News » I-10: News on the move


Bobby's Ethics Briefings
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been meeting with lawmakers over the past week to lay the groundwork for his upcoming three-week special session on ethics, which convenes Feb. 10. Lawmakers say Jindal provided them with a rough outline of his plans, but many specifics were still lacking. Nonetheless, most lawmakers we talked to said they are encouraged by Jindal's early plans, and most believe the time is ripe for reform. The real sticking point will be how far Jindal takes the reforms. Rep. Jerry Gisclair, a Democrat from Larose who represents portions of Jefferson Parish, says he hopes Jindal targets a few problem areas. "We already have some pretty strict ethics laws on the books," Gisclair says. "The problem is they're not being properly enforced. That's the area we need to focus on." Some lawmakers have groused about Jindal's focus on ethics, although the governor argues that reform will have a residual impact on all of the Louisiana's major issues. "I do want to get clarifications on his 31-point plan that he ran on last year because it was quite ambiguous in the way it was written," says Rep. Joe Harrison, a Napoleonville Democrat, prior to his meeting with Jindal. 'But, more importantly, I'm interested to hear what the governor has planned for education." After meeting with Jindal and other legislative leaders, Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat, predicted that the governor's largest hurdle would be financial disclosure for lawmakers. For now, Jindal proposes disclosing incomes within broad ranges but requiring more details about where their income originates. "I think most of us are in favor of that, but the big question is whether local officials will be included," Baldone says. Last year, lawmakers choked on a bill that covered local officials. Since then, many have argued that most corruption indictments target local officials, and therefore the law should apply there as well. — Alford


Nagin's MLK Disconnect
A nearly all-black crowd of several hundred people gathered outside City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the site of speeches commemorating the slain civil rights leader and the point of assembly for a parade in his honor. Mayor Ray Nagin's keynote address appeared to draw more attention from a small cluster of reporters, politicos and Civil Rights-era veterans than from the larger, mostly young crowd. In fact, the mayor's speech clashed with music from parade units assembled on nearby Perdido Street, a production miscue that would never have occurred under the administration of former Mayors Marc Morial or his father, the late Mayor Dutch Morial. Out on the plaza in front of City Hall, numerous spectators engaged in private conversations as the mayor spoke. Others politely listened, including two women who held a banner with an ominous message: "Expect more." Tommie Vassel, the mayor's appointee to the Sewerage & Water Board and a founding member of 100 Black Men, said later: "I don't think our young people fully connect with what this commemoration is about. They connect with the parade. When Dr. King marched, there were no bands." True, but there were also plenty of adults in the crowd last week who did not seem to connect with Nagin. "Our people are coming back, regardless of what some may say," Nagin told the crowd. He said the city's population has increased to 317,000 and predicted that 2008 will be the "tipping point" for the city's recovery. — Johnson


Judge Retires, Then Sues
After 17 years on the bench at Criminal District Court, newly retired Chief Judge Calvin Johnson apparently decided it was time to get back into court — so he filed a lawsuit. After hanging up his black robe Jan. 2, Johnson volunteered to help file a lawsuit against the state on behalf of seven uninsured patients seeking to force the reopening of Charity Hospital. Activist Brad Ott, who has helped organize numerous protests since the post-Katrina closing of Charity, says he was surprised by the sudden offer of legal assistance from a respected judge. "He's our lead counsel," Ott said proudly. Johnson, founder of Louisiana's first mental health court, will lead a pro bono legal team that includes local lawyers Bill Quigley and Tracie Washington, Stephen Rosenfield of Boston, Steve Bearman of Seattle and Leonard Aragon of Phoenix. — Johnson


Krewe Skewers Sen. Vitter
Krewe du Vieux, the first Carnival parade of the season, is now history, no doubt much to the relief of U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Mayor Ray Nagin, former Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan and other politicos also were targets of the satirical and often raunchy krewe. None, however, was hit harder than Vitter, the family-values senator who last year admitted to an unspecified sin with a prostitute. Krewe du Vieux, the only Carnival parade allowed in the French Quarter, presented the theme, "Magical Misery Tour," with many of the sub-krewes putting a satirical spin on the popular Beatles album of a similar name. Perhaps the most memorable float title was "Sen. Vitter's Lonely Whores Club Band." Members of the 'Krewe of Lewd" designed the float and passed out condoms poking fun at Vitter. Then, there was the song sheet distributed by Keith Twitchell, the Grand Poo-bah of Publicity for Krewe du Vieux: "It was 20 years ago today, David Vitter taught the whores to play." Vitter is expected to be lampooned by several other satirical krewes this Carnival season. — Johnson


