The LaPolitics Weekly by John Maginnis delivers the latest inside political news every Friday morning by fax or e-mail. Subscribers can also register for password-protected web-site page to read LaPolitics Weekly on-line.
Democrats Question Cost of Presidential Primary
LaPolitics broke this story May 13
If issues surrounding next year's presidential primary aren't complicated enough, two leaders of the state Democratic Party are questioning the expense of the state holding the election at all.
"I think we ought to consider not having one," said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, citing the cost of $5.57 million and the state's gaping budget deficit.
But with a wide-open Republican field, Republican state chairman Roger Villere countered, "We want to be fiscally responsible, but we want the ability to vote."
The election cost is budgeted but its date is subject to change. HB 509 by Rep. Nita Hutter, R-Chalmette, will be heard in committee next week to push back the party primaries from Feb. 18 to March 10 to comply with national party rules. In order to protect the early primary states New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, both national parties have passed rules that would take away half the delegates of any states that hold elections before the first Tuesday of March.
But if Democrats raise the fiscal issue, enough Republicans might go along to scrap the vote altogether. In that case, said Villere, Republicans would hold regional caucuses to choose delegates.
Citing concerns of rising flood waters, the Democrats have cancelled their state central committee meeting for Saturday, when they were scheduled to vote on a resolution for or against the date-change bill.
N.O. Firm Gets Lead on Big Seafood Contract
LaPolitics broke this story May 13
A $15 million contract to promote Louisiana seafood will be split by two Louisiana firms and one New York agency, after a state board changed its announced plan for awarding the contract.
GCR Consultants, a New Orleans-based demographic research firm, was named the lead contractor by the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, for a three-year advertising and branding plan to be paid for by BP in response to last year's oil spill.
The Graham Group, based in Lafayette, and The Food Group of New York City will handle the creative work and media placement.
The three firms belonged to three different groups of the 28 that responded to the board's request for proposals. Initially, a board spokeswoman said one applicant group would be awarded the contract. But after three finalists made presentations, differences among board members led to the winning team being mixed and matched from the three groups.
According to two board sources, The Food Group, which has represented Tabasco for over a decade, made the strongest presentation, based on its creative plan and its broad connections with institutional buyers and restaurants nationwide. But there was resistance to naming an out-of-state firm as the lead contractor, according to board sources.
Executive director Ewell Smith said it was a matter of assembling the best team.
Also, The Food Group created a potential ethics problem for itself by giving each member of the executive committee an iPad with its presentation loaded on it.
That raised concerns with Smith, who the next day told board members to return the computers, which all did, he said.
Roemer for President?
LaPolitics broke story Jan. 7
Despite Bobby Jindal swearing off it, there could still be a Louisiana governor running for president in 2012. Buddy Roemer says he's thinking about it.
"It certainly interests me. There is a lot of work to be done," the former governor and bank president told LaPolitics.
"I am making no announcement. I am not running today," he said. "It will take months to work out if it happens. I don't want to scare anyone."
Whether as a candidate or not, he sees the need for a different approach from "the professional corruption in politics" created by how presidential candidates raise money. Having real independence in the White House "won't happen unless we remove the Goldman Sachs yoke around the president," he said.
He's not encouraged from what he's seen of the current likely Republican field. "I am saying I have an interest in somebody doing it my way," he said. "It begins with money and ends with results."
Asked how he would go about funding a presidential bid, he replied, "I can't talk to you about that until I figure it out. I will be looking to see if it's possible."
Governor's Team Scrambles on Restrictive Budget Rule
Scant attention was paid to House Rule 27 when it cleared House & Governmental Affairs Committee without objection on Wednesday. But by the next morning, the governor's lobbying team was out in force to delay the measure that would require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget that includes one-time money.
With up to $474 million in one-time money in the governor's proposed budget, the consequences of the rule's passage would be drastic. As a House rule, the Senate would not be so bound, but getting the measure there would be much harder to do.
