Author Archives: michaelstevens11

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.

Romney-Jindal 2012?

There is much speculation over Mitt Romney’s selection of a running mate. An aide to his campaign says he may announce as early as this week.

Yesterday, Jindal joined Romney in downtown Baton Rouge for a $50,000/plate lunch and fundraiser that raised upwards of $2 million for the campaign, stoking the rumors that Jindal could get the VP nod. While the two governors railed against Obama at the City Club, state Democratic chairwoman and state senator Karen Carter Peterson (New Orleans) was just a short distance away speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club where she accused the governor of putting politics above governing and attacked both Senator Vitter and Rep. Scalise in the process:

[Jindal] says he has the job he wants. He needs to act like it. …[and] Has there ever been a time in Louisiana history when a U.S. senator from our state has allowed such harm to be inflicted on our state when he or she had the power to prevent it?

Peterson has shown more leadership and passion since taking over as Party chair in May than any party chair in recent memory. She appeared on LPB’s Louisiana: The State We’re In to defend the Affordable Care Act and vigorously debated the talking points offered up by Rep. Bill Cassidy – full video here.

But what of the speculation around Jindal as VP? Is his “stock rising,” as some suggest? Or has his mismanagement of key aspects of state government mean he’ll have to wait until his 2016 presidential run?

Katrina Rogers make some solid points over at PolicyMic:

Before being elected governor, the majority of Jindal’s work experience came from the fields of education and healthcare; ironically, two areas that are facing tremendous hardships under his leadership. Since taking office, over 40% of money alloted for Louisiana’s higher education entitieshas been slashed. Over $600 million has been stripped from the state’s colleges and universities.

In addition, Governor Jindal has implemented a school voucher program that deregulates the K – 12 educational system in Louisiana. Jindal’s plan requires little to no accountability. Schools with no universal curriculum — some teaching students from DVDs, some side-stepping over proven science and history — will receive taxpayer money to poorly education Louisiana’s children. Several lawsuits were filed against Jindal by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. In addition, an effort entitled “Recall Bobby Jindal” has been launched to remove the Governor and some of his legislative allies.

Since the Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act constitutional, Governor Jindal has announced that he will not implement the law, despite the fact that Louisiana suffers from a serious deficit. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked if he was going to simply not provide coverage to Louisianas who need insurance, Jindal responded with, “every governor’s got two critical decisions to make. One is do we set up these exchanges? And, secondly, do we expand Medicaid? And no, in Louisiana, we’re not doing either one of those things. I don’t think it makes sense to do those. I think it makes more sense to do everything we can to elect Mitt Romney to repeal Obamacare.”

Jindal’s refusal to accept ACA funds seems to not be deterred by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ recent announcement that the department must face funding cuts that will have a financial impact on the state of almost $860 million. These cuts will overwhelmingly affect the uninsured and under-insured. Those suffering significant consequences are Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents: the elderly, disabled and those with developmental disabilities. The Louisiana State University hospital system will lose $122 million in the 2013 fiscal year, combined cuts to the system will total a 24% reduction in budget.

Last year, Jindal was re-elected with virtually no opposition. Conventional wisdom suggests that was more of an indicator of the state of the Louisiana Democratic Party than Jindal’s actual job performance. Jindal would solidify Romney’s efforts to court extreme conservatives, and he may also play to the idea that the GOP is becoming an inclusive party that welcomes various races and ethnicities. He would absolutely be the much-needed link between the Romney campaign and Evangelical votes, as Jindal has a long history of pandering to this constituency that may, otherwise, find discomfort in Romney’s Mormon faith.

Mitt Romney has said that he will run America like a corporation. Considering Bobby Jindal’s background is in education and healthcare, two systems headed for disaster under his watch, maybe Louisiana’s governor doesn’t have the work product to prove that he’s ready for the job.

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.

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