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Who Is The Fund For Louisiana?

6048 Marshall Foch Street, New Orleans, LA 70124

David Vitter’s VitterPAC has made some news lately, specifically in its attempt to blow the cap off of donations here in Louisiana. But who exactly is behind this thing?

First, we know the former Romney SuperPAC (“Restore Our Future“) council Charles Spies is the chair. As usual, teet-sucking Politico calls him a “politico to watch“:

Spies recalls his first political memory as his father — then a Republican-appointed U.S. attorney — was fired when Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976…“The verdict may be out on how helpful super PACs were in the general election,” he said. But “it’s indisputable that in a primary election, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

So, Spies is the mover behind this, and other, rightwing SuperPACs. But who’s the local connection? Is there one?

Using the internet, and a modicum of free time, we’ve unearthed a couple other items about the VitterPAC.FundforLAfuture

First, the Fund’s listed address is 6048 Marshall Foch Street in the Lakeview part of New Orleans. That’s strange for a number of reasons, most notably because the fund obviously resides in Washington, DC (see the DC lawyer, Spies, and the ’202′ area code on their phone number). Hmmm.

A man who is identified as “Bill Callihan” seated on the left.

Who lives at 6048 Marshall Foch Street? It seems to be this man, on the left in the blazer, Bill Callihan. From the internets, we find that he is a Director at Capital One bank. Perhaps a fiscal agent for the fund? Not so fast.

This statement of organization from the IRS shows that Spies is the Treasurer/Chairman and that the fund uses “Chain Bridge Bank” in McLean, VA. That’s the Dick Cheney part of Virginia, somewhat close to the CIA headquarters.

So, Callihan is, at the very least, “housing” the organization in Louisiana in order to give the appearance that it isn’t just a total DC-based operation parachuting into LA to elect David Vitter Governor.

As these things go, they’re supposed to be opaque. The entire concept of these “SuperPAC’s” is to obscure the origin of the money on which they feast. The Federal sides can already take unlimited donations. VItterPAC is working dilligently on making sure they can take unlimited contributions to use for a LAGOV race (i.e. a non-Federal, Louisiana-only campaign). Currently, while Federal law allows  multi-million dollar cheques to be written without constraint, Louisiana election law says that money PAC raised for state races is limited to cheques of $100,000 at a time. VitterPAC hopes to change this forever.

Back to this mysterious siting. The New Orleans address is, in and of itself, not illegal or even that unusual. However, since VitterPAC operates under the shroud of secrecy afforded to it by IRS code, it will always generate the requisite level of mystery. Why here? And why in New Orleans? Worth watching.

Simultaneously, it is pure charade that VitterPAC claims it won’t be “coordinating” with a potential David Vitter LAGOV run. Of course, this is the joke of our election law today. As Stephen Colbert smartly broke down, SuperPACs are a lie we tell ourselves in politics. The rules are a joke. They’re easy to bend and shred. Candidates can appear at fundraisers for their supporting SuperPAC’s, but they can’t say the words “give us money.” Instead, they can just appear as a guest and folks are supposed to believe that this maintains the Chinese wall.

Whatever the case, we hope the media looks more closely at VitterPAC. Unlimited money in politics is a fundamental corruption. Louisiana’s been able to avoid it up until now. But once the seal is broken, the genie cannot be placed back into the bottle.

New Leaders Council Names 2013 Fellows

NLC training 2012

NLC Fellows at a training in 2012 – photo courtesy NLC-Louisiana’s Facebook page

Louisiana’s chapter of New Leaders Council just announced the 2013 class of Fellows for what will be their 4th annual statewide institute. The impressive, diverse group includes educators, attorneys, business and non-profit leaders, public servants, activists and social entrepreneurs.

Since 2010, NLC has conducted progressive leadership training for small groups of emerging young leaders. There is a rigorous selection process for the free program which is part of national network of chapters. In the Institute, Fellows meet monthly over five weekends to learn “political entrepreneur” skills – which emphasizes the application of risk-taking in the civic arena to achieve political goals.

