All posts by Mark Ballard

Vitter triumphs in ruling on lesser prairie chickens

U.S. Sen. David Vitter took a swipe at President Barack Obama in his praise of a federal court order that overturned protection of the lesser prairie chicken.

“Today’s ruling to declassify the lesser prairie chicken is a major triumph against the Obama Administration’s regulatory onslaught‎ via the ESA (Endangered Species Act) that has trampled on businesses and private property rights,” Vitter said in a press release late Wednesday.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell, of Midland, Texas, vacated Endangered Species Act protections for the lesser prairie chicken, thereby overturning a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation putting the grouse on the “threatened” species list.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association, a group of Texas oil and gas companies, challenged the proposed federal rules saying that it restricted activity on the birds’ habitat.  The rules would restrict drilling operations and cost the companies millions of dollars.

Vitter’s press release stated that he weighed in on the decisions as a member of the U.S. Committee on Environment and Public Works. Vitter said he opposed environmental groups filing lawsuits against federal agencies demanding a particular species or group of species be listed under ESA protection.

Protection was sought for the lesser prairie chicken in 1995. The federal wildlife agency determined in 1998 the bird should be a candidate for protection, which it officially proposed in 2013. A voluntary conservation plan was developed, but few farmers, ranchers and oil companies joined.

A lawsuit was filed by oil and gas interests.

New Orleans Sen. Heitmeier won’t run for reelection

A couple weeks after announcing his reelection bid, state Sen. David Heitmeier announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection to a third term.

A doctor of optometry, Heitmeier chaired the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. He also kept a full schedule of seeing patients. He owns two eye clinics that have more 15,000 patients.

“There was a lot on my plate and I’ve been neglecting my health, and it’s just time to cut back some,” he said in a prepared statement.

A West Bank Democrat, Heitmeier often ran afoul of the ruling Republicans in the Jindal administration and the Louisiana Legislature by holding hearings on legislation that the leadership opposed and questioning budget allocations to public hospitals.

Orleans Parish School Board Member Leslie Ellison has announced her plans to run. Democratic state Rep. Jeff Arnold, of Algiers, has served longer than anyone else in the Louisiana House, but is unable to run again in that chamber because of term limits and had said during the session that he wouldn’t challenge Heitmeier.

Poll says Kip Holden and Billy Nungesser lead in the lieutenant governor race

Most voters don’t know much about the candidates for lieutenant governor, but of those who do, they’re backing Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser to progress to the runoff, according to the Florida-based Market Research Insight pollster.

In the governor’s race, the same poll, paid for by Nungesser, showed U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, leads the pack with 24 percent. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, R-Breaux Bridge, and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite, each has 21 percent of the support.

The results fall within the 4.1 percent margin of error. Pollsters questioned 600 registered voters Monday through Wednesday last week. Verne Kennedy of Market Research Insight said the poll has 95 percent level of confidence.

Holden is the only Democrat facing three Republicans in the race for the second highest-ranking job in state government.

Nungesser was known to 58 percent of those surveyed – the highest among the four candidates. He had national visibility during Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and had run for lieutenant governor in 2011.

Holden has been mayor-president of East Baton Rouge, the state’s largest parish, for the past decade and in public office since 1988. He has 80 percent name recognition in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area, but only 43 percent statewide.

Jefferson Parish President John Young has run the state’s second largest parish since 2010 and served in the parish council as well as district attorney since 1997. He was known to 57 percent of the voters in the New Orleans area and 43 percent of those statewide.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, gained a measure of fame on the national conservative talk show circuit from his videos criticizing the Democratic Party and former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. But two-thirds of the voters in the survey were unaware of him.

When asked if the election were held today, Holden received 23 percent of the vote and Nungesser picked up 20 percent. Young had 9 percent and Guillory scored 8 percent, according to the statewide survey.

The big winner, however, was “not sure,” at 41 percent.

