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If You Want to Hide Something From Bobby Jindal, Put It In a Law Book

In the late 1950s, Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long once said that the state’s attorney general didn’t know the difference between a jumpsuit and a lawsuit. “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion,” he said, “put it in a law book.”

Compared to the current Governor of Louisiana, Uncle Earl would probably have to admit that old Jack Gremillion seems like a legal genius. After more than six years as a tenant of the fourth floor in the House That Huey Built, Bobby Jindal is now the least popular Governor in contemporary Louisiana history and one of the least popular elected officials in the entire country. According to the most recent polling, Jindal is approved by only 32% of Louisiana voters. If he ran for President, he’d lose Louisiana to Hillary Clinton. And in a hypothetical race for Governor against Edwin Edwards, Jindal would get trounced. “Bobby Jindal continues to have the worst poll numbers of just about any elected official in the country,” Dean Debnam of Public Policy Polling explains. “If he gets into the Presidential race, he’ll be doing it with very little support from his own state.”

Governor Earl K. Long

Governor Earl K. Long

To outside observers, Jindal’s abysmal poll numbers in Louisiana may seem astonishing. After all, Louisiana is considered a reliably, solidly Republican state, and Jindal has spent the entirety of his tenure throwing red meat to the right wing. Even though his response to President Obama’s first-ever address to a joint session of Congress was a huge disaster (and a comedy goldmine), Jindal has somehow maintained his national reputation as a conservative leader. Last year, he was the head of the Republican Governors Association. He’s a regular on the Sunday talk shows and on the conservative conference circuit. He tours the country stumping for fellow Republican candidates and, despite his sinking numbers in Louisiana, he’s still considered a long-shot contender for the Republican Presidential nomination.

There is a conventional explanation for why Jindal’s astronomical popularity (at one point, he was the most popular Governor in the country) has plummeted so dramatically: He seems to care more about building up his own national profile than actually doing the job he was elected to do. If you believe this, then Bobby Jindal is simply the victim of his own hubris, a man who thought Louisiana voters cared more about him being on Fox News than him being in Baton Rouge, a politician who mistakenly believed he was elected to be a celebrity.

That explanation, I’m afraid, is far too generous. Bobby Jindal is unpopular in Louisiana for one simple reason: He’s been a terrible Governor who never understood his own state.

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A few years ago, one of Jindal’s closest confidants told me that the Governor had very little patience for lawyers. He intended it as a compliment. Lawyers look for reasons things can’t be done, he explained, and to paraphrase the old adage, Jindal would rather seek forgiveness later than permission first. To some, perhaps that seems like an attribute of a real leader. To me, it seemed like a dishonest and troubling excuse for incompetence. It may seem folksy to attack lawyers for inconveniencing you, but if you’re a lawmaker, your success hinges on your understanding of the facts and the law.

Only a few months after he took office, Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, a law that was written and promoted by far-right religious organizations seeking to allow the teaching of new earth creationism in the public school science classroom. Although the law has yet to be legally challenged (largely because the State Department of Education pulled back on its implementation), it is most assuredly unconstitutional.

Similarly, among other things, Jindal’s school voucher program, his state retirement plan, and his teacher tenure and evaluation “reforms” have all been ruled unconstitutional.

Jindal also championed the passage of a thoughtless, overly broad constitutional amendment that critics rightly warned could allow convicted murderers the right to possess semi-automatic weapons. After Judge Pitre ruled the law did just that, fortunately, the Louisiana State Supreme Court found a creative way to preserve the state’s prohibitions on felons owning guns, though the law is still considered “an immediate threat to any existing and future firearm legislation.”

In the upcoming months, courts will consider the constitutionality of a number of other laws signed and enacted by Governor Jindal, and if his batting average holds steady, the chances are that Jindal will continue to strike out. During the previous legislative session, Jindal signed a law that attempts to shield oil and gas companies from otherwise legitimate lawsuits seeking damages for breach of contract and negligence, a law that was brought to Louisiana at the behest of the very companies who are responsible for the degradation of the state’s coast and marshland and a law that was championed by a State Senator who made his fortune from the oil and gas industry. Notably, the oil and gas industry has collectively contributed more than $1 million to Governor Jindal’s campaign fund, despite the fact that he’s prohibited from running for Governor again until 2019. By signing the law, Jindal potentially keeps these companies off-the-hook for the tens of billions of dollars in damages for which they are allegedly responsible.