Thursday morning, the authors, Reps. Brent Geymann, R-Lake Charles, and Jim Morris, R-Oil City, were asked to huddle with governor's top aides Timmy Teepell, Stephen Waguespack and Scott Angelle. Geymann later told the House the measure would be up for a vote on Monday. "You will get phone calls," he warned, saying he had heard from his sheriff and other local and university officials concerned about the impact of the proposed rule.
"It's just hardball," Geymann said.
Lawmakers later joked about what the authors were promised to not push for a vote. Rep. Ernest Wooton, I-Belle Chasse, told the House, "I understand Rep. Geymann is the new superintendent of education."
Will Edwards Stay Free After Prison Release?
LaPolitics broke story Dec. 16
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards gets out of federal prison on Jan. 6, but might not be a free man for long. According to friends and family, Edwards is romantically attached to an Alexandria woman named Trina Scott and is contemplating marriage.
"I don't know if he can get married right away, but it's absolutely in his future," said brother Marion Edwards. Edwin, who completes his sentence in July, will be released from the Oakdale Federal Detention Center to a halfway house, though he has requested home confinement. He and his second wife Candy divorced after he went to prison.
Scott, who is described as in her 30s, has been visiting Edwards, 83, in prison since April. Their meeting is a result of the publication of Edwards' biography last year, according to a source, who said, "She read the book, fell in love, wrote a letter to him and asked to visit."
Phone calls to Scott's residence went unanswered.
Friends of Edwards still question if he will marry, citing his past statements that he would never do that or run for office again. Marion noted, "He might say like Earl Long did: 'Tell 'em I lied.'"
Jindal Critic Vice Chair of Panel Over Confirmations
LaPolitics broke this story May 6
The joke around the Senate was that Senate President Joel Chaisson's naming of Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, as vice chair of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee was punishment for Chairman Bob Kostelka's, R-Monroe, rough handling of African-American senators who objected to his congressional redistricting bill in the special session.
It was not so funny for the Jindal administration, whose appointees must go before the panel for confirmation hearings later this session.
"It should be very interesting," said Peterson, a leading critic of the administration. Of special interest will be confirmation hearings for his four white appointments to the Board of Regents, which prompted a lawsuit challenging the board's lack of diversity as called for in the constitution. Jindal later appointed one black member.
Peterson replaces Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, who has gone back to the Health & Welfare Committee. Capitol observers predict the S&GA committee's make-up will lead to even sharper partisan divides than occurred during the redistricting session.
If the governor had a problem with Peterson's appointment, he may not have been in position to protest, given that he will need Democrat Chaisson's support in a potential showdown with the House on the budget, like last year.
Revenue Mirage from Haynesville Shale
LaPolitics broke story Jan. 14
The most surprising projection at the Revenue Estimating Conference was a decrease in mineral income, despite the rising price of oil and growing production in the Haynesville Shale.
"I've not seen that before," said legislative economist Greg Albrecht of mineral prices and severance tax collections moving in opposite directions. A major culprit, he figures, is the two-year tax exemption on horizontal drilling, going back to the 1990s, that allows most natural gas production in the Haynesville Shale to go untaxed.
The shale formation, which has brought riches to landowners from bonus and royalty payments in the last three years, is actually costing the state money. Albrecht says drillers are shifting rigs from non-exempt fields in South Louisiana to tax-exempt fields in North Louisiana.
Despite the rising oil price, estimators see mineral income falling from $99 million to $118 million below what was projected for 2011-12.
The 800-plus producing wells in the Haynesville Shale receive a two-year, 100 percent exemption from severance taxes. Those wells play out very fast, with 80-85 percent of total production depleted within six months.
When asked, Tucker said he sees no inclination in the House to revisit the horizontal drilling exemption. "That's a Senate question," he said, given some talk in that chamber of repealing or suspending some tax exemptions. Senate President Joel Chaisson II, by then, had left the meeting.
