The Louisiana Legislature

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Normally, news of a $300 million surplus at the end of the State’s fiscal year would be good news, but here in Louisiana it is prompting questions and accusations amongst the political talking heads.

All summer long Louisiana residents were pummeled with news that our budget was facing a terrible deficit and that this would lead to Medicaid patients being evicted from nursing homes, convicts being released from prison, elimination of the food stamp program, and major cuts to higher education.  We spent over a million dollars to hold three special legislative sessions in which we fought over a sales tax renewal of less than a penny which would supposedly solve all these budget problems.

And now, like a rabbit out of a hat, we have a $300k surplus.

Now, it’s not that we aren’t glad to have this money to spend on worthy projects.  We are.  But by and large, many people feel played.  Manipulated.  How can you be that far off with your fiscal projections?

Governor John Bel Edwards now says that this surplus is double good news because not only do we not have a deficit, but we have a robust economy which sparked this higher than expected revenue and so… voila!  Surplus!

Some aren’t buying it; Louisiana State Senator Conrad Appel:

The way I see it there are two ways to explain this sudden revelation. One is that the governor and his staff were so inept that they could not see that revenues were improving and therefore truly believed in the fiscal cliff nonsense. That would have been bad, as we all trust him to manage a $29 billion business which is the state of Louisiana. If he doesn’t know where the money is, we have a problem.

The other possibility is that he and his people knew perfectly well that there was no fiscal cliff because we were bringing in more tax revenue than we were told. Instead, perhaps to support his well-articulated plan to grow government spending, he chose to ignore the facts and to not tell us that there was no fiscal cliff. That would not just be bad, that to me would be disingenuous and possibly even a violation of his oath of office.

I can think of no other options. We either have terrible fiscal management or we have been purposefully misled.

Even better?

Now Governor Edwards wants to give teachers a $1000 annual pay raise.  (It’s an election year, you know.)

So, it’s either a glass half full or glass half empty situation.  You have a robust economy or you have an inept government.  Or both?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random thoughts this week:

Book Reviews:  I’ve finished reading two books this week: What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren, and Educated by Tara Westover.  Both have been books that leave what I call a book-hangover, which is to say that they were both so good that it’s been difficult to get into another book immediately after.  Cat Warren’s book about her work and training with her cadaver dog, Solo, is a thoroughly researched and engaging story.  It’s not your sentimental dog tale where you need a box of tissues at the end.  Not that kind of book – you are safe.  I learned so much about the science of dogs and scent and about how handlers train and work with these dogs.  Warren’s dry humor, quick wit, and solid science make this a thoroughly engaging read.

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is a heart-wrenching story about her very unconventional childhood.  Westover was home-schooled in the loosest sense of the word and never set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen years old. Her father, most likely mentally ill, is a survivalist and the Westover children spent their days stocking the root cellar for the End of Days and working their father’s scrapyard. Their mother is an herbalist and midwife and her essential oils and other cures were used to treat all of the family’s injuries including third-degree burns and loss of fingers.  To escape the abuse of her older brother and to make her own way in life, Tara buys a math book and an ACT practice book, teaches herself math, and gets into Brigham Young University.  She doesn’t stop there.  I could not put this book down and now I can’t quit thinking about it.

Speaking of Education:  As you may remember, my students are participating in free-choice reading this semester.  I started building a classroom library last spring and through my Amazon Wish List and my own weekly trips to thrift stores and second-hand book shops, we now have just over 300 unique titles (plus some duplicates) in our classroom.  I’ve been giving updates on my blog about their progress but the short version is that so far, here at the end of week four, this is a success.  I have students that have read multiple books now.  They are writing about what they are reading and they are talking with me about their books.  Even better, they are asking me for suggestions for their next books as well as giving me titles to add to our Wish List!  Keep in mind, most of my students came into my classroom telling me that they don’t read for pleasure and could not remember the last book they read outside of required school texts.  It’s still early in this project, but I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing in my classroom every day!  It’s very exciting to watch!

