Editorial

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lawmakers' political games are hurting Louisiana

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 4:50 PM

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  • zrfphoto

Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, the leadership of the Louisiana House of Representatives has played childish political games as the state descends further into fiscal chaos. Evidence of this is overwhelming.

Since Day One of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term, a handful of leading Republicans has blindly refused to consider reasonable revenue measures — yet they offer no real plan to cover the $2 billion deficit left by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Some of those Republicans opposed Jindal’s fiscal policies on solid philosophical grounds; now they oppose Edwards’ fiscal cures simply because he’s a Democrat. They are shameless.

Further evidence of their irresponsibility came last week. House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican from New Iberia, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans who is in league with the GOP’s “Gang of No,” strained credulity in preventing a vote on the so-called Capital Outlay budget before the annual session adjourned. Both said the measure as approved by the Senate had unspecified “technical” defects, yet they did nothing with the bill for the final five days of the session. Abramson literally hid from his colleagues to avoid bringing up the bill for a vote. Then, one day after the regular session ended (on the first morning of the special session), Abramson’s committee approved the measure in an hour — with millions more for projects in Abramson’s district. He blamed committee staffers for that “technical” error.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Guest editorial: How New Orleans should compromise on the Confederate monuments

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 3:53 PM

click image Lee Circle. - CREATIVE COMMONS/INFROGMATION
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/INFROGMATION
  • Lee Circle.

The following is a guest editorial by Quin Hillyer in response to the New Orleans City Council's upcoming vote on whether to remove four Confederate monuments on public land.


The Battle of New Orleans Monuments should come to an end through compromise. Mayor Mitch Landrieu should promote the compromise and thus become a uniter and a healer, rather than a divider and bully.

The compromise must include the continuation of Robert E. Lee’s perch above the circle bearing his name, with an appropriately worded new display (more about which later in this column). The other three monuments at issue, even as historically significant as they are, might best be moved off of public property (to the consternation of many well-intentioned citizens) and donated to a legitimate historical/preservationist group or museum.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Early voting begins Sat. Nov. 22: Our recommendations in the races

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 5:19 PM

Early voting for Louisiana’s Dec. 6 runoff election begins Sat. Nov. 22 and concludes Sat., Nov. 29. There is no voting on Thu., Nov. 27, or Fri., Nov. 28, in honor of Thanksgiving.

Early voting has become increasingly prevalent, according to Secretary of State Tom Schedler, and in some elections it accounts for nearly 20 percent of ballots cast — though overall voting totals remain static. President Barack Obama advocated early voting at a speech last month in Chicago, and First Lady Michelle Obama did the same at a campaign appearance in Florida. But early voting is not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing. It’s about participation.

The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration reports that expanded early voting is popular with voters across the board, regardless of party. Lines are shorter, and voters usually are able to take their time. State law imposes a three-minute limit in voting booths, which usually goes unenforced as long as there’s no one waiting. By voting early, you’re virtually assured of more time with your ballot — and lines tend to be nonexistent. On ballots with a lot of propositions or amendments, taking your time can be important — in the Nov. 4 primary, voters were asked to decide on 14 proposed state constitutional amendments, and the Dec. 6 ballot in Jefferson Parish will have 11 proposed charter amendments.

More than 9 million people across the country voted early in the midterm elections — roughly 245,000 in Louisiana — and political campaigns have adjusted their strategies accordingly. Candidates campaign earlier and stress get-out-the-vote efforts more. “Enabling voters to cast a ballot at a time convenient to them, not the election authority, is the whole point of allowing voting before Election Day,” the Presidential Commission concluded in its report recommending the practice. We agree.

To find your early voting location, check with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, either at www.geauxvote.com or by calling 1-800-883-2805.

Beneath the cut: Our recommendations for the Dec. 6 election.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Legislature’s Godzilla

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 9:35 PM

In a New York Times op-ed published late last month about Senate Bill 469, retired Lt. General Russel Honore wrote, “The oil and gas industries and pipeline companies aren’t responsible for all of Louisiana’s coastal loss. Nobody claims that they are. It’s important, though, that the industry be held to account for the damage it has done.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal clearly disagrees with Honore. Jindal, who was absent from much of the recently concluded 2014 legislative session in Baton Rouge, staunchly supported SB 469. The bill’s aim is clear: it’s designed to kill a Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies whose energy-related activities in southeast Louisiana have contributed to coastal land loss, an increased risk of hurricane-related flooding and higher costs of flood protection.

