All posts by Mark Ballard

David Duke may challenge Steve Scalise

David Duke said U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is a sellout and that he might challenge the Republican congressman in the next election.

“Steve Scalise, let me tell you something, this is the way I view it now: I mean this guy is a sellout. I mean he’s a sellout. He’s not David. He used to say that he was David Duke of course without the baggage, whatever that means,” Duke said on the Jim Engster Show Wednesday.  Duke, who ran for governor in 1991, and is the former head of a Ku Klux Klan organization. The revelation on the Baton Rouge radio program reignited a firestorm among national bloggers about Scalise’s speech to a white nationalist group in 2002.

Over the Christmas break, Scalise was buffeted with calls to resign in the wake of a central Louisiana blogger’s post about the congressman speaking in 2002 to a group founded by Duke that espoused white nationalist views.  Scalise was in the Louisiana House of Representatives when he spoke to European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO).  Scalise apologized for the appearance and was supported by House Republicans leadership.

NO.JeffersonHeights.010715.jpgDuke had represented in the Louisiana Legislature the east Jefferson Parish neighborhoods next to those Scalise represented in the Louisiana House.

“He said specifically that he shouldn’t have gone to the European American Unity and Rights Organization,” Duke told Engster. “That he shouldn’t have done it, it was a terrible mistake.”

Duke said Scalise’s actions basically called 60 percent of his constituents “racist.”

“It wasn’t a klan meeting. It wasn’t any sort of a radical meeting. It was a meeting that said there was European American rights, right? So he is a sellout, right? Because, you know he can’t meet with members of his own district who have opinions like I have, but he meets with radical blacks who have total opposite political positions than him?”

Duke has kept a low profile for the past decade or so, but was quoted a lot in national and local media about the incident.

Scalise was not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

Al Jazeera questions Louisiana plant

The head of a company building a $1.85 billion plant near Vacherie is a Chinese Communist Party leader who is under fire for environmental problems with a chemical plant in that country, Al Jazeera reported.

In what represents the first major direct investment by a Chinese company in Louisiana, Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Shandong Yuhuang Chemical Co. Ltd., wants to build and operate a methanol manufacturing complex on the Mississippi River in St. James Parish.

The plant will create 400 new jobs with an average salary of $85,000 plus benefits, according to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s July 17 announcement of the project. Another 2,365 indirect jobs will be created, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development estimated.

StJamesAnnounce.071814007.JPGLouisiana offered the company a package of tax exemptions and credits along with grants of $9.5 million to offset infrastructure costs and $1.75 million to be paid over 10 years to partially defray the costs of necessary riverfront access and development.

The head of Shandong Yuhuang is Wang Jinshu, whose $870 million fortune ranked 214 on the 2013 Forbes China Rich List. He also is the Communist Party Secretary for the northeastern village of Yuhuang in the People’s Republic of China and a delegate to the National People’s Congress.

Al Jeezera quoted a June 2013 report from state-run newspaper People’s Daily, stating that Wang’s umbrella company, Shandong Yuhuang, in Heze, China, misreported energy efficiency measures and had “created unlivable environmental conditions for villagers in the area, with rising cancer rates, undrinkable water and polluted air.”

In mid-December, Chinese environmental regulators fined the plant after reports of strong odors led to findings that hazardous pollutants were released, according to Al Jeezera, the worldwide news organization based in Qatar.

The environmental violations began as Chinese President Xi Jinping intensified an anti-corruption campaign targeting Communist Party officials.

Jindal said in prepared statement Tuesday night: “Every manufacturing project in our state must meet strict state and federal environment standards before receiving a permit to construct and operate their facility. This project will result in thousands of new jobs and will continue moving our economy forward.”

Construction on the Louisiana plant – situated on an 1,100-site between a high school, two churches and an assisted living facility for seniors – will begin in 2016. The plan is for the first phase of the methanol project beginning operations by 2018.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to deliver its environmental impact decision on March 6.


