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Does Mary Landrieu Really Think We’re Racists?

For a conservative, I’ve been remarkably friendly to Mary Landrieu in these pages and elsewhere. But now, in an interview for Meet the Press, Landrieu has gone beyond the pale. In effect, she says too many of her own state’s voters are racists. Watch for yourself, here. It’s flabbergasting.

The question to her was, “Why does President Obama have a hard time in Louisiana?” Landrieu gave two reasons. First, she said, is because we don’t like his energy policies. Fine. But then came this (and the quote is direct): “I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” Landrieu told NBC News in an interview. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”

She’s saying Louisiana white people are racist. And it’s part of a plan. All over the country, Democrats are pulling out the race card – so flagrantly and frankly illegitimately that even the New York Times has noted it. And Landrieu certainly hasn’t objected when political action committees supporting her have spread shameless, racially charged falsehoods about her opponent Bill Cassidy, such as that he wants (making it sound almost present tense) to turn Grambling University into a prison when in fact something he wrote way back in 1991 can more fairly be read as calling for saving money from other colleges in order to devote more to flagships — such as Grambling.

Look, Mary Landrieu is a fighter. She also can be charming. I like her. And she works hard for Louisiana (as would, presumably, just about any senator we elect, because whoever gets there will want to keep their job!). But nothing excuses her tacit accusation that her own state’s people are racist — or at least that race, rather than an honest opposition to Obama’s agenda, is what drives Louisiana opposition to the president.

Playing the race card like this is shameful.

That is all.

A Long-Ago Colleague Runs for DA

With Walter Reed, longtime District Attorney in St. Tammany and Washington Parishes, retiring amidst significant controversy, the voters in those parishes have a chance to start anew.  I pretend no deep knowledge about the whole field of candidates, and I cannot pretend objectivity. It turns out that an old colleague of mine, Warren Montgomery, is running for the seat. It was 27 years ago that I spent a whole campaign, about eight months worth, checking in about once weekly with Warren, and we had mostly lost touch since then. What I saw during those eight months in 1987, and in a few subsequent interactions, was a man of deep integrity and personal decency. (I was doing issues research for Congressman Bob Livingston’s campaign for governor; Montgomery was Livingston’s district aide — and our brief communications mostly involved helping keep straight the lines between congressional work and campaign work, so that we wouldn’t unethically conflate the two. Warren, to his credit, was a stickler for following the rules.)

I caught up with Warren the other day. Herewith, a very brief sketch of what he told me.

First, his resume: New Orleans’ Jesuit High School; LSU undergrad; LSU Law School. Now age 59. Served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1983 through 1985, prosecuting cases involving mail fraud and income tax fraud before joining a key drug-enforcement task force. (More on that in a moment.) Then to Livingston’s office, 1986 through 1988. Then 12 years in private business expanding the Icee franchise to new markets. Then back into law in 2001, in private practice, both civil and criminal, including lots of pro bono indigent defense work. He ran for a state district court judgeship six years ago, finishing second in a three-way race. Other than that, he has not tried for elective office (other than some volunteer Republican Party posts), but has occasionally helped other candidates, including enthusiastic local volunteer leadership for Rick Santorum’s Republican presidential campaign in 2012. (Santorum won the Louisiana contest.)

Warren speaks with some relish about his last drug-enforcement case in the office of then U.S. Attorney John Volz. Called U.S. vs. Zabaneh, it involved a major marijuana smuggling ring out of Belize. The main honcho was named Angel John Zabaneh. First U.S. agents captured his girlfriend (last name; Fajardo) and another friend, Wilbur “Monkey” Fulbright, and convicted both of them. They indicted Zebaneh; when he left Belize for Guatemala, the latter refused him admittance because of the American indictment, and sent him on a plane to the United States, where law enforcement officials were waiting. Eventually the U.S. Attorney’s office convicted him and nearly 50 others, and recovered a stunning $20 million in marijuana.

Montgomery cites that case as an example of his diligence.

So, I asked, why does he want to be D.A.?

“We need a change in the leadership of the district attorney’s office and I didn’t think the other candidates had the combination of experience and independence that the change requires….