This year, Jindal also enacted a pernicious and duplicitous law that would force the immediate closure of three of the state’s five abortion clinics by requiring physicians at those clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a regulation that experts claim to be “medically unnecessary” and almost identical to the laws in Mississippi and Alabama that have both been overruled as unconstitutional during the last two weeks. As the United States Supreme Court held in Casey, a state may not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to access contraceptive or abortion care, and to paraphrase the court in Alabama, if you’re closing three of the state’s five clinics based on some new law that isn’t even medically necessary, you’re not fooling anyone: This is about imposing an undue burden, and it has absolutely nothing to do with caring for a woman’s health. According to a friend who claims to have publicly exchanged a series of letters with the bill’s author, the State Representative didn’t care about medical care; she cared only about “God’s will,” and apparently, she had deluded herself into believing that she was God’s ordained messenger. With all due respect to her, if a court considers her legislative intent persuasive testimony about the purpose of this bill, they’ll be able to knock it out without ever even considering the other issues.

And I’m just skimming the surface here: There are equally valid and compelling criticisms of Jindal’s stubborn refusal to recognize equal rights under the law for LGBT Americans, his complete dereliction of duty in implementing the Affordable Care Act and in expanding Medicaid, his persistent rejection of federal funds that would be used to build broadband internet capabilities in rural Louisiana and a modest commuter rail line on existing infrastructure in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

*****

I am a progressive Democrat. That much should be obvious. And if you’re even marginally familiar with my work, you likely know that I’ve never been a fan of Governor Bobby Jindal, though, at times, I’ve wanted to be.

I am a true believer in the cult of Louisiana, and even though I’ve spent the last three years away in Texas at law school, I’ve been able to see more, experience more, and learn more about the people, the history, and the places in my home state than I ever did while living in Alexandria. My distance from the state provides some perspective, and my work as a law student provides some flexibility. During the last three years, while living in Dallas, I’ve spent a combined total of five months all over the entire state of Louisiana.

I have family, on both sides, that settled in Louisiana way back in the early 1700s- distant grandfathers and uncles who fought on all sides of those wars. We are, of course, a nation of immigrants, and while my ancestors don’t earn me a special sticker or badge on my driver’s license, I was taught, from a very young age, to appreciate the ways in which our history informs our present: slavery and the Civil War, the complexities of Reconstruction, Prohibition and the Great Depression, Jim Crow and school desegregation, the forced subjugation of African-Americans and the forced assimilation of Cajuns, the strange and complicated definition of Creole, the cultural differences between Bayou Cajuns, Prairie Cajuns, and their more sophisticated neighbors down in New Orleans. I grew up in a city that had been burned down, and I was born into a family that made its living building the city back, literally.

*****

Jindal’s miscalculation isn’t just that he cared more about being a celebrity than a politician, and it’s not simply that he treats the law as an inconvenience. He’s a terrible Governor because it’s abundantly clear that he doesn’t possess a burning and blinding passion for Louisiana, which should be the most important qualification for the job.

He’s just not authentic, and people, inevitably, see right through him. To be clear, this has nothing to do with race or ethnicity; after all, he was elected twice statewide, by large margins. And although Jindal is a first-generation American (his parents actually conceived him from their native India), he was born, reared, and educated here, in Louisiana public schools. But despite his bona fides, he just doesn’t “get” Louisiana, because he’s always preferred Washington, D.C.

Throughout his tenure as Governor, when he’s not traveling the country promoting partisan politics, Jindal has essentially bankrupted his own political capital on policies, reforms, and projects that may appeal to national Republican pundits but that prove tone-deaf to the people of Louisiana. He enacted a series of ethics reforms acts, promising to increase transparency in government. Yet the law’s most notable accomplishment was the expansion of exemptions he provided to himself.

All of his other major legislative achievements eventually became disasters: The tax overhaul, the voucher program, and teacher tenure reform were all plays for national attention, much like the misguided constitutional amendment he supported on deregulating guns or the battle he is currently waging over Common Core and his efforts to effectively ban abortion.

He promised to be a policy reformer, and instead, he has become a hackneyed culture warrior who counts his victories by the number of soundbites he receives in the conservative media. It doesn’t matter how many times he loses in court or how many of his laws are struck down as unconstitutional or how many millions of public dollars are squandered defending laws that should have never been signed in the first place.

