The Louisiana Legislature convenes next week, and that means another showdown between science and politics. So far, politics is winning.
But that doesn’t deter Zach Kopplin, the college freshman who, as a high school student last year, took on Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) and others promoting the teaching of creationism in Louisiana public schools.
Kopplin is once again leading the charge to repeal the grossly misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The act was passed in 2008 and signed into law by Jindal, who majored in biology at Brown University and once dreamed of becoming a doctor. (Jindal’s genetics professor urged him to veto the law in 2008, arguing that it would harm Louisiana students who, like Jindal at one time, aspire to become scientists and doctors. Jindal, who is the darling of right-wing religious fundamentalists in the GOP, happily signed the bill into law and continues to defend it as a tool of “critical thinking.”)
LFF is a right-wing non-profit with stated religious goals, but it functions chiefly as a lobbying firm for fundamentalist causes. Most state lawmakers kowtow to LFF rather than risk being labeled “anti-family” or “anti-God.”
Kopplin, the son of New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, now has 75 Nobel laureates supporting the move to repeal the LSEA. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, is once again authoring a measure (Senate Bill 374) to make that happen. Peterson filed a similar bill last year but it died in committee. The bill will likely be heard once again by the Senate Education Committee, but after last year’s statewide elections the committee has a new chair and several new members.
Jefferson Parish President John Young announced this morning (Friday, Feb. 24) that he and former state Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, are officially engaged. The two have been an item, politically and personally, for several years now.
Friends of the pair know that they separated during the recent holiday season around Jan. 1, but obviously they are now back together — more than ever.
Young emailed an announcement at 7:40 a.m. Friday, saying, “Today I have exciting news and I wanted you to be the first to know! It is with great joy that I am honored to announce my engagement to Julie Quinn. Together, we are ready to join our families as one and begin this new season of life. Julie and I appreciate your continued support.”
The email goes on to quote Proverbs 18:22 — “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
No wedding date was mentioned in the announcement.
The selection process for hiring utility advisors to the New Orleans City Council is set to conclude at the next council meeting, when council members will consider the unanimous recommendation of its Utilities Committee to keep the current advisory team in place.
Washington-based attorney Clint Vince of SNR Denton has led the council’s utility advisors for 28 years and racked up an impressive record of wins against Entergy New Orleans (ENO) and its parent company on a variety of fronts. All the same, the council voted in December to extend SNR Denton’s contract on a month-to-month basis while the Council Utilities Committee considered the qualifications of three other law firms seeking the council’s advisory contract.
Last week, after two months of intense lobbying and competition among the interested firms, the committee unanimously recommended Vince’s firm for a one-year contract with four annual renewal options.
While the stage appears set for the status quo to continue, one thing will change: SNR Denton, a worldwide firm with more than 60 offices around the globe, will open a New Orleans office at 650 Poydras St. by March 1. Vince tells GAMBIT the office will be much more than a storefront. “It is my hope that SNR Denton will provide a new and robust source of commerce for the city,” said Vince, who leads his firm’s energy, transport, and infrastructure team. “Our commitment in New Orleans will be a catalyst for additional enterprise with SNR Denton’s other locations throughout the world for the benefit of this great American city. New Orleans is a natural fit with our growing US and international energy practice.”
Among the attorneys to be hired or affiliated with Vince’s firm are Jay Beatmann Jr., who has represented private and public clients in utility matters before the council and the Louisiana Public Service Commission; Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans native who has worked with the firm in other cities and who previously worked for former District C Councilman James Carter; and Basile Uddo, a veteran local attorney and law prpofessor who has served as an advisor to the council’s Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee since 2000 and represented the council in ENO’s post-Katrina bankruptcy proceedings.
A candidate for the Louisiana Senate who is supported by some leading Republicans in the district has faked a photo of Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with his opponent — in an attempt to discredit her among her mostly black constituents. Former state Sen. Greg Tarver of Shreveport, who has substantial GOP support in northwest Louisiana, is in a heated runoff against incumbent Sen. Lydia Jackson, also of Shreveport. Both are Democrats.