“We need to establish a code of conduct so that the conflicts of interest that have been alleged no longer occur either by the D.A. himself or by the assistant district attorneys. We need to eliminate [the allowance for lawyers in the office to simultaneously engage in] private practice; we need to treat service as the full-time job it is.
Practicing law on the side while you are DA has the potential for conflicts of interest…. The other thing is we need to increase the use of technology and we have to speed up the process so that it’s shorter from the time of arrest to the time of resolution. One way to do this is to put more people into alternative courts: DUI courts, mental health courts, drug courts, and especially a veterans court so that, for instance, a veteran suffering from PTSD and attempting to  self-medicate by using marijuana,we don’t put him in jail but give him another mechanism so he learns to cope by some other method without violating the law.”
So there you have it. Warren Montgomery is a good man. Louisiana needs good men to run for office.

Exclusive: RNC Goes After Mary Landrieu

Tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, the RNC will release a 90-second web ad identifying Mary Landrieu as the key target in their effort to overthrow the Obama-Democratic majority that has run the U.S. Senate for the past eight years, while using video from her and from President Obama that directly, repeatedly and embarrassingly puts the onus of Obamacare’s unpopularity on her doorstep. It’s pretty much a one-issue ad — message: Obamacare and its problems are Landrieu’s fault — but it tries to make that one issue devastating by very well-crafted use of video footage. Nobody can accuse the RNC of misstating facts, because it’s all there in the video.

Give Landrieu credit: Unlike some other Democrats who tried to obfuscate their support for Obamacare, she obviously believed it would work and she stood by it. At least it shows the courage of her convictions. Of course, most Americans, and probably most Louisianans (I haven’t seen a recent poll of Louisiana voters on this), believe her convictions were wrong, and that Obamacare has made the American medical system worse. That’s certainly what I believe. It has been a disaster, and a predictable one at that.

I would add something else, though. Most people think it’s not enough to say one is against Obamacare; they want to know what a candidate is for, in its place. Conservatives have had a lot of good answers to that, but the media don’t put that info in the headlines. It starts with allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines. It allows small businesses and individuals to band together to join “purchasing pools” for insurance deals they are too small to get on their own. It allows for expanded use of health savings accounts, equal tax treatment for individuals buying their own insurance as for corporations providing it, and it does various things to guarantee coverage for those who through no fault of their own have been denied it.

Obamacare goes in exactly the opposite direction from these sensible reforms. It was a horrible idea from the very start, and the RNC is making sure people know it was an idea Landrieu embraced.

Senator Landrieu airs her problems

As of this afternoon, Sen. Mary Landrieu is acknowledging some $34,000 of campaign-related flights, going back apparently a dozen years or more, that were improperly charged to her Senate office account, and therefore to taxpayers. She said her campaign has now reimbursed the Senate, and thus the taxpayers, for the errors.

Let’s be clear what this is and what it isn’t. What it is not, at least not necessarily, is a sign of intentional corruption. Sometimes record-keeping in Congress can indeed get sloppy. Sometimes when a trip from DC to Louisiana is mostly for official purposes, and then a quick campaign flight is added on, it can be possible for a Senate office worker who is not being attentive to just pay for the whole trip from the office account. And face it: Landrieu and her husband together are millionaires, apparently several times over, and her campaign fundraising always has been successful, too. For her or her campaign, $34,000 over 12 years is relative child’s play. There would be no real incentive to slough those flights off on the taxpayers, unless it was part and parcel of a habitual effort to stick taxpayers or other innocents with all sorts of tabs, amounting to a lot more than $34,000, that Landrieu or her campaign wanted to avoid. That certainly does not seem to be the case here. What we are then left with, it seems — absent a mens rea, meaning (approximately) a “guilty mind” — is an example of fairly longstanding book-keeping incompetence.

It’s definitely an embarrassment, but not likely “corruption” in the way the word is usually understood.

The question is, how big an embarrassment should it be?

Well, since it’s not just two flights, but apparently a dozen or more, that makes the incompetence itself somewhat habitual. Looked at one way, it also can be an indicator of an office staff that no longer is vigilant enough about making a distinction between politicking and governing. And, since staffs really do take their cues from the top, it could serve as an indicator that Sen. Landrieu herself might, somewhere along the line, have fallen into the Beltway blindness, combined with a feeling of entitlement which sometimes comes with a long practice of power.