Recently, former Governor Edwin Edwards was asked about his thoughts on Jindal. “Doesn’t hunt, doesn’t gamble, doesn’t eat crawfish,” he said. “He likes to travel. Let them make him Secretary of Transportation.”

That may seem like a joke, but considering Jindal’s record, it’s actually sensible career advice.

An Exclusive Interview With Governor Edwin Edwards

Last Thursday, I drove down to Baton Rouge to interview the Cajun Prince, the Silver Fox, former four-term Louisiana Governor, former Louisiana State Supreme Court Justice, former United States Congressman, former federal inmate #03128-095, former reality television star, and current candidate for Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District, Edwin Washington Edwards. Like him or loathe him, it’s indisputable that, since his very first election- 60 years ago- to the Crowley City Council, Edwin Edwards has remained an irrepressible, unforgettable political figure.

His life’s story, which is exhaustively documented in Leo Honeycutt’s authorized biography, reads like a Greek or Shakespearean tragicomedy. Depending on who you ask, Edwin Edwards is either the most beloved politician in Louisiana history or the epitome of political corruption. He is either a good and decent man who was unfairly targeted and railroaded by his ideological foes or a loathsome and ethically bankrupt politician who ultimately became a victim of his own hubris. The truth, in my opinion, is not so clearcut.

Although his biography was published a few years ago, no one should mistake it for an obituary: Edwin Washington Edwards is still very much alive, and if he has it his way, the final chapters won’t be about prison and falling from grace; they’ll be about redemption and vindication.

The odds may be stacked against him, but currently, Edwards is ahead in the polls in his bid to represent Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District. And it increasingly appears that if you are an Edwards’ supporter, you’d want his main challenger to be a far right radical whose views on science, education, and basic civil rights have been characterized as extremist and divisive; it’s the type of candidate that Edwards has, historically, done well against.

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At the height of his power, Edwards was a showman and a dazzling orator, capable of moving audiences in both English and Cajun French, evoking a brand of Louisiana populism reminiscent of his most famous predecessor, Huey P. Long. Like baseball great Yogi Berra, a man born only two years before him, Edwin Edwards is also widely known for his quick, playful, and, at times, irreverent wit and his penchant for the one-liner, a talent that, most assuredly, he still possesses.

Today, at the age of 87, Edwards may not be as much of a firebrand as he was 20 years ago, and it’s impossible to overlook the signs of aging. But he does come across as a sort of an elder statesman, albeit one with a checkered past. Before we began our interview, he warned me that he had forgotten his hearing aids; I’d need to sit close and speak up.IMG_1344

The interview took place at his campaign headquarters, located in an upscale, one-
story office park in Baton Rouge, and greeting us at the office’s front door was the Governor’s wife, Trina- an ebullient blonde 36-year-old from Alexandria dressed smartly in Brooks Brothers. Eleven months ago, Trina gave birth to Edwards’ fifth child (and her third), Eli Wallace Edwards; her pregnancy was chronicled in the short-lived and widely-panned A&E reality television show, “The Governor’s Wife.”

Trina and I briefly met a few years ago, and perhaps not surprisingly (considering we’re around the same age and from the same hometown) share several mutual friends, including the producer and creator of the A&E show. Her marriage to Governor Edwards may be unconventional, but according to those who know her well, the two are very much in love. “That show didn’t do her justice,” one of her friends recently told me. “She’s sharp as a tack, and if it were up to me, she’d be the candidate. She’s very smart.”

Although her husband is the candidate and although she is a registered Republican, the campaign is obviously a team effort. When I requested an interview with Governor Edwards, he told me that Trina thought I was “too liberal for her but probably right for me.” She is not only the campaign’s treasurer; she is also, in many ways, its gatekeeper.

That said, there were no ground rules set for the interview. No topic was off-limits. I voluntarily provided him with a broad list of issues I wanted to discuss– coastal restoration, education, health care, abortion, and history– but we ended up talking about much more.

*****

After exchanging pleasantries with Trina, Governor Edwards summoned me into a sparse back office. While my friends set up the video equipment, I took a seat in front of his desk. I reminded him of my Central Louisiana connections and how, for many in Central Louisiana, he was still a somewhat of a hometown hero.

“Are you familiar with Marksville?” he asked.

“Of course. I’ve spent a lot of time in Marksville.”

