1. STATE OFFICIALS TOUT MEDICAID EXPANSION
One day after President-elect Donald Trump held a New York news conference in which he repeatedly vowed to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a group of Louisiana leaders gathered at University Medical Center in New Orleans to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Gov. John Bel Edwards' executive order expanding Medicaid. That expansion, which took effect last July, has resulted in more than 378,000 newly insured Louisianans, according to figures provided by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), whose director, Dr. Rebekah Gee, also spoke at the press conference.
"Behind each of these numbers is a real live person," Edwards said.
Refusing the Medicaid expansion was a cornerstone of former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, while Edwards had made it a campaign plank. Edwards called signing Medicaid expansion "the easiest big decision I will ever make as governor."
Orleans Parish has more than 48,000 people who have become insured via the Medicaid expansion. "What's confusing about everything," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told Gambit after the press conference, "is that they say 'Repeal, repeal, repeal.' I don't want to get in an argument with them about semantics, but if all we're doing is fixing the problems we all admit the Affordable Care Act has, with insurance premiums being raised for a slice of Americans, then that's an entirely separate issue. The challenge is gonna be what they're actually gonna do." — Kevin Allman
2. Quote of the week
"My name is John Kennedy. That's really my name." — Newly minted U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-Louisiana, making his first high-profile public debut at the Senate hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's proposed attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. Kennedy worked in one of his familiar campaign tropes ("In Louisiana, Senator, we believe that love is the answer — but we also believe we have the right under the Constitution to carry a gun, just in case"), before concluding that Sessions had his support.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, head of the Congressional Black Caucus and the only Democrat in the Louisiana delegation, was less fulsome: "Each and every senator who casts a vote to confirm Senator Sessions will be permanently marked as a co-conspirator in an effort to move this country backwards towards a darker period in our shared history." Richmond, along with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Georgia Rep. John Lewis and others, said Sessions' record on civil rights was disturbing.
3. Causeway tolls
to jump in May
Get ready to pay more when you head back from the Northshore. That toll hike the Causeway Commission approved last August begins in May, which means it will cost $5 to cross the bridge ($3 with a toll tag). Causeway officials want to pass a state bond issue that would raise guardrails and install shoulders on the shoulderless bridge, calling it a matter of safety. (Currently there are seven crossover points on the twin spans of the 24-mile bridge.) Parish councils in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes have approved the plan.
4. Jindal gets back into Obamacare debate
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who made fierce criticism of the Affordable Care Act a cornerstone of his aborted run for president, wrote an op-ed last week for Politico.com titled, "How to Drain the Health Care Swamp."
"We must repeal all of the new Obamacare spending and taxes," Jindal wrote, "and consider that our baseline against which we measure any repeal plan."
During his tenure as governor, Jindal famously opposed accepting expanded Medicaid funding in Louisiana, writing in 2014, "Obamacare's Medicaid expansion doesn't just discourage work; it also prioritizes coverage for able-bodied adults over the needs of persons with disabilities. ... Expanding eligibility to working adults will only crowd out resources that should be invested in caring for our most vulnerable." (The website for Jindal's think tank, America Next, doesn't seem to have been updated since 2015, but his proposed Obamacare replacement, "The Freedom and Empowerment Plan," which America Next released in April 2014, is still on there.) After Gov. John Bel Edwards came into office, he accepted the Medicaid funds, and more than 378,000 Louisianans have become insured since last July, according to the state Department of Health & Hospitals — including nearly 50,000 people in Orleans Parish.
5. Wrestlemania roars
back to town
One of the biggest sporting events in the world, Wrestlemania, will return to the Superdome April 8, 2018, it was announced last week at an event that teamed local and state politicos, tourism officials and WWE championship wrestlers. 2018 also is the city's tricentennial, and Wrestlemania will add yet another huge tourism event to a month that will see both the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
Wrestlemania — which encompasses a week of events in its host city — last was here in 2014, generating what tourism officials said was more than $140 million.
"Anybody telling you the Superdome is too old, lacking this, lacking that," Superdome General Manager Alan Freeman told the crowd at the announcement, "you can put that kind of talk out to pasture. You can disregard that."
6. SilenceIsViolence —
10 years later
Ten years after hundreds of New Orleanians rallied outside City Hall following a violent 2006, a small crowd gathered outside City Hall to memorialize the more than 2,000 people killed in the city since 2007. SilenceIsViolence commemorated the 10th anniversary of the organization Jan. 11 with families and friends of victims — along with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman — by reading the names of all of them. There were 162 murders in New Orleans in 2006, and 175 in 2016.
A January report from the Violence Policy Center, using data from 2015, found Louisiana to have the second-highest rate of gun death in the U.S, with more than 20 deaths per 100,000 people. The report found that states with weaker gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates. The total number of Americans killed by guns increased to 36,252 in 2015 from 33,599 in 2014. The rate of suicides by gun also went up 2.4 percent in 2015.
7. RTA seeks public input
on long-range transit plans
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) hosts public meetings this week to get input from riders and the public about its long-term transit plans. The RTA's "strategic mobility plan" will include five-, 10- and 20-year objectives for the region's transit services. There's a meeting at its headquarters (2817 Canal St.) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, and a meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Kenner Pavilion at Kenner City Park (3800 Loyola Drive, Kenner). The planning process is expected to wrap at the end of 2017. Find more information at www.norta.com/strategicplan.
8. Big festival announcements coming soon
The French Quarter Festival will hold a public event in Jackson Square Jan. 24 to announce the lineup for this year's fest, which takes place April 6-9.
That means it's just about time for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to announce its 2017 lineup, which traditionally happens in mid- to late-January. The biggest rumor (or piece of wishful thinking) is that Paul McCartney may make his Jazz Fest debut; McCartney has an album release in March and will kick off his worldwide "One on One" tour in Japan April 27-30. (The dates for this year's Jazz Fest are April 28-30 and May 4-7.) Others being mentioned as Jazz Fest possibilities: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder and Dave Matthews.
9. Maher and more
Bill Maher, comedian and host of HBO's weekly political talk show Real Time With Bill Maher, will perform March 18 at the Saenger Theatre. Maher — whose controversial show and its predecessor, Politically Incorrect, skewered the right, religion and the media — has performed stand-up since the late 1970s and released more than a dozen hourlong specials, including 2014's Emmy-nominated 2014's Live From D.C. In 2016, Maher livestreamed #WhinyLittleBitch, a set dedicated to Donald Trump. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 20.
10. Hochschild at
UNO Jan. 18
Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist who has spent five years in Lake Charles trying to understand the concerns of red state voters, will speak at the University of New Orleans Jan. 18. Hochschild's recent book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, was a National Book Award finalist in 2016 and adds to a growing volume of scholarship about the "Great Paradox," or how some conservative voters embrace politicians and policies that seem to oppose their own interests. Hochschild will appear in the Innsbruck Room at UNO's University Center at 1 p.m.; it's free to attend.