Let’s demand truth about Louisiana’s budget for a change

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Former Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols

By Robert Mann

Clearing off my cluttered desk the other day, I came across an op-ed by Kristy Nichols, the financial con artist who was former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration. Last April, as the Legislature debated revenue measures to prevent higher education’s collapse, Nichols wrote an opinion piece for NOLA.com that was breathtaking for its mendacity. Nine months later, I’m still gobsmacked by her ostensible estrangement from reality.

“Fearless. Brave. Determined,” Nichols wrote, quoting a Times-Picayune editorial that demanded the aforementioned characteristics from Jindal and lawmakers. “In fact,” Nichols wrote, “those qualities are on display every day as Louisiana’s leaders work to solve a shortfall created by declining oil prices and corporate welfare.”

Nichols’ op-ed overflowed with such claptrap. She claimed Jindal’s budget proposal “included more than $650 million in new revenue solutions that would fully protect college and university funding across the state.” Ignoring her boss’ eight years of reckless budgeting, Nichols wrote these words with no trace of irony: “[L]eadership requires the ability to see past the short-term and create sustainable solutions that make our state better.”

Nichols bragged that under Jindal, “we’ve seen unprecedented growth in our economy and today have more people working than ever before. Raising taxes is not the answer. Asking our citizens to subsidize business will not help our state.”

Nichols’ piece is worth re-reading if only to remind us that Jindal’s budgeting was so dishonest and irresponsible that his accounting practices should be made a crime, punishable by a few months in the slammer. Although she and Jindal claimed their budget would fund higher education and other important services until the fiscal year’s end (June 30), we now know their budget was an epic sham.

State government faces a mid-year budget shortfall of $750 million. Despite Jindal’s false assertion that the “new revenue” didn’t come from tax increases, almost everyone but the former governor’s family and staff acknowledged the truth. Lawmakers and the governor raised taxes – just not nearly enough to keep state government open through the fiscal year.

Nichols’ mendacious piece is more than just a maddening blast from the past. It’s a cautionary tale worth remembering as Gov. John Bel Edwards and his commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, deal with Jindal’s budget chaos.

The lesson? All of us – citizens, journalists and legislators – should view every statement from any governor and his or her Division of Administration with healthy skepticism.

Continue reading at this link.

David Vitter: Louisiana’s most feared Republican is now its most loathed | Salon.com

Sen. David Vitter
Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

It’s been an article of faith for almost two years in Louisiana that U.S. Sen. David Vitter would become the state’s next governor. Politicians and political observers here (this writer included) resigned themselves to the idea that the senior Republican senator would almost certainly succeed two-term Gov. Bobby Jindal, who steps down in January. Vitter aggressively leveraged that assumption to raise more than $10 million for his campaign and a supportive super PAC, which only added to the faith about his inevitability.

That Vitter would again loom so large in Louisiana politics would have been a ridiculous suggestion eight years ago, in the summer of 2007, when a prostitution scandal nearly ruined his career. Vitter apologized for his “serious sin.” Afterward, he focused on his Senate work and labored to redeem himself with constituents. His rehabilitation seemed complete in 2010 when he faced re-election and dispatched his Democratic opponent in a landslide.

Last year, Vitter began flexing his renewed political muscles. He prominently backed then-U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy against the state’s three-term Democratic U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu. Cassidy was a flawed candidate, but he had Vitter’s strong support and his former communications director running his campaign. Cassidy beat Landrieu handily in an election that became a referendum on President Obama. With Vitter’s help, Cassidy had vanquished the only remaining Democrat to hold statewide office in Louisiana.

Invigorated, Vitter began 2015 as the early favorite to replace Jindal, despite eventually drawing two prominent Republican opponents and a little-known Democratic challenger. Read more

Once a conquering hero, is David Vitter now a dead man walking?

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By Robert Mann

Whether he wins or loses the Nov. 21 runoff for governor, it was never supposed to be this difficult for Sen. David Vitter.

He had the money. Between his campaign account and his super PAC, he raised more cash than his three major competitors combined. He had the stature and name recognition that comes with being a two-term United States senator. He appeared to have put his 2007 prostitution scandal behind him, as evidenced by his runaway reelection in 2010. He was running in a ruby red state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008. Until a few months ago, he was leading in the polls.

All he needed was the right person in the runoff and victory seemed assured. That’s certainly what I believed back in May when I wrote that if Vitter’s opponents wanted to deny him the Governor’s Mansion, they should not vote for Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, but rather for one of his GOP opponents – Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.

Then something unexpected happened on Vitter’s march to the Governor’s Office. On Oct. 24, he came perilously close to missing the runoff, earning a weak 23 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 40 percent. Vitter staggered, not charged, into the next round. In several polls released over the past 10 days, he is stuck in the 30s, while Edwards sits in the low 50s.