NLC has a likewise impressive list of backers and alumni. The national alumni page includes current and aspiring elected officials, including State Representative Ted James of Baton Rouge who was part of the inaugural Louisiana class in 2010. Donors include former Governor Kathleen Blanco who also served as the chapter’s initial honorary co-chair.

While NLC has been operating across the country quietly since 2005, people are starting to take notice. In fact, last Sunday, the discussion on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show included New Leaders Council. Washington Monthly also published an article in September that sums up NLC’s work well:

The NLC is strikingly different from the typical DC think tank or policy shop focused on electioneering or fighting in the cable news trenches. For the last six years, its main operation is to run a kind of mini-graduate school in cities across the country for up-and-coming progressive political entrepreneurs, or “Fellows,” as they call them. In five weekends over five months, a class of around twenty fellows take classes in things like business, media and communications, campaign management, or political strategy. These fellows then serve as a network of communication and support as they move into their careers throughout the country.

And the NLC’s goal is not just to build a stable of potential congressional candidates—it has its eyes on every potential position of influence nationwide: city councils and school boards, boards and chairmanships of corporations, and of course state and national elected offices. The idea is to “infiltrate and take over all the levers of power—public and private, national and local,” says the NLC’s Executive Director Mark Riddle.

While local media and political commentators write off Louisiana as a permanent conservative stronghold, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact progressive groups like New Leaders Council can have.

Everyone deserves a party

Louisiana is, to understate it drastically, an interesting state. It is an epicenter for diverse cultures and events not typically seen anywhere in the U.S., let alone the Deep South. And yet, it is one of the reddest states in the country. Why?

To start, Louisiana is an oil-and-gas state. Its people are largely religious and socially conservative. Businesses are widely seen as saintly as, well, the Saints. The state’s top leadership is a virtual Republican monopoly. In a sense, Louisiana’s steady migration from Democrat to Republican seems natural, if not inevitable.

But even Republicans will lose in the long-term if Louisiana slides so deeply into a one-party system. Why? Look no further than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform. It’s revolutionary, and not for a good reason. Such an unabashed kickback to parochial and charter schools would not have happened had there been a healthy ideological balance in state government. A “yes man” autocracy is a disaster in the making for any leader, regardless of affiliation.

Republicans don’t shoulder all the blame for that; Democrats have been inconsistent in their opposition. The party’s label has become toxic enough that many state Democrats switch to Republican just to have a chance at the polls. That stigma is in part due to Louisiana’s longstanding reputation as a pit of one-party (Democrat/Dixiecrat) corruption. Another aspect is outnumbered progressive citizens either hesitant to speak out or discouraged that it will do much good.

I wouldn’t say the ratio of liberal to conservative in Louisiana is anywhere close to even, but it’s also not as one-sided as its leadership would suggest. The difference is largely one of confidence.

By and large, people here assume that you’re a Republican — specifically, that you’re a far-right, tea party-leaning neoconservative. They’re the ones who offer forth their opinion in public with confidence. Conservatives freely affix bumper stickers advocating their candidates and stances, but an Obama sticker is more likely to meet and greet a baseball bat.

Coming out as liberal — or otherwise being critical of conservatism or unchecked capitalism in any way — can lead to horrified reactions from otherwise loving people. They take it as personally as if you declined to eat their home-cooked seafood dish. (I’ve had plenty of point-and-shriek moments on both counts.) This usually results in liberals being far less confident and effective than their conservative counterparts. For candidates, it’s political suicide.

Being born and raised in south Louisiana, I didn’t fully see just how deep this attitude is rooted until I moved away. I lived in Missouri for four years — itself not the most secular or progressive state. But I noticed right away that liberals, despite being the minority there, weren’t reticent. It was the first time in my life that I regularly ran into people who would espouse left-of-center views to a total stranger. The newspaper for which I worked published columns from readers, and they ran a far more diverse spectrum of views than I was used to here. The liberal writers frequently defied stereotypes — many were older, white, male business owners and even preachers. The free and frank exchange of ideas was a tremendous eye-opener. The difference became even more stark when I moved back to Louisiana and saw the political climate through new eyes.