Still Speaking of Education:  It’s an election time in Louisiana and our governor is proposing a teacher pay raise.  John Bel Edwards is up for re-election in 2019 so it’s apparently time to get the teachers on board.  He thinks a $1,000 annual pay raise will do it.  Let me make this very clear:  he can give me whatever pay raise he wants to but until he returns teacher autonomy to the classroom and abandons canned, scripted lessons, I’m not voting for him.  Period.  Call me a single-issue voter, I don’t care. I.Don’t.Care.

Hurricane Gordon:  The tropical storm we were watching last week turned and fizzled.  This is not a bad thing necessarily but now officials are worried about giving too many false warnings:

Louisiana officials declared an emergency, called out the National Guard, shuttered schools and closed courthouses as Tropical Storm Gordon drew near, but the weather system bucked east and left the Pelican State unscathed.

Such false alarms are the cost of a robust emergency response system, scientists and government officials said Wednesday. Some worried residents could become desensitized to future alerts.

“People think they’re getting over-warned,” said meteorologist Frank Revitte of the National Weather Service’s Slidell office, which issues forecasts for southeastern Louisiana.

I think I’d rather have the warning than not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPOT — Last week Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator visited with Erin McCarty and Robert J. Wright on our local 710 KEEL radio about Governor John Bel Edwards touted Criminal Justice Reform.

The bipartisan legislation revamping the way Louisiana deals with criminals and crime was passed in 2017 in an attempt to lower Louisiana’s notoriously high incarceration rate.  The reform bill was authored by six Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent.  Those designations mean little though; in Louisiana all you have to do to get re-elected to the other side of the legislative chamber is change your political affiliation, if not your beliefs.

In a meeting with President Donald Trump in early August, Governor John Bel Edwards said, “In Louisiana, we’re proud of the work we’ve done. It’s been sentencing reform, prison reform, and a real focus on reentry and for the first time in 20 years, I can tell you Louisiana does not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation today.”

In 2017, U.S. News and World Report listed the top ten states with the highest incarceration rate in the nation and Louisiana was number one, and designated the prison capital of the world.

Everyone agrees there is a problem here but consensus begins to diverge when we begin to nail down what those problems are and how to solve them.  Senator John Kennedy, (R-LA) is one of those voices against the new reforms:  “Well, the governor and I just disagree,” said Kennedy. “He thinks our problem in Louisiana is we have too many prisoners. I think our problem is we have too many people committing crimes.”

Sheriff Prator is more specific.  In his visit on KEEL radio last week he enumerated several changes he believes are problematic.  One of his concerns is that the re-entry programs that are supposed to help the newly released acclimate into society are not yet in place.  “We’re designing the bus while we’re driving the bus,” he said, “and somebody is gonna get killed, and people are getting killed…”.

Sheriff Prator is referring to two prisoners who were arrested on drug charges that were released in November, who have now committed murder, and have been rearrested.  One of these was in Ouachita Parish and the other in Bossier Parish.

These re-entry programs are supposed to be funded in part by the savings gained from lowering the incarceration rate.  Sheriff Prator directs citizens to page 38 of the Practitioners Guide for the new reforms which explains that in the first year, 35% of the savings will go to the Office of Juvenile Justice for Strategic Investments and to the Department of corrections for the same purpose.  Nobody has said what those strategic investments are; Sheriff Prator did not know.

Still in the first year, 14% of the savings will go to Victims’ services (this number drops to 10% after the first year.) Twenty-one percent goes to “Grants: community-based programs” (drops to 15% after year 1) and 30% of the savings from early release goes to the General Fund to be spent at legislators’ discretion.

