveport, gave Jindal his start in politics by making him an intern in his Washington, D.C., office. Jindal obviously wants to return the favor by giving McCrery — now a well-paid Washington lobbyist — a plum appointment.

He did so on Thursday, by putting McCrery on the LSU Board.

The only problem is that the LSU Board is chock full of old, white guys. The state’s flagship university badly needs some diversity.

Doesn’t Jindal know any black Washington, D.C., lobbyists?

David Vitter: Against Common Core before he was for it

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

Trying to separate himself from his arch-rival, Gov. Bobby Jindal, it seems that U.S. Sen. David Vitter is having trouble remembering exactly where he stands on important issues, such as Common Core.

On Friday, Vitter endorsed the Common Core educational standards that Jindal once supported, but is now vigorously working to repeal.

“I strongly support the Common Core standards,” Vitter said in an interview with C-SPAN. Vitter went even further, taking a partisan swipe at Jindal: “I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Governor Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the new school year is very disruptive,” he said.

All the Louisiana press dutifully reported Vitter’s statement, but somehow missed that just a few months ago, Vitter sent out a fundraising appeal in which he declared his opposition to Common Core.

Vitter letter p 1

Vitter letter p4

On page four of the fundraising letter (no date, but clearly after his January 2014 announcement), Vitter tells supporters and potential donors:

“I am prepared to lead on these issues as Governor — to get our economy moving, hold the line on taxes, and protect our citizens from ObamaCare, the president’s insane environmental regulations, heavy-handed big government policies like ‘Common Core,’ and all the rest.” [Emphasis mine]

So, just a few months ago, Vitter believed Common Core was a “heavy-handed big government” policy. Today, however, he “strongly supports” it.

What changed in the past few months, other than Jindal’s position on Common Core?

I wonder if any enterprising reporter will ask Vitter about this very strange policy change. Did Vitter suddenly discover some hidden virtues of Common Core that eluded him earlier this year? Or, as seems more likely, is this simply a reflexive, politically motivated shift to separate himself from Jindal?

In any event, is this the kind of  wish-washy “leadership” we should expect from a Gov. Vitter? Is the education of Louisiana’s children just a matter of political convenience, a game he plays as he tries to one-up and shame Jindal?

Based on the available evidence, it certainly looks that way.

 

The Single Question That Could Destroy Bobby Jindal’s Political Future: Lamar White


By Lamar White (reposted from CenLamar.com)

Last Friday, against the vehement and public urging of his own Attorney General and nearly one hundred of the nation’s most respected legal expertsGovernor Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 469 into law. Quoting his press release (bold mine):

Governor Jindal said, “This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment, and I am proud to sign it into law. It further improves Louisiana’s legal environment by reducing unnecessary claims that burden businesses so that we can bring even more jobs to our state. The bill will also send future recovered dollars from CZMA litigation to coastal projects, allowing us to ensure Louisiana coastal lands are preserved and that our communities are protected.”

If you’re wondering who, exactly, the law benefits, all you need to do is keep reading Jindal’s press release, which contains this amazing confession. Quoting (again, bold and italics mine):

LOGA President Don Briggs said, “The signing of SB 469 is a huge victory for the oil and gas industry as well as the economy for the state of Louisiana. We commend Governor Jindal for his leadership and support of this bill as it made its way through the process….”

As I mentioned in a previous post, SB 469 was, ostensibly, about stopping a controversial, landmark lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against 97 oil and gas companies for their role in illegally damaging and depredating the state’s coastal environment and ecosystem. But as we now know, the law is about much more than merely ending a single lawsuit by a single governmental authority.

SB 469 appears to have been written and deliberately designed by lawyers who represent the oil and gas industry in order to shield, reduce, or eliminate their clients’ exposure to civil damages on a wide range of pending and future claims, including, most notably, BP’s liability for billions of dollars in outstanding claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Indeed, according to people intimately involved in the legislative process, no one lobbied harder for the passage of SB 469 than those associated with BP.

With the stroke of the pen, Governor Bobby Jindal likely saved the oil and gas industry billions of dollars in damages for which they otherwise would have been legally responsible, damages that are legitimately owed to hundreds, if not thousands, of hardworking families, businesses, and coastal communities who were devastated by and continue to suffer from the lingering effects of the worst environmental disaster in American history. Governor Jindal may claim this was about ending “frivolous lawsuits” and creating a “more fair and predictable legal environment,” but unfortunately for him, the geniuses on his communications team allowed Don Briggs, the President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, to tell it like it is, “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry.” To be sure, that may actually be an understatement.