Plenty of progressive people live in Louisiana. We’re not a tiny sliver of the population. At least, not as small as our say in state affairs would suggest. What we need to do is match the confidence and the clout of conservatives. Show our increasingly disaffected fellow citizens that alternatives exist — alternatives that don’t oppose their best interests as much as they might think, wherever they stand.

After all, Louisiana is our home too.

Jindal and His Vouchers

As Bobby Jindal basks in the glow of VP speculation, his school voucher plan continues to garner national, as well – just not the positive kind.

From a Washington Post blog:

One of those schools is the church-affiliated New Living Word School, which was approved to increase its student enrollment from 122 to 315 — even though it doesn’t have the space, computers or the teachers to handle the students, according to the News-Star.

This means that this school will have 100 more voucher slots than any other school in Louisiana. The state Department of Education chose schools to qualify for vouchers without visiting any campuses.

According to the News-Star, Rev. Jerry Baldwin, the school’s principal and pastor of New Living Word Ministries, said that construction will begin this summer on a metal school building though he isn’t sure when it will be done. Current students now attend class in rooms used by the church’s Sunday school. If the new building is finished by the fall, he said, new students can hold class in the church gym.

The school’s mission, according to its Web site, is: “The mission of NLWM School is to provide a foundation built on biblical principles that will create an atmosphere for scholastic advancement and spiritual development.”

The school, Baldwin was quoted as saying, is moving forward “on faith.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch also reported on her blog that another school, the Eternity Christian Academy in Calcasieu Parish, will benefit from the voucher program. It now enrolls 14 students but has said it will take in 135 new students, a move that will result in some $1 million in taxpayer funds.

Jindal Reform Routes Tax Dollars to Religious Schools

Of the 125 schools approved to accept taxpayer funds under Louisiana’s new school voucher law, 115 (92%) are affiliated with a church or other religious organization.

From Americans United:

Louisiana has an incredibly bad record when it comes to taxpayer aid to religious schools.

Back in the 1920s, Gov. Huey Long pushed a bill through the legislature giving textbooks to Catholic schools at taxpayer expense. The state has been the site of repeated efforts to siphon tax dollars away from public schools into the coffers of religious schools ever since.

The Jindal administration released the list of schools which will participate in the voucher program starting this fall. Nine are private yet not directly connected with a religious purpose, and one is a public school. Almost all are religious and located in urban areas along the I-10 corridor. Here’s some additional data:

  • 380,000 = Total estimated eligible students statewide
  • 7,450 = Total number of slots
  • 125 = Total number of participating schools
  • 115 = Religious private schools
  • 9 = Non-religious private schools
  • 1 = public school 
  • ~12 = Participating schools in North & Central Louisiana
  • 33 = Parishes with approved schools
  • $8,500 = taxpayer money per voucher

“I can tell you that this is not a Louisiana agenda. This is a national agenda to do away with public education as we know it.” Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs

Apart from potential lawsuits which would challenge the vouchers on religious grounds, there may be more legal battles on the horizon for Jindal’s vouchers. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers opposed the voucher program citing the unconstitutional routing of public Minimum Funding Program (MFP) dollars into private hands. The union, led by President Steve Monaghan, has promised a lawsuit against the state on these grounds.

Another interesting development comes from one of the most conservative parts of the state. The St. Tammany Parish School Board approved a resolution to possibly challenge the education reform package on several constitutional grounds, in coordination with the Louisiana School Board Association and other school boards across the state. One of the principal grounds is also the routing of public school MFP funding into private schools – something that deprives school boards of much-needed funds. The folks in St. Tammany say that suing the state is the only way they can fight to save their public school system.

