DOLLAR BILL NEEDED MORE SENSE
The conviction this past week of former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson (affectionately nicknamed “Dollar Bill” by his arch rival, former New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial) closes another painful chapter of corruption in Louisiana politics. Although the highly intelligent, Harvard-educated Jefferson represented New Orleans, his political network was statewide, as was the impact of his actions. On the local Acadiana level, Jefferson was very close to Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins (both of whom served in the Louisiana Senate), as well as Acadian Ambulance CEO Richard Zuschlag, whom Jefferson selected to be King of Washington Mardi Gras in 2005 to reign over the event with his daughter.
Jefferson also had other less dubious connections to Acadiana. According to a well placed source familiar with the situation, Jefferson, as a state Senator in 1988, was the architect of the Senate coup that dethroned the late Sen. Allen Bares as president of the state Senate and replaced him with Sen. Sammy Nunez, an Edwin Edwards ally. It spelled the beginning of the end for Buddy Roemer’s reform agenda as governor. By a vote of 20 to 19, Bares, the governor’s hand-picked Senate president, was ousted. According to the same source, the Senate was deadlocked for weeks at 19 to 19 behind the scenes, until Jefferson was able to convince one undecided senator to join the anti-Bares effort. That senator’s name: Mike Foster of Franklin. Yes, it’s the same Mike Foster who went on the become governor in 1995. Of equal irony, and a testament to Jefferson’s loyalty to no one, is the fact that Gov. Foster’s opponent for re-election as governor in 1999 was none other than Congressman William Jefferson. “It’s not personal; it’s only business,” a moniker used frequently in the movie The Godfather, applied in all aspects of the Jefferson famiglia dealings. William Jefferson’s political life had more plot twists and examples of double crossing than a spy novel.
Some who know Jefferson point to one seminal moment they believe led to Jefferson’s downward spiral: the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Prior to that time, Jefferson enjoyed being in the Democratic majority, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and one of then-President Bill Clinton’s closest friends in Congress. With the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract with America” that ousted the Democratic majority, Jefferson’s power in Congress washed away like a sand castle on a beach. It was at that point some say Jefferson lost his focus on governing, and instead dedicated his congressional energy to incubating deals for his family. As Jefferson reportedly commented while burying his head in his hands when the FBI raided his home four years ago and retrieved $90,000 in bribe money from his freezer, “What a waste.”
No literary giant could have written a more appropriate epitaph.
COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU
In the ’80s and early ’90s it became a cult phenomenon for odd characters to don costumes imitating the stars of the show and attend weekend performances (usually at midnight ) of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater. It was a truly bizarre era in American culture, which was repeated on a weekly basis at movie theaters for quite some time. History seems to be repeating itself with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “Louisiana Working Tour,” which Jindal has pledged to take to all 64 parishes — repeating the same script at every stop. First, he starts by signing an oversized check to fund some public works project in the area, some of which is paid for with federal stimulus funds (which he denounces while on his national speaking circuit). Then he calls up all local legislators to accept the check, making the perfect photo-op for the hometown paper. And every week, people keep coming out to see the show.
Lafayette’s iteration, hosted at the Holidome on Evangeline Thruway a few weeks ago, may have been the most wacky. In the main event the governor parades out “real Louisianans” who have been helped by his policies, who simply stand, smile and nod as the governor describes how his actions have forever changed their existence on earth. Sort of like a Constituent Petting Zoo or Post Faith Healing Reunion between Miracle Worker and afflicted. Then the Louisiana State Police helicopter powers up, and it’s off to the next town. Interestingly, not a single member of the Lafayette legislative delegation was mentioned or thanked by Jindal in his speech (including Senate Finance Chairman Mike Michot). Neither did any of the legislators speak or offer praise for Jindal at the event. It was all Bobby, all the time.
