Welcome to Democratic Louisiana!
Take a good look at the Louisiana Legislature. This is what it looks like when a governor loses control of a session.
The budgets are out of whack and off track. The Speaker appears to have lost control of the House. The Governor's pet privatization project has been called into question and will (unless things change) be subject to legislative scrutiny and need its approval in order to proceed. Legislators appear concerned that the displacement of hundreds of state workers might be good for Jindal's resumé but not their constituents and their districts.
It's a bi-partisan rebellion against privatization. One Republican wants all state professional service contracts subject to review by a joint legislative committee all 5,000-plus of them!
Oh, and the Ethics Gold Standard appears to be gushing unregulated campaign cash. Just plead ignorance to the campaign finance laws and you, too, can be off scott-free!
If you've missed an earlier edition of Democratic Louisiana, here's the link to the archive page.
Thanks for reading!
Mike Stagg, Editor
Senate Nominee Paul Dragging National Republicans Over Cliff
Rand Paul is now the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky and the radical views of the nominee are already producing head scratching across the country.
Following his Tuesday primary election victory, Paul, son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul (Republicans have apparently learned no lesson about the dangers of Texas political dynasties) called criticism of BP for the Gulf Gusher "un-American," said the Civil Rights Act was an intrusion on the freedom of American business people to discriminate, and also criticized the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Heck of a week, Randy!
The problem for Republicans is that Paul's views are considered mainstream Tea Party/libertarian fare.
Looking at the BP situation is instructive. Paul said that criticizing a British multinational corporation that has unleashed an unprecedented oil gusher to pollute the Gulf of Mexico, invade our wetlands, threaten our fisheries, shut down large segments of our economy based on those fisheries, threatens tourism in four Gulf coast states, and has yet to bring that gusher under control is "un-American."
In the Paul/Tea Party/Libertarian wing of the GOP, if business does it, it's right, and that settles it. Should the people along the Gulf coast affected by this unfolding disaster just shut up, suck it up and accept whatever BP offers them as a result of this disaster? In the Paul/Tea Party/Libertarian world view, apparently so.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who backed the candidate running against Paul) has now embraced his party's new nominee. McConnell, who set Senate Republicans on a 'just say no' route over the first two years of the Obama presidency, finds himself wildly unpopular with Kentucky Republicans of Paul's ilk for not adopting an even harder line against the president's agenda.
The Republican Party has narrowed itself down to pretty much a regional party in terms of representation in Congress due in no small measure to the Southern Strategy the party has pursued relentlessly since passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson knew the political price Democrats would pay in the South for enacting Civil Rights legislation, as this speech he made in October, 1964, at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans shows.
With the party having already stiffed the Hispanic community with multiple years of immigrant bashing, it now runs the risk of getting captured by the Tea Party elements personified by Paul. One could argue that the Tea Party mindset already is the dominant line of thought in the Republican Party. That could lock in the party's whites-only perception for years to come.
While that will play well in the South, it will ultimately limit the party's ability to win elections which is what politics used to be about.
Jindal's Oil and Sand Woes
Bobby Jindal has problems with oil and sand these days. Each is where he would prefer they not be.
The oil on the Louisiana coast is on our few sandy beaches and spreading into our seafood-rich marshes, threatening long-term damage to both.
The sand in Jindal's heretofore well-oiled legislative machine threatens to exacerbate his problems with three years of state budgets as well as deny him the claim to fame that he needs to continue his national political quest privatizing state services, particularly health services.
The impact of the still uncapped and unfettered BP Gulf Gusher continues to ominously build. More fisheries have been closed, this time in so-called "inside waters" areas not out in the open Gulf, but adjacent to it. The order, issued late Saturday by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, according to The Advocate, includes closures of most of Barataria Bay, all of Caminada Bay north of Grand Isle, and most, if not all, of Terrebonne and Timbalier bays. The closure order effectively shut down all fishing in the Grand Isle, Grand Terre, Four Bayous Pass, Red’s Pass, Lakes Pelto and Barre and all points in the Cocodrie area.