“Are you familiar with Moncla?”

“I don’t think so. But I do know some people in the Moncla family.”

“Well, I’m from Moncla,” he said. “A small town outside of Marksville.

Before the camera began rolling, as I mentioned earlier, Governor Edwards said he had forgotten his hearing aids, so, instead of sitting across the desk from him, we decided it would be easier if I sat directly next to him.

For those of you who don’t know, I was born with cerebral palsy, and I carry around some spasticity, particularly in my upper body, which sometimes affects my balance and movement. It took me a few seconds to collect myself before I moved closer to Governor Edwards’ ear. “You can’t hear well, and I can’t walk right,” I explained to him.

“What is it that you have?” he asked. “MS?”

“No, I have cerebral palsy,” I said. He then asked me a series of questions about my experience as a disabled person: Was my condition degenerative, or could I get better? “It’s not degenerative, and the stronger I get, the better I get.” Was I born with my disability or was it something that I was diagnosed with later in life? “Something I was born with.”

Could I use a computer and type?

“Yes,” I said. “I can.”

“Well, you’ve got more balls than I’ve got,” he quipped.

It also became abundantly clear to me that, despite what his critics may say about him, Edwin Edwards is still a natural at this stuff: A charmer and a cajoler, a man who recognizes that empathy and humor are the most powerful weapons in any arsenal, and that, more than anything else, politics is the art of friendship.

IMG_1339

*****

I wanted to ask Governor Edwards a series of serious questions about the most pressing issues facing Louisiana today. We skipped around quite a bit, and although my questions, at times, may have been a little disjointed, we managed to cover a ton of ground.

*****

TRANSCRIPT:

Lamar White (LW): I wanted to ask you some serious, substantive questions about policies in Louisiana and skip the regular questions that you get all of the time. And really get into the issues.

Edwin Edwards (EWE): Alright.

COASTAL RESTORATION

LW: You’re running against a guy, Garret Graves, who was Bobby Jindal’s coastal adviser, and I’m wondering what you thought of the recent passage of Senate Bill 469, which killed the levee lawsuit.

EWE: Well, the whole concept of fighting against finding out about the erosion of the marsh is, I think, a step backwards. Now, I’m not prepared to say whether the Corps of Engineers or the oil and gas companies or the trappers or Mother Nature is responsible for the damage, but there are two things that are certain: There is damage, and erosion is continuing to happen. And if we don’t do something about it, New Orleans will some day be on the shoreline. We don’t want that to happen. Now, in my opinion, I thought that the most prudent and proper thing to do was to have the courts make a decision about if there was damage, to what extent, and to what extent the Corps, nature, and the oil and gas companies and trappers are responsible, and issue a judgment to hold each of these entities responsible for its share of the damage.

But people like Graves and Jindal seem to think that the oil and gas companies have no obligation to repair the damage, if they did any. And I’m not saying they did, but I think we ought to find out if they did. But I thought it was, very, a step backwards for them to do what they did to prevent the courts from having a hearing to decide what happened.

LW: Right. Is this an issue that you will be campaigning on? Is it is an issue that affects your district?

EWE: I am. I have. And I will. Because it’s a very serious present and future problem for our state. And my point is: It’s not just Louisiana’s coast. It’s America’s coast, just like the coast of California and Florida and New York. And I think we properly should involve the federal government in any kind of settlement and resolution of the problem.

LW: There’s a- James Carville, the Ragin Cajun- my friend Cayman gave me this question. James Carville, the Ragin Cajun, famously said that all campaigns need three issues to resonate with voters. Keep it simple, but three issues. What do you think the three issues– what are your three main issues in this campaign?

THE TOP THREE ISSUES IN EDWARDS’ CAMPAIGN

EWE: Well certainly I am dependent upon the fact that I have been in politics for a long period of time. I’ve served successfully as the Governor of the state for sixteen years, and I also have been in Congress, unlike the other candidates running. And I would have an advantage of seniority if I get elected. And the issues that I see is this attitude that the present administration in Louisiana has that it’s all business and industry and nothing for the poor, the disadvantaged, and uneducated. They have taken away money out of the educational system. They’ve made it burdensome for students to go to college because of tuition costs. They have decimated the health care services in the state that has been a traditional great achievement for Louisiana, and I don’t like to see that happen.

