Diary

CAJUN COUNTRY REBELLION

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has been quite the republican media darling here lately, and also hailed as the “future of the Republican Party”. He has made numerous appearances on national news programs, has been mentioned in print nation wide, and also was invited to a private Memorial Day barbeque at Sen. John McCain’s ranch in Arizona. He was also said to be on Sen. McCain’s short list for vice president, before he removed himself from consideration. He ran his campaign for governor on the usual republican mantra of “less taxes, less government”, “ethics reform”, “putting a stop to wasteful spending”, “slashing the state budget” and “enacting a hiring freeze on state government”. He won the election by a comfortable margin, but it was by no means a mandate. His only serious competition, Democrat Walter Boasso, was a real piece of work. Fairly typical of what most people imagine a Louisiana politician to be. He appeared in all of his campaign ads with a life sized cardboard cut out of Gov. Jindal, and his main theme seemed to be harping on Gov. Jindal (He was secretary of Health & Hospitals at the time.) being so terrible for turning down someone for state medical aid because they didn’t qualify. Mr. Boasso even resurrected the long ago laid to rest tactic of claiming that Gov. Jindal would be so mean and cruel as to “kick all of the widows, orphans and old folks out in the street.”

I supported Bobby Jindal, and made the case for his election every chance I got. The 1st special legislative session on ethics reform immediately following his inauguration, got off to a good start, and it was amusing to see some of the “good ol’ boys” whining and complaining. Gov. Jindal stepped up and ran the table. He got pretty much everything he asked for. Naturally, those who were opposed to ethics reform tried to gut it, but Gov. Jindal vetoed a measure that would have done so. I am all for the measures that were passed, but I feel the standards of proof should be easier to meet and the enforcement should be stronger. Never give a Louisiana politician any wiggle room! Never the less Gov. Jindal has touted the new ethics reforms as the “gold standard” for the entire nation. His words, not ours. During the 2nd special session on taxation and revenue it seemed like they were finding money all over down there. They were crowing about all the surplus money and wanting go on a spending spree. This set the stage for a public outcry for a tax break. There were bogus claims that surplus money, by law, had to be spent before June 30th, the end of the fiscal year, and could not be given back to the people as a tax rebate. There were also a few of them arguing that taxes could not be reduced or repealed during a special session. When some of these clowns were asked to give an explanation as to why that was so, it became very obvious that they were giving us the run-around. Actually, it was total ignorance combined with some Bourbon Street flim flam. Some careful research of the Louisiana Constitution (Article III Section 2) will reveal that all that is needed to reduce or eliminate taxes, is a simple majority vote in both houses and the Governor’s signature during a regular session. Special legislative sessions, by design, are more limited in scope. This made for even more laughs, considering the 2nd special session ended just a couple of weeks before the regular session was to begin. Rep. Hunter Greene (R), Dis. 66 was on a telephone interview on the Moon Griffon radio show explaining all of this when Mr. Griffon’s guest, C. B. Forgotston, ambushed him with the article and section in the state constitution that proved him wrong. Rep. Green was then reduced to a babbling idiot and went so far as to blow into the phone and act like he had a bad connection! I believe it to be downright shameful to be a member of the state legislature and not have a thorough knowledge of what is in the state constitution, especially considering the fact that most of them have law degrees and have practiced law. And, unfortunately, Rep. Greene has plenty of company. I believe it to be even more shameful to be a republican and be so against any sort of tax relief.

Oil and Gas revenues were based on $78 barrel oil, so when the price shot up to the $140 mark that meant even more unexpected revenues. The Haynesville shale deposits are looking very promising and there was an estimate of at least another 66 million in natural gas royalties. Then there is the hurricane relief money. I cringed when I first heard of the plan to send that much money to the State and the banana republic known as New Orleans, the “chocolate city” as Mayor Ray Nagin called it. It is like giving a platinum credit card with no limit to a teenager. There was even a fellow who paid for his sex change operation with some of the federal money. Then they were pulling money out of their secret stashes known as “emergency hurricane relief”, “oil spill contingency”, “economic development”, and other slush funds. Then there are the gambling revenues. So, with the state coffers awash in cash, and the cost of living steadily increasing and wages stagnant you would think that a republican governor and speaker of the house would be clamoring for an across the board tax cut and possibly a stimulus payment, especially considering that Louisiana has the highest personal and business taxes in the south. Unfortunately, we were to be sorely disappointed. The “fiscal conservative” candidates suddenly morphed into the very thing they campaigned against.

