1. EDWARDS ADDRESSES STATE REGARDING BUDGET CRISIS
"Remember, for eight years we've had a conservative governor with a conservative Legislature. If stabilizing the budget were as easy as cutting spending and simply reducing state contracts, that work would have been done — but it hasn't." — Gov. John Bel Edwards, making a pitch to Louisiana citizens on statewide TV on behalf of his proposed revenue measures to stave off the current year's $940 million deficit and a projected shortfall next year of $2 billion or more. For more, see Commentary (p. 7) and Clancy DuBos' column (p. 11).
2. Jindal's reverse
"Marco can unify our party. ... I think he's a principled conservative. I think he's the right guy to lead us forward." — Former Gov. and former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, endorsing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP presidential nomination. In response, Rubio called Jindal "one of the best governors in America."
Jindal has had a reverse Midas touch when it comes to endorsements. In 2011, he endorsed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who subsequently flamed out in the debates. One day after Jindal endorsed Rubio, the Florida governor choked in a New Hampshire debate, when he repeated a rehearsed line about President Barack Obama — four times — and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called him on it. Seventy-two hours later, Rubio, who had been on the rise, finished fifth in the New Hampshire GOP primary.
3. Early voting
Early voting in the March 5 presidential primary begins Saturday, Feb. 20 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 27. To find an early voting polling place, visit the Louisiana Secretary of State's website at www.geauxvote.com.
4. Cabs vs. Uber:
Going to court
After losing their battle to prevent Uber from operating in New Orleans, cab companies once again are facing down the ride-sharing company — this time in court. Cab drivers filed a lawsuit in Civil District Court last month, alleging that 10 drivers for Uber's UberX (which directly competes with taxi cabs) don't have state chauffeur's licenses or commercial driver's licenses, an argument that could open the door to examine whether the company operates within state law. The suit challenges the "disparate treatment" imposed upon cab drivers compared to Uber drivers, pointing to cab drivers' licenses, background checks, drug tests, passenger monitors, fare meters and regulated fares. The suit says taxicab drivers who failed those requirements now can drive for Uber.
The plaintiffs will make their case in Civil District Court Feb. 26.
5. Public defenders continue to turn away cases
The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) office has turned away 29 cases since it began refusing cases last month, and another 45 cases are on a waiting list. Meanwhile, OPD awaits a federal court hearing with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which sued the office last month for allegedly violating defendants' Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. No date has been set for a hearing. That suit, however, seems to target Louisiana's unreliable "user-pay" criminal justice system more than the office itself. In a statement, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton said, "While this lawsuit is not necessarily welcomed, OPD welcomes reform."
Bunton began refusing cases Jan. 12, citing the office's ongoing underfunding and high attrition among its staff of attorneys. The office argues that overburdening attorneys with caseloads would result in unethical representation.
Meanwhile, Bunton will appear on comedian John Calhoun's late-night-styled live variety show Spotlight New Orleans at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 at Cafe Istanbul, along with fellow guests Brandan "Bmike" Odums and Alexis & the Samurai.
6. In the Vertex vortex
Uptown and West Bank residents are fighting back against pollutants from a Marrero oil plant as the company seeks a permit to double production.
The Vertex Energy Plant wants to increase its oil recycling capacity from 3,000 barrels to 6,000 barrels a day. But District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell says more than 100 people have complained to her office about powerful gas smells around Uptown, which they claim aggravate asthma and bronchitis.
Vertex (which had not returned Gambit's call as of press time) has asked the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to modify its air-quality permit. Louisiana officials are calling on DEQ to oppose it. In December, Vertex was cited by the DEQ for releasing chemicals after a mechanical failure. (The state limits sulfur dioxide emissions to 2.51 pounds per hour and hydrochloric acid to .11 pounds — Vertex released 65,790 pounds and 2.417 pounds, respectively, for more than five hours.)
State Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, who is filing a suit against the company, told reporters Feb. 11 that Vertex "is not a good corporate citizen ... We don't need a company in Louisiana that puts poison in the air."
The Jefferson Parish Council will consider an air-quality measure Feb. 17.
7. Bobby: below Vermin
Though he'd long dropped out of the presidential race, Bobby Jindal's name still appeared on the New Hampshire primary ballot. The former Louisiana governor received 64 votes statewide — the least of any major candidate either in or out of the race. Jindal even was beaten by a prank candidate named "Vermin Supreme," who wears a boot on his head and has a platform giving everyone a free pony.
Supreme received 260 votes, or more than three times what Jindal did.
8. Trumping Baton Rouge
GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's appearance at Baton Rouge's River Center Feb. 11 didn't break much new ground. He was introduced by his Louisiana campaign chairmen, former state Rep. Woody Jenkins and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, and attacked the usual suspects (politicians, the media, his GOP competitors). But it was Trump's mention of a controversial education policy that drew some of the biggest cheers: "We've gotta get rid of Common Core — fast," he said.
9. CeeLo returns to NOLA
CeeLo Green will bring his "Love Train Tour" to Tipitina's March 6. It's the singer's first local appearance since the cancellation of his headlining spot at the 2014 Gretna Heritage Festival — after Green's controversial tweets about rape and consensual sex derailed his career for a time. Before that, Green appeared on the Congo Square stage at the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
10. Throw it back, mister
All those Mardi Gras beads weighing down your Lent? Drop 'em off for recycling by the ARC of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit serving people with intellectual disabilities. Beads can be left at all Whole Foods and New Orleans Public Library locations, as well as Mardi Gras World and Clearview Mall in Metairie. For a full list of drop-off spots, visit www.arcgno.org.