Lightning Strikes and a Democrat is Elected Governor in the South

JBE_001New Orleans   Even when State Representative John Bel Edwards from small town Amite, Louisiana, known for little of nothing other than being near where Abita beer is made and on the way to Mississippi, led in the open primary against three Republicans, when asked about his real chances of winning, I was doubtful. He wasn’t the first Democrat to lead a primary race after all. The trick in recent years has been hanging on.

Edwards though ended up with a smashing, almost historic runoff victory, unseating the conservative Republican two-term sitting U.S. Senator David Vitter and administering a butt whipping with nearly a 150000 vote margin and winning by 56% to 44%. In ruby red Louisiana, in recent years a Republican stronghold, Edwards becomes the first Democrat in eight years to win a statewide election. In the Republican solid South with the recent defeat of Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Edwards will also soon become the only Democrat sitting in the governor’s chair in the South.

The pundits are careful to underline that Edwards’ victory does not mark a sea change, but something more akin to a rogue wave. True or false?

Well, it’s true enough that Edwards is a blue dog Democrat rather than a yellow dog one. He’s pro-gun and anti-abortion though wisely not foaming at the mouth on either issue. Significantly, he also benefited from long family and political ties to the critical local law enforcement groups and even won the association of sheriff’s endorsement. He also has a military background including West Point in his resume which meant his only experience with camouflage pants wasn’t while touring the set for Duck Dynasty like either Vitter or Louisiana’s occasional governor and until recently full-time presidential aspirant, Bobby Jindal. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastically endorsed by labor, and wildly loved by the teachers’ unions for his opposition to charters, privatization, and vouchers, which have been constant Jindal themes. He was also clear in a state with more uninsured than any other that he would expand Medicaid thereby embracing the Obamacare punching bag. He also had hardcore business opposition for his pledge to create a state minimum wage where now Louisiana has none.

The Kentucky strategy of tying Edwards to Obama to defeat him was a total loser though, even though it had worked for Vitter in the past. So, learn from that, pundit posse!

One clear lesson, always true and worth remembering, has to do with arrogance. Vitter’s history in the Louisiana legislature and in Congress has been to always fly solo while pointing his fingers at colleagues and trying to shame them for this and that. It turns out that what goes around, comes around, and Vitter was completely alone at the end. His Republican opponents either took a walk or endorsed Edwards calling Vitter “vicious” and a “liar. Voices in his support were few and far between. It turns out that if are a mean, self-servicing, son-of-a-bee, eventually it will bite you, and if you add hypocrisy to that, whoa, Nellie, you’re going down.

Another lesson has to do with competence in actually governing, rather than purity in ideological posturing, both administered by the Bobby Jindal ego-trip. When it’s Republicans in charge from top to bottom and the state is in a total fiscal and economic mess, and the majority of the citizens are hurting, eventually that bill will come due at the polls. Jindal for eight straight years had a budget that by constitution had to be balanced returned for fixing or fudging by the legislature, while kowtowing to out of state ideologues. The first rule of all politics is that you have to tend to your own base first, and the corollary should now be that if you worship at the altar of Republican orthodoxy and forget that rule then change is going to come.

It’s worth remembering that decades ago politicians and political scientists from V.O. Key onward once believed that the solid South meant everyone was a Democrat. Some thought, wrongly, that would last forever. I can remember my father saying he never had a choice in Louisiana about whether to register as anything but a Democrat or he would have only been able to vote once every four years for President, and he was right. The pendulum can and will swing, and the more the Republicans go harder and harder right, leaving more and more people out of the sight and out of mind, the more likely their dominance will be as temporary as it has been painful for people.

Bobby Jindal Finally Takes Us Out of Some of Our Misery

screen-shot-2014-10-01-at-1-39-12-pmNew Orleans   There is a pretty fair dose of embarrassment that comes from just plain living in Louisiana. Poverty, inequality, education, health, welfare, and football teams are regularly at the top of every list, though most of these are bad lists to be on and require lots of apologizing. Even trying to catch a break by changing the subject to New Orleans can quickly go down a bad road about Katrina recovery, crime, boiling water to drink, and, well, some people think the city is dirty from what they tell me. If you are going to live in Louisiana, you have to learn to take it in stride and shrug it off.

Adding insult to injury though has been the humiliating farce of Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal’s perverse fantasy run for President of the United States. There has never been a rational way to explain this other than an ego trip divorced from all reality.

Sometimes governors run for President as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did based on their record in their home states. In Jindal’s case, there was no way to pretend he wasn’t running based on his record in Louisiana, yet that’s been abysmal.