This wasn’t about ending frivolous lawsuits or better ensuring a fair and predictable legal environment; it was about rigging the law in favor of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful industry in Louisiana (and arguably, the world).

*****

Thomas Enright, the Governor’s Executive Counsel, argues that claims for damages against BP would not be affected by SB 469, because the federal Oil Pollution Act preempts the new Louisiana state law. Notwithstanding the irony and the hypocrisy of Governor Jindal, seemingly for the very first time in his entire career, invoking and championing the preemption doctrine, Enright may very well be correct in his analysis.

But the simple fact is: BP’s lawyers can and will argue otherwise; it’s an issue of first impression that will ultimately be determined by the courts, not by Jindal’s attorney. SB 469 provides a new and novel line of defense. Indeed, Louisiana’s Attorney General and nearly 100 legal experts from the nation’s top law schools all agree. The oil and gas industry’s lawyers know it’s true, too; after all, by Governor Jindal’s own admission, they helped write the law.

Even if Enright is, in fact, right and even if the courts eventually rule against BP, because these issues will take months, if not years, to fully resolve, Jindal’s decision to sign and enact SB 469 almost certainly reduced substantially the anticipated settlement values for thousands of Louisiana citizens. And that‘s why BP stands to gain billions of dollars. Remember, BP has enormously deep pockets; if they wanted to, they could afford to litigate these claims for the next century without ever affecting or even touching their bottom line. The average citizen, however, cannot afford and would never be inclined to wage a war of attrition against BP about the preemption doctrine as it relates to state law conflicting with the Oil Pollution Act.

Remember too, the longer the legal process, the less those who were affected and damaged by BP’s negligence can expect. In a complex case involving billions of dollars, a broadly and vaguely worded new law can have an enormous economic value.

Make no mistake: Governor Jindal understood this. As reported by Patrick Flanagan of The Independent MonthlyNikesh Jindal, Bobby Jindal’s younger brother, “is an attorney with Gibson Dunn, one of the law firms representing BP against the damage claims… assigned to the division handling BP’s case,” a critical detail and potentially a massive conflict of interest that has never been fully explained or even properly disclosed. If Governor Jindal’s brother Nikesh didn’t explain the stakes to him, Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s former executive counsel and longtime confidant, should have. Quoting from The Times-Picayune (bold mine):

Also, the claim that SB 469 got a full public airing isn’t true. The bill was cobbled together late in the session by the governor’s former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, and switched to a different Senate committee hours before a hearing on it. That limited public input. Mr. Verchick pointed out in a response to Mr. Enright Wednesday that the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee also curtailed debate on the bill.

It’s worth noting that Representative Gordon Dove, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, didn’t just shut off debate on the bill; he also refused to read into the record, as is customary, the names of citizens who showed up to support or oppose the bill. If he had, he would have revealed that ten times as many people, almost all of whom were either coastal activists or environmental professionals with no personal financial interest whatsoever, showed up to oppose the bill than those who showed up to support the bill, almost all of whom were being paid by organizations, agencies, and companies with a direct financial interest. (I am in receipt of this documentation and can send it upon request; I’m not posting it out of an abundance of caution, because it contains the home addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of private citizens).

Continue reading on CenLamar.com at this link.

 

To save time and money, let’s privatize the Louisiana Legislature

By Robert Mann

Has Gov. Bobby Jindal ever seen a government program he couldn’t privatize? Jindal certainly has a reputation as a fierce advocate of relinquishing government functions to corporate interests. That said, could it be that he and state legislators are actually too cautious about privatizing Louisiana government?

In recent years, Jindal has turned over Louisiana’s public hospitals to private entities. He’s privatized the state’s Medicaid program, as well as the management of medical benefits for state employees.

Beyond health care, Jindal has diverted a substantial portion of the state’s elementary and secondary education budget to fund private-school vouchers and charter schools. By slashing the higher education budget, he’s virtually turned the state’s colleges and universities into semi-private institutions that subsist primarily off tuition and student fees. He’s handed over driver’s license renewals to a private company. He has even privatized budget cutting, paying the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal $5 million to develop ideas for cutting state spending by $500 million.