What concerns Sheriff Prator a great deal can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the Practitioner’s Guide which outlines new thresholds and penalties for non-violent crimes.  Apparently, we are not all in agreement on what “non-violent” means.  For example, under the new law, a person could barge into my home with a firearm and could be free the very next day.  This is now a probationary offense.  Specifically, the former penalty for this was mandatory five to thirty years.  Now it is 1-30 years and the one year is not mandatory, according to Sheriff Prator.

Another example: no longer considered a violent crime is “mingling harmful substances”; in other words, if someone drops a date rape drug in your drink, this is a non-violent offense.  So is extortion and a drive-by shooting if you happen to miss hitting a person.  See page 7 of the Practitioners Guide for these.

Here is the chart found on page 7 of the Guide:

Penalties for crimes have been drastically altered as well, such as debt forgiveness.  One scenario described by Sheriff Prator would be that of a repeat offender for theft, for example.  If the judge orders that person to reimburse the victim, the most they have to pay back is the equivalent of one day’s wage per month, and if they do that for one year the balance of the debt is forgiven.

Additionally, third and fourth DWI offenses are now backed down to probation and may qualify for diversion, which means that it is not recidivism if it never happened.  At least on record.

Nobody, not even Sheriff Prator, thinks our prison system was without fault before these reforms.  Everyone agrees that change was needed.  But perhaps we have once again passed a bill without really knowing what is in it.  At the very least, we have passed a bill that releases prisoners without the safety net to keep them from reoffending.  Those programs simply do not exist yet and that is not a good situation for the citizens of Louisiana or the newly released.

Read the Practitioner’s Guide; it’s not a complicated document.  You can find it here.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $650 million dollar fiscal cliff and two previous special legislative sessions have failed to solve the dilemma, and so special session number three begins today, at a cost of about $60,000 per day.

Throughout this crisis the normal groups have been targeted and threatened for extinction: higher education and health care.  In May, 30,000 Medicaid recipients were threatened with eviction from nursing homes as their benefits were threatened.  The popular TOPS scholarship program has been targeted for deep cuts which has filled parents and students with anxiety. The latest threat is that the food stamp program for the entire state will be cancelled in January unless legislators find a solution to this budget shortfall.

In simplest terms, state democrats want to raise revenue through additional taxes while state republicans want to cut funding.  It’s a bit more complex than that, obviously, but that’s the crux of the issue:

Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus, which has positioned itself as the largest opponent to Edwards’ agenda, vowed it “will not waver” in the third.

“Since the first day of this legislative session and throughout the special session, the Louisiana House Republican Delegation has been crystal clear in its opposition to growing the size of government,” the caucus said in its statement. “We will enter into the upcoming special session laser-focused on reducing state spending and meeting the critical needs of the state. Our commitment to the taxpayers will not waver.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) wants to raise revenue through extending an expiring tax:

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to give a short session-opening address about 5 p.m., urging lawmakers to agree to extend one-half of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. House Republican leaders have been steadfastly opposed to the half-cent proposal and continue to push for a smaller fraction.

And so while both sides are steadfast in their positions, it seems, and unwilling to come to any compromise, we are spending around $650,000 million for each special session.

Makes perfect sense to me.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Well, that didn’t take long.

Tyrone White, a convicted car burglar who was released early under Louisiana’s new free-the-criminals criminal justice overall, has been re-arrested.  White was out of jail only five days before he picked up a gun and robbed a construction worker in Kenner, Louisiana.  He is now back in jail.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry commented:

“Gov. (John Bel) Edwards’ staffer, (corrections secretary) James LeBlanc, indicated we needed to give the ‘reforms’ time to work,” said the release from Citizens for Louisiana Job Creators. “Perhaps we could suggest that anyone who has SIXTY FOUR counts of burglary NOT be set free when Governor Edwards and the Department of Corrections decides to let the next batch of 1,500+ criminals out of jail on Dec. 1.

“As we said last week, lock your doors and, as U.S. Senator (John) Kennedy has suggested, ‘You ought to own a handgun just in case.’ “

Wait, he said sixty-four counts of burglary?!

