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Edwards' weakness invites first big shark to eye him

Gov. John Bel Edwards has held that office for less than a month, and already the first and perhaps most lethal electoral shark has started circling his weakened position.

Previously having faced setbacks in terms of House of Representatives leadership and committee assignments with his inability to place favored allies in positions of power, Democrat Edwards also suffers from another clipping of his authority: the assertive posture adopted by new Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry. It began innocently enough with Edwards proclaiming that he would ratchet down the practice of recent governors in using outside counsel through the Governor’s Office and other executive branch agencies to pursue certain legal matters, leaving Landry more unopposed discretion in dealing with these.

Landry has espoused a novel implementation of the constitutional powers of the attorney general. Historically, when other parts of the executive branch, through their defined statutory powers, engaged in legal action, the attorney general stayed out of the way. These past heads of the state Department of Justice also shied away from using their constitutional authority to initiate or intervene in civil matters outside of largely legal questions like suing drug manufacturers for misrepresentation involving state contracts.


Caddo tries reform for second time in 20 years

If last week did not contain in aggregate the most momentous shift in Caddo Parish Commission policy in its history, it must rank up there, generating plenty of controversy and optimism for the future.

Four tremendous breaks from past policy occurred, beginning with discussion but no action on whether the parish will have its administrator Woodrow Wilson serve as its representative on the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments. By federal law, that organization coordinates activities among local governments relevant to federal government grant activities, among other things.

Wilson has served as that official until last month when new Commission Pres. Matthew Linn assumed the position himself, with the power to designate a substitute. In a letter to commissioners, Wilson complained about the move, saying that it would reduce expertise and effectiveness of the organization and on the behalf of the parish.


Fayard candidacy invites LA Democrat crackup

On cue, here comes the crackup of Louisiana Democrats.

Former lieutenant governor candidate Democrat Caroline Fayard announced she would enter the U.S. Senate race contested this fall. She already joins three quality Republicans, in the form of Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming and Treasurer John Kennedy, and two others that would be competitive only in the absence of these from the GOP, former Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao and former Senate candidate Rob Maness.

To reiterate what has appeared in this space, Fayard’s social liberalism, association with prominent liberal Democrat elected officials past and present, her trial lawyer background and backing, questions surrounding her previous campaign’s financing, and the case of athlete’s mouth she contracted then when she infamously declared that she “hates” Republicans that will resurface in ads again and again over the next nine months, make her unelectable against any of the top shelf Republicans running, if not all running. But if she were the only quality Democrat running, given the electorate’s dynamics due to the size of the Republican field she would make the runoff subsequently to lose to the highest GOP receiver of votes.


Legislature must fix consequences of bad Court ruling

In his headlong rush to buffalo legislators into unneeded tax increases, perhaps Gov. John Bel Edwards will take the time to include in an anticipated special session call a measure to correct, on two levels, a helpful constitutional amendment recently entirely gutted by the judiciary.

Last month, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the provision that barred unpardoned felons from running for office for 15 years after the end of their sentences suffered from a drafting error that rendered it unconstitutional. Apparently, even as the Legislature in its Act 1492 of 1997 provided a provision that applied this attenuation only to individuals “actually under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony,” the secretary of state then mistakenly left that language off the ballot. A majority ruled the matter inseverable and junked the entire thing.

Ironically, when Prisoner #30609-034 challenged the ruling so as to run last fall for the state House, he never should have had standing in the first place since he, once known as state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, did not receive probation for his federal corruption conviction but imprisonment. Yet only Court of Appeals Judge (sitting as a Supreme Court substitute) John Michael Guidry had the temerity to call the court’s majority to that inconvenience.


Optimal LA higher education policy still elusive

Readers of the excellent series from The Advocate concerning higher education in Louisiana should draw as the major lesson from it that policy-makers must understand the nature and purpose of higher education before they can appropriately size and task it.

The several articles explode many myths previously uncovered in this space: that higher education has sustained severe cuts in revenues, tuition has climbed relatively too high, and that an overbuilt system increases access, among others. However, it does perpetuates one here and there, such as implying an extreme imbalance of user fees to taxpayer subsidies as in “taxpayers put up barely a quarter of the tab, leaving students and their families to cover most of the gap in the form of rising tuition and fees” to fund higher education; in fact, the fiscal year 2016 budget has self-generated money making up 51.6 percent of total funding, with not all of that tuition and fees and that figure barely above the national average.

