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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.

Must Read On Education Reform In Louisiana

A national magazine takes a close look at the bizarre coincidence that some of America’s richest people, while not entranced enough to LIVE in Louisiana, are sufficiently interested in our education system to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to local education campaigns and political action committees.

It appears that the nation’s one-percenters are obsessed with poor Louisiana’s “experimental” education system. Like any good patricians, they sprinkle some (to them) insignificant amounts of cash toward this grand experiment that is our children’s future:

Last fall, a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815.

It turns out that two practical considerations drive this spending:

  1. Louisiana is a “cheap” state to play in. Politics might seem expensive here to the regular joe, but compared to TV ad rates in places like Florida or California, Louisiana is basically the low rent district. Furthermore, the counter-veiling forces, including teachers’ unions and advocacy groups, are basically not equipped to respond. They are broke and largely broken in the public opinion.
  2. Bobby Jindal has declared full-scale, no-holds-barred war on education and is unconstrained in his zeal to attempt total transformation. In other words, there are zero political obstacles in Louisiana for his agenda. Therefore, he can adopt as extreme agenda as possible, which only bolsters his standing in his ever-lasting run for another, higher office.

Read the whole article here.

A way of driving voters away?

Today I got a new driver’s license to reflect my weekend move from Baton Rouge to Lafayette. I did so as fast as I could to make the deadline for voting in the November elections. The deadline is 30 days prior to the Nov. 6 election — so if you aren’t sure about your current registration status, check it this week!

According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, voters are required to present identification such as driver’s license, Special ID or “some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.” Voters who don’t possess any of the above can bring “a utility bill, payroll check or government document that includes their name and address.” Voters with such documents “will have to sign an affidavit furnished by the Elections Division in order to vote.” As far as voting requirements go, this seems fair; it balances the integrity of the polls with accessibility for citizens.

I’ve spent 10 of my 14 voting years in Louisiana, and have never had a problem either voting or registering to do so. I voted in my first election before I had a driver’s license, using my college ID. A year later, I changed my address three weeks before an election, but still was able to vote at my previous precinct. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing everywhere I’ve lived.

Knock on wood.

One of the big political stories of 2012 has been the push toward more stringent voter laws nationwide. Though Louisiana hasn’t been among the major players in this push, the state shares the conservative makeup that most of the states involved have in common. Mandatory picture ID for voters could absolutely happen here in the near future.

Critics — I’m raising my hand here — contend that photo-ID laws are less about curbing voter fraud than about curbing voters, period. In a sense, it’s a genius political calculation by Republicans, who would benefit from the reduced influx of poor, minority, college and elderly voters for whom narrow ID standards can be an obstacle, and can disguise that de facto purge as upholding poll integrity. And who could possibly be against voter integrity?

Well, my trip to the DMV reminded me exactly why I’m against voter integrity — at least as the ID proponents define it.

In Lafayette, the DMV office is located at the very north edge of town near Carencro, on a frontage road off I-49. It’s the only one in the entire city, and people often confuse it with a police station on another frontage road (which, for a long time after the new DMV opened, had a stack of fliers pointing visitors to the correct location). The DMV’s isolated location is accessible almost exclusively by car, adjacent only to a Mexican restaurant whose core business is probably weary licensees. For those relying on the bus, their own two feet or a walker, it might as well be Emerald City. Even if you do get there, you’d better have the right papers and cash, just in case. Some don’t. Some never have.

As long as ID offices are less ubiquitous than polling stations, stringent ID laws are going to disenfranchise some (or many) legit voters — citizens whose only crime is lack of access to offices and/or proper documentation. For those making the push, this outcome is exactly what they want.

Let’s make sure anyone wanting to bring Louisiana into this poisonous movement has an equally tough road ahead.

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.

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