BP this week conceded that the gusher at the bottom of the Gulf is bigger than they earlier indicated. For weeks, the company maintained that 5,000 barrels per day were blowing into the Gulf from their drilling site. After finally connecting a tube into the leaking pipe on the Gulf floor, BP said the pipe was drawing up 5,000 barrels per day of oil but that oil was still leaking. That confirmed earlier suspicions based on the limited amount of video of the spill that a lot more oil was escaping than BP had admitted to.
BP also had to admit late in the week that their suction tube was not getting anywhere near 5,000 barrels of oil to the surface, that it was less than half that amount. Today, the news got even worse. BP now has zero credibility on the size of the gusher or the degree of success they are having in trying to deal with it. Imagine what the real numbers are. BP had real reasons for underestimating the size of the spill.
Drill, Baby, Drill Dredge, Baby, Dredge
Bobby Jindal, like most good Republicans, has never paid much attention to environmental issues. He's paid some lip service to coastal protection but there is no environmental initiative of any significance with his name attached to it.
There is now, however, a plan initially developed by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser to build sand berms in the coastal waters that Jindal has been touting as the best hope to keep BP's oil off the coast and out of our coastal marshes.
The plan is changing even as it is under review by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. As it has become a matter of public discussion, serious doubts have been raised about the plan by people who have much deeper knowledge about Louisiana's coast than do the newly converted Republican environmentalists Jindal and Nungesser.
Interestingly, the national media has discovered that there are numerous coastal experts who have done extensive research on Louisiana's coast who happen to be employed on projects operating on the campuses of Louisiana's public colleges and universities. There is no public indication that Jindal or members of his administration have been in touch with any of these people.
What the so-called Smartest Guy in the Room knows about the coast was taught to him by Billy Nungesser. Ponder that for a minute.
Jindal has ordered the Louisiana National Guard to begin some dredging near Elmer's Island. He said it was to prove the concept behind the Nungesser plan. But, unless the Coast Guard gives its approval to the work, it is possible that BP will not cover the cost of that work. It has been a while since Jindal has spent time in Baton Rouge, but surely he must recall that the state is in a budget crisis?
Jindal has continued flying and boating around the coast, trailing photographers and reporters with him along the way. A fawning conservative blogger tagged Jindal's approach as "governor-as-action-hero," forgetting for the moment the difference between talking and doing.
What Jindal has not been able to muster is results. For a man whose campaign coffers are littered with the names and dollars linked to energy companies, Jindal has not proven particularly effective at using the doors he used to get campaign donations to get additional help to the region to deal with the gusher, its impact, or its aftermath.
What we do know is that, on the Louisiana coast, Bobby's in charge. Except when he's not.
BR Harder than BP
In some significant ways, the BP Gulf Gusher is an easier issue for Jindal than the current legislative session. After all, Jindal is not calling the shots. He's allowed the luxury of second-guessing both the federal government and BP.
Baton Rouge, though, is another animal and, since Jindal has gone coastal, things appear to be spinning out of control on the budgets (2010, 2011 and 2012) and members of the House have risen up to fight Jindal and Alan Levine's attempts to privatize broad swaths of state-owned healthcare infrastructure.
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin raised the possibility that the session could end without a budget in place for the next fiscal year. He did not mention whether that prospect included the possibility of not being able to close the hole in the budget for the current fiscal year.
To read the rest of "Jindal's Sand and Oil Woes" click here.
Vitter Not Interested in Investigating Regulatory Contributors to BP Gulf Gusher
John David Vitter took a stab at politicizing the BP Gulf Gusher on Saturday when he delivered the Republican radio and Internet address on Saturday.
Specifically, Louisiana's junior senator voiced his displeasure over the calling of congressional hearings into the oversight of oil and gas drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico and what that might mean for President Obama's energy policy which (prior to the Deepwater Horizon blowout) called for an expansion of offshore drilling.
Vitter is apparently concerned that renewed public focus on how the oil and gas industry turned the Mineral Management Service (MMS) into a subsidiary instead of a regulator and steward of the country's mineral wealth will result in much tougher safety, environmental and liability standards for the industry.
In his address, Vitter said that "some in Washington have tried to seize on this real human tragedy in the Gulf to advocate for a radical new energy agenda" by putting a halt to all new offshore drilling.
"That only cheapens the loss of those who've lost loved ones and brushes aside the ongoing, unsolved problem to spring forward with an emotionally charged political agenda," Vitter said.