State revenues continue to decline

For the second time since November, the Jindal administration is going to have find another hundred million dollars or so to balance this year’s state government budget.

The Revenue Estimating Conference decided Monday that the state should again reduce expected collections from taxes and other sources by another $126 million. That means state government has about $300 million less to spend since November and again must reduce spending for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Economists for both the Legislature and the Jindal administration predicted revenues from severance taxes and royalties would be far less than what was predicted.

Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s economist, priced oil at $69.30 per barrel, which is down nearly $12 per barrel since November, and $23 less than last May when this year’s budget was drafted.

Sales tax collections have come in higher than expected, but not enough to cover the losses from a dramatic decrease in the price of oil, according to the economists’ reports.

That calculates out to another decrease in expected revenue collections of about $126 million. The deficit got almost immediate help with the addition of $22.5 million into the state general fund, which was ordered to be transferred in 2012 from a transportation fund that didn’t have the money until now.

That means the state will have to find $103.5 million to balance the budget.

Going into next fiscal year, 2016, which begins July 1, expected revenue collections should drop $203 million. Next year’s revenues already are expected to be short $1.4 billion.


LABI PAC chooses Rick Bond in House District 66 race

Louisiana House District 66 candidate Rick Bond picked up the endorsement of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s political action committee, EASTPAC, according to a press release.

Bond, a Republican making his first bid for public office, is a lawyer and financial investment advisor. He’s seeking the south Baton Rouge seat vacated by Hunter Greene, who was elected to family court bench.

“Bond has degrees in economics, political science and law along with experience in the field of real estate. He is an intelligent up and coming conservative leader in the Baton Rouge business community,” Milton Graugnard, chair of EASTPAC said in a prepared statement.

In December 2014, EASTPAC endorsed Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Anthony “Buddy” Amoroso in the House District 66 special election as well.

A special election for House District 66 has been set for Feb. 21, with a runoff, if needed, on March 28.

Battle of New Orleans movie announced

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne announced plans Friday for a major motion picture about the Battle of New Orleans.

Ken and Fred Atchity of Atchity Brothers Entertainment will produce the feature film, “Andrew Jackson — Battle of New Orleans,” based on military historian Ron Drez’s latest book, The War of 1812: Conflict And Deception. The project is endorsed by the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission.

“We have commemorated the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial all week and it’s exciting to end the week announcing a feature film to ensure the Battle’s story lives on,” Dardenne said in a press release.

Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans December 1814 to discover a local force in place with fewer than 1,000 soldiers. In two weeks he put together an army to face the grand British force. Jackson assembled a ragtag group of soldiers including pirates, free men of color, American Indians and visiting militia from other states. The battle ended with a U.S. victory on Jan. 8, 1815.

The Battle of New Orleans was an important subject in pop culture during the mid-20th century.

Films, such as “The Buccaneer,” focusing on pirate Jean Laffite and his contribution to the battle in 1938 and the film’s remake in 1958 starring Yul Brynner were huge successes. In addition, Johnny Horton’s 1959 song The Battle of New Orleans topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks.

The Atchity brothers are expected to announce actors and directors soon.


Ralph Abraham named chair of U.S. House subcommittee

In just his first week on the job, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, was selected to chair a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee.

Abraham will chair the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

One of the subcommittee’s top priorities will be ending the VA’s disability compensation backlog by 2015, just as department leaders have promised. The committee will maintain pressure on the department to ensure this goal is met without sacrificing quality, accuracy and service to our veterans.

One of the top legislative priorities for the committee as a whole will be to work to ensure proper implementation of the Veterans Access and Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

Gov. Bobby Jindal to travel to Europe next week

Gov. Bobby Jindal is headed to Europe Sunday for a nine-day trip, his press office announced Thursday morning.

Jindal will visit Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland as part of an economic development effort. He leaves Sunday and returns Jan. 20.