There’s a potentially good analogy available: Back in the early 1990s, a huge number of congressmen were caught up in what became known as the “House Bank Scandal,” whereby a special bank for congressman was allowing them to kite checks for months or even years at a time. In conjunction with a similar sort of scandal involving the House Post Office, it quickly came to symbolize a Congress that had grown out of touch, with a sense of entitlement to special treatment that ordinary people wouldn’t get. Indeed, it became a national flash point, and over the course of two election cycles it played a huge role in re-election losses by dozens of incumbents.

Except in egregious examples (involving maybe two dozen members whose abuses were so large or habitual that it seemed to amount to deliberate corruption), most Members involved turned out to be responsible for only a few overdrafts here and there. The fewer there were, the more likely the problems were merely book-keeping, just as almost everybody at one time or another in his life makes a mistake and overdraws a checking account. Still, enraged voters often treated even one “kited” check as an indicator that the congressman in question had been captured by the self-serving Beltway mentality — and, in response, threw those Members out on their ears in the next possible election.

It seems to me that Landrieu’s airplane troubles — Mary’s Air Errors, perhaps? — fall in the same category as the House Bank Scandal, somewhere in the mid-level range of transgressors back then. In other words, Landrieu’s office didn’t err just once or twice or three times, which really could be shrugged off in the greater scheme of things; but she apparently did not rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars of false charges to taxpayers, involving dozens upon dozens of flights, either.

UPDATE: It’s a bit worse than I thought. By my count, there are right around 100 flights at issue, of which 43 (quick count!) were wrongly charged. That gets pretty close to “dozens.”

Louisiana voters should look at the totality of the record to decide for themselves if Mary’s Air Errors, in conjunction with other behaviors, are evidence that she has lost touch with the non-entitled lives of ordinary people. I make no judgment here. I hope, though, that I have provided some reasonable context.

Jindal’s Suit Isn’t Really THAT Outlandish

My colleagues at the Advocate, columnists and editorialists alike, seem to think that Gov. Jindal’s federal lawsuit against Common Core was concocted out of thin air. That’s not really true.

First, to be clear, the odds of Jindal actually winning this suit, in federal courts that are usually loathe to strike down anything but the most egregious overreach by regulatory agencies, are slim. But that doesn’t mean that, on the merits, the suit has no, well, merit. The simple fact of the matter is that some very astute legal analysts have argued that the Obama Administration’s Race to The Top program does exactly, and illegally, what Jindal says it does: effectively dictates curriculum to the states.

The second- and third-ranking lawyers in the G.W. Bush Education Department argued as much several years ago, in a white paper for the Pioneer Institute that was quite well regarded for its clarity and the power of its arguments. Among those who wrote approvingly of the white paper (several times, as a matter of fact) was columnist George Will, clearly a conservative but no one’s idea of a radical or a writer who doesn’t do his homework thoroughly and thoughtfully.

(By the way, one of the two authors of that white paper is Louisiana native Bob Eitel, a distinguished attorney who went to Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans, and thence to Georgetown University and then to Tulane Law School.)

This whole subject merits a full column, not just this blog post, so I won’t delve too heavily into the weeds here. I only note that Jindal’s legal argument is quite well grounded in reality. Whether it is politically astute or not, and whether it is tactically wise for the governor’s purported policy purposes, and whether the legal fees will be worth it when charged to Louisiana taxpayers, also are questions for another day. But the sneering being visited on Jindal’s head is, well, wrongheaded.

Locally Owned Group Wins Airport Competition

Something encouraging might be in the air in New Orleans, all because a competition became more grounded in fairness.

In an Advocate column two months ago, I air-dropped into a dispute about the award process for the contract for a long-needed new airport terminal in New Orleans. I’m certainly no expert on construction, but I know something about public contracting procedures, and it seemed obvious to me there were some major anomalies at play — all of which seemed to unfairly disadvantage the largely locally owned group known as Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro, in favor, seemingly unfairly, of a partially foreign-owned group known as Parsons Odebrecht. Note that while I do think a real “tie” should be broken in favor of local contractors (for obvious reasons of helping the local economy), the important objective was to make the process fair to the competitors and, ultimately, to provide the best outcome (in terms of cost, timeliness, and quality) for the public and taxpayers. regardless of local ownership.

