He may be Louisiana’s longest-serving mayor, but he’s my mentor

By Robert Mann

I’m sure when I arrived in his undergraduate economics course at Northeast Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe) in the spring of 1978, Professor Dave Norris took little notice of me. I was a journalism student who had scant interest in economics. As I recall, I did well in his class, but only after ferocious studying.

Dave Norris

West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris (Hannah Baldwin photo, courtesy Monroe News-Star)

I knew Dave was running for mayor of West Monroe, a city in northeast Louisiana on the banks of the Ouachita River, known by many as the location for the hit TV series “Duck Dynasty.” I also knew Dave would probably win. What I didn’t know, however, was he would eventually play a large role in my life, as a constant teacher, wise mentor and loyal friend.

This Saturday night, 39 years later, I will be in Winnfield to watch as he’s inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. Dave, 74, is still mayor of West Monroe, now serving an amazing tenth and final term.

After graduation, Dave and I met again when my newspaper, the Monroe News-Star, assigned me to cover West Monroe city government. I was immediately intrigued by this dapper, dynamic leader who had begun transforming his once-sleepy hometown (population 13,000) by driving and dragging it into the 20th century.

He was a brilliant man with an easy smile, a smooth singing voice (he’s been choir director of his Methodist church for decades) and a wicked sense of humor. He was a young mayor with a Ph.D. in business administration who applied business principles to running a city. The many reforms he enacted and the new West Monroe that he helped build were — and are — impressive.

For all of his almost 40 years in office, Dave has managed a scrupulous and efficient city government. He spent taxpayer money wisely and efficiently. Creative and innovative, he improved his constituents’ quality of life in dozens of ways.

If you want an example of a city government that works well and of citizens who have faith in the integrity and goodwill of their public officials, you’d do well to study West Monroe and the long, distinguished tenure of its mayor.

Could he have been elected to Congress? I believe so. I urged him to run several times. Would he have been a remarkable governor? I know few people in public life with his unblemished record of accomplishment, who are as smart, capable and self-possessed. Among elected officials in this state, he is the one I most respect.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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What Donald Trump and Gov. John Bel Edwards inherited from their predecessors

By Robert Mann

Obamacare’s fate is now a crisis for Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. It’s delicious irony that, after railing against and vowing to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the care and feeding of a program so loathed by Republicans now belongs to our new president and the GOP Congress — and they don’t know what to do with it.

More than a month after Trump took office vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare, he and Congress are no closer to agreeing upon on a replacement. That’s sparked panic among smarter Republicans, who now realize that some of the energy they put into holding more than 60 House votes to kill the law might have been better spent on developing a viable alternative.

Now, because they know they must not repeal Obamacare without a replacement, Republicans are talking about repairing it (which is what Hillary Clinton and Obama once proposed).

That’s because, with Obama gone, the Affordable Care Act is experiencing a resurgence of popularity. In a Fox News poll last month, only 23 percent of Americans surveyed said they want the law repealed. The same poll showed that 50 percent had a favorable opinion of the law. Other polling has shown a similar rise in popularity.

That’s a dramatic change in fortunes and the reason Trump and congressional Republicans, who now control the executive and legislative branches, fear voters will punish them for whatever calamity follows Obamacare’s repeal.

The problem for Republicans is even if the law remains unchanged, voters will blame them for premium increases and any other future problem with the program. Like it or not, Republicans own Obamacare. How they wriggle out of this mess would be delightful to watch if millions of lives were not at stake.

Here in Louisiana, the political winds shift slowly, but the same dynamic is at work. If you are governor, what was once the other guy’s problem will eventually become yours.

As Gov. John Bel Edwards struggles to fix the obscene budget mess former Gov. Bobby Jindal left him, the public blames Jindal. In a February poll by the University of New Orleans’ Survey Research Center, 60 percent of those surveyed said the state’s budget crisis was Jindal’s fault. Only 13 percent blamed Edwards, while 23 percent pointed to legislators. Even 35 percent of Republicans said Jindal was the leading culprit, far more than the 21 percent who blamed Edwards.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Professors aren’t indoctrinating students, but some Republicans wish they would

By Robert Mann

“I am now ashamed of my time at LSU with this type of biased writing coming out of the [mass communication] department,” a peeved reader wrote in an email to me last week. “Now I can see where these young indoctrinated kids are getting this when I read this article.”

I often receive such comments. They’re frustrating but understandable. Many readers haven’t sat in a college class in decades. Some didn’t attend college. Others have children at LSU and elsewhere who spout ideas that are foreign — even radical — to their parents.