Lombardi’s Entirely Fictional Fable

Former LSU System President John V. Lombardi is now a fiction writer. At his blog at Inside Higher Ed, he describes the struggles of a corrupt authoritarian, though fictional, small nation in great detail: 

Imagine a small, developing country of perhaps 3 million people. Like many other small developing countries, our imaginary nation is rich in natural resources, its economy has prospered on the export of agricultural crops and benefited from the revenue generated by petroleum production, refining, and support services. Its history, like some of its counterparts in the developing world, reflects a constant structural economic weakness covered by a colorful culture, truly creative and charming people, and an often dramatic sequence of past events.

He goes on to describe the political leadership as a “populist authoritarian government led by individuals in search of advancement to more prosperous and internationally significant posts.” Again, entirely made up. (What is this guy smoking, right?) Some of his writing is clearly influenced, quite peripherally, by the whimsy of Louisiana. But certainly not his description of the regime’s response to opposition: 

When confronted with opposition, the regime mobilizes its sycophantic adherents and paid partisans to discredit, isolate, and eventually drive out any people with an ability or opportunity to address the real issues and consequences of the regime’s behavior. The technique, developed with great political skill, involves three fronts.

The first is the effort to co-opt anyone with an independent perspective. These individuals receive coveted appointments to government boards, association with the regime’s powerful people, and assurances that the regime will protect their business and personal interests. This works quite effectively with some people, although others choose not to participate, and normally responsible individuals become dependents of the regime, bound to provide whatever support the regime requires.

When this strategy fails, as it often does with independent agency officials of some visibility, the regime turns to a form of more direct engagement. In this second mode, representatives of the regime explain to the official that the better tactic for success during these years would involve a collaborative arrangement with the regime. That collaboration would provide support and regime protection for the official, permitting continued leadership of the agency. But to achieve this protection and collaboration, and to ensure that the agreement to work together is of substance, the regime requires a test of loyalty. This loyalty test requires the official to dispose of close associates whose work the regime dislikes. Absent those associates, the regime’s messengers promise but do not guarantee the official a secure role as a significant leader under the regime’s protection.

This message of threat disguised as offer is usually delivered by reputable business leaders associated with the regime who also maintain a relationship with the non-conforming official. Should the official appear at all reluctant, the regime then reinforces the message by mobilizing their most trusted direct political operatives to echo the message.

When this second more direct approach fails, the regime moves to the third stage and mobilizes its dependents, especially those connected in one way or another to the non-conforming official, and identifies a method to remove the dangerous behavior of regime independence. This involves a conspiracy to exile the offending official, preferably to another nation. Recognizing the transparency of this maneuver, the regime activates its media experts and develops a slanderous rationale for the forced exile. A few courageous people object, but others fall silent, for the price of failing to cooperate with the regime is now clearly revealed.

Wow – so imaginative! A little fiction writing is always a good way to distract from the trials and tribulations here in Louisiana.

Jindal Again Mocked After Speech To Out-Of-State Republicans

We all remember the awful beating Jindal took after his national debut. During his response to President Obama in 2009, Jindal was mercilessly mocked both on the content of the speech, and his bizarre presentation.

Unfortunately for Bobby, his national aspirations were slapped back again last night:

La. Gov. Jindal finds New York crowd big, but not easy

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, sometimes mentioned as a candidate for vice president, didn’t exactly wow the 700 or so gathered for the annual New York Republican dinner at the midtown Sheraton.

His keynote speech started out well enough, many Republicans said, but droned on far too long. He told a stale joke (My father walked to school. Uphill. Both ways.) then went deep into the weeds of the Bayou State’s financials — focusing at one point on “UAL” debt.

He received mild, occasional applause but, all the time, the volume of conversation at the 100 or so tables rose noticeably as attention waned.   

And, after a dinner break and Jindal’s departure, the next two speakers made pointed references. “I’m going to speak a little shorter than the prior speaker,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said — generating applause.

“My father gave me some great advice, too,” Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), said referring to a part of Jindal’s speech. “Be brief and be gone.”