Because the Aviation Board, rather than the specially formed Review Committee, makes the final decision on the contract, I recommended then that (considering all the red flags I identified), the board take extra time and fully review the contract bids for themselves, rather than just rubber-stamp the committee’s questionable work. Instead, the board did an an almost equally wise thing, and re-started the entire process while convening an entirely new review committee.

Yesterday, the new committee strongly ratified my impressions from the earlier competition: Without the anomalies and apparent unfairnesses, the Hunt Gibbs bid won the recommendation by a fairly substantial margin.

Significantly, the new committee recognized and corrected two of the very problems I had identified with the first process. First, it no longer docked Hunt Gibbs for a supposed lack of minority-owned business partners, when the points originally subtracted on those grounds were taken away not due to anything really lacking with the Hunt-Gibbs arrangement, but only due to a technicality stemming from an error made by airport officials themselves. Second, the new committee this time gave proper credit for a key advantage Hunt Gibbs offered in terms of costs.

Also, Hunt this time was given proper credit for extensive experience in building other airport terminals.

Absent any weird developments after yesterday’s Review Committee recommendation, the Aviation Board will be asked within a couple of weeks to ratify the decision and officially award the contract to Hunt Gibbs. Let’s hope no jokers show up in this deck, and no undue political interference emerges, so that the Aviation Board can give the go-ahead and get the construction schedule on track.

Vitter Wrong on Common Core; Dardenne Straddles Before Kowtowing

U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both hoping to be elected governor next year, clearly are putting their hopes with big business rather than with grassroots conservatives and parents.

Vitter’s surprisingly strong embrace this week of the Common Core educational standards is ignorant and probably somewhat Machiavellian, as he knows darn well that big-money interests line up overwhelmingly behind the Core.

Dardenne, meanwhile, sent a letter to the editor of The Advocate that seemed to straddle the fence, but on Friday he forcefully clarified to Advocate reporters and to his own supporters that he still strongly supports the standards. This does comport with his long-stated position — although how it squares with his July 30 letter’s demand for Louisiana to “establish its own standards and tests” is quite a conundrum — but, combined with Vitter’s stance, it leaves the grassroots bereft of a candidate for 2015.

I’d like to see either of them explain what makes the Core, in Vitter’s words, “very strong, significant, positive standards.” I guarantee they aren’t using Common Core arithmetic when adding up the donations they hope to get from the business community in return for this stance. It would take too long, and their astronomical numbers would probably be in error.

Both Republicans were critical of the way Gov. Bobby Jindal has tried to unilaterally jettison the Core, rather than working through the normal legislative process — and in that, they have a good point. But it’s hard to understand how either could say, with a straight face, that locals could maintain (again quoting Vitter, but my emphasis added) “complete control over curriculum” when there’s an entire industry, specifically promoted through links from the Common Core website, growing up around the notion that only certain texts and tests can call themselves “Core-aligned.”

The truth is that there was nothing wrong, and plenty right, with Louisiana’s existing LEAP standards. Louisiana’s numbers on educational attainment, where they still lagged, were the result not of insufficient standards but of a starting point of low socio-economic status in numerous communities, along with curriculum and possibly teaching (in some areas) that wasn’t up to par. But test scores have been rising along with the implementation of school choice (especially in New Orleans), and I have yet to see anybody explain why Louisiana should risk this progress and kowtow to national educrats and their unproven instructional theories.

Vitter and Dardenne both claim to be conservatives. But just about every conservative think tank in the country, along with most thoughtful conservative columnists (such as George Will) and educators, opposes Common Core and provides multiple reasons for doing so. If even the supposed conservatives in the race for governor support this boondoggle, who will speak for the parents?