ST. GEORGE CAMPAIGN

LW: I’m curious about what you think about the efforts underway in St. George, the area of Southern East Baton Rouge Parish. I know it’s a very controversial issue. You may not want to weigh into it.

EWE: Well, I don’t live in Baton Rouge, and I don’t have any opinion. Frankly, I think that’s left up to the voters. However, if I voted, I don’t think I would vote for the separation.

THE STATE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION IN LOUISIANA

LW: Right. And more on education. I guess I wanted to ask you what you think about the recent sort of overhaul of the Louisiana public education system, the charter schools that have been popping up everywhere, all across the state, and the school voucher program. Do you have an opinion on the merits of that program or-?

EWE: I think that any time you take away money that’s supposed to be for the public school system and give it to the private system- unless it directly goes to the student, like transporting the student to school- then I think you’re not only violating the Constitution, I think you’re doing damage to the public school system. And ultimately, if you continue to chip away from it, it’s going to fall under its own weight.

ABORTION

LW: I had a series of questions that I got from– when I said I was going to drive down here to Baton Rouge, I put it up on my Facebook and asked all of my friends to submit serious questions only. And I got this one more than once. And a few of them I’d like to ask you. Recently, Jindal signed House Bill 388. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but it had to do with access to abortion clinics, and its effect, they say, will be to close four of the state’s five clinics. He also recently signed another bill that would keep pregnant women alive on mechanical life support. And a lot of people see this as an erosion of pro-choice, women’s rights. And an issue that has already popped up in the campaign- in Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy’s Senate campaign. I’m curious about what you think about these issues and what you thought about that bill.

EWE: Well, we all have to recognize that since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has laid down guidelines that we have to live by, because it’s the law of the land. Within those parameters, then I think we need to do whatever we can to take care of the health of the woman and the child. I don’t think that government bureaucrats ought to tell a woman whose been raped or whose been impregnated by incest or whose life is in jeopardy that she has to bear the child. That’s a decision that she and her doctor should make it in her own best interest. And I don’t want government bureaucrats deciding that for her. Now it’s kind of interesting to me that the very people who yell the most about getting government out of their lives are the ones who want government to come in, in these situations, and dictate to the woman.

Now look, am I for abortion? No I’m not. I don’t know anybody who is for abortion. But I’m also interested in a woman’s rights to make decisions for herself, based upon the Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court.

LOUISIANA AS THE PRISON CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

LW: Right. Another question I got was about the ways in which Louisiana…. First of all, there was an article that came out last year in The Times-Picayune about Louisiana being the prison capital of the world, that there are more people incarcerated per capita in Louisiana than anywhere else. And I’m curious about what your thoughts are about the prison industrial complex, the privatization of prisons in Louisiana, and what ways, how we can change that.

EWE: Well, number one, we have too many mandatory sentences and too many minimum sentences. Not enough discretion is left to the trial judge because no case fits everybody. A crime that you commit may in certain circumstances justify some type of leniency. On the other hands, someone else, based upon prior violence, might not require that or justify it. My point is that I don’t believe we are the most corrupt people in the universe. I don’t think it’s fair to say that people in Louisiana deserve to be in prison, but I do recognize that drugs has created a serious problem for us. And it’s obvious to me that “Just Say No” has been a dismal failure, and we need to address, in my opinion, more preventive care and also curative care for those who are caught in that web, rather than simply throwing them into a locked cell.

THE PRIVATIZATION OF PRISONS

LW: And as far as the privatization of prisons. What do you think about this idea that–?

EWE: Well, prisons are not made to make money. Prisons were made to care for people who cannot live outside society, and these people who buy these prisons do so to make money. And they do so at the costs of the services and the conditions that they render for the inmates. I believe the prison system is a function of government and should be maintained by government.

THE DESTRUCTION OF LOUISIANA’S CHARITY HOSPITAL SYSTEM

LW: This sort of is a good segue into the question I got about the charity hospital system. And a lot of people asked me to ask you what you think of the privatization of our charity hospital system.

EWE: Again, we had a magnificent hospital system. We were the only state in the nation that had a statewide charity system, going back to the days of Huey Long. When I was Governor, I built a charity system in Houma, one in Monroe, one in Lafayette, and I modernized the system in Lake Charles and in Columbia and in Shreveport. Because I believe that the state has a proper role in providing health care for its citizens.

