Statewide Charter Bill Dead
While lawmakers initially were receptive to the idea of offering private school vouchers to public school students in New Orleans, a statewide voucher program has faltered. Gov. Bobby Jindal supports using public money to send children to private schools, but the issue remains volatile. That much was evident earlier this month when the House Education Committee shot down a bill to create the Parental Choice Education Reform Program. What surfaced during the debate was a new theme from voucher opponents. Baton Rouge Rep. Patricia Smith, a Democrat and former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, was visibly upset by the proposal, saying it takes control out of the hands of public entities and places it with private schools. "How can you continually say it's something that will support public education and you're putting them in a system that does not account to us, the public bodies, for the dollars that are given to them?" she asked supporters of House Bill 1349. While that legislation is dead for the session, there are still a small handful of bills instituting vouchers that are expected to be debated before the session's June 23 deadline. Alford
Conservatives and business interests are eagerly anticipating the race for the Louisiana Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Chief Justice Pascal Calogero, who many view as liberal on tax and liability issues. However, two of the three announced candidates for Calogero's seat (all are appellate judges) are Republicans who may be chasing the same votes and the same campaign cash. The GOP candidates are Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Greg Guidry of Nine Mile Point in Jefferson Parish, and First Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Kuhn of Ponchatoula, in Tangipahoa Parish. With qualifying now just five weeks away, the only Democrat in the race thus far is Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Roland L. Belsome of New Orleans. As of April 2, which was six months before the Oct. 4 primary, Belsome reported a war chest of $173,825 and no outstanding loans after spending only $100 in the first quarter of 2008. Guidry's campaign had $59,419 on hand, after raising $27,850 in contributions and repaying $63,379 in loans most from Guidry himself. The Kuhn camp reported $7,536, after raising $46,900 in contributions and spending $30,235 without any loan activity, reports show. Calogero's district includes all of St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes, as well as parts of both Orleans and Jefferson parishes, a spokesperson for the Court says. Johnson
Getting Our Fair Share
Louisiana officials are still giddy from Congress' 2006 decision to give the state a share of offshore oil and gas revenues. Politicians had been pushing for the increase for generations, with little movement until hurricanes Katrina and Rita made Louisiana's case for enhanced coastal protection. Louisiana's total royalty share should reach several billion dollars over the next decade. Meanwhile, the Minerals Management Service finally got around to certifying a distribution plan last week. The revenue-sharing law requires that Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama receive a percentage of the revenue from new oil and gas production off their respective shores. As expected, the Bayou State comes out on top of the formula. From 2008 to 2016, Louisiana will receive 32 percent of revenues generated from a newly opened 8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico (30 percent goes to Alabama, 27 percent to Mississippi and 11 percent to Texas). U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat who authored the law, says the money is confined to coastal restoration and protection projects. "After 2016, our percentage will only increase, giving us the independent revenue stream we need to protect our communities from future storms," she says. Alford
A Later LEAP Test?
Lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills this session relating to LEAP tests in public schools, but few have passed. One failed measure sought to eliminate altogether the must-pass tests that fourth and eighth graders take every March. That's why special interests at the Capitol are keeping a close eye on House Concurrent Resolution 110 by Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City. Her proposal made it through the House Education Committee and was expected to pass the full House last week. She wants the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to move back the date when LEAP tests are administered. "If we give this test as late as possible, it's only going to help students do better," she says. Smith adds that more time is needed to prepare students and give teachers a workable timeline. Her resolution requests that the tests be moved to the second week of April in 2009 and then to the first week of May in 2010. Despite receiving no media attention last week, the bill could have far-reaching ramifications for teachers and students during the school year, as well as school boards and test preparers. Alford
"Caught Up with Males'
While several judges are eyeing the Louisiana Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Chief Justice Pascal Calogero, so far none of the candidates are women. Candidate qualifying is July 9-11 for the Oct. 4 open primary. The election of a woman to that seat would give the High Court its first female majority ever. Justices serve 10-year terms. Observers recently were reminded of the present composition of the Court four males and three females during oral arguments in the Newcomb College case. "Parenthetically, I heard on the way over here that women have caught up with males academically," said Justice John Weimer. "I take issue with that because I've always held that women are superior." Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, the first woman on the High Court, retorted: "I'm glad you took issue, because I was about to." The court exploded with laughter. First elected to the Court in 1992 and second in seniority, Kimball is expected become chief justice when Calogero retires at the end of this year. The other two female justices are Bernette J. Johnson, the first African-American woman on the Court, and Jeannette Theriot Knoll. Johnson
Call for Leadership
Think you've got what it takes to help New Orleans rebuild or know someone who does? The Committee for a Better New Orleans/Metropolitan Area Committee, a multiracial civic group, is accepting nominations and applications for its annual tuition-free 2008 Metropolitan Leadership Forum. The deadline is July 25. Since 1968, the Leadership Forum has graduated more than 2,000 locals from all walks of life. The 2008 Forum begins Sept. 6 with a bus tour designed to offer "an overview of the problems and opportunities ahead," CBNO president Keith Twitchell says. Additional sessions feature expert speakers on human relations, housing, education, public safety, economic and workforce development, regionalism, transportation, city management and health care. Graduates will get help in areas of future interest, and two will be invited to serve on the CBNO board. Leadership Forum alumni include UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan; businessmen Darryl Berger, Pres Kabacoff, Walter Leger and Greg Rusovich; U.S. Sen. David Vitter; U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson; Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu; City Councilman James Carter; state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson; state Sen. Cheryl Gray; Times-Picayune columnist Lolis Elie; Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission; and activist Sandra "18-Wheeler" Hester. For nomination forms, visit www.cbno.org, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (504) 267-4666. Johnson
Candor, Sanity Matter
Candor counts. Ask Keith Twitchell, president of Citizens for a Better New Orleans/Metropolitan Area Committee, a nonprofit civic group. Required to describe himself in a written competition for a $25,000 national grant, Twitchell said that his personal accomplishments include being a writer, past captain of the satirical Krewe du Vieux carnival parade and "relatively sane in post-Katrina New Orleans." He won. In fact, Twitchell beat more than 4,600 others to capture one of four community-service awards from the philanthropic Case Foundation. Twitchell's winning entry proposes a permanent mechanism for giving all New Orleanians including those displaced by Katrina a stronger voice in city government and the recovery. Titled "Citizen Participation," the "CP" program will cost a total of $590,870 and will take 18 months to create with the help of faith groups, universities, community activists, neighborhood leaders, city officials and business people, Twitchell wrote in his application (http://myo.casefoundation.org/citizen-participation). Part of the grant will be used to get assistance from similar programs in other cities. After a series of local planning sessions, the New Orleans City Council will be asked next year to pass enabling legislation to make citizen participation a permanent feature of city government. Johnson
Moses Returns, Falls Short
Kofi Lomotey is the new chancellor of Southern University at Baton Rouge. However, the name of one runner-up for the job rippled through New Orleans political circles last week that of Napoleon Moses. The vice president for academic affairs at Alcorn State in Mississippi, Moses was one of three finalists for the top post at Southern. In 1994, as a campaign aide to New Orleans mayoral candidate Donald Mintz, Moses found himself before a grand jury investigating "Flier-gate" after a batch of unsigned campaign fliers some using racial and anti-Semitic slurs surfaced on the campaign trail. The fliers appeared to be aimed at candidates Marc Morial, Mitch Landrieu and Lambert Boissiere. DA's investigators at the time staked out a parking lot on Veterans Memorial Boulevard and watched a man receive boxes of fliers from another man later identified as Moses. He was indicted on the eve of the primary under a law barring the distribution of anonymous political fliers. Moses denied any wrongdoing, and Mintz denied any knowledge of the fliers. Mintz led in the primary but lost the runoff to Morial. In 1995, the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal dismissed the charges against Moses and declared the flier law unconstitutional. Moses returned to Mississippi. Johnson