Tyrone White has a 40-page criminal history in Jefferson Parish alone.  Is he an outlier?  Is he an early-release candidate that slipped through the cracks and should never have been released?  Who knows.  Who knows how many more Tyrone Whites are walking around right now, free, due to this new legislation package?

In the spring, in order to address Louisiana’s high incarceration rate, the Edwards administration pushed a sweeping criminal justice reform package:

Most significantly, the package of bills aims to overhaul sentencing in the state criminal codes. The package will reduce mandatory minimums, trim sentences and give some inmates access to parole eligibility sooner. It creates a medical furlough program, which allows the sickest inmates to temporarily receive treatment off site, and be eligible for Medicaid, which saves the state on medical costs. The package overhauls drug sentencing, allowing lighter sentences based on weights, and streamlines the state’s many incongruous theft penalties. One bill in the package will limit how often juvenile offenders can receive life without parole sentences.

The measure also expands prison alternatives, like drug court, and expand safety nets for people getting out of jail and returning to their communities, by reducing their financial burdens and helping them have better access to jobs. Another bill will help improve the way victims are notified when offenders have parole hearings or are released.

In this first wave of early release, nearly 2,000 prisoners were set free.  Another wave comes in a couple of weeks.

It is not surprising that the law enforcement community is unhappy about many of these changes.  It means they have to deal with the Tyrone Whites again and again.  And some law enforcement officials are making it known that the numbers of criminals on early release are much higher than what is being officially reported.

The early release provision indicates that “non-violent offenders” are the only prisoners eligible for early release.  In all likelihood, the construction worker on the other end of Tyrone White’s gun last week would beg to differ.

There’s nothing wrong with criminal justice reform and truly low level offenders perhaps deserve a second look and a chance of early release.  But these candidates must be carefully screened and evaluated to ensure their chances of success and assimilation back into society.  What tools are we giving them to ensure they can find jobs and avoid recidivism?

Tyrone White won’t be the only one of the early released to return to jail.  But perhaps he will serve a cautionary purpose in ensuring that those who are released in the coming months are given a second look.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The feud between Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Representative Garrett Graves over the slow response of Louisiana in flood recovery efforts escalated last week when the Edwards camp accused Rep. Graves of spreading false information about the release of federal money given to the state.

Friday, Rep. Graves issued this statement:

Flood victims in need of assistance are waiting on the state government to act. The $1.65 billion that is available TODAY to the state of Louisiana for flood recovery will never be wired to a Louisiana-controlled account; that’s not how it works. It will stay at the HUD CFO Accounting Center in Fort Worth and the state will draw down the money as necessary.

The first step is for the State to upload its Action Plan to HUD’s software pictured in the screenshot. The reason it says $0 is because the state hasn’t uploaded its plan.

Once the state does upload the plan, the process will work like this:

Let’s say The Action Plan budgets $25 mm for drywall and the state needs to purchase $10 mm now.

The State submits a draw request for $10 mm and then the state gets paid within 72 hours. Now the state’s drywall budget is $15mm and so on…

The bottom line is that the state has known for more than 191 days (Sept. 28 is when Congress appropriated funds) that it would receive federal disaster money through the CDGB program, and should be ready to disburse those funds. They’re not ready.

Everything else you’re hearing is noise.

Louisiana is one of the most frequent users of DRGR. The state should be able to submit action plan in its sleep. Commissioner Dardenne is on the radio is saying it is being uploaded now – hurry up.

The spokesman for Governor Edwards, Richard Carbo, says  “Graves’ information is inaccurate and the federal government hasn’t yet released the money to the state to spend. The line of credit “has not yet been set up.”

Clearly, the government hasn’t released the money because the state has not submitted an action plan as required or hired a contractor to oversee rebuilding. Why haven’t they done that?