MEDICAID EXPANSION UNDER THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

LW: The issue’s come up a lot so far in the Senate campaign. I’m sure it’s going to come up in your campaign for Congress. But- and it did last year too- the Medicaid expansion dollars that Bobby Jindal refused from the federal government. What’s your opinion on that?

EWE: It’s one of the worst decisions he’s made. We have 300,000 people in Louisiana- children, old people on fixed income, people who are unemployed or underemployed who cannot afford hospital services, and with a signature on a piece of paper, he could put those people in a health care system, paid for completely by the federal government for three years and up to 95% thereafter, at no cost to the state.

Now, my point is this: This is 2011 (a reference to the year Jindal made his decision). We are are a compassionate people. We do not allow people to suffer and die unattended, and this is an opportunity that he had to provide that health care to people who heretofore have not had access to adequate care.

Now, I couple that with this argument: If you’re not a believer in the words of Jesus- to do what we can for these who are less than we are- then look at it from the conservative viewpoint. Under the law, the hospitals have to treat these people even if they can’t pay. So what is happening is that without proper coverage, they’re going to flood to the emergency rooms, seeking medical attention which they should’ve gotten through the regular channels. What does that mean? When you get there, you’ll be in a room of 2 to 300 people who ought to have gotten treatment otherwise. Number one.

Number two. Since they can’t charge but must treat them, they factor the costs of the bills in your bill, and your insurance company ends up paying for it. So either way, the system needs to work for the benefit of children who are sick and dying and old people who are on fixed income. And I regret it very much that this Governor has chosen not to participate in it, because I think he feels like he doesn’t want Louisiana to be part of the United States of America.

CREATIONISM IN THE CLASSROOM

LW: I wanted to ask you a- not related to this- but before I get into sort of the light, off-color questions I have about Louisiana, there’s a question about– One of the very first things that Bobby Jindal did when he was elected was he signed this bill called the Louisiana Science Education Act. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this legislation, but it basically allows public school science teachers to supplement their materials to teach creationism in the classroom. And when you were Governor, you were actually the plaintiff I believe- probably just by virtue of the fact that you were Governor- in a very important, seminal case on creationism in the classroom, Edwards v. Aguillard. I’m curious about what you think about this law, because the Court in Edwards v. Aguillard seemed to be pretty clear that public schools cannot teach creationism in a science classroom.

EWE: Well, in my opinion, that is the law based upon Supreme Court decisions, and I think it is correct because it fortifies the theory that we have- which I think is a good one- to keep separation of state and religious practices.

Now, having said that, little by little, the creationism people have tried to erode that principle, but every time they’ve done it, at great cost to the state in litigation, they’ve ended up losing. And I don’t know why we continue to go down that road. Because until the Supreme Court changes that position, that’s what we’re going to have to do.

FELLOW INMATE AND FELLOW FORMER GOVERNOR, DON SIEGELMAN OF ALABAMA

LW: So I want to ask you too about your life in Oakdale and the time you spent there. A few years ago, I met at the Democratic National Committee in Denver- the Convention, rather- Don Siegelman, the Governor of Alabama, and I believe he served time with you. Is that right?

EWE: I knew him well when he was in Oakdale.

LW: What was your experience with him being there, the two Governors being there? Did you have a good relationship with him?

EWE: Oh yes, we spent a lot of time together.

LW: Do you know much about his case?

EWE: Oh yes, absolutely. And I thought he was the only person I know who got a deal that was rawer than the deal I got from the federal government. But he had a former US Senator– I mean a former US prosecutor who became a US Senator, who was after him politically, and that there was a whole conspiracy, practically everybody, from Karl Rove on down the line to the US prosecutor who prosecuted him. Something like 45 State Attorneys General signed a petition declaring that he had been improperly treated and asked for leniency, but it never got anywhere. And I hope in some way and some day, he finds some justice, vindication.

LW: I’m not sure what the status is, but when I met him, he was off, out.

EWE: He’s back in Oakdale.

LW: He’s back.

EWE: And still working on his case. But once you get into the federal system, it’s awfully hard to get extricated.

JIM LETTEN AND EDDIE JORDAN’S FALL FROM GRACE

LW: What did you think of the recent scandal in the US Attorneys Office in New Orleans involving internet commenting, and the sudden resignation of Jim Letten?

EWE: My wife believes in karma. And I think if you want to believe in karma, that’s a prime example. I take comfort- although I don’t like to revel in other people’s miseries- in the fact that the US Attorney who was involved in my case ran for District Attorney in New Orleans, and then had to resign because he bankrupted the office.

