SPONSORED: Go Sharks!

Before Southside High School in Youngsville opened its doors this August, nearly 50 years had passed since a new high school was built in Lafayette Parish. Back then, the city of Youngsville was still a village — much different from the thriving community it is now with nearly 700 students enrolled in the city’s first public high school.

“The growth in Youngsville has been so rapid in the time I’ve been in office,” said Mayor Ken Ritter. “We’ve tried to shift the paradigm to be about quality and not quantity and the school will help define our community.”

That community has already been identifying with Southside. With sports beginning ahead of the first day of class and parents enthusiastic to be part of the school’s first class of students, the Southside spirit is strong with Sharks apparel on just about every corner! The school is considered marvelously modern, built around a new way of learning, driven by technology. The visuals alone differ from any other high school in the region. “We’re proud to have it in Youngsville,” Ritter said. “It was certainly needed and was a collective effort of a lot of people from the leadership of the school board and the superintendent who made it a priority.”

The mammoth project only took 14 months to complete with The Lemoine Company at the helm. “It’s a campus that everyone in the parish should be proud of,” Ritter said. “It’s very modern.” The look of the building and the disparity between it and other Lafayette Parish public schools has come under fire, by some. Something to which Ritter is aware. “There has been chatter that it’s too much money and some criticism there. But, I think that’s short sighted,” Ritter said. “It makes me wonder if the same argument was made 50 years ago when other schools were built. What was the issue at that time? They didn’t want to put in air conditioners?”

Ritter says the campus, equipped for a technology-driven learning experience from glass-walled classrooms and lockers with chargers that are more the size of a safety deposit box than the traditional size, is better prepared for the future. “Historically, we ask people why they move to Youngsville — the quality of schools has been a top reason. All our schools are A or B rated,” Ritter said. “Southside High will propel that forward.”

We wish every new student, parent, faculty and staff member a wonderful year at Southside High School.

Go Sharks!

POD: “So They Named Me Peppi”

He’s the one-time speaker pro tem, a master of the redistricting process, a former GOP House delegation chair and a current member of the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

New Orleans' own Peppi Bruneau fields any and all questions in this episode, reflects on his path through Bayou State politics and offers up some surprising thoughts on Bobby Jindal's so-called "Gold Standard."

Plus we eavesdrop on history by listening to President Lyndon B. Johnson and U.S. Sen. Allen Ellender make small talk on a forgotten phone call.

— iTunes here

— SoundCloud here

— Stitcher here

Political Birthdays & Other Dates Of Note

— Tuesday 08/15: Joe Mapes, Karen Carver Shachat, Megan Regina and Randy Angelle

— Wednesday 08/16: Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Dustin Miller, late Hadacol politico Dudley “Coozan Dud” LeBlanc (1894), GOP Chair Roger Villere, Jim Brandt, Frank Besson, Corey Meaux, Coach Raymond Blanco and Judge Tim Kelley

— Thursday 08/17: Danny Ford, Catherine Brindley and Stan Levy

— Friday 08/18: Chris Frink

— Saturday 08/19: Chairman Stuart Bishop, Sen. Jack Donahue, Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, former Rep. Richie Buford, Mary Matalin, Kelly Kane, Trina Edwards, Alejandra Juan, Nestor Navarro, Richard Perque and Gordon McKernan

— Sunday 08/20: Rep. Terry Brown, former Congressman John Cooksey, Chris Hester, Wilma Heaton and Jeff Crouere

— Monday 08/21: Terrebonne Parish Councilwoman Arlanda Williams, Rob Landry, Maris LeBlanc, Chelsea Bonnecaze, Nicholas Bouterie and Tanner Johnson

Anniversaries & Wedding Bells

Jay Suire and his wife Laurie toasted to 21 years last week.

Fred Mulhearn and his wife Roxanne celebrated 40 years together over the weekend.

Heath and Keli Williams are traveling to New York City this week for their 10th wedding anniversary.

ICYMI: Oil Spill Claims Process Nearing An End

After five years, nearly 400,000 claims and more than $9 billion in payment offers, BP’s massive settlement program may be coming to a close within the next five months.

“We will have decided all of our determinations by the end of this year,” Pat Juneau, the court-appointed administrator, told LaPolitics last week.

While the work related to the private claims will likely continue past December, due to appeals and other legal maneuvers, the work of Juneau, a Lafayette attorney, will be concluded by the time New Year’s Day rolls around.

The claims process was established in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill that killed 11 people and littered Gulf of Mexico beaches with balls of tar.