More accurately, limiting the amount spent to just institutions with instructional programs, which includes Taylor Opportunity Programs for Students dollars but excludes Office of Student Financial Affairs money as state resources, and also excluding research institutes’ amounts, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office the self-generated revenue figure comes out to 63.2 percent. So if discussing money going to instructional-related activities, bearing in mind “self-generated” includes some portion not related to educational charges (such as the $10 million Louisiana State University kicked in from its insanely profitable football program), a good figure probably is 60 percent, not the near 75 percent policy-makers would have people believe.


Edwards still blundering in discarding House influence

How Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards continues to fumble through the early days of his term found its expression in sports this weekend when the Louisiana State University Tigers men’s basketball team after one time holding a big lead came up short against the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Pretend Edwards is LSU’s Tim Quarterman, former Speaker of the House candidate Republican Cameron Henry is OU’s likely Wooden Award winner for best college player Buddy Hield, Republican Speaker of the House Taylor Barras is OU’s Big 12 Conference blocks leader Khadeem Lattin, and the Republican House delegation (most of it) is OU’s Isaiah Cousins. In a tie game with only seconds left, the Sooners had the ball.

Hield went into the area near the Tiger basket while Cousins brought the ball up court. Hield, a very marked man, then broke away and carried his defender with him, freeing up space for Cousins to step in and hit a short jumper. With fewer than five seconds remaining, Quarterman raced the ball up the court and tried to fling a short bank shot to reestablish the tie, but Lattin had slid back and rejected it as time expired to seal the win.


I-49 connector, not loop, best for Shreveport

Last month, a series of public meetings gave Shreveport residents a chance to deliver input (and they still may do so online until Feb. 8 here) concerning the largest capital project in city history that will shape its contours for decades to come.

Until the past couple of years, consensus seemed to appear that the Interstate 49 connector would route through the heart of the city, the Allendale neighborhood (and a bit of Ledbetter Heights). But then some residents, nonprofit organizations operating in the area, and interests allied with them raised sufficient protest that authorities added a fifth option to the four that varied little in proximity. This one abandons the idea of going through the inner city and incorporates existing Louisiana Highway 3132 and Interstate 220 as the path to the southern end of existing I-49 at I-220.

Nowthe time has come to pick the final route, which requires another round of public input. Essentially, it has become a choice between the “loop,” which on it alone would require little in the way of construction and therefore not a great cost, or any of the other four alternatives, very similar to each other but would cost at least $300 million, displace a portion of the 4,000 or so people living in Allendale (down from over 16,000 in 1970) and a few businesses in an area that does not feature many to begin with (half of the property in the area is adjudicated), and go against the grain of recent nonprofit efforts and the city to build housing.


Details good, overall bad in higher education report

Because it ignored the elephant in the room, the higher education transition team report prepared at the behest of Gov. John Bel Edwards makes it irrelevant to any serious discussion about long-term policy in that area.

Much of the minutiae within in made sense. It discussed the mediocrity supported by the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, and recommended either raising its standards or capping award amounts, the latter an approach sent to former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk that he vetoed. It asks to continue building upon former Jindal and Department of Education initiatives to reduce bureaucratic impediments and to align better educational delivery with state needs. It recommends targeting resources to areas of excellence, champions bureaucratic realignments to promote efficiency and better delivery, and advocates helping institutions realize more self-generated revenues from their intellectual products and activities. Tactically, it makes many sound and few unsound points.

But it has two fatal flaws strategically that almost entirely moot its salutary aspects. First, it remains captive to the illusory notion that reductions in state funding act as a “disinvestment” into higher education. Factually speaking, the trend of the last several years where fewer state dollars went into higher education replaced mostly by self-generated revenues (mostly tuition and fees) better represents an overdue rebalancing that formerly underpriced higher education to its consumers and demanded over-subsidization by taxpayers that has left the higher education spending only around $40 million fewer a year than when Jindal took office (although with inflation factored in the decline reaches 13 percent).