LW: Right.

EWE: And he was forced out of office in disgrace.

HURRICANE KATRINA

LW: What was your experience- I know you were in jail at the time- but what was your experience during Hurricane Katrina? Were you able to watch the live news footage on television?

EWE: Well, I saw it on television when I was in prison, and I was horrified. Went to bed many nights with my heart aching for the unfortunate people caught in that trap- in part, man-made and in part, forces of nature. And I thought, “Oh how I wish I were Governor. I think I would do things different. At one time, there were probably 2,000 motorboats stacked up alongside the highway outside of New Orleans, anxious to get into rescue people but they wouldn’t let them in because they didn’t have certificates of insurance. If I’d been Governor, I’d say to hell with that- you want to arrest people, you want to put me in prison- do so. But I’m not going to let those people suffer and die while you hold me up on some type of technicality. But I’m just a different kind of person. I’m a can-do fellow. I grab hold of things, and I get them done. I get criticized, but I make things work.

JINDAL’S ABSENTEE TENURE

LW: What’s your assessment of the current Governor? I know you’ve spoken a lot about him.

EWE: I don’t understand why he wants to be Governor of Louisiana. He seems more interested in Michigan and Florida and California and the rest of the country, but he needs to wake up to the fact that Louisiana is one of the 50 states and is going to continue to be, and we need to recognize that we are part of the national government.

LW: When you see his travel schedule and the amount of time he actually spends at the Capitol, on the Fourth Floor, what do you think? How much of a hands-on job is it, a 40-hour-a-week job? Can you really do it anywhere in the country, or do you need to be–?

EWE: Well, when I was Governor, I was here. I answered the phone. If there was a problem, I addressed it. Some people didn’t like the way I did it, but I addressed it. And I wanted to be the Governor of Louisiana, not Michigan or California or Florida. But Louisiana, because this is the state that I love and where I wanted to serve. And I think I must have done a pretty good job because I’m the only Governor who managed to do it for four terms.

LW: Right. And it is an hands-on job, which was what I was trying to get at.

EWE: Yeah, it is.

THE 2015 RACE FOR LOUISIANA GOVERNOR

LW: And what about the race to replace him. It’s a pretty crowded field. It looks right now that it could be Jay Dardenne, the Lieutenant Governor, obviously Senator Vitter, and there is a Democrat in the race, John Bel Edwards. What do you think of the dynamic there? What’s your assessment of–?

EWE: Well, it’s early yet, but in Louisiana, two years before an election is not necessarily that extraordinary. But I would view that Dardenne, Vitter, and probably Kennedy would be the primary Republican candidates and, as far as I know, John Bel Edwards will probably be the only significant Democrat. So, we’ll have an interesting race.

LW: Well, I think that’s all I really have for you.

EWE: One thing’s for sure: Things will get better unless Vitter is elected.

EDWARDS’ STRATEGY IN THE SIXTH

LW: Let me ask you think. Who do you think your number one competitor is in your election? It’s a really crowded field. But there have been several polls recently. They show you on top, but-

EWE: I know that, but I don’t want to answer. But it’s surprising to me the number of people who do not know anyone else running. Everywhere I go, I ask, ‘Do you know anybody?’ and they’dn knew (sic). At the Kiwanis Club, only two or three other people are raising their hands saying they know one of the other candidates. And most of them have less than 10% favorability- recognition.

LW: Maybe that too.

EWE: Well, I don’t know if any of them have any of that. They’re going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just getting known.

LW: Right, right.

EWE: You know, right now, they’re all running on how bad I am, and none of them are running on how good they are.

LW: Right, and I guess it remains to be seen.

EWE: Well, I’m going to be nice to all of them, because I don’t know who will end up in the run-off and I hope to draw some supporters of candidates that don’t make the run-off.

LW: Well, thanks for meeting with me and agreeing to answer my questions.

EWE: That’s it. Well, thank you.

*****

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Drunk On Moonshine

When Bobby Jindal campaigned for Governor in 2007, he railed against cronyism and corruption and promised to implement a new era of fair, honest, and transparent government. His campaign produced and aired a thirty-second television commercial that depicted his Democratic opponents in clown costumes in comically miniature cars, the kind you see the Shriners driving in Christmas parades, chasing one another around the state capitol building in search of a cash bribe. Jindal, we were told, would put an end to the circus. He’d introduce and enact a “gold standard” of ethics reform legislation, and he would ensure accountability. He liked to quote former Congressman Billy Tauzin, who once famously quipped, “Half of Louisiana is under water, and the other half is under indictment.”