Young launched a statewide television ad campaign a couple weeks ago, aimed at introducing himself to Louisiana voters. The total ad buy is $1.8 million for both broadcast and cable, Young’s campaign reported.

The first ad went on air Tuesday morning.  “We will have different ads, but we will stay on TV through Oct. 24,” Young said, referring to the primary election date.

Kennedy said Holden likely made it into the runoff because he’s the only Democrat. Thirty-six percent of the black voters and 17 percent of the whites – more than Young’s 10 percent of the white vote – backed Holden.

Nungesser had the strongest showing among whites, 23 percent, and voters between the ages of 55 to 64, 25 percent.

The poll also took a snapshot of the gubernatorial election.

The lead flipped from the results of a survey released by the same firm last month, which was intensely criticized by Vitter.

Asked if the election were today, Vitter would have received 24 percent, including those leaning to the senior U.S. senator, according to the survey. Angelle follows with 21 percent, as does Edwards. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, trails with 13 percent, according to the poll released Tuesday.

Kennedy said Angelle’s surge is partially due to his aggressive advertising campaign and is partially a product of those voters who are hesitant about Vitter, who has very high unfavorable numbers, and have become aware of another acceptable Republican.

Whether Vitter or Angelle or even Dardenne make the Nov. 21 runoff is still up in the air, Kennedy said. But Edwards surely be one of the two finalists after the Oct. 24 primary, he said.

When the results are weighted to take into account historical voting patters – attributing 90 percent of the African-American vote to the Democratic candidate and distributing the remaining 10 percent among the GOP candidates based on each candidate’s past performance, Edwards leads with 35 percent of the total vote, followed by Vitter with 22 percent, Angelle with 19 percent and Dardenne with 11 percent, according to Kennedy.


EBR GOP back Vitter and Angelle in governor’s race

Two of the GOP candidates for governor – Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie – received the endorsement Thursday of the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish.

The organization, which is the state’s largest parish Republican Party group, interviewed the candidates and reviewed extensive questionnaires on the issues, before voting on which candidates to endorse. The winning candidates can use the endorsement and party logo in their advertising.

The state Republican Party is not expected to make an endorsement for the Oct. 24 primary. East Baton Rouge Parish has the highest percentage of Republican voter turn-out in Louisiana.

“We have two outstanding candidates for governor,” said Woody Jenkins, president of the parish Republican organization, “and we expect one of them will emerge to face the Democratic candidate in the runoff.”

Jenkins said Vitter, who is leading in the polls, has experience as a state legislator, a congressman and is now a U.S. Senator. “He is a solid conservative who is hard working, honest, and intelligent.  We believe David Vitter would make a great governor,” he said.

Angelle has experience in local government as a councilman and a president of St. Martin Parish. In state government, Angelle has been secretary of the Department of Natural Resources under two governors, lieutenant governor and is now on the Public Service Commission.  “From a base in Acadiana, he is growing in popularity.  He has taken a solid conservative stand on the issues and is working hard to bring his message across the state.  He is a person of integrity and would also make a great governor,” Jenkins said.

Louisiana Family Forum fails Sen. Sharon Broome

The influential Louisiana Family Forum gave its lowest ranking in the state Senate to a Democratic candidate for Baton Rouge mayor who attended an evangelist’s university and sponsored numerous anti-abortion bills over the years.

The Baton Rouge-based group, which advocates conservative Christian values in government, graded Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome at 38 percent on its 2015 Legislative scorecard.

“I don’t think being seen at the bottom of list is a sum total of things I’ve done for families and children,” Broome said Thursday. “My faith is not measured by my ranking with the Louisiana Family Forum.”

“It surprised me to see her with that score,” the Rev. Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum, said Thursday. “All we can do is take a snapshot of what occurs.”

Family Forum picked out nine bills from the 2015 legislative session that ended June 11 and would evaluate each member of the Louisiana House and Senate on key policy votes. The score was the score, he said.

