Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Can Blueprint make a difference?
In the national news lately for all the wrong reasons — U.S. Sen. David Vitter, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, Edwin Edwards (need we say more?) — Louisiana has a long way to go to change the nation's perception of how government is run here. And, more important, to change how government is run here. But a grassroots group that got its start in Lafayette has an ambitious plan to turn the state around. Blueprint Louisiana, spearheaded by local businessmen Matt Stuller, Bill Fenstermaker and Clay Allen, who is also an attorney, unveiled its much-anticipated agenda yesterday in Baton Rouge:

1. Adopt the nation's best ethics laws
2. Expand nationally recognized Pre-K program
3. Better utilize community/technical colleges for skilled workforce
4. Health care for the uninsured
5. Transportation projects/more toll roads

Calling itself a non-partisan organization, which also includes prominent civic and community leaders from across the state, Blueprint worked on the agenda for about a year — reviewing in excess of 400 reports on a wide range of topics and interviewing more than 50 experts on a variety of subjects. To collect additional input and guidance, in April the group hosted a series of workshops in nine regions of the state, drawing interest from about 750 residents.

Blueprint certainly isn't the state's first reform movement, but its membership is growing every day with hopes politicians will step across party lines — and how refreshing that would be — to take the bait. Let's just hope state officials, and there's a whole new batch coming into office with this year's election, don't follow in the footsteps of their predecessors — or their friends in Washington. We deserve better.

Pat Leblanc hopes to fill Alexander's shoes
With state Rep. Ernie Alexander not seeking re-election, local architect Pat Leblanc says he will be a candidate in the upcoming election for the south Lafayette District 43 seat. "I would have never considered running against Ernie because I do consider him a close friend," Leblanc says. "I've always considered running for his seat when the seat became available."


In addition to his family architecture firm, the Leblanc Group, Leblanc is also president of LCS Corrections, the fifth largest private prison system in the U.S., with several correctional facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. He says his prison business deals almost exclusively with federal inmates and it does not have any direct contracts with the state. The 53-year-old Leblanc has been politically active for years within the Republican Party and has been a major supporter of Ernie Alexander and Congressman Charles Boustany. He hosted an event for Boustany with Vice President Dick Cheney several years ago and more recently held a fundraiser at his home for Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Leblanc is also a past president of Acadiana Homebuilders, past chairman of the Cajundome Commission, and currently serves on the Louisiana Residential Licensing Board.


Leblanc says he wants to see tougher ethics and financial disclosure laws for elected officials, as well as more state investment in the Lafayette area. "We're not prepared," he says, "and we're not in a situation where we have the roads or the infrastructure to be able to handle all this imposed growth that we've endured in the past two years. We are an economic engine for the state and yet it seems we're being overlooked in a lot of ways. We're sending a lot of money to Baton Rouge and we should be getting a lot more of it back."

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