Jindal was all set to sign SB 469 into law at a June 2 press conference. Then, in a move that surprised both sides, the governor instead postponed his signature at the request of Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who asked for time to review the bill.

Caldwell was right to ask the governor to delay signing the measure. Shortly after SB 469 passed, a group of legal scholars opined that its retroactive provisions could actually undercut dozens — possibly hundreds — of pending lawsuits brought by parishes and state agencies against oil giant BP for damages related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. (As of the evening of June 5, more than 80 scholars had signed the legal opinion.) The experts, along with a growing number of local officials, say SB 469 is so overly broad that it could scuttle countless other legal claims that have nothing to do with the SLFPA-E lawsuit.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Dissing the Constitution

Posted By on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 10:17 AM

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The next time you hear a Louisiana legislator praise or cite the U.S. Constitution, keep in mind recent and ongoing antics in Baton Rouge. The state House of Representatives this week refused to remove laws from the books that had already been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it is poised to enact a brand-new law that is sure to suffer the same fate.

House Bill 12 by State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, would have removed from the state’s criminal code our archaic sodomy laws, which were declared unconstitutional nearly a decade ago. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down a similar Texas sodomy statute, and two years later the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt the same fate to Louisiana’s sodomy statute. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s sodomy laws (effectively criminalizing consensual oral and anal sex) remain on the books, despite the fact they cannot be enforced. A House committee had approved Smith’s bill and sent it to a vote of the full House, but it went down in flames on a lopsided 27-66 vote April 15.

The chief opponents to removing the unconstitutional language were, of course, the Louisiana Family Forum and those legislators who are perpetually under its spell. “We’re not here to rubber stamp the Supreme Court,” said state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs — as if the Louisiana Legislature had the authority to affirm or overrule a case decided by the nation’s highest court. Kudos to local legislators who had the sense — and the courage — to vote for Smith’s legislation: Reps. Jeff Arnold, Austin Badon, Wesley Bishop, Jared Brossett, Walt Leger III, Helena Moreno and Ebony Woodruff. Unfortunately, they could not carry the day, and Louisiana was the object of another round of embarrassing national headlines.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Editorial: Guns, drugs and videotape

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Sheriff Marlin Gusman addresses the press April 4, discussing the infamous video of prisoners cavorting with guns, beer and drugs in Orleans Parish Prison. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Sheriff Marlin Gusman addresses the press April 4, discussing the infamous video of prisoners cavorting with guns, beer and drugs in Orleans Parish Prison.

It finally came down to three videos.

After years of allegations of human rights abuses at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP); after years of suicides, mysterious deaths and brazen daylight escapes; after innumerable stories of beatings and rapes; after scathing reports by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that found jailhouse conditions so intolerable that it forced the negotiation of a consent decree; after a federal class-action suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates — after all that, what finally pushed everyone over the edge about conditions at OPP were three videos, shot in 2009 at the now-closed House of Detention (HOD).

The videos were mind-numbing. They included footage of inmates shooting dice behind bars, waving fistfuls of cash, showing off a loaded handgun and discharging live ammo on the floor of a cell to prove the weapon was loaded. They portrayed prisoners crushing pills, snorting them, and shooting injectable drugs. Most outrageous of all, one video showed a “prisoner” strolling down Bourbon Street, boasting that he was supposed to be behind bars and that he could walk out the door again if things didn’t go his way at trial. “If they don’t let me go, I’m running,” he says with a grin.

If the videos hadn’t been introduced into evidence in federal court — with no objection from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman — people might mistake them for parodies on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, they are all too real. They show in graphic detail the jailhouse culture that Gusman has overseen since he took office in 2004. Moreover, if the accusations brought by the plaintiffs and the DOJ weren’t enough; if the escapes, suicides and suspicious deaths inside OPP weren’t enough; if the recent federal corruption charges filed against two of Gusman’s ranking deputies weren’t enough; then surely the videos — which aired on every local newscast and went national — make it plain that Gusman has to go. He is not fit to continue serving as New Orleans’ sheriff.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Our endorsements

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Last week, we announced our recommendations in the Orleans Parish School Board races and for the nine proposed constitutional amendments. Following are our recommendations for Congress and the New Orleans City Council, as well as local referenda. A full ballot of recommendations will appear in Gambit's Nov. 6 issue.

