Nungesser backs out of two forums

Lieutenant governor candidate Billy Nungesser has backed out of two upcoming forums with incumbent Jay Dardenne, campaign and event representatives said Thursday.
Nungesser scrapped a Pachyderms of Greater Baton Rouge event set for Friday evening as well as one sponsored by the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday afternoon because of “scheduling conflicts,” campaign spokeswoman Amy Jones said.
“He is committed to attend an event for a charity foundation in New Orleans on Friday night and has a fundraising lunch on Monday,” Jones said.
Nungesser, who is president of Plaquemines Parish, is challenging the re-election bid of Dardenne in the Oct. 22 elec-tion. Both Nungesser and Dardenne are Republicans.
Dardenne, a former secre-tary of state, won a special election for lieutenant governor last year to fill a vacancy created when Mitch Landrieu became New Orleans mayor. He is seeking his first four-term term.
The word surprised Harold LaCour, vice president of the Pachyderms group. He said as of Wednesday when he talked to a campaign scheduler Nungesser’s appearance was on.
A reporter first advised him that Nungesser would not at-tend. “He sure didn’t tell me about it,” said LaCour on Thursday.
“We put publicity out in good faith. Now what do I do? Do you go in and tell all those people not to come,” said LaCour. He said he had a near full to capac-ity audience ready to hear the candidates on the issues.
After talking with Nungesser’s scheduler, LaCour said the campaign wanted to send a representative instead.
LaCour said the event will go on without Nungesser.
The Nungesser campaign also notified the Press Club that the candidate would not ap-pear, after first accepting, said Kimberly Vetter, a Press Club vice president and a reporter with The Advocate.
“We are trying to convince him to come,” Vetter said.

Administration postpones state healthcare plan

The Jindal administration is delaying the launch of a new private-sector-based health care delivery system for the poor until February, state De-partment of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said Thursday.
The state health agency had planned to start rolling out the new “coordinate care network” program in January in the New Orleans area with a statewide phase-in completed by mid-2012.
Greenstein said patients and those providing care need more time “to absorb all the informa-tion coming at them related to Coordinated Care Networks,” called CCNs.
Five private insurance com-panies have been chosen to manage health care for some two-thirds of the state’s $1.2 million Medicaid recipients. The companies form networks of physicians, hospitals and other medical providers through which care will be de-livered.
A lot of work remains to be done prior to the program’s launch including the companies contracting with the individual providers who will make up their networks. In addition, covered Medicaid recipients have to decide which network they want to enroll in.
“We understand this kind of reform can be challenging for our stakeholder community, in-cluding both enrollees and pro-viders,” Greenstein said in a statement.
So, Greenstein said DHH’s leadership team decided more time was needed to ensure a smooth transition “to a system that will enhance access to care and set a higher standard for improved health care outcomes we can all be proud of as a state.”
The change means the CCN system will be launched in the New Orleans-Northshore area Feb. 1. The change will move to the Capital area, Acadiana and South central Louisiana begin-ning April 1, and the rest of the state June 1.

Cao drops out of AG race

A second statewide elected official has won reelection without opposition, with the departure Tuesday of former congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao from the attorney general’s race.
Cao filed paper’s this morning with the secretary of state’s office officially dropping out of the race in which he was challenging Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
Caldwell and Cao are both Republicans.
Cao’s departure leaves Caldwell without any opposition.
Cao was not available for comment Tuesday morning.
State Treasurer John Kennedy already had no opposition in his reelection bid.
The open primary elections are scheduled for Oct. 22.

BESE candidate claims improper speech

Ascension Parish school leaders improperly allowed former Superintendent Donald Songy to make a political speech during a district staff development meeting, a member of Louisiana’s top school board said Monday.
The charge was leveled by Chas Roemer, who is being challenged by Songy and two others for Roemer’s seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE.
The 11-member panel sets policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
Much of Ascension Parish is in the District 6 BESE slot that Roemer occupies.
The primary is Oct. 22.
Roemer said Songy should not have been allowed to make a political speech Friday  dur-ing a district-wide gathering of teachers aimed at improving their classroom skills.
“That is old school, union politics,” Roemer said in a tele-phone interview.
“It is unethical,” he added. “It is a waste of our teachers’ time,” Roemer said.
Songy disputed the charges.
He said that, after the staff development session was over and the teachers were on their own time, some stayed behind “and I spoke with them.
“It was after the meeting was over,” Songy said.
Ascension Parish Superinten-dent Patrice Pujol could not be reached for comment this morning.
However Johnnie Balfantz, public information officer for the district, said Songy was al-lowed to address teachers be-cause he requested the time.
Balfantz said Songy made his comments after the morning session.
He said Pujol told the group that Songy would say “a few words” but that it was volun-tary on whether teachers stayed.
Balfantz said roughly 500 of the meeting’s 1,600 teachers stuck around.
“Some chose to stay,” he said. “Others just left to go to lunch.”
Balfantz also said the staff development meeting took place at a church that donated the site for the gathering.
“It was not on school board time, it was not on school board property,” he said of Songy’s comments.
Roemer said his wife was a speech therapist in the Ascen-sion Parish School District last year and may return there this winter.
Roemer is seeking his second term on BESE.

