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From their lips to your ears

How Cao Got Hospital Aid

  Freshman Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao helped score $130 million for area private hospitals that have been starved for cash since Hurricane Katrina — and much of his effort came before he was sworn in as a congressman. Soon after his upset of 18-year incumbent William Jefferson on Dec. 6, while Cao was the darling of GOP mullahs in Washington, he used his newfound celebrity to lobby U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas and a top ally of President George W. Bush in Congress) on behalf of five local hospitals seeking additional Medicaid reimbursements for treating indigent patients after the storm. "Money has been appropriated, but has not yet been allocated to these institutions and/or the state," Cao wrote on Dec. 23. "They are all facing extremely serious financial problems due to their participation in delivering care for citizens who did not have access to Louisiana's closed Charity Hospital network. I would appreciate it if you would use your influence with the White House to see if these monies could be released before President Bush leaves office." In a letter to Cao dated Dec. 16, East Jefferson CEO Dr. Mark Peters notes that his hospital, along with West Jefferson General, Ochsner, Tulane/HCA and Touro, collectively lost $135 million in 2007 because of inadequate Medicaid reimbursements — and another $112 million in 2008. After Cao's intercession, the money was released by the feds to the state, but it has not yet been released by the state to the hospitals. — Clancy DuBos

Flemings-Davillier to Run?

  Tracey Flemings-Davillier, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for judge of Municipal Court in 2007, says she is very close to suiting up for another try. Longtime Municipal Judge John Shea has announced his retirement for May 9, prompting a special election on April 4. Flemings-Davillier will have to make up her mind quickly, as qualifying for all the April 4 special elections is this Wednesday through Friday (Feb. 11-13). Already announced for the Municipal Court seat is assistant City Attorney Joe Landry. Also on the ballot on April 4 in New Orleans are special elections to fill unexpired terms at Traffic Court, Juvenile Court and in state House District 97. — DuBos

Homestead Exemption

  More than 44,000 people have signed an online petition to raise Louisiana's homestead exemption, which reduces property tax receipts for local governments, school boards and special taxing districts all over Louisiana. The tally was less than 22,000 just two weeks earlier, says Joshua Kahler, a New Orleans real estate agent who launched the site (www.petitiononline.com/lahomeex/petition.html). "Homeowner taxes continue to increase as property values increase, while the exemption remains fixed at 1982 property-value levels," Kahler says. "If adjusted for inflation alone, the homestead exemption today would be over $160,000." That's the level to which Kahler wants to raise the exemption. Presently, Louisiana residents are not taxed on the first $75,000 of a home's value. State Sen. John Alario, a Westwego Democrat, plans to file legislation to raise the exemption to $150,000 or $160,000. Alario has tried that in the past, but not in concert with a public push like the one led by Kahler, who hopes to have 100,000 signatures online by the time the session convenes April 27. — Jeremy Alford

Donkey Blogging

  If you're a feisty Democrat looking for political grenades to lob at your GOP coworker, or if you're a Republican in need of Democratic intel and Watergate isn't your style, then Blue Notes (www.louisianademocraticparty.wordpress.com) could be your online connection. The site is the new blog run by the Louisiana Democratic Party. In addition to the standard party line, the content is evolving. Recent posts include a smackdown of FEMA, a poke at a well-known Louisiana publisher and a few lines on Gov. Bobby Jindal's "shell game." The party's communications director, Scott Jordan, a Gambit expat, is the man behind the keyboard. Other regular features include highlights of media coverage of Democratic officials and candidates nationwide, as well as a growing offering of video and audio files. While Blue Notes has its own WordPress page, you can also find it positioned on the left-hand column of www.lademo.org. The Louisiana Republican Party has its own blog at www.lagop.com/Blog.aspx, which primarily recaps the day's news. More impressive, the state GOP has constructed its own social networking site, www.LaGOP.net. Members can create their own profiles, start their own blogs and comment on others' blogs. So far, the site has 280 members. — Alford

Biosecurity Lifted at Track

  After several long weeks of dealing with press coverage about the potential of its horses having a virus known as EHV-1, the New Orleans Fair Grounds is back in business as usual. Two of the track's barns were quarantined in December after five of the 72 horses residing there tested positive for EHV-1. Thoroughbred racetracks in neighboring states reacted strongly, prohibiting ship-ins from the New Orleans track and others in the region in some instances. Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain says the five thoroughbred racehorses that were directly exposed and initially tested positive have been released from all quarantines and restrictions. "The planned protocols were put in place early to contain potential spread," Strain says. "We're glad the safety measures proved effective." — Alford

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