Meanwhile, as I reported last week, Louisianians are not waiting on the politicians.  The Cajun Navy worked alongside first responders when the floods happened in August 2016 to rescue people, pets, and property, and now the Cajun Relief Foundation is working through crowd funding to get people the financial help they need.

Be sure to read this scathing post from Scott McKay of The Hayride:

Nobody has made a full-on indictment of Edwards’ immediate response to the August floods, though he certainly wasn’t perfect – and it’s fair to say he got bailed out by the Cajun Navy, which filled in a lot of the gaps. But in the effort to get federal dollars into Louisiana to make flood recovery happen as quickly as possible, Edwards has been an unmitigated failure – and if Louisiana’s newspapers weren’t so nakedly partisan on his side the governor would have been thoroughly excoriated for it.

Hopefully the politicians can get their red tape untangled before the next flood hits.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT  — South Louisiana is flooding.  You may have heard about it on the news.  It’s really bad.  In a press conference Sunday morning, Governor John Bel Edwards said it is “plenty bad.”

Many homes that have never taken on water before have flooded with this storm and many of those people don’t have flood insurance.  They’ve lost everything.

In the northern part of the state, we are dry: I haven’t seen rain for ages, but down south, this is a catastrophic disaster that is all too reminiscent of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 although in the case of Katrina there were at least warnings and opportunities to evacuate.  In this case, as the result of a tropical depression in the Gulf, it just started raining and did not quit.  Some areas in and around Baton Rouge have received over two feet of rain in two days.  Baton Rouge is, on average, about two feet below sea level although that varies widely across the city and the problem today is as the Amite River crests there is a huge backflow problem into bayous and streams which will cause more flooding in days to come.

The crest of the Amite River will be of primary concern in the next few days and could cause terrible flooding, perhaps worse than the devastating 1983 flooding there.  Cresting is starting to happen but is moving slowly south and so more flooding is certainly anticipated and although rain in Baton Rouge abated on Sunday morning as the storm moved west, more rain is in the forecast.  With saturated ground, “even a typical summer thunderstorm could cause flooding,” Governor Edwards said.

There were over one thousand vehicles stranded on I-12 and while the National Guard attempted to rescue those people, many chose to spend the night there and remain with their vehicles.  On Sunday the first responders began bringing food and water in to them.

The Louisiana National Guard has deployed 1,700 Guardsmen as of Sunday afternoon but those numbers were expected to climb to about 2,500 before this all winds down.

The Advocate is providing excellent ongoing coverage of the flooding and has a heartbreaking slide show of flooded schools, homes, interstates, and highways as well as an interactive map of flooded areas.  Much of the LSU campus is underwater.

One can’t help but think of Randy Newman’s Louisiana, 1927 when something like this happens:

What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

In a Sunday morning press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards reported that over 7,000 people and 500 pets have been rescued; as of Monday morning the numbers are staggering: 20,000 rescued and 10,000 in shelters. There have been six fatalities. He has requested a major disaster declaration for the affected parishes from the FEMA Region 6 director.

The storm is moving west now and in Louisiana at least twenty-seven state offices are closed Monday as authorities attempt to respond and to keep people off the roads as much as possible.  On Sunday, Louisiana State Police reported that there are over 1400 critical bridges that must be inspected before they can be reopened for safe travel; over 200 roads are closed.

If you want to volunteer or help, here is a list of everything from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the United Way may need.  As I said,  there are over 10,000 people in shelters with more to come.  Pet shelters are still being set up as well as medical needs shelters.

My friend Rob Gaudet of Gaudet Media got out yesterday and was filming in Ascension Parish as he looked for places to volunteer and help.  In true Louisiana spirit, as he and his friend Chris waded through six inches of water in the street in a neighborhood, people were outside watching the water and cooking gumbo in a large pot.  They called Rob and Chris over and fed them some gumbo. They were offering it to anyone who passed by and even sent some home with Chris for his wife.  They went on to a nearby middle school where David Duke was filling sandbags. Rob and many others will be out volunteering today.