A natural inclination is to blame professors for indoctrinating Junior. Some parents shake their heads and walk away. Many engage their children in debate or discussion. Others fire angry emails to the liberal professor whose columns appear in their Sunday paper. And a few who are elected officials write bills to quash academic freedom.

Take the Iowa Legislature, for example, where a Republican state senator, Mark Chelgren, has introduced legislation to stop the state’s public universities from hiring new professors “if the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party would exceed by 10 percent the percentage of faculty belonging to the other political party.”

Chelgren’s bill, similar to legislation in the North Carolina Senate, is aimed at professors, like me (I’m now a registered independent), who teach journalism and also those in the social sciences. The suspicion is that we plant dangerous liberal ideas into the fertile ground of our students’ untrained minds.

That’s what U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Thursday (Feb. 23). Addressing college students in attendance, she said, “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”

I suppose such notions are reasonable coming from people who’ve spent no time on a college campus, but they are an outrageous caricature of what really happens in the classroom. The secretary of education, of all people, should know better than to traffic in such claptrap.

Parents who worry how about how college influences their children’s worldview would do far better by keeping them away from other college students, not professors they see only two or three times a week.

Trust me, by age 18, college students form opinions about public affairs without help from professors. I’m not suggesting that they don’t continue to evolve politically, socially and otherwise, but the students I’ve taught never arrived needing my help to reach informed opinions.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Louisiana’s cowering GOP krewe in Washington

By Robert Mann

If the Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation created a new D.C. Mardi Gras organization, we could call it the Krewe of Deilos. This ancient Greek word for fear and cowardice is the perfect moniker for the Congress of the chicken-hearted who cower before Donald Trump.

Cowardice is apparently what prevents Republican “leaders” like House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and four other Louisiana GOP House members from voicing public concerns about shocking behavior by Trump and his staff.

Let’s review the highlights:

During the campaign, our GOP delegation said nothing about evidence of Russia’s efforts to influence the election and undermine confidence in our democracy.

They were quiet about the stunning 2005 recording of Trump bragging about committing what amounts to sexual assault.

They’ve been mostly silent about the alarming joint report of the top U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded Russia not only attempted to influence the election, but did so to help Trump.

They’ve revealed few complaints about the inept, unconstitutional executive order that banned travel to the United States by people from seven majority-Muslim countries. (In an understatement, Cassidy said it should be “further refined.”)

They’ve backed all of Trump’s unqualified Cabinet nominees, including the ridiculously inept Education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

They uttered not a peep when Trump signed an executive order making Steve Bannon — the former publisher of the white nationalist website, Breitbart News — a principal member of the National Security Council, while he demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA director.

They seem unconcerned by Trump’s bizarre affection and respect for Russia’s murderous, authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. (In what passes for robust criticism in this delegation, Kennedy said on Wednesday, “I do not trust Russia. I do not trust Vladimir Putin.” One presumes he still trusts Trump.)

They were mute when Trump compromised national security by discussing confidential (and maybe classified) information regarding a North Korean missile test, all in full view of the guests at his Florida Mar-A-Lago resort.

None protested when he insulted the prime minister of one of our nation’s staunchest allies, Australia.

They voiced no objections to his false allegations of election fraud in New Hampshire and his baseless charge he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal voters.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Donald Trump’s ‘dreamy’ speech to the Louisiana Legislature

By Robert Mann

I’m not sure if it was a nightmare or a premonition, but I dreamed recently that Donald Trump addressed the Louisiana Legislature. Here’s (vaguely) how it went:

Members, thank you for your kind invitation to speak. You’ve had some terrible, destructive weather. I came down to promise you all the help you need. And when your governor, John Boy, asked me to speak at the opening of this special session, I jumped at the chance. I mean, it’s the least I can do after your state supported me, bigly, in November. No illegals and dead people vote here, right?

Just look at this amazing Capitol building. Someone told me if I’d been here when Bobby Jindal was governor, this could have been mine for an easy four or five million.

And, I had no idea you’d buried Huey Long in the front yard. How is his name not on this building? I mean, a governor builds this Capitol, puts Louisiana on the map and all he gets is a couple of bridges? Sad!

Speaking of Huey, tremendous man, strong leader. He knew how to get things done, believe me. He made great deals. He didn’t take orders from political judges. And when the mayor of New Orleans defied him, he sent in the troops.

Our people need to start winning like Huey. He stuck his finger in the eye of the those who’d robbed this state blind. He spoke truth to the corrupt and powerful and, just like me, he made some people very angry.

I’ve heard he died at an early age. What, exactly, happened to him, John Boy? . . . Oh.