A race that was Vitter’s to lose now appears to be a race Vitter is losing. So, what happened?

The Jindal-GOP brand is toxic. Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal are mortal enemies, but most people know little about their mutual disdain. Jindal’s profound unpopularity – he’s even less admired in Louisiana than President Barack Obama – is an onerous burden for Vitter to lug into the runoff. It’s hurting him among voters hesitant to award the job to someone whose policy positions are almost identical to Jindal’s.

Voters are disgusted with Washington insiders. Perhaps just as damaging to Vitter as lingering questions about his 2007 prostitution scandal is his long affiliation with Washington/congressional dysfunction. Conservative voters hate D.C. insiders with a red-hot fury, which is one reason Ben Carson and Donald Trump are the GOP presidential frontrunners.

Attacks on Edwards as an Obama clone aren’t sticking. Vitter has always made elections about someone or something else. As he did in 2010, Vitter wants this race to be a choice between him and Obama. So far, trying to link Edwards to Obama isn’t working – and his racially charged attacks may only energize the black vote for Edwards.

The election is becoming a referendum on Vitter. Vitter’s best bet is to make this race turn on ideology (even though he and Edwards share many positions, especially on social issues). Instead, the race is becoming a referendum on Vitter’s personality and character. That often happens with a well-known incumbent. However, Vitter cannot afford for the race to be about his personality or character defects.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Text of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s Endorsement of Rep. John Bel Edwards

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Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne Remarks

November 5, 2015

I am a Republican. I have been one since the early 1970s when I helped Henson Moore’s election to the United States Congress. I will remain a Republican.

But I also am someone who believes in voting for the person, not the party. It’s why I and other long-time Republican officeholders were able to be elected when this was a Democrat state.

Never is this more appropriate than in this election, which is why Cathy and I today announce our support of John Bel Edwards.

We did not come to this decision lightly. We both have fielded dozens of calls and messages about our position in this race. We believe our many friends and supporters can make up their own minds, but they deserve to know how we will cast our ballots.

To those who are saying, “I’m just not gonna vote.” I encourage people not to take that easy way out. Don’t leave it to someone else to make your decision for you.

This is not a case of choosing the lesser of two evils.

John Bel reminded us during the primary that he lives by the oath he took as an Army Ranger . .  not to lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.

I never took that oath, but I have spent twenty-seven years in public service attempting to prove what I said in my very first election: that the term honest politician doesn’t have to be a contradiction in terms.

So how can I pretend that everything I said less than two weeks ago about David Vitter no longer has meaning? When are we Louisianians going to stop tolerating the embarrassment that too many of our elected officials have heaped upon our state?

I have stood on the stage not far from here in the LSU Union countless times over the years speaking to Boys State, Girls State, YLS and other groups talking about leadership … and the fundamental trait that a leader must possess: integrity.

Honor, integrity, truthfulness, openness and ethical behavior are the most important traits of public service.

John Bel Edwards is the candidate who exemplifies these traits.

I know better than anybody that just because David Vitter and his Super PAC say something on TV doesn’t make it true.

I have come to know and respect John Bel during this campaign.

I have done my due diligence. I have talked with him extensively regarding the issues that are important to me and the state.

I believe him when he tells me he will not be controlled by those who want to turn back the clock in Louisiana. He will not seek to undo strides that have been made in education with charter schools and vouchers. He will not be the enemy of business. He will not seek to solve our serious budget problems by penalizing a particular industry. He recognizes that LSU and all of higher education is the key to continued economic prosperity. He recognizes that he formerly represented an overwhelmingly Democrat district but that he must deal with a Republican control legislature. He knows that fear, intimidation and vindictiveness are the enemies of building a coalition to move Louisiana forward. Read more

There’s something about Dave: Fractured party, character issues have Vitter on ropes

Screenshot from the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate televised from Ruston on the Louisiana Tech University campus.
Screenshot from the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate televised from Ruston on the Louisiana Tech University campus.

By Robert Mann

After months of waging war against fellow Republicans Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne, U.S. Sen. David Vitter is struggling to rebuild Louisiana’s Republican-conservative coalition. His millions in attack spots aimed at two GOP opponents profoundly fractured his party, the same GOP that was so united last year in defeating Mary Landrieu.

Together, Angelle and Dardenne earned 32 percent of the vote in the Oct. 24 primary. To win the governor’s race, Edwards needs only a third (or less) of that vote. One poll now shows him doing much better than a third. In fact, he may be earning at least half of former Dardenne-Angelle voters.

Perhaps Vitter and his “independent” super PAC had no choice but to kneecap Angelle and Dardenne in the primary. Angelle, especially, posed a serious threat to the erstwhile gubernatorial frontrunner. So, Vitter took them out.