Common Core Needs Special Session

The asininity level has reached new heights, or rather depths, from all sides of Louisiana’s battle over the Common Core education standards. Common Core supporters offered asinine reasons, or rather non-reasons, in support of the Core during this year’s regular legislative session. The Jindal team in recent weeks made asinine insinuations that state school superintendent John White isn’t merely wrong on the topic but perhaps “corrupt.” A charter school organization, in an asinine misunderstanding of its own best interests, joined a group of parents and others in filing a lawsuit against the Jindal administration to force it to back off its anti-Core actions. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today took the asinine step of joining that lawsuit. Later today, Jindal took the asinine step of intervening in the suit, by using presumably expensive outside counsel to make what is more a philosophical point than a legal one, while further entering Jindal in the “I can sound like Rick Perry too” national conservative presidential sweepstakes.

Enough already.

Rather than embroiling the state in so many suits and counter-suits that it will take a Dickensian eon to unravel them (see Jarndyce v. Jarndycein the novel Bleak House), all sides should stop wasting money on lawyers and tying up the courts, and instead solve this through ordinary representative processes. A special session should be in order. (About which, more, momentarily.)

Let’s unpack, far too quickly, why each step has been asinine.

First, even though the topic of Common Core created considerable sturm und drang during the legislative session, it actually catalyzed very little cogent debate. Opponents repeatedly were treated rudely, while some legislators pronounced themselves in favor of Common Core before asking what it was. A committee chairman took to cyberspace to offer embarrassing pablum in favor of the Core, while the governor, suddenly opposed to it, barely lifted a finger to actually persuade legislators in his direction. In short, the spectacle was asinine.

Jindal made matters worse by sending out his minions to question Superintendent White’s integrity. For that matter, his original press release announcing Louisiana’s “withdrawal” from the Core focused far more on his policy disagreements with the Core than on his legal reason (or pretext) of saying BESE’s procurement process for the Core-aligned tests was flawed. (The administration later tried just to emphasize the procurement issue, but that didn’t explain the governor’s unilateral “termination of [Louisiana's] participation in the Common Core.” If anybody thinks Jindal’s aim was merely the dutiful attempt to enforce a state law, rather than to curry favor with national conservative audiences, they are more gullible than TV’s Gilligan.)

Then came the lawsuit by the parents and the charter school group. Most of the suit sounds like a policy argument devolving into a whine session, but it does eventually make some points actually relevant to legally actionable claims. That’s not what was asinine. What was asinine was that the “Choice Foundation,” an otherwise excellent group which runs three admirable charter schools in New Orleans, chose to stick its nose into the morass of the courts. It did so against its own best long-term interests. To wit:

One of the biggest policy arguments (among many other good ones) against Common Core is that is probably will have the tendency to homogenize instructional methods, curriculum, and other educational practices nationwide. One of the beauties of charter schools is that they resist homogenization in favor of innovation, particularity, and an understanding that different strokes work for different folks. Inherent in that idea is the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that, to the greatest extent possible, decisions be made and implemented at the most local level practicable. This key aspect of charter schools thus runs directly contrary to the Core’s nationalizing impulse. For the Choice Foundation to join this suit amounts to an illogical fit of pique rather than a wise use of time and resources. (And yes, I read its explanation of the “harm” it will supposedly suffer due to the governor’s actions, and I just don’t buy it.)

Today, BESE upped the ante by joining that lawsuit. It did not need to do so. There’s even a question as to whether it has the authority to hire its own counsel to do so. The layering of lawyers (or is that lawyering of layers?) further complicates an already awful situation, and further raises the legal stakes for all involved.

Then came the administration with what, at first glance, appeared to be a rather ludicrous “third party demand” — an intervention in this same lawsuit — by the governor to nullify something called a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between BESE and a Core-aligned outfit known by the acronym PARCC (which also provides the material for the tests at issue in the procurement controversy). It does so on the basis of a legitimate doctrine, questionably applied. The doctrine is known as “non-delegation,” and in layman’s terms it means that a public body may not delegate its authority to a private entity or an entity outside of the state.  Yet by the very terms of the MOU cited by the administration’s lawsuit — an MOU originally signed by Jindal himself — the “authority” being delegated is revocable by the state at any time, so BESE retains control (without threat of penalty) over whether or not to participate in PARCC’s processes. That hardly seems, to an outside observer, to be an illegal delegation of BESE’s responsibility.