Well, if anyone is qualified to speak about cheapening things of great value, it is Vitter. What does it say about the Republican Party when the best spokesman it can muster on the BP Gulf Gusher is a disgraced politician like Vitter?
While Vitter was preening on the national stage, Democrat Charlie Melancon was in Houma conducting a town hall meeting about the Gulf Gusher and its impact. After that meeting, Melancon issued a statement in response to Vitter's performance:
"I held a town hall meeting today in Houma with more than 100 south Louisianians whose health and livelihoods have been put at risk by the BP oil spill disaster and not one of them complained about committee hearings. David Vitter had a chance to put the needs of Louisiana families affected by this disaster in the national spotlight, but unfortunately he chose to make a partisan speech that was more about DC politics than helping Louisiana.
"If David Vitter thinks congressional hearings are a waste of time, then he should stop attending them. In the meantime, Congress will continue to call whomever they think is necessary to testify under oath to get to the bottom of what went wrong, whether it's government agencies, BP or any other entities. As long as they keep telling half-truths about what happened, how bad the leak is, and what they're doing to fix it, we'll keep asking the tough questions.
"We need to stay focused on putting Louisiana's needs first, before politics."
Jindal 'Gold Standard' Gushing Unreported Campaign Cash Following Ruling
You'll have to pardon the latest rantings of the members of the Louisiana Board of Ethics this past week. They were apparently suffering from the delusion that it was their job to enforce the Jindal Ethics "Gold Standard." Under the legal regime pronounced by Governor Jindal (and duly enacted by a then-docile Legislature) in the first days of his term, the Board has greatly reduced power.
While it has been clear for some time that the function of the board is quite limited with the real power residing with administrative law judges, the board took some comfort from the fact that they were at least the public face of the standard which has been haled far and wide as the major (some say sole) accomplishment of Jindal's two-plus years in office.
Ethics Board members were outraged when it was revealed that a panel of ethics judges had refused to penalize an organization that, it appeared, had blatantly disregarded the state's campaign finance laws.
Here is The Advocate's summation of the facts:
The three-judge adjudicatory panel found a Washington, D.C.-area Democratic group violated the state’s campaign finance law by failing to file required reports. The group spent $644,000 on television commercials criticizing 2007 Republican attorney general candidate Royal Alexander.
But the three-judge panel assessed no fine against The Louisiana Justice Fund because it said those behind the group did not know they were supposed to file. The group is funded by the Democratic Attorneys General Association Inc., a Denver-based organization formed to support the elections of Democrats to a state’s top legal post.
Under the Jindal Gold Standard, ignorance is bliss when it comes to campaign finance laws. That it was a Democratic group that went unpunished makes the case all the more delicious.
But campaign finance was conspicuously absent from the Jindal 2008 ethics agenda. That was no accident. Jindal's 2007 gubernatorial campaign benefited handsomely from a gaping hole in campaign finance laws that allows individuals who control multiple limited liability corporations (LLCs) to contribute the maximum amount to campaigns through each entity.
Louisiana was years ahead of the Citizens United ruling.
A detailed examination of Jindal's 2007 campaign finance reports revealed that 100 limited liability companies (LLCs) controlled by 28 individuals or companies contributed more than $500,000 to the erstwhile congressman's second campaign for governor. The use of multiple LLCs controlled by these individuals or companies enabled them to contribute more to Jindal's campaign than the $5,000 limit on contributions set in the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.
Jindal did not seek changes in the campaign finance law because that loophole system worked for him. But, by detaching enforcement of the statute from the Board of Ethics, which had people with real world experience on it, and handing it to the administrative law judges, Jindal has effectively gutted the campaign finance laws.
This is particularly worrisome in connection with Jindal's own campaign since he has spent so much time out of state raising money. While his campaign has regularly reported its activities as required, Jindal is now a national figure (albeit a relatively minor one). With this ruling, the floodgates now appear to be open to out-of-state political organizations and groups to pour money into Louisiana campaigns and not report that money.
Jindal has not shown any interest in campaign finance reform during his tenure. Don't expect him to show any now. The current system has been very, very good to him.
The continued unraveling of Jindal's ethics regime keeps renewing the currency of Mary Evelyn Parker's observation about the tenuous connection between glitter and gold.