Louisiana is going into the eighth straight year of a budget shortfall, this time by what looks like a half-billion, and because of Jindal’s no-taxes pledge to Grover Norquist, a Washington resident who to the best of anyone’s knowledge does not live and suffer in Louisiana, many citizens would embrace voodoo economics as something better than what Jindal was pretended. Universities have been decimated. Hospitals have been semi-privatized to outside contractors but the contracts are short money to run them. Medicaid was not expanded under the Affordable Care Act even though the state leads the nation in the number of low income families without health protection. There is no state minimum wage. Like I said, there will soon be a proposal to change the license plate slogan from Sportsman’s Paradise to Shamer’s Paradise.

Jindal pretty clearly made the decision some years ago to sacrifice the State of Louisiana and its citizens on the altar of his ambition. In order to try to build a crazy conservative base there were never any obstacles to the outrages, including the legal limits of his considerable powers as governor under the Louisiana constitution. Planned Parenthood, get them out of the state. Syrians, no way, Jose. Guns, let ‘em fire. Immigrants, deport every last one. Honduran children, get them out of here. Charter schools, vouchers, and religious extremism, bring it on! And, so on and so on.

The arc of justice eventually bends our way though. None of this boot licking worked. A cartoon in one the newspapers had Jindal giving his announcement that he was dropping his Presidential campaign, while calling for his “supporter,” singular, not plural. His popularity is now about 20% in Louisiana. Pundits believe he may be sinking the Republican shot at replacing him. President Obama is now more popular than Jindal in Louisiana!

Finally, some of the embarrassment for Louisiana will ease. Jindal’s ego fueled presidential run is over. Jindal said he has come to realize, “it’s not my time.” Sadly, he has not come to realize that he has now squandered his time, and it will never ever be his time. His time is over.

Now the big problem for Louisianans is living with Jindal’s scorched earth governance policies, and that pain will last for years.

Loopholes on Employer Mandates of Obamacare Killing Low Wage Workers

ACA-Employer-Mandate1Shreveport    The devil is in the details, and lower waged employers, like large nursing home chains, have figured out a way to be the devil with the details when it comes to making a mockery out of the employer mandate to provide healthcare coverage. Bargaining a renewal contract for Local 100 United Labor Unions at a nursing home in Shreveport that we had represented for almost thirty years was a case study in the travesty of the law and the tragedy for the workers.

In fulfilling the information request and providing details on the health insurance offering for the workers, this company, the second largest nursing home chain in Louisiana, gave us a mishmash of materials forcing the bargaining committee to ask a number of questions hoping for a glimmer of hope that didn’t seem obvious from the materials, but no such luck.

We saw two plans. One that covered some our bargaining unit, including the activities director and maintenance staff. The other for all of the certified nursing assistants.

The first plan was no Cadillac plan, believe me. The deductible was $2500 for an individual in or out of the network. The examples of coverage were cautionary. If you had a baby costing $7540 from the hospital, the plan would pay for $3530 and you would be out $4010. The second plan was from land of Simon Legree. The deductible was a whopping $6350 per person, the highest we have seen or heard of anywhere, no matter the low wage employer! Worse, it covered almost nothing. Having a baby with the same cost would have the plan paying less than a grand and in fact only $940 while the patient paid $6600 with the deductible now stated to be $6400 and something called “exceptions” adding another $200. Managing diabetes was another example where if the cost were $5400 on the first plan, the worker would pay $3280 and the plan $2120. On the second plan we devolve into farce, where on the cost of $5400, the plan would pay a measly $20 bucks and the worker would pay $5380. Yes, $20.

This is more than enough to describe the horrors here, but adding insult to injury, remember that the worker would also be paying for this sorry story. The rate of payment was not fixed which was a first for in our experience, but was calculated to the wage of each individual worker so that the company could squeeze the last penny of the 9.5% allowable for an Affordable Care Act plan from the worker. The cap was $175 per month at the highest worker’s wage and the minimum was around $111 per month figured at the individual worker’s hourly wage times 130 hours for a regular employee times 9.5%. No math shaming here but if you are a certified nursing assistant to elect this plan the employer begrudgingly was providing under the employer mandate of Obamacare, you would be paying anywhere from about $1300 to $2100 for the ability to claim health insurance on your job where you would then have to pay more than $6000 before you got the first dollar worth of health insurance benefit. The math is daunting. These are workers making less than $20,000 per year and closer to $18000 annually who would be paying up to $8000 out of their income to access any benefit from the policy! Incredible!

