All posts by Mark Ballard

Insurance commissioner picks up opponent

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon on Monday picked up a challenger to his reelection campaign later this year.

Matt Parker, who owns a car repair business in West Monroe, announced his candidacy in an emailed press release.

“The present Insurance Commissioner has received over one million dollars in campaign contributions from the insurance industry,” Parker said, “and we, the consumers, pay for it every time we pay our insurance premiums.”

Donelon, 70, had served for a quarter century as a state representative and Jefferson Parish president. He lost bids to be lieutenant governor and to go to Congress. He joined the Insurance Department in 2001 and became commissioner in 2006.

Parker has never run for office before.

He grew up in Monroe and ernt to Neville High School. He has been married 37 years to Nora Gaar Parker.  They have three children and three grandchildren.

Parker was featured recently on CNN, in an expose on the practices of the insurance industry and automotive repairs.

“These kinds of practices by the insurance industry are not isolated to automotive repairs but can be found in every area that the insurance industry touches,” Parker said. “Stopping these practices is the fight I am ready to fight for the good people of Louisiana.”

The election is set for Oct. 24.

In the most recent round of campaign finance reports, Donelon said he had more than $442,000 in his campaign account, while Parker showed a balance of just under $14,000.

Buddy Amoroso and Darrell Ourso go to Louisiana House runoff

Buddy Amoroso and Darrell Ourso will face each other in runoff to decide who will represent southeast Baton Rouge in the Louisiana House of Representatives.

With all 4,243 votes counted in Saturday’s low turnout special election, Amoroso received 1,512 votes or 35.6 percent of the total cast. Ourso followed with 1,477 votes that pitted four candidates to replace former state Rep. Hunter Greene, who is now a family court judge.

The runoff election is set for March 28, a Saturday. Early voting is March 14 to March 21.

Edwin Edwards seeks real estate license

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards won approval Thursday from the Louisiana Real Estate Commission to apply for a real estate broker’s license.

The vote was 7-2.

The decision came after Edwards, 87, appeared before the commission to explain why it should allow him to prepare and sit for the licensing test. As a convicted felon, Edwards needed the permission of a majority of the 11-member commission to proceed.

The license is necessary to sell real estate in the state. The commission was brought about with major changes in license requirements during Edwards’ first term as governor in the early 1970s.

After serving four terms as governor of Louisiana, Edwards was found guilty on 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, mail fraud and other federal charges. He served a term in federal prison from 2002 to 2011.

In December, Edwards lost in runoff for the Baton Rouge-based 6th U.S. Congressional District. On election night Edwards said he would not seek public office again.


Gov Bobby Jindal will fully fund TOPS

Though the Jindal administration is looking at cutting governments 15 to 20 percent, cutting healthcare budgets and slashing state support for colleges and universities, TOPS will not be touched.

The popular merit-based scholarship, Taylor Opportunity Program for Students will be fully funded, the state Division of Administration said in a press statement Friday. TOPS pays tuition and some fees qualified students to the state’s public universities and colleges.

“The Governor is a strong defender of TOPS and has fought attempts to cap the program in the past,” the statement said.

The administration has increased funding by 142 percent, more than doubling the $117 million investment in 2008.

“In the upcoming budget, we will continue to fully fund the program, increasing our investment by nearly 14 percent, or $34 million,” the statement read.

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.