Seven years after Jindal launched his second campaign for Louisiana Governor, not much has changed. We’re still under water, and we’re still under indictment. The “gold standard,” we now know, was nothing more than a campaign gimmick, and as a result of Citizens United and the subsequent proliferation of Super PACs, Jindal’s promises of increasing transparency and expanding financial disclosure now seem quaint and even naive.

But still, Governor Jindal has always had the opportunity to lead by example, and for the last seven years, he has failed abysmally. The “ethics reform” package that he promoted, for example, may have marginally altered financial disclosure rules for state legislators, but it also dramatically expanded the Governor’s own authority to shield his office from a wide range of public records requests. Even State Senator Robert Adley, a Jindal ally and a fellow Republican, once said that the Governor’s plan would “take the state of Louisiana from sunshine to moonshine.”

Adley’s observation now seems both prescient, ironic, and even hypocritical because during the most recent legislative session, Adley championed SB 469, arguably the most consequential legislation ever signed into law by Governor Jindal.

Much has already been written about SB 469, a bill that, ostensibly, was about retroactively invalidating the Southeast Levee Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for damages inflicted on the Louisiana coast. Regardless if one disagrees with the merits of the legislation or sides with the levee authority, the public has a fundamental right to know who is attempting to influence and lobby their elected officials and whether any conflicts of interests, perceived or real, may exist.

This much we know already: Senator Adley, a man who made his career in the oil and gas industry, is the recipient of more than $600,000 in campaign contributions from that industry, and Governor Jindal has received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. To some, that may seem suspicious enough to warrant questions about the ways in which oil and gas companies exerted influence in order to retroactively invalidate an otherwise legally valid lawsuit seeking billions of dollars in damages. But there are other, more troubling facts that must be considered and have yet to be properly addressed by Governor Jindal and those elected officials who supported this controversial legislation.

Shortly before Governor Jindal signed SB 469 into law, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and nearly 100 of the nation’s most prominent legal scholars publicly urged him to veto the bill. Their concerns had nothing to do with the underlying merits of the levee authority lawsuit; instead, because of the overly broad and vague language of the bill, they were concerned that it could be used by oil and gas companies as a catch-all to invalidate a wide range of pending and future claims for damages. Most importantly, they referenced the possibility of BP using the law to mitigate or invalidate billions of dollars claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to those who were present at the State Capitol, including State Representative John Bel Edwards and former SLFPA-E board member John Barry, no one lobbied more intensely for the bill’s passage than BP.

BP’s outsized efforts in lobbying for the bill’s passage were not reported at the time, but as troubling as that may be, it’s even more troubling that Bobby Jindal’s brother, Nikesh, works for a law firm representing BP, a fact that has never been acknowledged or disclosed by the Governor and one that, given the facts, seems like an obvious conflict of interest.

The public also deserves the right to know who is donating to Governor Jindal’s newly established, tax-exempt charity, America Next.

Members of the national media have suggested that Jindal’s charity is really just an early iteration of his 2016 campaign for President. If that is indeed the case, it’s also a convenient way for Governor Jindal to use the tax code in order to shield himself from scrutiny and prevent the need to disclose what would ordinarily be considered campaign donations.

This should be alarming to anyone who cares about transparency in government, particularly considering that a 2010 report by The New York Times found that businesses seeking special deals, incentives, and contracts with the state of Louisiana were the main donors to a charitable organization founded by the Governor’s wife Supriya.

The director of Jindal’s new charity, a political consultant who most recently worked for Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign, said that Jindal’s organization would not disclose their donors to the public, arguing that, in doing so, they would only open themselves up to scrutiny from President Obama.

I doubt President Obama cares much about who is secretly donating to a Presidential campaign disguised as a charity, but I know the people of Louisiana would care, particularly considering the billions of dollars that now hang in the balance as a result of Jindal’s enactment of SB 469, the role that BP played in lobbying for the legislation, and the role that Nikesh Jindal’s law firm plays with BP.

We went from sunshine to moonshine, and apparently, now, we’re drunk on moonshine.

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