The employer insisted that the plan qualified, despite our objections, and, frankly, it may. The employer had no answer to the question of why all workers were not put in the first plan which was hardly a gift. The employer pretended not to have available the number of workers who had elected to pay for this travesty of insurance, even as the union asked if it was more than one and less than ten workers.

Meanwhile the workers are blocked from the subsidies and cost sharing payments provided under the Affordable Care Act, because their employer supposedly provides health insurance if that is what you call what is described here. And, to pile on since none or next to none are foolish enough to join this so-called plan that means beginning in 2016 the workers will pay a 2.5% penalty on their gross income or $450 to $500 for not having insurance, so their boss can take more money to the bank.

Needless to say there’s no Medicaid expansion yet in Louisiana – and many other states. This is not a health care solution for lower waged workers who desperately need health care protection!

Legislators Leveraging Hospitals to Pressure Governors to Expand Medicaid

Mid City ERNew Orleans       In Florida, there is a well-publicized breech between the Republican Governor and the Republican-controlled legislature over their budget shortfalls and the need to bridge the gaps by expanding Medicaid.  The governor, Rick Scott, has gone to wild extremes of suing the federal government to try to force a change in the already settled matters of disproportionate share funding and blaming the federal government rather than adding Florida to the list of Affordable Care Act states.   Scott believes the hospitals, desperate for more funding and some in danger of closing, are lined up against him.

Interestingly in Louisiana much the same Republican-on-Republican division has also quietly broken out over disagreements over budget gaps and health care needs.  The legislative session is almost over, but rifts are huge.  Governor Bobby Jindal is so dedicated to his ambition to fail as a Republican presidential candidate in hopes some other Republican will win and give him a job, that he has chained himself to the hospital door to prevent the expansion on Medicaid for the 400,000 uninsured in the state.  Interestingly, the Jindal “no-tax” pledge of the state’s health to Grover Norquist has created devastating economic consequences in Louisiana especially with the cataclysmic dip in oil prices.

Public education is more popular in Louisiana than poor people or their health care, and the evisceration of the higher education funding under Jindal has also reached crisis proportions.  In a slick political move in the funding chess game, House leaders, who are obviously disproportionately Republican decided to fund higher education – against the Governor’s budget recommendations – in the next year leaving the state’s health care system at least $200 million short.   And, this starves a health care system that is invariably ranked near the worst in the country, and also threatens dubious agreements that Governor Jindal concocted with private companies to take over Louisiana’s public facilities.  Another $33 million in state is also needed to leverage federal funds to finish building the new hospital facility in downtown New Orleans that was designed to replace the Charity Hospital, shuttered after Katrina.

Tellingly the Advocate reported that “…Capitol insiders said they believe House leaders left health care alone on a limb to create pressure for the Legislature to expand Medicaid…a proposal that Jindal and the Republican controlled Legislature have rejected so far.”  The same report, referencing again unnamed “Capital insiders” added that they “…also suggested that House leaders left health care unfunded to cause hospital and other health care lobbyists to rev up their considerable sway to pressure anti-tax lawmakers to approve more tax measures.”

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides about subsidies under Obamacare and any number of other issues, it seems the only thing stopping expansion of Medicaid, even among hardcore “hospital door” politicians trying to block health care for the poor, is political stalling and logrolling as Republicans try to position their “never Obamacare” positions with the desperate needs of their own health care systems and their longtime supporters and friends in their state hospital facilities with their deep community support and large payrolls.  Last minute, Hail Mary, lawsuits and meaningless pledges to DC power players are not going to be enough to protect the ideologues from their own citizens and their needs.  It seems the clock is ticking in our favor, if people can live long enough to make it.


This song goes out to a faithful reader who made the suggestion of posting this great video on the next blog about health care.  Thanks Mike.

Pokey LaFarge’s  Close the Door – Live 

Privatizing State Universities? Start with the Football Team!

privatizationNew Orleans       Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s quixotic quest for the Republican nomination for President has pretty much disappeared in the throes of his budget and taxes regime over two terms that has virtually bankrupted the state in general and almost decimated the public higher education facilities in Louisiana.  He is not alone, since the same playbook has been used in Wisconsin, Kansas, and other states practicing the same no-tax-and-burn strategy against the public good.  The whole mess has gotten so ridiculous that one of the State Board of Regents, theoretically the governing board for state system, though usually little more than puppets playing out their terms for their gubernatorial sponsor, has now proposed a uniquely bizarre privatization “solution,” of carving out some pieces of the public universities and making them private colleges without state support.  The headline hit the newspapers to competition with another headline that the generally well regarded private university in New Orleans, Tulane, wanted to finally deal with a problem they had of falling $20 million short annually in their budgeting.