White House cites Louisiana’s unemployment fraud

Louisiana paid out $497 million in improper unemployment checks over the last three years, close to half of all claims that were filed, according to The White House.
Vice President Joe Biden released the figures Tuesday in announcing the administration efforts to crack down on government fraud, waste and abuse.
The federal numbers, however, failed to take in improvements that the state has made over the last year, in part, correcting a computer glitch that added to the problems, said Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported that Louisiana had the highest percentage of improper employment payments at 43.6 percent or almost half of all claims filed.
The state has been making progress, Eysink said, reducing that figure to about 22 percent, or one in five.
“We’re not where we want to be clearly,” Eysink said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

State to erect highway protection

The state plans to erect more than 20 miles of additional  cable median  barriers along Interstate 10 to prevent crossover accidents, including near the site where five people were killed in March, officials said Tuesday.
“This project will save lives,” said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The barriers are designed to deflect vehicles that enter the median, keeping them from crossing over into oncoming traffic.
The cost is $2.7 million in federal safety funds.
The additions will bring the total of cable median barriers on I-10 and I-12 to nearly 81 miles.
The new sites are:

  • In East Baton Rouge Parish, one mile from the Highland Road on I-10 to the Ascension Parish line.
  • In Ascension Parish, one mile south from the East Baton Rouge Parish line, 3.5 miles south from La. Hwy. 73 and 6.5 miles from La. Hwy. 22 to the St. James Parish line.
  • 4.7 miles from the existing cable barrier in St. James and St. John parishes to the Reserve Relief Canal Bridge, then 3.3 miles to the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
  • In Jefferson Parish, 2.5 miles from the St. Charles Parish line to Veterans Inter-change.

Earlier this year a mother and her three children and a second adult were killed on I-10 near Highland Road when a pickup truck crossed the median as it spun clockwise and struck a car head on.
In 2008 Grace Gary, 8, was killed on I-10 when she and her Baton Rouge family were re-turning from New Orleans on Palm Sunday.
An eastbound pickup truck crossed the I-10 median  with-out braking and slammed into the Gary’s Honda Odyssey.
Mona Gary, who is Grace’s mother, was at the press con-ference and praised plans for the additional cable barriers.
She said her family recently traveled through St. James Par-ish and was heartened to see cable median barriers on I-10.
“There was a sense of security,” Gary said.
She said the additional barriers lessen chances that other families will experience what hers did.
LeBas said installation of the cable barriers will start next month and should be finished by spring.
Barriers will start going up in Jefferson Parish and move west toward Baton Rouge.
The cable costs about $200,000 per mile.
Sites are picked from a state analysis of vehicles crossing the median per mile, transportation officials said.