The tragedy in this is that some combination of political handlers, national aspirations or bad political advice is depriving Louisiana of having the benefit of Bobby Jindal’s true talents. His work in health care (on the state and national level) and higher education have given him a perspective that no governor in history had the benefit of when taking office. His election mandate has given him the ability to mold, like a potter, a new delivery design system for both. But fear of the political capital to be expended or negative stories being written by the national media while undertaking such an effort have kept Jindal from leading in either area, despite his ability to do so. Rather than continue to use the talents that got him where he is today in public life, he is instead playing like a team with a big lead: don’t score more points, just play defense.
Louisiana needs more, expects more. And Bobby Jindal is capable of delivering more than this tired, scripted theater.
PEEP RIGHT ON ALL COUNTS
As I predicted in May and June — when I came back to report that she was a shoo-in (or should I say shoe-in?) — Alexandria attorney/Louisiana State Bar Association President Beth Foote was nominated to the U.S. Western District federal judgeship position by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Also as I predicted, current Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley was nominated, along with north Louisiana attorney John Belton, for the U.S. attorney position. Sources say Finley is the inside choice — that Belton’s name was merely submitted to prevent a white male backlash. President Barack Obama ultimately makes the appointments. Former head of Louisiana State Police Henry Whitehorn of Alexandria was nominated to the position of U.S. marshal
MAY 23 Here's a story in the Picayune about some statistics that must come as a blow to folks who believe that any private school can do a better job of educating kids than any public school: Danielle Dreilinger reports that only 30 percent of the voucher kids are passing. That's less than half of the state wide average, she says. It's an interesting statistic because most of the schools (if not all) taking voucher kids have never had their students' standardized test scores released to the public before.
MAY 23 Stephen Sabludowsky blogs on Bayou Buzz about auditor requests here. Recently the state GOP started crowing about a request from the Legislative Auditor, claiming they were being targeted because of their anti-tax stance. (Uh, your what?) Denial and hyperbole aside, the state Democratic party blew holes in that theory with an email announcing they'd received the same request, Sabludowsky writes here.
MAY 23 Jim Brown blogs about the senate race in this post. He says that, given Bobby Jindal's "lack of traction" on the national stage, it might make more sense for the governor to consider running against Mary Landrieu for the senate seat. Since Tim Teeple left the Cassidy team, it makes sense he might land on a Jindal for Senate team, Brown opines.
MAY 23 In this Louisiana Voice post, blogger Tom Aswell writes of rumors that his nemesis, state Superintendent of Education John White, may be soon departing Louisiana for a federal post. It's hard to believe, given his performance, Aswell says, but stranger things have happened. An anti-White BESE member says that, if true, White is quitting before he can be fired.
MAY 23 In this post on American Zombie, blogger Jason Berry writes about the Mother's Day shooting. Mayor Landrieu said that "this is not who we are," but the fact is, this is New Orleans, Berry writes. The violence infused in the city is the result of a culture created by "sins of omission or sins of commission," Berry writes. It's not a problem that can be solved by legislating, policing, praying or publicizing, he says: Someone's got to understand what's happening first.
MAY 23 This post in the Westside Journal tells us what Port Allen Mayor Deedy has been up to lately: vetoing ordinances, apparently. This story is most interesting, however, when it delves into a petition that has been circulating around the city lately. It accuses the former mayor of a lot of nasty things; the former mayor says it is full of lies and "broken syntax" which may be a larger offense in his eyes.
MAY 23 This editorial posted in The Advocate is a bit confusing. The writing is poor - definitely not up to the usual editorial writing standard there - and the point is hard to grasp. Apparently, the writer is saying that privatization of state efforts is OK, as long as there is oversight and transparency, but Jindal's not good at that, and the legislature shouldn't over-react. Okey Dokey. Can't they get one of them Pulitzer-winning people to write an editorial?
MAY 23 This post on The Lens gives you links to a new Google Earth tool that allows you to see any spot on earth transform over the past 30 years. Bob Marshall, who covers the coast for the paper, says that in the case of Louisiana's coastline, it's possibly something you don't want to see, because it's not a pretty picture. There are several clips here, showing critical areas erode away. For Marshall, it was vindication for all those times he was met with eye-rolling when he talked about erosion.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.