He is set to meet with corporate executives of five major companies in both manufacturing and services industries, his press statement said.

For some of the meetings, Jindal will be joined by Greg Rusovich, Chairman of the Louisiana International Commerce Board, and Michael Hecht, the President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc.

He also plans to speak on foreign policy hosted by the Henry Jackson Society and he will meet with a number of political leaders in the United Kingdom.

First debate of the election for Louisiana governor is scheduled

In what will be the first forum in the race for Louisiana governor –  the election is 10 months away –  the four announced major candidates agreed to debate transportation and infrastructure issues Friday, Jan. 16, according to the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana, Louisiana Associated General Contractors, AIA Louisiana and Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association.

The Republican candidates – Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie – and the sole Democratic Party candidate, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite – all confirmed they would participate in the 2015 Critical Issues Summit.

The gubernatorial primary is Oct. 24 with a runoff, if needed, set for Nov. 21.

The fact that all four agreed to debate the topic of infrastructure issues for the first forum of the election season indicates that voters are looking for an infrastructure leader in their next governor, said Dan Mobley, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana.

“People already know what the problem is – we need to invest in our infrastructure,” Mobley said in the press release announcing the forum. “What everyone wants to know is, ‘How do we do it? Who has the vision, the courage and the political will to embrace a plan to move our state forward?”

The forum takes place at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, and begins at 10 a.m. on Jan. 16.

Bobby Jindal goes hunting in his official Christmas card

The Jindal family went camo for Christmas this year.

Their official Christmas card features Gov. Bobby Jindal, his wife, Supriya, and the kids, sitting in an ATV, wearing camouflage hunting regalia in the wilds of the Governor’s Mansion grounds.

“Oh what fun – May your Christmas be filled with joy and laughter,” the card reads.

Jindal  recently aligned himself with the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame. The once extremely popular reality television program follows the lives of West Monroe family who became rich selling duck calls.Jindal Christmas Card1

Late last year, Jindal came to the defense of the family’s patriarch, Phil Robertson, who volunteered in a national magazine that gay sex was like bestiality and that African-Americans were happier before the Civil Rights movement.

Since then, Jindal has appeared on the show, gave the Robertsons’ an award, and bragged about how much his children liked the show. Recently, Jindal has been tweeting photos of his family toting guns.

First Lady Supriya Jindal came up with the idea for the card, according to Jindal’s press office. Though the first lady has never hunted, she is acquiring a license and has shot skeet.

Hunting is an important consideration for Louisiana’s chief executive.

Mike Foster, whose wealthy planter class family includes a governor in the late 1800s,  showed many images of himself hunting and fishing.

Kathleen Blanco also had snapshots at the ready. Part of her family tradition includes a trip to duck blinds at Christmas.


PSC balks at Jindal administration order

The Louisiana Public Service refused Wednesday to sell half its vehicles, as ordered by the Jindal administration, to help fill a hole in the state budget.
The Jindal administration on Dec. 9 had ordered the PSC to “turn in” seven vehicles. The Division of Administration intends to sell the vehicles and put the money in the state general fund.
State revenues are coming in less than expected and the administration is trying to raise money to fill the budget hole.
The five elected regulators, however, said no during their monthly meeting Wednesday morning.
The regulators ordered their staff to oppose the administration’s efforts to confiscate seven of the regulatory agency’s vehicles.
The motion was made by PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, a Republican from Metairie, and seconded by Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Breaux Bridge Republican who once was in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cabinet. The resolution was approved without objection.
The commissioners said their cars already are paid for, adding that they would have to rent cars, which is not in the budget.
Additionally, the underlying issue is the subject of a lawsuit.
The PSC argues that the recent practice of the Jindal administration and Louisiana Legislature taking the funds that are paid to the PSC as fees by the regulated companies, amounts to an unconstitutional levy of taxes. The administration and the Legislature counter they have the right to use the fees as part of the state budget.
The cases challenging the practice are pending in court.