A correction from last week's LaPolitics: The $134 million in unclaimed refunds for insurance policyholders does not decrease next year's projected defict, because there was no pot of money set aside for the claims that would now revert to the state. The unclaimed amount just reduces the state's exposure and doesn't make the current fiscal situation that much worse.
Insurance Plan Sale Could Net $150 Million
The most detail Rainwater went into was the potential sale of a huge insurance plan for state employees and retirees, called a Preferred Provider Organization, with an estimated value pegged as high as $150 million, according to an administration statement. The sale of the plan to a large private insurance company also would enable the state to offload most of the 327 employees of the Office of Group Benefits.
"We are very feverishly working on figuring out a valuation," Rainwater told the work session. "We will make sure it is good public policy to put it out to the public sector.
Speaking to reporters after the conference lunch, Gov. Bobby Jindal said no decision has been made on selling the insurance plan or, if so, how the proceeds of a sale would be used in the budget.
He first raised the privatization idea last month after meeting with legislative leaders, but it was overshadowed by his other suggestions to sell off as much as $400 million in state buildings or to raise up to $250 million from selling part of the growth of lottery proceeds. While they attracted the most attention and criticism, Jindal said those high-profile ideas would be the last considered. The PPO privatization and the sale of two state prisons (worth $60 million) appear to have the most traction.
Concessions and Money Split Healthcare Coalition
By granting some concessions and coming up with new money, the Jindal administration has succeeded in dividing a coalition of healthcare providers that had opposed plans for new coordinated care networks to treat most of the Medicaid population.
The Louisiana Hospital Association and State Medical Society have dropped out of the Coalition to Protect Louisiana Healthcare, which was formed in opposition to DHH's plan to have insurance companies manage coordinated care networks for 800,000 patients, mostly children, beginning Jan. 1. That leaves only pediatricians, obstetricians and some family doctors in the coalition.
This marks a major breakthrough for the Jindal administration in moving away from the fee-for-service model to managed care.
Both the LHA and medical society cite changes in the original plan that address their key objections.
Moreover, a big factor for the hospitals has been the administration's ceasing its plans for mid-year provider cuts in Medicaid rates.
The administration also has accelerated a new program whereby community hospitals receive payments for contracting to offer free care for needy patients. Hospitals received $27 million from the federal Upper Payment Limit program in January. But they are due to receive up to $100 million more on March 31, according to Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, who passed UPL legislation.
The payments to hospitals free up state general fund money that had gone to public entities to perform the same care for needy patients.
While the defection from the coalition leaves the remaining doctors more isolated, the success of the network plan depends on the participation of enough of those specialists.
It's not exactly a Sharks vs. Jets rumble, but the reapportionment argument between the camps of Congressmen Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry adds a harder political edge to the Washington Mardi Gras celebration this weekend.
How the Legislature draws new district lines along coastal Louisiana this spring will determine who has the upper hand leading into next year's elections, assuming those two members are drawn into a merged district to account for the state's loss of one seat. A consensus has emerged in both capitals for merging the 3rd and 7th Districts in South Louisiana, though there are legislators who prefer to combine the 4th and 5th Districts along Interstate 20 in North Louisiana.
The dean of the House delegation Congressman Rodney Alexander said a majority of members has agreed on "guiding principles" that would maintain two North Louisiana districts and two on the coast.
"I know the wishes of Congress are not worth the paper they are written on, that they are just our wishes," said Alexander.
But Landry responds that no formal vote of the delegation has been taking and that he strongly opposes any plan that continues to divide the coast into two districts.
After he and Congressman Cedric Richmond were seated, the representatives and their chiefs of staffs met in January at a Chinese restaurant in Washington with Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, chairman of the Senate committee overseeing redistricting, who offered two sets of maps. Both maps had the two North Louisiana districts represented by Alexander and Congressman John Fleming stretching deep into southern parishes. (Both maps are attachments for e-mail subscribers.)