CONGRESS: CEDRIC RICHMOND & STEVE SCALISE

No, they’re not running as a team, but they often serve as one for the benefit of southeast Louisiana. Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, and Scalise, a Jefferson Republican, rarely vote alike on issues of national significance. However, the two men — whose friendship dates to their days in the Louisiana House of Representatives — could teach their colleagues a lot about building bipartisan coalitions.

On at least three recent occasions, Richmond, who represents solidly Democratic District 2, and Scalise, who represents thoroughly Republican District 1, put aside party differences to forge consensus on issues of vital importance to the region. In July 2011, they joined forces to direct $6.8 million to increase dredging in the Mississippi River to keep shipping lanes open. The very next day they added $1 million for coastal restoration, which took it out of the “non-starter” category of federal projects and put it in the pipeline for future allocations.

Perhaps their biggest success was helping pass the RESTORE Act, which they coordinated with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Senate. The act ultimately will send billions to Louisiana for coastal restoration. “We built a very big coalition,” Scalise says. “It was very important to the five Gulf Coast states, but we were all on very different pages. It took lots of juggling, but at the end of the day, it all worked out for Louisiana. We will get the most money by anybody’s estimate.”

There was a time when such cross-party coordination was routine in the Louisiana delegation — and at the highest levels of Congress. Sadly, such bipartisanship is rare these days. In fact, both parties seem to punish members who reach across the aisle. Fortunately, Louisiana has two members of Congress who get the notion that bipartisanship moves the region — and the country — forward. We recommend both men be re-elected.

Below the cut: Recommendations in City Council races and local referenda.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Turning the page at The Times-Picayune

Posted By on Sat, May 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM

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To paraphrase an old commercial: What this town needs is a good daily newspaper. For nearly 200 years, we’ve had one or more. Since 1980, though, it’s been just one — and last week we learned that THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, like so many newspapers in the 21st century, is on life support. It was sad news indeed.

New Jersey-based Advance Publications, the parent company of THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, announced the paper would be going to a three-day-a-week printing schedule this fall, shifting focus and content to its online partner, NOLA.com. The paper’s staff, which already had been buffeted by buyouts, early retirements and furloughs in recent years, has now been told that many of them will lose their jobs. Those who are approved to remain will be invited to apply for employment with a new company, NOLA Media Group.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them. Business is business, but they have been treated shabbily by a company to which they have shown loyalty and, yes, love. They deserved better.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The right side of history

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM

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  • JEFF BELMONTE
This editorial will appear in next week's Gambit.

When President Barack Obama affirmed his belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, much of the ensuing discussion focused on the history of the moment, ignoring what may be an even more significant point: the President’s position now puts him in the mainstream of Americans. Three days after Obama’s announcement, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found 51 percent of Americans agree with him. He joined fellow Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, among others, who have spoken in favor of the right of same-sex marriage. Many local leaders — from both parties — likewise feel it’s time America allow ALL Americans to get married.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this year, mayors of more than 80 American cities large and small (including New York’s Michael Bloomberg, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Houston’s Annise Parker and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa — but not New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu) signed a Freedom to Marry pledge. Even many Republicans, like former First Lady Laura Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, have come out in support of the right for two people to choose same-sex marriage. Today we join them.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Head for City Council At-Large

Posted By on Sat, Mar 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Saturday, March 24, is an important election day in Louisiana. Republican voters statewide will participate in their party’s presidential primary, and all voters in New Orleans will go to the polls to choose a new at-large member of the New Orleans City Council. The special council election was called to choose a successor to former Councilman Arnie Fielkow, who resigned last year to take a job with the National Basketball Retired Players Association. A runoff, if needed, will be held April 21.

The council race has attracted seven candidates, and while several of them impressed us as ready for the important responsibilities of that office, we believe District B Council member Stacy Head is best suited for the job at this time. ...

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