Baton Rouge's Cattle Call
For the first time in more than two decades, Baton Rouge's congressional seat is up for grabs, and time is running short for those eyeing the job. Qualifying for the seat opens Jan. 29, followed by party primaries on March 8 and April 5, and a May 3 general election — the same timetable as the race to succeed Bobby Jindal in the First Congressional District. Whoever wins will have to defend the seat in the fall during the regularly scheduled election cycle. The field of candidates could be huge. Despite telling a Times-Picayune reporter earlier this month that he was staying out of the race, Republican Paul Sawyer, Richard Baker's former chief of staff, now says he plans to announce this week. Attorney Jason DeCuir, a Democrat, also says he is "very serious" about a possible run. Having just spent more than $400,000 on an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate, DeCuir says he is confident of his name recognition. He has retained Florida pollster and political consultant Jim Kitchens to "run some numbers," and he plans to meet with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. State Rep. Michael Jackson, another Democrat, says he is heading to the Beltway this week for the same reason. Speaking of name-recognition, new BESE member Chas Roemer, son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, is said to be weighing his options. A call to the younger Roemer was not returned by publication time. Laurinda L. Calongne, president of Robert Rose Consulting, formally announced last week. Other announced candidates include former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, a Republican; and state Rep. Don Cazayoux of New Roads, a Democrat. On the Democratic side, those still mulling the possibilities include Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer and former Louisiana Recovery Authority Director Andy Kopplin. Republican potential candidates include Baton Rouge Metro Councilman David Boneno and Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor. — Alford


How to Lose Voters
Louisiana has changed its election laws as applied to federal offices, trading its so-called open primary system for party-specific primaries. In several congressional districts, the change has taken on extra significance since a pair of GOP veterans — Congressmen Richard Baker of Baton Rouge and Jim McCrery of Shreveport — decided to step down. Meanwhile, the dean of the delegation, Congressman Bill Jefferson (D-New Orleans), faces federal corruption charges. The Louisiana Republican Party has decided to let only GOP faithful vote in its primary, but the Democrats will allow independent voters (those with no affiliation) to cast ballots in the donkey primary. Is it possible that the GOP's partisanship and quest for ideological purity will push 20 percent of each district's electorate, on average, to the Democratic side? :That could very well happen," says Albert L. Samuels, an associate professor of political science at Southern University in Baton Rouge. "I think they will be missing out on new voters, which isn't surprising. The party has a long history of dictating who should be their candidate. They are used to having the elites make that decision." — Alford


Pollster's Protégé Promoted
A protégé of retired University of New Orleans pollster Susan Howell has been promoted to chief operating officer of the nonprofit New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation. Heidi Unter, who earned her doctorate in political science from UNO, has worked for several years as research director for the Police Foundation, a position she once held with the UNO Society for Law and Justice. Under the guidance of professor Howell, Unter authored a dissertation examining the fear of crime in urban areas, using polling data from four major cities on race and racism, media exposure and police performance. "Dr. Unter brings the skills and experience we need to continue the growth of the Foundation," says Robert Stellingworth, executive director of the Police Foundation. The nonprofit advocacy group for the local criminal justice system has seven staffers post-Katrina and oversees millions of dollars in grants. — Johnson


'E-subpoena' Me
Look for computer kiosks to start appearing at Criminal District Court in March, says Heidi Unter, chief operating officer of the nonprofit New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation. The additions are part of a new electronic subpoena delivery system designed to dramatically reduce the number of hours cops will spend in court, Unter says. Currently, police officers can spend hours waiting to testify, only to have their testimony rescheduled for another date. Under the new paperless system, police will be notified by email of upcoming court appearances or by accessing the courthouse kiosks. "This is the first piece of upgrading the entire technology system for the criminal justice system," Unter says. "This will benefit every agency of the criminal justice system," not just NOPD. The new system also will help the District Attorney's office and public defenders better manage their cases and prioritize appearances by witnesses and victims, thereby reducing the number of hours civilians must spend in the courthouse, Unter says. Training for courthouse personnel and police who will use the new system is scheduled to begin after Mardi Gras. The system, which costs $200,000, was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. — Johnson

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