Now, with less than three weeks left to the Nov. 21 runoff, he’s paying a steep price for those attacks. Angelle and Dardenne remain firmly on the sidelines. For a week after the primary, the front page of Dardenne’s campaign website remained up and running, featuring a photo of Vitter with the word “liar” splayed across Republican candidate’s image.

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Dardenne’s former campaign press secretary, Marsanne Golsby (who was also press secretary to former GOP Gov. Mike Foster), has prominently endorsed Edwards. The best news the Vitter camp could conjure was to give a job to Jay Vicknair, Dardenne’s unemployed former campaign manager.

Meanwhile, former Angelle supporters, including some former staffers and close advisors, make no secret of their disdain for Vitter. Based on what I am seeing and hearing from former top supporters of both runners up, there is no effort by the Dardenne and Angelle camps to urge their supporters to support Vitter. In fact, it’s the opposite.

In an interview last week with Tyler Bridges of the Baton Rouge Advocate, Dardenne commented on Vitter’s complaints about a tracker from the pro-Edwards American Bridge 21st Century PAC, who trails Vitter and gathers video of him at public functions. “Dardenne laughed about the video,” Bridges wrote, quoting Dardenne saying of Vitter, “He can give it out, but he can’t take it.”

Over the past week, I have spoken with dozens of Republicans who voted for Dardenne or Scott Angelle. Some of them are friends; others are people I met at several speaking engagements last week or who contacted me by email. These Republicans fall into three groups.

The first group said something like this, “I voted for Jay [or Scott], but I am never voting for that sleazeball, David Vitter. This time, I’m voting for Edwards.” Read more

I was wrong: John Bel Edwards can win the Louisiana governor’s race

Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.
Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.

By Robert Mann

The best I can say in my defense is, as St. Paul wrote, “we see through a glass, darkly.” Several months ago, looking through that dark glass, I could not see a path for Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) in this year’s Louisiana governor’s race. I wrote in May:

A Democrat – even one as effective, honest and politically moderate as Edwards – cannot win a Louisiana statewide election. Twenty years ago, someone like Edwards would have been unbeatable. Today, however, a vote for the Amite Democrat is, for all practical purposes, a vote for Vitter.

Now, after Saturday night’s election returns are in, I’ll say it: I was wrong. Edwards now has a clear, plausible path to victory over his runoff opponent, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

I’m not prepared to say that Edwards will be Louisiana’s next governor (let’s see a poll in about ten days, after Vitter, his super PAC and the Republican Governors’ Association dump a million or two in negative spots on him). But as of Sunday night, it is not hard to see how Edwards can defeat Vitter.

Here’s why I now believe Edwards can win: Read more

My 10 suggestions for choosing Louisiana’s next governor

Screenshot from the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate televised from Ruston on the Louisiana Tech University campus.
Screenshot from the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate televised from Ruston on the Louisiana Tech University campus.

Like some of you, I’m still not sure which candidate I’ll support in the Oct. 24 primary election for governor. The current occupant has set such a low bar that it won’t take much effort for anyone to clear it. It’s obvious that whoever occupies the governor’s mansion in January will be focused, unlike Bobby Jindal, on a long-term fix to our fiscal mess. All four of the major candidates have indicated they’ll expand Medicaid and will work to rebuild higher education.

If the winner just shows up for work and refuses to use the job as a platform for seeking higher office, he should be a smashing success compared to his predecessor. Read more

It’s time for a Louisiana Gubernatorial Debate Commission

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U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

The good news is that this governor’s election has featured more candidate forums than I can remember. From one end of the state to the other, the four major candidates have been debating — or, at least, discussing — the issues before audiences all year.

The bad news is that unless you happen to be an audience member (probably less than 1 percent of the state’s population has attended these forums), you must read an 800-word summary of the hour-long debate in your local newspaper. That’s not awful, but it’s no substitute for hearing the whole thing. Read more

The speech no candidate for Louisiana governor can give

My fellow Louisianians, it’s time someone spoke honestly about where our state stands and why we’re in such deep distress.

It would be easy to keep telling you that everything wrong is the fault of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Sure, his eight years were a disaster. Instead of moving us forward, he moved to Iowa. Jindal cared only about using his office as a steppingstone. Our wellbeing was never his concern. Still, Jindal did not create our state’s deep, chronic problems. He just ignored them or made them worse. Read more

A few questions for the next Louisiana gubernatorial debate

Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.
Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.

There are only two weeks left before voters head to the polls to begin choosing our next governor. With the open primary phase of the campaign almost over and a Nov. 21 runoff virtually assured, why does it feel like this contest has hardly begun? Read more