As recent experience has shown, however, privatizing government doesn’t automatically improve anything except, of course, the bottom lines of the corporations that capture lucrative government contracts. The failure of Louisiana’s voucher school program should be exhibit A in any indictment against privatization. Turning over the state’s hospitals to private entities hasn’t gone so well either, now that federal officials have rejected Jindal’s financial arrangement for the program.

What’s remarkable about all this, however, is not what Jindal has accomplished, but why he hasn’t taken privatization to its logical conclusion.

For example, why should we spend millions each year on levee and flood control districts? Jindal and the Legislature are repealing the sensible flood control reforms passed after Hurricane Katrina that depoliticized a corrupt levee board system. The minute the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East sued Big Oil over its destruction of our coast, Jindal and the Legislature moved to demolish the authority’s independence.

Continue reading at NOLA.com

Why are Louisiana’s universities suddenly out of money?


By Robert Mann

Louisiana’s colleges and universities now have a serious cash-flow problem. Without a $40 million loan from State Treasurer John Kennedy’s office, they cannot keep the lights on and pay employees.

According to the Associated Press:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is asking for a $40 million loan from the state treasury to continue paying expenses for Louisiana’s public colleges, after the financing used to fund higher education has been slow to arrive.

The loan request was filed this week with Treasurer John Kennedy’s office, seeking “seed funding” to provide cash flow for the campuses and other higher education offices.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols assures us this is nothing to worry about. “This is simply a timing issue,” Nichols said in a statement.

As I noted in my column Friday on NOLA.com:

Jindal and his economic development Secretary Stephen Moret keep telling us that Louisiana’s economy is booming. Maybe it is. Employment is surely up.

A booming economy, however, should generate enough revenue to balance the books and support critical needs like health care and education. A booming economy wouldn’t force the state into an annual rummage sale of state assets.

Perhaps the booming that Jindal and Moret hear is not the economy. Most likely, it’s thunderclouds on the horizon. Louisiana is about to be hit by some very bad budgetary weather.

Looks like that bad weather came sooner than expected.

White flags of cowardice waving at Louisiana Capitol


By Robert Mann

It was a week for waving white flags. By the look of things at the Louisiana Capitol, you’d have thought Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were debating in semaphore. If so, the words they spelled with their bright pennants were “surrender” and “cowardice.”

First on deck were members of the Senate Finance Committee. When the state’s top higher education adviser, Tom Layzell, showed up to testify Monday, he lamented Louisiana’s pitifully low college graduation rate. When he finished, the white flags began to flutter. Committee members — unwilling to support any serious reinvestment in the state’s colleges and universities — conceded their fecklessness.

“We’ve broken every piggy bank and trust [fund] that’s out there,” Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, complained, seeming to dismiss Layzell as a starry-eyed dreamer. Mills said he doubted there would be “any new funding coming to higher ed.” Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, was equally weak-willed. “We made a conscious decision, or maybe a less than conscious decision, (to) find ourselves where we are today,” he said.

Had LaFleur literally waved two white flags while making that statement he could not have appeared more fainthearted. Never mind that he and other legislators voted to slash income taxes on wealthy taxpayers in 2008. They not only made our tax system more regressive, they also blew an annual $300 million hole in the budget. Forfeiting that revenue led directly to the inadequate higher education funding they now accept as Louisiana’s fate. It would take some courage to reverse that vote, little of which was on display Monday.

Next, it was Jindal’s turn to capitulate by consummating his gradual U-turn on Common Core. Those are education standards developed by the nation’s governors and adopted by 44 states. Until recently, Jindal vigorously supported the standards. “Adopting the Common Core State Standards … will raise expectations for every child,” Jindal said in a video released on April 2 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Of course, that was before the future presidential candidate weighed his concern for the education of Louisiana’s children against his need to court tea party activists in Iowa. Guess who won? When he finally reversed himself, Jindal lacked even the courage to wave his white flag in person. He surrendered in a written statement.

“We share the concerns of these [anti-Common Core] legislators and also of parents across Louisiana,” Jindal said. His capitulation to the tea party was complete, so much so he vowed to unilaterally remove Louisiana from a consortium of states developing tests for Common Core.

Not to be out-surrendered, by Tuesday the Senate was back in action, meekly submitting to its overlords in the oil and gas industry. In a 23-15 vote, the majority yielded to Big Oil by passing legislation that would retroactively stop Louisiana’s flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without the governor’s permission.

Continue reading at NOLA.com