Broome was found at fault for supporting legislation that would create a cause of legal action for not paying women equally as men, authorizing the state to survey the sexual practices of public school students, and for a plan to that would limit payments under the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the scholarship that pays state university tuition for qualified students that is better known as TOPS. Higher educations officials and the widow of TOPS founder argued that plan would save the program whose costs are spiraling out of  control. Gov. Bobby Jindal, however, vetoed the legislation.

Broome was the primary backer of establishing and expanding the state’s “Right to Know” law, which requires offering pre-abortion counseling 24-hours prior to the procedure. The law now includes taking an ultra-sound of fetus, which could be should be shown to the mother.

Photo provided by JAMES WALKER --- 'Legacy of Life' --- At the 16th annual 'Leaving a Legacy of Life' fundraising banquet benefiting the Women's Help Center Aug. 15 are, from left, Charles 'Trey' Thomas III, the Rev. Gene Mills, state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, Barbara Thomas, featured speaker Dr. John Diggs and Charles Thomas II. The center provides free pregnancy testing, ultra sounds, HIV testing, prenatal and parenting classes to women and their families.

Photo provided by JAMES WALKER — ‘Legacy of Life’ — At the 16th annual ‘Leaving a Legacy of Life’ fundraising banquet benefiting the Women’s Help Center in August 2014 are, from left, Charles ‘Trey’ Thomas III, the Rev. Gene Mills, state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, Barbara Thomas, featured speaker Dr. John Diggs and Charles Thomas II. The center provides free pregnancy testing, ultra sounds, HIV testing, prenatal and parenting classes to women and their families.

She is the second highest ranking Senate officer, attended Regent University, which was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, and has sponsored, during her 23 years in the Legislature, about a dozen bills chipping away at the ability to perform abortions. Family Forum is the Louisiana affiliate of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group in Washington, D.C. linked to James Dobson, another evangelist.


Florida also pays for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s trips

In addition to the thousands of dollars Louisiana paid for Gov. Bobby Jindal to politick in other states, Florida’s taxpayers also put up about $19,000 for security when he visited that state, according to the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog.

Turns out that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has to compile the expenses and publicly report how much that state’s taxpayers put up to protect visiting dignitaries. The department reported Friday spending $530,000 to provide transportation and security, for all the politicians visiting the Sunshine state. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has to make the request for protection under that state’s law.

“The runaway winner for most visits to Florida over the past year was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his family, who visited the state at least 10 times at a cost to Florida taxpayers of $19,000,” according the blog post, written by Steve Bousquet, the Capital Bureau Chief for the Tampa Bay Times.

Few of Jindal’s visits were to conduct state business. He made several trips to campaign with Scott, to speak at party conferences and to raise money, as well as for other political events.

For instance, Florida paid $1,211.22 to protect Jindal during a two-day visit to Tampa on Aug. 12-13, 2014.

bobby jindal 2016

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (AP photo)

Jindal’s office reported that the trip was for “America Next” meetings. America Next is the group that releases Jindal’s policy position papers as he prepared to run for president.

The troopers assigned by the Louisiana State Police to guard Jindal on that trip requested $1,934.26 in reimbursement from state government for that particular trip, according to public records.

The invoices Jindal’s bodyguards use to seek reimbursement for travel, hotels, meals and renting an SUV to drive the governor around are public through the Louisiana State Police. Taxpayers paid $314,44 for those out-of-state expenses.

But those records are far from complete, and don’t include salaries and overtime. The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee heard earlier this year that State Police spent $2.2 million, all told, for Jindal’s in-state and out-of-state trips.

Law enforcement in Florida, the nation’s third most populous state, reported spending $2.4 million to protect Scott, his family and the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, according to the blog.


Louisiana lawmakers cut month-old budget

Louisiana legislators on Friday cut $4.6 million in spending from the budget they approved for the fiscal year that began July 1 and found out that next year will start out $713 million in the hole.

And legislators on the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget expressed concern that oil prices falling far below the price used to calculate this year’s revenue projections may require cuts later in the year to keep the budget balanced.

Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget review the numbers Friday.

Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget review the numbers Friday.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Joneboro, said lawmakers needed to cut the month-old spending plan after fiscal officials were able to put pencil to paper and precisely calculate all the tax breaks, fee increases and tobacco sales tax hikes approved by the legislature in the recently concluded session and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Higher education accounts for $3.8 million of those reductions.

Legislators applauded their efforts upon adjournment June 11, after a wild rush to pass a dozen or so interacting bills in the session that began April 13 that tackled a $1.6 billion deficit without the initially feared significant cuts to higher education and healthcare.

Usually the differences between the House Bill 1, the budget, and the final calculations are not rectified until midway through the budget year. But Fannin said that for this year’s $25 billion spending plan, and largely because it was so chaotic, lawmakers included provisions to make the recalculations – along with how the agencies would be impacted – in the actual budget document.

The cuts could be restored if the economy improves and leads to an increase in collections of income, sales and other taxes. At the very least, Friday’s move gives the government agencies a longer time to address the shortfall, Fannin said.

The joint committee, which makes budget decisions in between legislative sessions, met to officially approve this fiscal year’s appropriations following the Revenue Estimating Conference’s legally required meeting to certify the amount of money the budget bill actually raises.

The move also determined that after elections this fall, the new governor and new legislators will need to find $713 million to balance the continuing budget for next fiscal year.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue told The Associated Press that use of the piecemeal financing from a tax amnesty program, state surplus and agency reserve accounts helps keep the state from having to make deep cuts to public health care services and colleges. “I think using one-time money under those circumstances is the right way to go,” said Donahue, R-Mandeville.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budget advisor, pointed out in a post-hearing interview that the number includes about $95 million in inflation and salary adjustments lawmakers sometime choose not to fund.

But that amount doesn’t include any recalculation necessary if the price of oil doesn’t rebound. The state’s $25 billion operating budget for this fiscal year is calculated on an average annual price of oil at $61.70 per barrel. The price today is in the low $40 per barrel range, which could cause a shortfall of about $200 million if the prices stay that low.

LSU economist Jim Richardson, a member of the Revenue Estimating Conference, said unless the price starts going up by October, state officials will have to revisit and readjust the state spending plan later this year. The state Constitution requires a balanced budget and if revenues are not coming in as-projected, state law requires mid-year corrections. He spoke early Friday after the panel approved the revenues projected to be raised by budget moves made during the last session.

Democratic New Orleans Sen. Ed Murray pointed out that the budget is substantially out of balance at the current price of oil.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego and chairman of the REC, said the state’s economists would wait for the tax collections would start coming in before reconvening the conference, probably in late September or October.

Severance taxes, royalties and other mineral-related revenues account for about 14 percent of the overall budget. But Alario said there’s a lot of interaction that the economists have to consider. Lower oil prices hurt the state’s mineral revenues, but they also could lead to a savings for consumers at the gas pump that could translate into higher retail sales.