The closing of the curtain couldn’t come sooner for executives at BP, which is experiencing an earnings slip as costs associated with the oil spill continue to weigh on balance sheets, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

The numbers tell that particular story:

— One measure of profit suggests BP’s second quarter standing dipped to $684 million, compared to $720 million during the same quarter of 2016

— BP had to escrow $347 million in the second quarter for the claims process and other expenditures connected to the spill

— That makes for $63.2 billion expended on the disaster thus far and $39.8 billion in net debt for the company, which was higher than expected

"While net debt rose primarily due to Gulf of Mexico payments, we expect this will improve over the second half as these payments decline and divestment proceeds come in towards the end of the year," Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary told the AP.

***This story was originally published two weeks ago for subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you would have read it then? Subscribe today!

ICYMI: Trump Has Another Judge to Name 

After a lengthy and public controversy involving her severe alcoholism, U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi finally took her disability retirement recently.

That kicked open a door that was already slightly ajar for potential replacements, to be nominated by President Donald Trump.

As first reported by LaPolitics in the spring, state Rep. Stephen Dwight of Lake Charles is in the mix for the gig. A friend said the battery on Dwight’s cell phone died twice during an avalanche of calls when Minaldi stepped down.

There are other names being tossed around, though, like personal injury lawyer James Cain, the son for former state Sen. James David Cain. Then there’s District Judge Clayton Davis, who is said to be in the running as well.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is taking the lead on the appointment, sources say, and of course U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has a seat on the Judiciary Committee.

***This story was originally published two weeks ago for subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you would have read it then? Subscribe today!

The “So Basically…” News Update 

1.) CORRUPTION ALERT!

— What happened: “A. Wayne Lawson, a key witness in the attempted election bribery case against Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and a Gonzales business man, failed to turn over his tax returns Monday morning as required by a subpoena from Matassa's defense team.” (The Advocate’s David Mitchell)

— So basically… This political soap opera if far from being concluded. This tale, if ultimately proven true, shows just how cheap political corruption is running these days. The alleged bribe consisted of $1,200 for pickup truck repairs and a parish job.

2.) NUTRIA TAILS FOR SELL

— What happened: “State wildlife officials are recruiting more landowners, hunters and trappers in the battle against nutria, the destructive rodent that has damaged tens of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands.” (The Houma Courier’s Holly Duncan)

— So basically… If you need a side hustle, here you go. You can get $5 per tail.

3.) POLLING, SCHMOLLING

— What happened: “With a little more than eight weeks to go, polls are showing marginal differences between the major, if little known, candidates for state treasurer. The campaigns, however, see the same anemic numbers as proof their candidates are breaking away from the pack in the Oct. 14 election.” (The Advocate’s Mark Ballard)

— So basically… Polls paid for by campaigns would never be released if they reflected poorly on the associated candidates. Plus numbers just don’t mean a whole lot in this race right now. No one has completely run away with it and no one has completely fallen off. It’s going to be a hard-fought and quiet contest.

4.) NEVER GONNA HAPPEN

— What happened: “In the face of budget cuts and declining enrollment, some states are merging systems and campuses to balance the scales. That isn’t the answer for Louisiana, one expert says, but there’s a simple way to get campuses to collaborate more. Money.” (The Shreveport Times’ Leigh Guidry)

— So basically… We’re just going to have to accept that campuses are sacred cows in Louisiana. But the idea of making more universities work together and share courses could be a cost-savings idea worth pursing (again) ahead of the 2018 storm.

5.) FOSTER CARE WAKE-UP CALL

— What happened: “Problems within Louisiana's foster care program have been noted for

some time, but a new audit out shows that the Department of Children and Family Services' struggles with high caseloads and staff turnover, as well as the agency's failure to perform required background checks on foster care providers, has affected the ability to ensure the safety of children in foster care.” (The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp)

— So basically… The number of children in foster care in Louisiana are on the rise, but the department’s resources aren’t being expanded to handle the increase. Yet another reminder of how touchy next year’s sessions will be if more revenue isn’t created or if lawmakers fail to overhaul the budget and spending.

News clips provided by ON TRACK WITH MARUSAK online news clipping service. Day or night, receive breaking political and government news from across the state right in your email inbox. For more information about the exhaustive daily service, contact Jennifer Marusak at jmarusak@bellsouth.net.

Political Chatter

— Former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s new book, “Scopena: A Memoir of Home,” will be released by UL Press on Sept. 19. LEARN MORE

— District Attorney Ricky Babin (23rd JDC) has been elected as the new president of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. His first day is today.

— Congressman Cedric Richmond delivered the latest “Weekly Democratic Address.” AUDIO

— Over the next couple weeks Congressman Mike Johnson has town hall meetings slated for DeSoto, Bienville, St. Landry and Evangeline. Once those are completed he will have held similar meetings in every parish in the 4th District since taking office.

— Lobbyist Michael Willis’ Bad Joke of the Week: “Why did the tomato turn red? It saw the salad dressing!”

— U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and Congressman Garret Graves joined local business leaders and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for a roundtable meeting in Baton Rouge on Monday.

MARIST: In all 76 percent of Americans say the U.S. should either negotiate directly with North Korea (39 percent) or convince China to use their influence to stop North Korea’s nuclear programs (37 percent).

— Via FEMA… “One Year Later” press release… “Nearly $90 million in federal assistance to date has been awarded to schools in southern Louisiana.”

— New Orleans Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey has a fundraiser on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Martine Chaisson Gallery on Camp Street.

Bloomberg: “The uncertainty over federal tax reform and increasing costs of healthcare and Medicaid threaten to dampen states’ slow tax revenue growth for fiscal year 2018, according to preliminary findings from the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

Governing: “This July, Oregon became the first to offer a retirement plan to full- and part-time private-sector workers who don’t have access to one through their employer. Eight other states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington — are implementing similar plans that should reach full rollout within the next five years.”

— “Don (Briggs) is proud of being three things: an American, a Christian, and an oilman.” Those are the words of LOGA Chair Bryan Hanks. GET THE REST

— The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has won the “2017 Most Effective Education Award” from the Governmental Research Association for its campaign entitled “Louisiana Business Tax Policy: Research, Awareness, and Advocacy.”

— First Lady Donna Edwards has launched a new initiative to “connect foster parents with the support systems they need in their communities.” Take a closer look at LouisianaFosters.La.Gov

WAGS: “While the Legislature was solely and unfairly blamed by some for the fact this year’s session did not address the upcoming fiscal cliff, there are many lawmakers who deserve recognition for their efforts to defend jobs and free enterprise in 2017.” SCORECARD OVERVIEW 

— I wasn’t going to mention this, but… Marie Centanni let it slip already. Today marks our 8th anniversary of being Facebook friends! I know, right? A milestone. (If you consult Issue 46 of Tuesday Tracker, published on March 15, 2016, you’ll find an item about Centanni breaking her phone on the first day of the regular session and eerily predicting it was a “bad omen” for the remainder of this term. Just saying… She knows things…)

LaHISTORY: Louisiana’s First Senators

For the first four months after it entered statehood, Louisiana didn’t have any representation in the U.S. Senate in Washington. But that changed with the election of Jean Noel Destréhan and Allan B. Magruder.

Both men took office on Sept. 3, 1812. (That, of course, means we are less than three weeks away from the 205th anniversary of Louisiana sending representatives to the nation’s upper chamber.)

Destréhan had actually wanted to be the governor as Louisiana inched toward statehood. He even mounted a campaign against our first governor, C.C. Claiborne, but placed a distant third.

In an odd twist Destréhan served just one month in office before resigning his U.S. Senate seat. That in turn created the state’s first ever vacancy in the U.S. Senate, which lasted just seven days before a replacement was appointment.

There doesn’t seem to be much written about Destréhan’s decision to step down, but it’s a fairly simply matter to speculate that his failed bid for governor was a driving force.

After abandoning one of the highest offices in the United States, Destréhan voluntarily chose to become a member of the Louisiana Senate and served there for five years while preparing to once again run for governor. He made his second and final bid for the premier post in 1820 — and performed worse on the ballot than he did during his first run.

But his name lives on today. The city of Destrehan, as you may have guessed, was named in honor of his family.

Magruder’s paper trail is much thinner than his counterpart’s. Born in Kentucky, he was likewise a member of the state Legislature, in the House, and practiced law in Opelousas, where he eventually died.

Both men were members of the Democratic-Republican party, which was created by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Destréhan was actually close with the two American legends and received high-profile appointments from each.

Barras, Edwards Meeting Wednesday

Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling it Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff,” and it’ll be the prime topic of conversation Wednesday when he meets with House Speaker Taylor Barras.

The so-called cliff represents a dramatic drop, scheduled for next year, when temporary taxes collide with sluggish tax revenue for an anticipated $1.5 billion shortfall, although the administration anticipates it will be less.

Edwards wants that massive sum addressed by the time the next fiscal year begins on July 1, 2018, but Republicans in the House, under Barras’ leadership, have been unwilling to embrace the governor’s tax and budget plans for the past 19 and a half months.

The governor is in the midst of a major push to reverse that tide and his meeting with Barras, confirmed by LaPolitics, is the second significant step taken thus far.

Last week Edwards met with roughly 20 business leaders from throughout the state, none of which were the heads of the traditional lobbies for business and industry. Instead, Edwards kicked off an outreach campaign that is making appeals directly to business owners and company executives.

Other meetings around Louisiana are already on the books or are being organized as well.

Compromise Caucus A Grand Experiment

Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research is fond of saying, “If you’re in the middle in Louisiana politics then you’re roadkill.”

Things do tend to die if they piddle around too much in the middle of Louisiana’s highways, both conventionally and politically paved. It's just too easy to become a target if you’re in the middle of the road. Plain and simple.

But there’s a quiet and likely small movement afoot in the state Legislature that dispenses with such notions. The thinking of those involved is that the middle of the road is the only place to be, particularly in the GOP-dominated House.

When this term of the Louisiana Legislature comes to an end, one its lasting legacies will be the bitter battles that pitted Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Senate against the conservative House.

It has only been a year and a half already we’ve seen the Senate president brought to tears, a regular session adjourned without a statewide construction plan, another concluded without an actual budget and headlines that screamed — SCREAMED! — drama of all sorts.

So, yeah. Anywhere on the political spectrum would be better than where our state government is parked right now. Whether the proverbial middle is that prime locale will be a grand experiment worth keeping tabs on.

Here's what's going on... A small working group of state representatives met for the first time this week to begin laying the foundation for a new House caucus that will strive for compromise in the increasingly divided House.

It has been called the Centrist Caucus by one of the lawmakers involved and the Middle Caucus by another. Someone else has recommended calling it the Louisiana Caucus. But the name doesn’t matter. The fact that it’s even happening is more important.

“The goal is to come up with a package of bills and try to have 70 or 71 votes in place,” said Rep. Gene Reynolds of Minden, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the man charged with holding the party line as the minority leader. “There’s an urgency now that wasn’t there before. This is doable.”

GOP Rep. Rob Shadoin of Ruston has been trying to put a group together over the past few months and Reynolds and others are offering a helping hand. While the first gathering was slated for Monday, with a dozen or so legislators expected to attend, a subsequent meeting was already being planned for next week as well. “We can’t keep having special sessions and a regular session each year with a lot of activity and no productivity,” said Shadoin.

Another member of the team is Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, who was building out a moderate strategy for her state treasurer campaign before her cancer diagnosis forced her out of the race. Stokes, a Republican, was actually looking to establish a coalition of centrists when she heard about Shadoin’s efforts. “I’m trying to repurpose the work that I had put into the campaign into a new caucus of problem-solvers in the House,” Stokes said via text.

The optics are worth taking note of — and the storylines will sprout with ease if any real momentum is gained. (Here’s a one-sentence story pitch for editors: As the state faces another budget test in 2018, known names from the state House are ready and willing to peel off from others in their own parties.) It’s a marketable concept at this given moment, and will be even more so once the next session convenes.

Just think back to the Fiscal Hawks of yesteryear — that influential bloc of House votes that during the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal advocated for budget and spending changes. It all started with a group of four freshmen in 2008, and eventually swelled to 28 or so members that ranged from committed to not-so-committed.

But they managed to gum up the process, get some key concessions and, most memorably, generate a ton of press coverage. A few of the early members even built brands out of the political exercise, with Rep. Cameron Henry of Metairie moving on to become the House Appropriations Committee chair and former Rep. John Schroder of Covington running strong for treasurer with the same Fiscal Hawk mantras. “You’ve got to have worker bees who are ready to work and not ready to push their own agendas,” Schroder said of start-up caucuses in the Legislature. “You have to be willing to grind it out.”

That means success doesn’t often arrive overnight.

If the numbers do come together for the Centrist-Middle-Moderate-Louisiana Caucus, it will likely be heavily-weighted toward Democrats, of which there are 40 in the House, many of them willing to compromise on the budget and taxes. There are 60 Republicans in the chamber, meanwhile, and that’s the contingency worth watching. Any moderate movement will need a significant buy-in from the GOP ranks. There are also, of course, three independents in the House.

All of the legislators involved in this push to the center certainly know that the middle is a dangerous place to be in Louisiana — this greening and watery land where party diehards and special interest groups like the lanes as they’re currently carved. Thankfully those same legislators are willing to accept the political risks. Because anything is better than what we’ve seen over the past year and a half.