Tarver, who stood trial with former Gov. Edwin Edwards in the racketeering case that sent EWE to jail for 10 years (Tarver was acquitted), took responsibility for the faked photo, which originally showed Jackson shaking hands with fellow state Sen. Norby Chabert of Houma. Tarver admitted that someone in his campaign computer-pasted Jindal’s head on top of Chabert’s to make it appear that Jackson, who is a frequent critic of Jindal, was somehow on good terms with the Republican governor.
The fake photo is the latest dust-up in what has become a very bitter runoff between the two candidates in northwest Louisiana’s largest black-majority district. Both Tarver and Jackson are African American, and the contest has divided the district’s black community.
For a look at the photo, see the KTBS-TV story online.
In May, Julian Mutter announced his property at 511 Marigny St. (known as The ARK) would eventually be renovated into an apartment building with retail space on its bottom floor (currently, artists rent the top floor for studio space). Now the move is underway. Several artists at the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association’s (FMIA) monthly meeting Sept. 19 announced they received notices to vacate the studio by Nov. 11.
Plans for the $15 million project include 48 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and 4,000 square feet of commercial space at the corner of Decatur and Marigny streets, with off-street parking for all units. “We’re looking to break ground on it by the end of the year,” Mutter — whose family also owns Doerr Furniture — told Gambit. “We anticipate approximately between 11 months and 13 months of construction time. Our goal is to have the building in service by December 2012.”
In April, Mutter requested a zoning change for the property, from commercial use to residential and commercial mixed-uses. (Mutter said the city’s approval of the zoning and ordinance changes arrived last week.) As for the artists in the building, “they’ve been displaced,” Mutter said.
The New Orleans Community Bike Project (Plan B), which operates inside The ARK’s first floor, will also have to move. “I want to keep them in my sphere,” said Mutter, an avid bicyclist and board member of the Metro Bike Coalition. “I’m looking to work with them to find them another location, probably on St. Claude Avenue,” though he said he doesn’t rule out bringing Plan B back into the building. “But they can’t really be displaced for an entire year,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to be in the commercial space. I do think the corner itself will be something like a café-bookstore, but something certainly (like) a neighborhood business. It might be a restaurant. I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far.”
Veteran St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel Jr. has submitted his resignation papers effective next May 31, and the leading candidate to succeed him is state Senate President Joel Chaisson of Destrehan. The two men are political allies.
Chaisson, a Democrat who is term limited in the Louisiana Senate, had been considering a run for statewide office this October — possibly lieutenant governor or secretary of state. Morel's resignation changes all that — and it could have profound impact on other statewide races as well.
Chaisson, 50, has long let it be known that he wanted to succeed Morel if the incumbent DA ever stepped down, and today's announcement probably cements Chaisson's immediate political plans.
Morel has been the DA in St. Charles Parish (the 29th Judicial District) for more than three decades. His initial election came after a bruising campaign, but since then he has had no opposition through five election cycles. Morel said in a press release that he is resigning in order to help his daughter Michele run for district judge.
"I intend to actively campaign for my daughter in her judicial race, and I do not want my continuing service as district attorney, should she be elected judge, to become an issue in her campaign," Morel's statement said.
The election to succeed Morel will be on March 24, with a runoff (if needed) on April 21. The new DA will take office June 1.
With Chaisson apparently out of the statewide picture, Democrats' prospects are looking even more grim for the Oct. 22 primary. So far, no major Democrat has surfaced against Gov. Bobby Jindal or Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. In the race for secretary of state, attorney Caroline Fayard is keeping her intentions to herself until next week. Fayard ran a spirited race against Dardenne for lieutenant governor last November, losing to him in the runoff. If she does not run for secretary of state, there may be no well-financed Democrats on the ballot for statewide office in Louisiana this year.
The love fest that showered outgoing New Orleans at-large Council-man Arnie Fielkow quickly gave way to a behind-the-scenes battle over when to schedule the election to succeed him. It’s a good thing Fielkow is merely resigning and not dead — the speed with which some of his colleagues climbed over him to seek his office would have looked pretty unseemly had he been laid out in a coffin.
Such is politics.
Suffice it to say that the folks most likely to run for Fielkow’s seat lack his sense of tact and civility. They include District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, District B Councilwoman Stacy Head, State Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, District E Councilman Jon Johnson and District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. Chances are they won’t all run, but chances are equally good others will jump in.