Jindal endorses Perry

Gov. Bobby Jindal leapt onto the national political stage Monday by supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Jindal’s backing came the same day former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his support from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Romney is one of Perry’s rivals for the nomination.
“Proud to support (Perry) at the debate as he spreads his message to get America working again,” Jindal tweeted Monday night.
In an e-mail to supporters, Jindal characterized Perry as a “proven conservative.”
“Rick Perry is committed to making the federal government as inconsequential in our lives as he can. He will work to protect us from over-taxation, over-regulation, and over-litigation. And his top priority will be to get America working again,” Jindal wrote.
He concluded by urging supporters to contribute $25, $50 or $100 to Perry’s campaign.
Perry praised Jindal’s endorsement.
“I truly appreciate Gov. Jindal’s endorsement because he is a leader who knows what it takes to rebuild an economy and restore people’s confidence,” Perry said in a prepared statement. “His efforts to cut taxes and reduce unreasonable regulations are helping the Louisiana economy grow, and that is exactly what I aim to do for America.”
CNN reported early Monday that Jindal planned to publicly back Perry. Jindal’s aides ignored media inquires about the report for most of the day. Official confirmation came just ahead of CNN’s “Tea Party Republican Debate.”
Jindal flew to Philadelphia Monday to raise money for his campaign fund. He is seeking re-election Oct. 22 against nine challengers, none of whom has significant financial backing.
From Pennsylvania, Jindal made his way to Tampa, Fla., where Perry prepared to debate Romney and others.
Just a few weeks ago, Jindal stopped short of backing Perry for the presidential nomination.
Jindal told WWL-TV that Perry is a good neighbor.
“I haven’t backed anybody at this point. But I will say there’s been a lot of attention about Gov. Perry. He’s been a good neighbor, a good governor next door who helped our state after Hurricane Gustav,” Jindal said at the time.
Gustav hit Louisiana in 2008, knocking over trees and causing heavy wind damage in Baton Rouge.
Both Perry and Jindal are seen by many as rising leaders in the national GOP.
Perry became chairman of the Republican Governors Association last year. Jindal is on the leadership team.
There long have been rumors that Jindal is angling to become a vice presidential candidate. When he qualified for re-election last week, Jindal said he will serve out the entire four years of a second term.

School boards chief dismissed

The executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association has been dismissed, officials said Monday afternoon.
Nolton Senegal, who held the job since 2007, was removed from his post by the board of the association, which represents about 650 local school board members statewide.
Darrin Manuel, president of the LSBA board, said in a prepared statement that  Senegal’s dismissal stemmed from an investigation of possible misappropriation of funds by another member of the staff.
Manuel did not elaborate.
However Don Whittinghill, a consultant for the LSBA, said the board’s action was the result of Senegal’s alleged failure to properly report on allegations of wrongdoing in his office.
Senegal could not be reached for comment.
Last week officials said Senegal was on voluntary, paid leave during an investigation of his office.
The LSBA board met in Marksville last Friday.
Lloyd Dressel, director of business and finance for the LSBA, was named interim executive director, Manuel said.
Senegal, who is an attorney, is a former member of the Acadia Parish school board.
He regularly testified on education bills in the Legislature.

La delegation reacts to Obama speech

GERARD SHIELDS

Advocate Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – As expected, Louisiana House Republicans panned President Obama’s address to the joint Congress Thursday, saying that his plan lacked details about how he intends to achieve his goals and pay for it.

However, the state’s lone Senate Democrat, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, commended Obama for bringing the issue of the economy to the forefront.

“The president’s plan is a solid foundation for Congress to build on,” Landrieu said in a statement.

The speech reminded several Louisiana House members of Obama’s call for a $787 billion stimulus bill two years ago that they said failed to jump start the economy.

“I think everyone was saying ‘we’ve heard this before’,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge. “If we’ve heard it before, how is it going to be a different outcome?”

Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming of Minden said the proposal fell flat, even among Democrats..

“There was really a lethargy over the chamber that I haven’t seen in 2 ½ years,” said Fleming.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia, who has owned several businesses, said Obama failed to convince him that jobs can be created by the proposal.          “There was no detail, it was all about government, government, government,” Landry said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander appreciated the goals that Obama laid out, but questioned where the money was going to come from.

“He never said how we’re going to pay for it, which is hard to understand,” Alexander said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of New Iberia cheered Obama’s call to pass trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea, he said.

“We’re waiting on him according to the procedure,” Boustany said. “Send it Congress, let us vote on it and move on.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Metairie called the speech a campaign address.

“His actions haven’t followed his political speeches,” Scalise said.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said tax reform, regulatory relief and domestic energy production are the ways to kick start the economy. Vitter also questioned the timing of the proposal.

“If the bill is so good, we would have seen it by now,” Vitter said in a statement.

Roads coalition backs federal funding bill

A coalition of transportation professionals in Louisiana are urging congressional delegation members from the state to push for a fully fund new federal transportation bill that they said will keep thousands of jobs in the state from disappearing.

The eight-member group that includes engineers, contractors and suppliers want the delegation to support a Senate version of the highway bill, which would keep funding at current levels. The group sent letters to delegation members.

A House version cuts funding by more than 30 percent and would cost Louisiana more than 8,000 jobs, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the coalition said.

Rick Perret, president of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, noted that the federal gas tax that funds the transportation will expire on Sept. 30.

“This is about our state having a transportation system that meets its citizens’ economic and safety needs,” Perret said in a statement. “We all felt a professional obligation to take action on behalf of our profession and behalf of Louisiana.”