While Governor Edwards in no way wants to compare this catastrophe to a hurricane, the local meteorologists have been calling this a “hurricane without the winds.” Governor Edwards is quick to point out that had this been a hurricane we would have much more infrastructure damage as well as widespread power outages.

Even though it isn’t a hurricane, it is still, as Governor Edwards said, “plenty bad.”

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Can I say “I told you so” now?

Louisiana elected John Bel Edwards in the last gubernatorial election because so many voters just couldn’t stomach David Vitter any longer; standing in judgment of Vitter’s decades-old moral lapse (one which his wife had long since forgiven), enough Louisiana Republicans crossed lines and voted a liberal, Obama-Democrat into the governor’s office despite my screeching pleas that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And now they feign indignation when Edwards isn’t acting like a Republican.

I won’t rub salt in the wounds because we have a long row ahead of us, but let me just point out the latest slap in the face from Edwards.

I can’t write the story any better than Ellen Carmichael did last week for the National Review.  You must read her article.  The gist is that during the campaign, Edwards promised to protect the state’s school choice program, but under the protective cover of a state budget crisis, Edwards is doing an about-face on that promise:

When the state’s budget pressures surfaced, Edwards saw his opportunity. He could send a signal to the public that its insistence on maintaining educational justice for impoverished families in the form of scholarships to private schools was simply not in line with the way he was going to run Louisiana. Teachers’ unions came before such kids as first-grader Nicole Jack.

The teachers’ unions, of course, supported Edwards heavily during his campaign.  His wife was a teacher.  I talked personally to many, many teachers who voted for him because they believed he would support them and they could not stand Vitter.

But what about these kids in failing schools?  What about his promise to keep school choice?

Carmichael makes an excellent point when she says:

And he had his excuse: budget cuts. While the state allocates nearly $3.5 billion to its education department annually, Governor Edwards’s team felt it appropriate to take away the $4,800 scholarship from 17 families who wanted to give their kids a better life. Meanwhile, Louisiana spends $10,490 for each pupil enrolled in the state’s failing public-school system. If Nicole Jack cannot escape the school’s waitlist in time, her education will cost the state more than double what they insist they’re trying to save, proving yet again that it’s not about dollars and cents. It’s not about the kids, either. It’s about politics.

It is, in fact, over five hundred families affected, not just seventeen as the article mentions.

In place of school choice vouchers, Edwards established the Every Student Succeeds Act panel by Executive Order whose mission is to bring public schools back up to par.  Joe Cunningham writing for The Hayride explains how this will work:

They’re going to say plans like the voucher program and expanding charter schools are taking valuable resources from the state and the schools, therefore they should be eliminated and attention turned back to the schools themselves. Which is what the school boards and teacher unions want. School choice is, after all, a direct challenge to how things are run. If public schools are forced to compete and improve, many could end up failing. But if there is no real challenge, then there’s less accountability. It’s not some evil plan to horde all the money and power so much as it is laziness on their part. The way things have always been is what’s gotten Louisiana into the educational pit it’s in…. Edwards and his supporters don’t want families to control where and how they get their education. They want the System to do it, and the System is far too concerned with itself. They must take money from the hands of the taxpayers and put it into the schools themselves rather than let families choose where it goes. You don’t get to choose. Let the State do it for you.

You can read more on the ESSA panel here.

Of course we want all of our public schools to succeed and to strive for excellence but until the deep housecleaning that will make that happen occurs, there must be options for kids like Nicole Jack, who for one brief moment, saw a bright future ahead of her at a private Catholic school, only to have that snuffed out by a politician.

The bottom line is that the school voucher program truly helps kids with academic potential who are languishing in failing schools and in the end could read huge rewards, both educationally and financially, for Louisiana if not for crony politics.

John Bel Edwards is simply paying his debt to teachers’ unions on the backs of our kids.

Now, who didn’t see that one coming?