It’s all rather complicated. Let’s simplify it: Jindal in effect is yelling “state sovereignty” at the top of his lungs, trying to get attention back from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is gaining ground in the Republican presidential sweepstakes by making valid points about state sovereignty with regard to the border crisis and the Obama administration’s perfidy related thereto.

All of which leads to this: It’s horrible public policy to rush to the courts, which take months or years to rule, to solve what really amounts to a policy dispute, while holding children, parents and school hostage to the political battle. This should be a matter handled not by judges, but by the people’s elected representatives. Those representatives did a pathetic job this year in their so-called consideration of whether or not to withdraw from Common Core. They were dealing with hundreds of other issues at the same time, and few legislators even had a clue what they were really talking about.

Jindal should call a special session devoted to the Common Core issue, alone, and then use all his persuasive ability to try to move legislators his way. Those of us who oppose Common Core would cheer him on, all the while. Legislators would be forced to own up to their decisions, sole-focused, without excuses. And the public could watch how outside players — lobbyists and campaign donors — influence the proceedings.

It would be a donnybrook. But it would last a finite time period. A decision would be made, one way or the other. And, afterwards, education could move forward.

Jindal Administration’s Unfortunate Insinuation

I start writing this as I am still listening to a phone press conference by Jindal Chief of Staff Kyle Plotkin, about the governor’s meeting with State school superintendent John White regarding procurement contracts relating to the state’s school tests (which, of course, are related to the overall debate about the Common Core standards, although Plotkin went to great pains to say that the meeting in this case was only about procurement and not about the Core). I write to suggest that Plotkin should walk back some of his comments, or at least disavow some unfortunate implications thereof.

Clearly, there is a dispute between Jindal and White both about Common Core and about how the testing contract was done (sole-sourced, or no-bid, rather than openly bid). There seems to be a difference of legal opinion as to whether that bid process is in accordance with state law. It seems to me at very first glance that Jindal’s team has the better legal argument, but that is immaterial to the point I am about to make. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jindal is right about the law. Even so, it could well be that White or his staff misinterpreted the law, or were unaware of its provisions, or some other honest explanation.

Yet, repeatedly in the phone conference, Plotkin stressed that Jindal made a great point with White of recounting the state’s history of “corruption” and of stressing that such corruption is what Jindal has pledged to put an end to. In that light, said Plotkin, Jindal stressed how important it is that White follow the law.

Note the context. This goes beyond Jindal explaining what he thinks the law is, or why his interpretation of the law must govern White’s actions, or any other legitimate reason why White should cry uncle. This goes beyond any assumption that there is an honest difference of opinion. The obvious subtext is not just that White is wrong, but that he is willfully and deliberately wrong. One doesn’t bring up “corruption” in such circumstances unless one is insinuating that there is corruption afoot. (Or, it could be a hamhanded way of scene setting by Jindal, trying to explain why he must be an absolute stickler for the law, in light of the past corruption, but without intending to suggest corruption on White’s part. It’s a stretched interpretation, but at least it’s possible.)

But here’s what is troubling: If it was just a vague scene setter, rather than an insinuation of something worse, why would Plotkin mention it repeatedly in the press conference? Why would he continue to raise the specter of “corruption” rather than of just a legal disagreement?

I asked, quite specifically, if Plotkin really meant to raise the possibility of deliberate malfeasance. I think it was clear that I meant to give him a chance to walk back the noxious inference, made about Jindal’s hand-picked superintendent.

Plotkin didn’t budge. He refused to offer any olive branch at all to White. He left my question hanging, by saying (and, alas, I didn’t get the exact quote) again words to the effect that “White must follow the law, period.”

Look, I oppose Common Core. I also think Jindal is right that the testing contract should have been open to public bid. But I have seen not an iota of evidence to suggest deliberate malfeasance, or “corruption,” on White’s part. And I think it behooves the Jindal administration to quickly, publicly, and graciously clear up such a misimpression.