It was shocking to see the number of republicans who supported spending and expanding the state government and was also opposed to giving us a tax break. They seemed genuinely offended by the very thought of returning any money at all to the people. They have shown that they like the liberals they rail against on the campaign trail, that they believe all the money in the State Treasury is theirs, and not the people’s. There was also a deafening silence from Gov. Jindal on this matter. Sen. Buddy Shaw, (R) Shreveport, introduced SB87 which would reduce personal income tax rates to what they were prior to passage of the so-called Stelly bill of 2002. That was when sales taxes on groceries and utilities were repealed and personal income taxes were raised. The original Stelly Tax Swap, as it was called, was supposed to be “revenue neutral”, meaning it would neither raise nor lower state revenues. Actually, it raised them substantially. SB87 was a direct result of a small and rapidly growing grassroots effort to get some tax relief. Everyone was receiving their economic stimulus checks from the federal government and then began to wonder, with all the surplus money they are bragging about in Baton Rouge, why not give us some of our money back? Moon Griffon’s radio show was the catalyst and forum that ignited the effort to bring this about. Mr. C. B. Forgotston was sort of the architect of this effort. It was through his efforts on Mr. Griffon’s show and his own website that he was able to educate the voters as to what could be done to bring about the tax relief that is so desperately needed in this state.

Meanwhile, the groundswell grew! The calls, emails, and letters began to pour in to the members of the legislature. It was all too obvious to that this issue was not going to go away and they began to act like a heard of cattle that had been spooked by something in the night. They were giving all sorts of lame excuses for not supporting SB87 and the most shameful opposition came from republicans. It is to be expected that liberals and democrats will oppose any tax relief, but one of the fundamentals of conservatism is fiscal responsibility and low taxes. The Republican Party has traditionally been the means by which these principals were implemented, but the trend lately is “move to the center”, “reach across the aisle”, and other such drivel.

SB87 was almost killed by an amendment to eliminate all state income taxes, but it failed. Jim “Big Government” Tucker (R), Dist. 86, who was dead set against SB87 from the get-go, proposed an amendment to set the effective date for January 2009. “Big Government” Tucker’s amendment also included a provision that won’t allow the state income tax tables to be changed until at least July of 2009, which means that we won’t see one cent of tax relief until we file our ’09 state tax returns in 2010. After passage of the original Stelly bill in November of 2002, the State Dept. of Revenue & Taxation was ordered to change the tables to reflect the increases as quickly as possible. This was done well before January 1st 2003. Sen. Shaw originally wanted the tax break to go into effect and the tax tables changed July 1st 2008, the beginning of the current fiscal year so as to get relief to the people as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the phones rang so much, that the switchboard for the legislators was jammed with calls in favor of SB87. They were also receiving a tremendous amount of emails and regular mail. Gov. Jindal’s office was also swamped with calls, letters, and emails, but he refused to show any sort of leadership on this measure. We heard nothing at all out of him until he gave a press conference about how wonderful it was and how it is one of the largest tax breaks in Louisiana’s history. Actually, it is one of the only tax breaks in Louisiana’s history. And, come to find out, we may not even see a penny of relief until we file our state returns in 2010. And even then it really won’t be that much. Gov. Jindal is making his rounds doing “town-hall” meetings and grossly misrepresenting the facts and misleading the people on this matter.

There have been many calls to accountants, tax attorneys, and the Sate Dept. of Taxation & Revenue, and no one, not even the State seems to know how to go about receiving their tax break beginning Jan. 1st 2009. Inquiries to legislators have yielded nothing either. When “Big Government” Tucker’s office began to receive calls and messages asking about how to do it and what forms were needed, he just sent them a standard L4 form (similar to a W2 form) and told them to “fudge” the number of dependants to get the minimum amount withheld. There is supposed to be a calculator on the Dept. of Revenue website, but as of right now it’s not there yet. And this self centered jerk is supposed to be a conservative republican and is also Speaker of the House?

Then, the real battle started when Sen. Ann Duplessis (D) Dist. 2 introduced SB672, the notorious 300% pay raise that was to go into effect this past July 1st. This was an example of just how arrogant, selfish, and downright hateful government can be. Here we were, the people of the state, desperately struggling to make ends meet and dealing with astronomically high fuel, grocery, and energy costs, very little or no hope at all for pay raises or “cost of living adjustments”, and these clowns wanted a 300% pay raise? And then went nuts when we asked for a modest tax break. SB672 sailed through the Senate with no objection, and went to the House, where “Big Government” Tucker was salivating over the opportunity to add $100,000+ to his salary as Speaker of the House. But the people were still plenty miffed over the Stelly Tax break (SB87) situation. I thought Moon Griffon would have a nervous breakdown right there on the air! He and Mr. Forgotston were leading the charge against it, and there were several hundred emails a day against SB672 being received at the studio where he does his show. It also seemed like every call he received was someone very angry over SB672. Once SB672 got to the House, enough pressure had been applied that an amendment scaling it back to about 200% was approved, much to the chagrin of “Big Government” Tucker. This sent it back to the Senate. By then the pressure had increased exponentially. The two lone dissenters were my senator, Sen. Gerald Long (R) Dist. 31 and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R) Dist. 16. They were the only ones who objected to SB672 on the Senate floor. It went back to the House where it was rammed through as quickly as possible. I was very thankful to see Rep. Billy R. Chandler (D) Dist. 22 (My home district) and Sen. Joe McPherson (D) Dist. 29 come out against it. There were also a fair number of other democrats who were against SB672 as well. It was also nice that for once this was more about what was right and wrong instead of partisan fight fractured along party lines. There was also some political damage control as well, which took the form of a call given for each member of either house to sign an affidavit to opt out of the pay raise. Some opposing members opted to give their pay raise to various charities. Things reached a super heated climax when it was sent to Gov. Jindal for his signature.