Let’s not waste time with how crazy this latest privatization notion is other than listing some of the obvious problems.  Would the almost bankrupt state pitch in an endowment?  Who would be the big bucks that would pony up for the new outfit?  Why would students or professors migrate over to the supposedly “best” pieces of the public system and pay more tuition to do so, and what would happen to the public system when they lost their crown jewels.  My breakfast partner mentioned that they must assume they could sell real estate, but the state owns the real estate, so would that be gifted over, and if so, where would they house the new whatever you might call it.  The list of “cons” for such a notion is endless.

Let’s be honest the only thing that the state system could privatize that could stand on its own, survive, and maybe generate a profit back to the mother ship either in Louisiana or anywhere in the South Eastern Conference would be let the football team go private and be seen as the pros they already are, since it’s virtually a matter of degree without a difference.   We’ve already had to stop pretending that the myth of a student-athlete at this level is anything but that as both the players, the universities, and the multi-billion dollar NCAA virtually concede the boys should be paid somehow someway.  The infrastructure is already in place.  The stadiums have been built.  The CEOs, or coaches as they call them, are already paid in the millions every year with scores of staff, a recruiting system, and everything else.  Right now the LSU team, always highly ranked and sometimes a national championship winner, delivers millions to the bottom line at LSU.  Let’s just unleash all of the pretense and shackles so that we can get big time investors in the team and distribute the profits to LSU and the rest of the system.

The door has been opened and the same thing would work in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and maybe even South Carolina.  In Kentucky maybe they could privatize the “one-and-done” basketball team.

Clearly the Republicans don’t give a hoot about public higher education, but maybe they would still cheer and lay out the bucks for the teams.

Jindal “No Go!”

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

Governor Jindal Speaks to Members of Henry Jackson Society in London

New Orleans    It’s not often that almost everyone agrees on something throughout the land and perhaps the globe, but Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, formerly a Republican presidential hopeful, has truly succeeded in bringing everyone together.  He did so with his crazy, controversial remarks to a conservative group in London named after former Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State.  While there he went on at some length about the fact that there were “no go” zones in cities in Britain, France, and elsewhere that non-Muslims and even the police didn’t go that were functionally ruled by sharia law.

When he left Louisiana, he claimed he was on his way to Europe to drum up business for the state.  Hopefully when he’s talking to corporations over there he will mention that he is on the downside of his last term in office and can’t run again, so it may be safe for them to come to the Bayou State without embarrassment.  Definitely, his sudden notoriety will make it clear that they should wait until he’s gone from the governor’s mansion and the coast is clear.

Fox News jumped on the bandwagon with some of its commentators also parroting the “no go” line.  They have quickly apologized four times on the air and retracted every last line of their remarks. The Mayor of Paris has announced that she is going to sue Fox News for slander, and why not.

In Louisiana, where few agree on anything, both newspapers in New Orleans the daily Advocate and the every once in a while Times-Picayune led with editorials making it clear that Jindal’s hate speech didn’t speak for Louisiana.  They were both embarrassed and horrified by his remarks. The last time they agreed so strenuously was in their assessment that Hurricane Katrina was in fact a bad thing!

It’s easy to understand Jindal’s predicament. He thinks he should be president. Fortunately no one else does. The last poll among Republicans had him in the 2 or 3% range in terms of support and recognition. Jindal’s strategy has been to pretty much leave Louisiana alone, it being Louisiana I can’t say “high and dry,” which is somewhat a good thing, and try to carve out some notice for himself on the far right. He’s willing to go speak to right wing groups and church gatherings that no other candidate will touch.  He’s organizing a prayer thing that seems like it’s a path to perdition itself from the way folks are running away from it. The budget in Louisiana is fabricated on oil and gas revenues so any claims Jindal might have had about finances in the state are long gone and all of his tricks with the numbers are going to haunt the rest of his term and whoever is elected along with the citizens of the state for years.

Jindal’s reaction to all of this? Well, he’s doubled down by releasing a 1700 word press statement in Baton Rouge restating the so-called “evidence” of his “no go” remarks.

I think the only place there is really a “no go” rule is that Jindal is no longer welcome in Europe, especially the United Kingdom and France again.  It seems it won’t be long before Louisiana is also a “no go” spot for Jindal as well.