The timing of the special election is crucial because timing affects turnout, and turnout determines who wins. Head, who is a tenacious campaigner with a battery of ardent supporters (and financiers), wants a Nov. 22 primary with a runoff on Dec. 17, which portends a sparse turnout, which enhances her chances.
State Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes, D-New Orleans, announced today (Aug. 26) that she will not seek re-election to the House in the October primary.
Stiaes, whose District 99 in the 9th Ward was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, would have had to run against new incumbent and fellow Democrat Wesley Bishop, who won a special election in eastern New Orleans to succeed Cedric Richmond after Richmond won a congressional seat in 2010. Bishop and Stiaes were thrust into the same district as a result of reapportionment and redistricting in the wake of the 2010 Census.
Stiaes, an attorney, is rumored to be considering a run for judge at some point in the future.
Stiaes released the following statement:
“After months of reflection regarding what is best for my family and the community I represent, it is with a heavy heart that I announce today that I have decided not to run for re-election. As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me.
“For the past several months, my family and I have been dealing with my dad's failing health due to advanced dementia and Parkinson's disease. I feel I can no longer fulfill my duties as a public servant and see my family through this difficult time.
“It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of District 99. I will always cherish the time I spent in the state legislature fighting for my constituents and I extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of the upper and lower ninth ward for their confidence in me.
“I would like to thank my family, my staff, and friends for their unwavering support and encouragement.”
Louisiana lawmakers generally avoid divisive, controversial issues in election-year sessions, and Louisiana governors generally have their way with lawmakers. What a difference a $1.6 billion revenue decrease makes.
The 2011 legislative session, which ended last week, contained more than its share of surprises, but in the end not much got done beyond the bare essentials. Despite all the advance wailing, the sky didn’t fall after lawmakers passed a smaller budget with no earmarks. That’s pretty much how everything went: This session will be remembered more for what DIDN’T happen than for what did.
Which brings us to our annual recap of the political carnage — da winnas and da loozas, starting with …
1. UNO — Defeat of the UNO-SUNO merger was a slap at Jindal but a godsend to UNO, as it ignited a push to get the Lakefront campus out of the oppressively controlling LSU System. The bill moving UNO to the eminently more hospitable University of Louisiana System sailed through both houses, and the UL System appears much more likely to perceive UNO as a partner rather than a competitor.
2. Higher Ed Governing Boards and SUNO — The state’s four post-secondary education boards survived Jindal’s push to combine them. The governor’s merger plan fizzled quickly after the UNO-SUNO merger failed to get off the ground in the House. SUNO, which has two employees serving as House members, wielded more clout than LSU this year.
3. Casinos — Even though the bill seeking to ban smoking in bars and casinos was amended to exempt casinos, the gambling moguls figured they were next, so they provided the muscle needed to kill the anti-smoking bill — and proved once again that they have replaced Big Oil as the Big Shots of state politics.
The guilty verdicts rendered last week against former City Hall vendor Mark St. Pierre sent a thunderous message about the wages of corruption and arrogance. The fact that jurors convicted St. Pierre on all 53 counts should also embolden federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation into the Nagin Administration — and give future defendants pause.
However, knowing how clueless some people are (need I name names?), let’s connect the dots on the lessons that the St. Pierre verdict holds for potential defendants.
Herewith the Top 10 Lessons of Mark St. Pierre’s Trial:
Lesson No. 10 — Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Defendants have limited resources. The feds print money. “Standing up to the government” sounds noble, but arrogance can be as big a mistake as paying bribes.
Lesson No. 9 — Don’t talk to the FBI. Remember former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown? He was acquitted of the underlying crime but convicted of lying to the FBI about the alleged crime. He went to jail because he didn’t know when to shut up. Obey The Jim Brown Rule: If you even remotely MIGHT be in trouble, don’t talk to the FBI.
Lesson No. 8 — Don’t lie to the FBI. Okay, if you’re too stupid to obey The Jim Brown Rule, at least be smart enough not to lie to guys who don’t let you record your conversations with them. And don’t expect your lawyer to save you; Brown’s lawyer was with him when he talked to the feds.
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