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As Louisiana struggles to keep the lights on in the state and as legislators continue to make cuts and raise taxes as they try to balance the budget, what most Louisiana residents were upset about last week was the luxury chicken coop Governor John Bel Edwards has had built (with his own money) on the grounds of the governor’s mansion.  Inside the coop he has sixteen hens and hopes to have fresh eggs soon.

For some reason, this upsets people.  “Country comes to town,” they’re saying.

I’m no fan of John Bel Edwards, by far.  He’s an Obama Democrat through and through, but if the guy wants to put a chicken coop in the yard, who cares?

Why begrudge the guy some fresh eggs?

Maybe he’ll inspire some kids to raise chickens.

But the whole affair is making for some really bad, and sometimes funny, headlines and newswriting, and some painful metaphors:

Caught smack dab in the middle of this political game of chicken is the TOPS college scholarship program. In plain speak: Funding for one of the state’s most cared about programs — from the every day voter’s perspective — is being held hostage until one side caves.

Sad, but true.  Thousands of kids across the state, and their parents, are worried about college next fall where a couple of months ago they were depending on the TOPS scholarship program to see them through.

And while I’m certainly guilty of typos and the occasional sloppy writing, I don’t get paid by a news organization to write like this:

By the way, in addition to bringing recycling to the mansion, the Edwards have also added a chicken coup and a garden.

If the chickens are planning a revolution, perhaps Edwards needs to add a pig names Snowball to the mansion farm.

If you search Facebook for John Bel Edwards and chickens, you’ll find reams of outrage and approval.

Really, it’s just chickens, people.

Calm down.

And if you’re invited to dinner at the governor’s mansion, order the steak.DaTe

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random observations from way down South this week.

Technically, Donald Trump won Louisiana in the primary Saturday, but my friends at The Hayride make the case that the true winner was Ted Cruz.  If you look at the Trump – Cruz gap and compare early voting to the results from Saturday’s primary, Cruz closed the gap by some 20 points on the heels of last week’s debate.

Looking at the official numbers, note also that Mike Huckabee got 645 votes; he dropped out February 2;  Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, also withdrawn, received over 6000 votes between them.  Christie got 401 votes. And interestingly, Marco Rubio showed quite poorly with only 11% of the vote.

The Hayride article is an interesting read.  Check it out.

In other notes:

Our political leadership is still in Baton Rouge in the attempt to plug our $900 million deficit gap and are closing in on the final days of their special legislative session. John Bel Edwards seems to be in way over his head but even given that, we can’t fully blame him for this budget mess.  This lies on the shoulders of Governor Bobby Jindal; Edwards may have a poor voting record that contributed to this mess, but it isn’t all his fault that we find ourselves now having to add pennies to the sales tax and threaten to shut the doors of higher education.

The proposed tax on alcohol failed its first go around last week but squeaked through in the Sunday session where it now goes to the Senate. You don’t mess with the liquor in Louisiana without upsetting some people. The one-penny sales tax was passed however, and since that worked so well, there is talk now of adding another ½-cent or another entire cent to the sales tax:

A proposal to raise Louisiana’s sales tax by not 1 but by 1½ or 2 cents instead emerged Friday as the potential solution to ending a budget crisis that threatens to cancel college classes and cut health care to the poor and the disabled.

The plan has the strong support of House Speaker Taylor Barras, who discussed it with Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday.

The beauty of the plan for the Republicans and the business lobbyists pushing it, is this: It would solve the short-term budget problem and keep lawmakers from trying to find more revenue by raising taxes on business. The plan presents a problem for Democrats, however, because raising sales taxes hits the poor the hardest.

Democrats, however, could soon be facing a choice of having to hold their nose and vote for an increase of 1½ or 2 cents of sales taxes or rejecting the idea and then seeing devastating cuts to public hospitals that serve the poor and to the state’s colleges and universities.

They are running out of time.  This Special Session must end by 6:00 p.m. on March 9.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.