LSU poll finds few voters paying attention to Louisiana governor’s race

Even though poll after poll heralds this candidate or that one as leading the race for Louisiana governor, an LSU survey released Thursday suggested that roughly a third of the state’s adults are paying little attention or even know the candidates well enough to form an opinion.
Other than to say the frustrations voiced by Louisiana voters at the way direction is going seems to suggest Gov. Bobby Jindal would have a tough time getting reelected this fall if he were on the ballot, Michael Henderson, Research Director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, said the poll mainly showed that it’s too early to make definitive statements about how the election will go this fall.
As part of “Election Report 2015,” sponsored by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs, Henderson’s team interviewed 1,023 adults on landlines and cell telephones from July 7 to Aug. 3. The results were taken from 879 respondents reporting they are registered voters. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
The spate of recent “horse race” polls that purport to rank the candidates, likely are just reporting recognition, Henderson said.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter is well-known, so gets the most responses. The others are not as well known.
Since most voters are saying they don’t really know much about the candidates, polls that say who is in first and who is in second, are more about who respondents recognize and don’t accurately reflect how people will vote 10 weeks from now when voters go to the polls.
“I hesitate to say they’re not valid,” Henderson said about other polls. “But I’m not sure if the responses people are giving right now are particularly meaningful.”
Only 29 percent of voters in the state are closely following news about the election — that’s about the same percentage as was found in March, the LSU survey showed.
Large majorities remain too unfamiliar with Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and state Rep. John Bel Edwards to even offer opinions about them, according to LSU.
“This is typical for campaigns. Most people aren’t the political junkies we are,” Henderson said.
With greater name recognition, Vitter continues to lead with 45 percent of those surveyed expressing a favorable opinion of him and 30 percent thinking of him unfavorably, the survey says.
Dardenne follows at 29 percent favorable and eight percent unfavorable, Angelle at 18 percent favorable and five percent unfavorable, and Edwards at 13 percent favorable and eight percent unfavorable.
What is good about the LSU results, at least from a scholar’s point of view, is that political scientists can chart how voters went about making up their minds, including how they changed their minds and what strategies and events were successful, Henderson said.
After Labor Day, when the campaigns have bought large chunks of television time to show their commercials, the numbers will start to gel as voters begin to focus on who the candidates are and develop opinions about the individuals.
While the survey showed no evidence that voters are changing their minds about candidates, 59 percent of the residents – 62 percent of registered voters – think the state is headed in the wrong direction. “Louisiana residents are more disgruntled now than at any point since we began tracking their mood about the direction of the state in 2003,” the report stated.
Interestingly, 52 percent of Louisiana voters call themselves conservative, in fact, on sliding scale of political leanings, only 18 percent classify themselves as liberal. Most of the rest say they are moderate.


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal polls low in hometown vote

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were the top choices for president among Republicans attending a party luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

Cruz received 10 first-choice votes among the 39 cast by Baton Rouge Republicans, and Walker had 7.  Donald Trump, the New York developer and reality television star, received six votes.

Gov. Bobby Jindal received one vote in the straw poll taken at the Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon hosted by his hometown Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish.

“The problem is his absence,” Woody Jenkins, chairman of the organization said in trying to explain Jindal’s poor showing with his hometown crowd.  “He should have focused on being a good governor first, and then announced his candidacy.”jindalcbs

Before hearing from candidates for southeast Baton Rouge’s Louisiana House District 66, the group of Republicans wrote down their first choice for the GOP’s presidential nominee, their second choice, and the names of any other candidate they otherwise would consider. The voters, who included elected officials, folded their ballots and came up one by one to cast them in a clear Lucite ballot box.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, received five first-choice votes; Dr. Ben Carson, a surgeon from Baltimore, got three; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, a California businesswoman, each had two votes. Jindal tied with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with one vote each in the straw poll.

The Baton Rouge Republicans made Walker their top second choice, followed by Fiorina and Bush. Jindal received no votes as a second choice for the GOP presidential nomination.

In the third category of candidates that would receive their consideration, Walker, Cruz, Fiorina and Rubio led the pack. Jindal had three votes.

Louisiana First Lady Supriya Jindal takes swing at U.S. Sen. David Vitter

Louisiana First Lady Supriya Jindal took umbrage at criticisms U.S. Sen. David Vitter made Saturday about the State Police protection for the Jindal children.

Vitter told state troopers that what the state spends on protective services for the governor has become inflated.  He said he once saw authorities providing a “caravan” to take two of Jindal’s children to school.

Vitter was speaking Saturday from a gubernatorial candidate forum sponsored by the Louisiana State Troopers Association, which held its 43rd annual convention in Baton Rouge and attracted about 200 troopers.

Mrs. Jindal tweeted in response that Vitter “is free to criticize my husband’s ideas and policy decisions all he wants, but he needs to stay away from our children.”

Though the state’s two highest elected Republicans, Gov. Jindal and Sen. Vitter famously have cool personal relationship.