One of Gov. Jindal’s campaign pledges was to veto any excessive pay raises for the legislature and any other state officials. Now he had a bill for an obscene pay raise for the legislature on his desk. Instead of following through on his pledge, he gave an excuse about “not wanting to meddle in the legislature’s business”; He felt that “in order to get them to pass the rest of his reforms he should let them have the pay raise”. There was also plenty of speculation that he struck a secret deal to allow the pay raise in return for passage of his school voucher program in the New Orleans area. This just fanned the flames of everyone’s anger. Gov. Jindal up until that point had approval ratings in the 70-80% range. But his numbers began to slip badly. He planned on letting the bill become law without his signature, because he “didn’t agree with it and thought it was excessive, but felt that he should keep his promise to them.” But everyone in the state was demanding to know; what about the promise he made to the people during his campaign? We all wanted to know what he was afraid of and we were screaming loudly to not worry about the Legislature that we were behind him and would back him up all the way.

The pressure on Gov. Jindal was enormous. His office was being flooded with calls, emails, and letters daily. Some were wondering if he was being kept from all of this by handlers grooming him for the VP slot on the McCain ticket. Others were wondering if he was just flat out ignoring the will of the people. There was the belief that he didn’t really have the maturity for the job and the courage to put an unruly legislature in its place. And worst of all, there was the opinion that we had been conned by a smooth talker once again. Each time he made a public appearance he was peppered with questions about weather or not he would veto the pay raise, and he always said he was just not going to sign it.

Then the recall petitions began. There were five legislators who had recall petitions filed against them including Speaker of the House Jim “Big Government” Tucker (R) Dist. 86. Their arrogance and disdain for the people of this state was fully on display as they laughed and sneered at them. The Louisiana constitution purposefully makes it difficult to conduct a recall. In this case, however, it was no problem to get the signatures and the organization, and to properly file all the needed documents to get them underway. The laughs and sneers abruptly ended when those affected by the recalls realized they were in serious trouble.

Finally, on Monday, June 30th, 2008, Gov. Jindal vetoed SB672 after learning that he too was the target of a recall. He said in a news conference shortly afterwards that he had made a mistake by allowing passage of SB672 and was acknowledging the will of the people by vetoing it. Shortly after that the recall petition against him was withdrawn.

This is a text book example of how the founding fathers intended for the American people to govern themselves. But it takes dedicated effort on the part of the people to do so. How many people these days are “too busy” or “don’t care” or think “they won’t listen or do anything anyway” and refuse to do anything at all? Fortunately the magic of the internet makes it much easier to do something. All one needs to do is call, email, or write their representative and senator, and the governor as well. This may seem like a very small and meaningless thing to do. But, when enough people do the same thing, then the switchboards can be jammed with calls and their voicemail will be constantly full. Enough email traffic makes it very difficult for their servers to work right, and they are pretty much under a “spam attack”! Just imagine if several thousand people each mailed you a letter, that would be a big hassle.

All of this can and does get their attention. We cannot expect good government, we have to demand it. We also have to let elected officials know what we are thinking, and hold them to their campaign pledges. If we don’t, then the “big money” lobbyists and special interests will, by wining and dining them at those outrageously expensive restaurants in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And that is just something they can do legally, there is no telling what all is done under the table. The special interests also know how to use “campaign donations” to influence them as well. But, that may possibly have come to an end now that Louisiana has “the gold standard” of ethics laws. But I wouldn’t bet on it. There have been several legislators say that they will listen to their constituents, whenever one of them bothers to contact them.

So as can be seen, the people really can change things when they get involved. After all, the lobbyists and special interests may have money, but we, the people, have the power of life and death over them. We can decide who stays and who goes. Those who listen to our concerns and act to take care of them will stay. Those who choose to ignore us and serve themselves and their “buddies” will be sent home. And maybe even before their term expires, if necessary.