At the coast, one map conforms to the delegation's guiding principle of two coastal districts, one anchored in Lake Charles and Lafayette and one in suburban New Orleans. The other map shows a single district from border to border, which favors Landry by including most of his current 3rd District.
But even those maps were drawn before final counts by precinct were released last week by the Census Bureau. Now the real crunch begins.
Early Odds on 2012 Leadership
LaPolitics broke story Dec. 16
When legislators gather for their annual Christmas party at the Capitol tonight, leading topics of conversation are bound to be redistricting, the budget and next year's elections. But also on the minds of some will be who will fill the Legislature's leadership posts when a new term begins in 2012.
While they are focusing first on winning re-election from voters at home, members already are testing the waters for Senate President, Speaker of the House and committee chairmanships. A re-elected Gov. Jindal figures to play a greater role than he did in late 2007 in leadership elections. He wants to avoid the at-times strained relations he has with current leaders this term, particularly Speaker Jim Tucker.
Sen. John Alario's recent switch to the Republican Party underscores his stated ambition to be the next Senate president. His popularity among senators of both parties and on the Fourth Floor makes him the early favorite. Yet two other first-term senators, both House veterans, have expressed interest: Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, and Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.
Said Martiny, "As we become more conservative, I have thought for some time the next president would be Republican. Obviously, John realizes that too." If GOP bona fides matter, Martiny can point to being the Legislature's longest serving Republican, as a Republican, going back to 1994.
But he recognizes two big tests first: the budget deficit and re-election. "If we don't deal with the (budget) problem, we might not even be back, much less be talking about the next president."
Budget News Flash: Protected Funds Aren't
LaPolitics broke story Feb. 25
A major misconception about the budget, often fostered by legislators, is that they cannot cut statutorily dedicated funds. Wrong. They can and they have in the past two sessions, tapping the $4.7 billion pool of funds for tens of millions of dollars to balance budgets short on state general funds.
While the $1.9 billion in constitutionally dedicated funds are mostly off limits, whatever is dedicated by statute can be undedicated by a simple appropriation.
Protected funds are only protected from the governor, who can reduce them by only 5 percent on his own to cure a deficit when the Legislature is out of session. He is trying again this year to up that to 10 percent through two bills to be introduced by Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches.
Because, unlike last year, Jindal is not also targeting constitutional dedications, the change will only require a majority vote. He also said he would exclude funds that businesses pay into for state regulation.
Still, Jindal can expect legislators to resist ceding to him more of their discretionary power to cut, a power they don't always admit to having themselves.
They Said It
"I have a picture of it in my mind but I don't have it with me."
--Rep. Gil Pinac
"Right now, people in Washington are afraid to buy somebody a cup of coffee."
--Congressman Rodney Alexander, on the Abramoff scandal, in the News Star
"All these damned notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching."
--Congressman Bill Jefferson on FBI wiretap
"I had my hands in my pants."
--Christian fundamentalist and denouncer of gays Grant Storms on being charged with masturbating in a public park, which he denied, in the Picayune
"This is legislative survivor on the congressional side."
--House Speaker Jim Tucker on reapportionment
"We're trying to learn, but we got bats."
--McDonogh 35 student on bat infestation in New Orleans school building, in the Picayune
"I love dressing up and being invisible for awhile."
--Mid-Continent president Chris John on D.C. Mardi Gras, in the Advocate
"The reality is if you're not at the table you're not going to get any crumbs."
--Caddo Parish Administrator Woody Wilson on public funds used for officials to attend D.C. Mardi Gras, in the Shreveport Times
"I believe that a lot of problems that presently exist in my life are directly connected to this nickname."
--Convicted murderer and rapper C-Miller on changing his name from C-Murder, in the Advocate
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Copyright John Maginnis 2003-2007.
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