If not, then it obviously is not an unintended misimpression, but instead a virtual allegation of wrongdoing. Now, unless the administration has evidence we don’t know about — in which case, the evidence should be released, forthwith — then the insinuation must be assumed to be a deliberate assault on White’s reputation for integrity. From what I’ve seen, such an assault is unwarranted.

And if it’s unwarranted, there’s a word for what the administration just did. The word is “smear.” It’s dirty pool. And it should not stand.



Scalise wood

Scalise Brought the Wood

Saints Coach Sean Payton and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston served as exemplars for a bit of inspirational fun that Jefferson’s U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise had with his organizational team the night before his victory in this week’s race for Majority Whip of the House of Representatives.

Several weeks ago, Scalise was dining with friend and informal political advisor Rick Legendre, the former longtime district representative for Livingston when Livingston served southeast Louisiana in Congress. This was a week or two before House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was upset in his re-election primary in Virginia. Having no idea that a race would be upon them so soon, Scalise and Legendre were talking about Scalise’s hopes to run for Whip after the fall elections, or at whatever later time a spot opened up. Legendre suggested that in the course of any such race, Scalise should have some fun while firing up his supporters by imitating the motivational tool Payton used to start the 2010 playoff run that led to the Saints’ famous Super Bowl victory. Payton had handed out baseball bats to his players, telling them to “bring the wood” to the Arizona Cardinals.  Considering that Baton Rouge-based Marucci Sports is the major provider of bats for Major League Baseball, Legendre figured they could get the bats made in a jiffy if needed.

Within 48 hours of Cantor’s unexpected loss, Scalise called Legendre and asked him, quite literally, to bring the wood. Marucci was able to do a quick turn-around of some distinctive, deep-red bats and have them delivered to Scalise earlier this week. The bats were inscribed with the words “Bring the wood! Scalise Whip Team 2014. Geaux!!!”

At the end of his team’s last organizational meeting, Wednesday night before the Thursday vote, Scalise surprised his colleagues with the lumber, and his fellow congressmen reportedly exited the meeting brandishing the bats and laughing, full of enthusiasm for the election.

Just as it did with the Saints, the “wood” let to an overwhelming victory for Scalise.

The Saints, however, were only one of the inspirations for the idea. Legendre also had remembered another catchy bit of symbolism that helped set the tone for some major accomplishments back in the 1990s. When Livingston took over as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in January of 1995 — the first Republican Approps chair in 40 years — he was on a mission to achieve nearly unprecedented savings in federal domestic discretionary spending. (In other words, on items other than defense or entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.) Opening his first committee meeting, laughing, Livingston pulled out a glisteningly sharp alligator skinning knife and said something along these lines: “I told you we will cut the budget, and I mean it. We’re going to cut carefully, even surgically, so we don’t harm any essential services, but we’ll use sharp knives. This (pulls out knife) is what I call my ‘Cajun scalpel.’ It’s tough enough and sharp enough for alligator hide, but it can be wielded with precision!”

After the laughter died down, Livingston said: “Now, if that doesn’t work to save enough taxpayer money, or if you people won’t do cooperate with surgical cuts, then we’ll use THIS!” From under his desk, Livingston pulled out a huge Bowie knife, twice as big as his alligator skinner. And, to howls of laughter, Livingston added: “And if we can’t get the job done that way, well, then we’ll really get serious!”

With that, Livingston pulled out a very large machete and made an exaggerated hacking motion.

By that time, aides had passed out to every Approps member a lapel button featuring an image of the alligator skinning knife along with the words “Cajun Scalpel.” The good-natured, can-do spirit was so infectious that ever several of the committee Democrats left the room wearing the buttons.

(Alas, most of the media garbled the story and missed Livingston’s point that he wanted his savings to be deep but surgically precise; instead, most reports just focused on the machete and the image of crazy Republicans madly hacking away at supposedly popular programs. Oh, well.)

Anyway, Livingston’s committee did succeed in entirely eliminating 300 duplicative programs while saving $50 billion in actual dollars (not from projected increases) in just two years. And the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl. Scalise now can hope that his experience as whip will be equally successful.

After all, it’s pretty darn hard for anybody not to like a little Louisiana theatricality and humor, expressive of Louisianan’s famous joie de vivre.