Jindal’s team placed copies of his book, “Leadership and Crisis,” on the chairs throughout the Sheraton ballroom. Afterward, some New York Republicans joked about trying to give their copy away.

He might be Babe Ruth in Louisiana’s minor league, but he can’t hit a lick in the majors.

Naming Names, Senate Edition

(Reposted and updated to reflect the Senate’s shameful vote.)

Bobby Jindal’s school vouchers bill passed the Louisiana State Senate easily - see the roll call vote to know how your legislator voted.

This bill is the opposite of progress - yet 6 Senate “Democrats” voted in favor. We don’t know what motivated them, but we can guess.

Politics. Money. Re-election. Selfishness. Fear. General spinelessness. Any other guesses?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t their conscience. No one with a good conscience can vote for a bill that robs money from the public education system in Louisiana – that gives taxpayer-funded handouts to the rich and makes inflated promises of hope to the poor. This vote is inexcusable.

Without further adieu, let’s see the roll call of Democrats who gave Bobby Jindal a sweeping victory (and dealt a major blow to our public schools) on his landmark education reform legislation.

BOBBY JINDAL DEMOCRATS

Troy Brown of Napoleonville

Elbert L. Guillory of Opelousas

David R. Heitmeier of New Orleans

Jean-Paul J. Morrell of New Orleans

Gary Smith of Norco

Greg Tarver of Shreveport

DuBos: Pro-Segregation Bill is Wrong for Louisiana

Clancy DuBos said it best on WWL today:

This reminds me of a time when state law also did not protect black people. State lawmakers back then tried the same thing that Senator Crowe is trying now — to use discriminatory state laws as an excuse for violating federal laws.It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.


Progressive Louisiana Republican?

I never thought I would write the words in the title consecutively. But one Republican legislator is showing that he’s not your cookie-cutter conservative nor is he a pawn of the Jindal machine (like almost all Republicans and many Democrats in Baton Rouge today).

Ladies and Gentlemen…meet Joe Harrison:

Joe, as we will appropriately call him, has been a leading voice of common sense and reason against Jindal’s attack on public education. As the article on NOLA.com called to our attention this morning, Joe has offered The Harrison Plan for education reform – a stark contrast to the Jindal plan and the the only tangible alternative offered thus far (that we know of). Ok, Democrats, pay attention.

Joe’s plan has 6 parts across 7 bills:

  1. Team teaching for K-4 – While it may be impractical to require that the same teachers follow a group of students for 5 years straight, his heart is in the right place as far as fostering a system in which teachers develop close relationships with kids. And I like the idea of partnering teachers with differentbackgrounds or areas of expertise. It is good to see a proposal that puts the focus back in the (public school) classroom.
  2. Mandated parental involvement – While this won’t always work, I think the idea is a good one. I’m not sure you can make a parent care if he or she doesn’t already, but it is important to find ways to get public school parents more actively involved. Overall, I doubt a bill like this would ever pass.
  3. Integrated school-based healthcare – The cycle of poverty is a big cause of poor performance in schools across Louisiana. Many children need a combination of health and social services, as the problems they face in these areas are directly related to how prepared they are to learn at school. So, it only makes sense that these services are offered on campus.
  4. Integrated school-based social services – See above. It also makes sense to package these services because of the potential cost efficiencies for the taxpayers.
  5. Requirement that school districts spend at least 80% of MFP on classroom instruction – As Joe says, “It’s as simple as ABC and 1,2,3.” Far too much is spent at the district level on administrative costs. This bill would force local school boards to put the money where it can best help students.
  6. Mandatory inclusion of the “founding principles” in high school history courses – This is a nonstarter. For starters, the term “founding principles” can mean different things to different people. I’m not sure what the thought was here, but I do agree that we need to beef up civics education.

Regardless of the details (or as some of our legislators would say, “irregardless”), the focus of the Harrison Plan is on improving public schools in practical ways. This is what education reform should be about — not about giving taxpayer dollars away to the private sector. Kudos to Joe for his courage and leadership! We need more folks like him in Baton Rouge.

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