Anyway, I love your state and its people. You send the best people to Washington — like your senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. They do what I say more than 97 percent of the time. Now, that’s what loving your country looks like, right?

Continue reading this on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in 2016 presidential election, Bobby Jindal, Donald Trump, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Trump’s bigotry, fearmongering will make America weak again

By Robert Mann

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” For years, Donald Trump showed us that he is a bigot. So why is anyone surprised when his policies match his hateful rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, black people and others?

His two most controversial executive orders since taking office — banning Muslimsfrom seven Middle East countries and ordering a wall to deter Mexicans from entering the United States — reflect the hatreds and irrational fears that motivate Trump.

If you were listening, you heard Trump launch his White House bid with an ethnic slur. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” said in June 2015. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

If anyone was unsure if Trump was an anti-Mexican bigot, he settled that in June 2016 when he attacked the federal judge who presided over the class-action fraud suit brought against Trump University. He called the judge “a hater” and obsessed about the judge’s ethnic background. “He’s a Mexican,” Trump said in one interview. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”mawa

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, of Mexican heritage, was born in Indiana. That Trump believed his ethnic heritage made him unfit to preside over the lawsuit is textbook bigotry.

Trump’s bigotry is not limited to Mexicans. He and some top advisors have made ignorant, offensive remarks about Muslims. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump saidlast March, indicting an entire religion, including 3.3 million Muslim Americans.

After the horrific December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. (waged by two Muslims, one of them an American citizen), Trump demanded “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Not long after that, Trump entertained adding a nationwide Muslim registry to his proposed ban. When challenged on the constitutionality of this, a Trump surrogate pointed to World War II-era Japanese-American internment camps as legal precedent.

One of Trump’s top advisors, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seethes with anti-Muslim hatred. “Islam is a politicized ideology,” Flynn said in a speech in Dallas last August. “It hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” Flynn went even further, saying Islam is like “a cancer.”

None of this even touches the most persuasive evidence of Trump’s bigotry and racism — his disgusting, years-long campaign to persuade the country that former President Barack Obama was not an American.

So, what does this mean for the United States under Trump? A few observations:

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Folksy GOP bromides won’t solve Louisiana’s budget crisis

By Robert Mann

Have you noticed how politicians often compare government work to running a household or small business, especially when revenue declines? “If our families or small businesses begin to run a deficit, we don’t have many choices,” former state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, (now a member of Congress) wrote last year about Louisiana’s chronic budget shortfall. “We tighten our belts, cut unnecessary expenses, and make whatever changes are necessary to balance our budgets.”

It’s as if dealing with money problems in either endeavor — business or your family — is nothing more than making a few painful-but-obvious decisions.

That’s the simplistic approach state Rep. Lance Harris, the Republican House leader from Pineville, takes toward the $304 million mid-year budget shortfall he and other lawmakers will address in a special legislative session Gov. John Bel Edwards plans for February.

On Jan. 19, Harris released a one-page document he portrayed as a plan to eliminate the need for a special session to prevent deep cuts to healthcare and education. “If this were my business,” Harris tweeted, “this is how I would solve the mid-year deficit.”

And what is the Harris plan? A cut of 8.12 percent (and, in a few cases, 4 percent) applied across the board to almost every state government department. Those spared cuts in Harris’ “plan” include higher education, Veterans Affairs, Social Services and retirement. Those not spared include the state’s public-private hospitals, prisons and public schools.

What Harris portrays as a plan is using a budgetary meat cleaver to hack away set percentages from the targeted department, regardless of its mission or the vital services it provides. Despite his invocation of shrewd business acumen, Harris’ approach — indiscriminate cuts — is not what a smart business leader would do.

A CPA friend of mine, who advises businesses on budgeting and strategic planning, observed that an across-the-board cut to fix a business revenue shortfall is often the wrong approach. “You might be ignoring things that need to be cut by 100 percent,” the CPA told me, “and there are things that you might need to increase to help you make your business run more efficiently.”

For example, one might spend more on document management software to achieve net cuts by eliminating more costly photocopies. Cutting software and photocopies by the same amount might reduce spending but could damage the business. A more creative approach might yield real savings and a more efficient operation.

An effective business owner wouldn’t look only for spending cuts, but also smart ways to increase revenue. You might double down on advertising or hire additional sales staff to increase profits. Some businesses also might adjust their prices to account for inflation or lagging demand. And if the company had cash reserves — analogous to the state’s Rainy Day Fund — you might dip into it to get through hard times.

That’s the savvy budgeting and management practices we expect from our political leaders and that is lacking from Harris and his Republican caucus.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in John Bel Edwards, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments