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April 25, 2017 — Issue 97 

There is no joy in Mudville during this third week of the legislative session.

As you surely already know, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ centerpiece tax proposal was spiked (or what former Gov. Bobby Jindal referred to as “parked) by its author, Rep. Sam Jones.

For Edwards-Jones commercial activity tax, the conclusion was as foreseeable as the outcome of placing minnows in the same floating bait cage as a gang of hungry crappie.

But why wait until the end of the second day of debate, and after weeks of confrontations and abuse?

Don’t let the circumstances of this Tuesday in Capitol lore lull you into believing there’s no political endgame for Edwards. (Although that might be the case; time will show the true damage.) The governor’s losses in Baton Rouge can always be repackaged as reason that was offered to politicians who refused to hear and see. Blame, after all, can be a powerful weapon — if the electoral landscape is just right.

It’s a risky strategy, and a lot of moving pieces have to come together for the long-term messaging to be a success. But, hey, sometimes you have to roll the dice — as any proper Gov. Edwards would do. (This probably would have gone down differently had the initials been EWE rather than JBE; the former realized that politics matter, while the latter seems to be constantly swimming upstream at the Capitol.)

I can’t help but feel like another page was turned today in the story of The Other Edwards. Having the centerpiece of your policy package blocked so heavily is more fitting of a lame duck governor. Not an executive in the fourth month of his second year.

Where the governor goes from here is something we’re all eagerly anticipating.

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The More Immediate Shift In Messaging

Welcome to “Modern Capitol Politics 101.”

The game on the Fourth Floor right now, or rather the short-term strategy, appears to involve moving away from the policy defeat while shifting some of the burden of governing to House Republicans, who have been the most vocal critics of all things JBE.

Revenue Secretary Kim Robinson told the AP after today’s Ways and Means meeting that the administration will not try to resurrect the idea of a commercial activity tax.

So the white flag is out, which means a transition from offense to defense.

Rep. Sam Jones, the CAT sponsor, likewise gave the AP what will be at the heart of Team JBE’s talking points moving forward: “The onus now falls on the leadership in the House to come up with a plan.”

In other words, get ready to hear, over and over, this phrasing: “We gave you our plan. We tried to work with you. Where’s your alternative?”

Since anyone who vaguely follows Louisiana politics already knew that the governor’s CAT bill was headed to the grave, and since the last two days of hearings revealed how grim things actually looked, the death blow was somewhat anti-climatic. And muted. That may help soothe the sting of public perception. Maybe.

The GOP leadership definitely has the ball now. A touchdown — an actual policy victory on taxes and the budget — would certainly take Team JBE off message. Anything short of putting points on the board, though, will play right into the administration’s more immediate messaging strategy.

The second quarter — literally — of the regular session begins immediately.

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Your Tuesday History: The Lottery’s Questionable Beginnings

Between 1868 and 1893, the Louisiana Lottery Company operated one of the largest and most financially successful lotteries in the United States.

It was also among the most controversial drawings in the country, its history characterized by charges of bribery and corruption.

Granted a 25-year charter by the state Legislature in 1868, the company sold tickets across the nation. Drawings were held in New Orleans on a daily, weekly, monthly, and semiannual basis.

(In and around New Orleans, ticket holders often asked clergy members to bless their tickets. Others frequently sought out voodoo priests to help them identify the winning number combinations.)

Despite the original Lottery’s financial success and popularity, rumors of political bribery and in-house theft plagued the company’s operation, eventually leading to federal legislation prohibiting the interstate sale of lottery tickets.

The action of the U.S. Congress reduced company’s income by 90 percent and, in 1892, Louisiana voters refused to support a state constitutional amendment extending the lottery’s intrastate activities for another twenty years.

Excerpted with permission from KnowLouisiana.org

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A message from Harris, DeVille & Associates:

PhRMA’s statement of support for innovation in Louisiana

Last week, there was quite a bit of buzz around the Capitol following the announcement of a major energy company choosing San Patricio County, Texas, over several potential locations in Louisiana as the site for a new $10 billion manufacturing facility, which will create 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs. Texas’ longtime stable regulatory and tax environment were noted as factors in the decision. While there will be much discussion around taxation this session, we must also not lose sight of the fact that a burdensome regulatory environment based on political gamesmanship instead of sound economic principles can also chase away investment.

In a recent report, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana noted, “Louisiana’s decisions and direction on innovation policy will determine whether the economy of the state — and its metropolitan areas in particular — will be structured for growth and competition for the rest of the 21st century.”  

We agree, and encourage our leaders to reject special interest-supported regulatory schemes that do little or nothing for consumers instead of embracing public policies that encourage investment in innovation and discovery in the life sciences and provide better access to innovative therapies resulting from those scientific breakthroughs.

Look to other parts of the country, and you’ll see a robust life science infrastructure producing 21st century cures or previously incurable diseases. With an eye on promoting, not stifling, innovation, Louisiana can be well positioned to make its mark on advancing human achievement.

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The Only Subscription You Need

As Louisiana’s premier trade publication for elected officials, lobbyists, campaign professionals and journalists, LaPolitics Weekly has been delivering insider political news to an elite subscription base for 24 years.

Become part of the community by subscribing today!

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Francis Thompson On The Pod

State Sen. Francis Thompson, one of the longest serving lawmakers ever to set foot inside the rails of the Louisiana Legislature, is the guest this week.

He shares some terrific stories about his very first day in the House in 1975, the sometimes harsh politics of Edwin Edwards, and how sideways the social structure of the Capitol has become over the past decade.

If you know Sen. Thompson then you will not be surprised to learn that this was our longest podcast recorded to date — out of the 26 people who have shared their oral histories with us so far.

By the way, if you’re looking for an interview with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, as promoted last week, I can only offer an apology and a promise. The mayor had to reschedule his interview, but we will have his words and thoughts for you soon.

Make sure to listen close to the beginning of this week’s episode. We start off with a few memories shared by Cokie Roberts about what it was like being the child of two members of Congress — and how tearing down campaign signs of her parents’ opponents may have been a part of her upbringing!

As usual, we’ll be sending out an email with a link to the audio tomorrow, but you’ll also be able to find it at LaPolitics.com and on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

Your Wednesdays have never sounded so good!

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Political Chatter

Julie Baxter Payer, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for communication, legal and special projects, is moving on for a new opportunity in state government. Her position on the fourth floor has not yet been filled.

— The board for the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority is moving forward with its plans for a legislative scorecard, starting with this session. The issues that will be graded include (and LCRM’s stances are) opposing the minimum wage, a standstill budget, any increase to income taxes, repealing the inventory tax, supporting school choice and a handful of other topics.

— State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere has endorsed HB 6 by Rep. Paul Hollis to exempt Louisiana residents from “Obamacare penalties.”

— Sens. Francis Thompson and Jim Fannin have been named to the 2017-2018 Louisiana Rural Caucus Executive Committee.

— An “LNG Day” reception is slated tomorrow upon adjournment at the Jimmie Davis House for the Louisiana Energy Export Association. The theme is “Burgers, Beer and Bourbon.”

Lamar White Jr., publisher and founder of the Bayou Brief, announced this week that Katie Weaver will serve as its editor-in-chief. She was previously with Oxford University Press.

— LMA’s “Municipal Day at the Capitol” is May 3. MORE INFO

— The Louisiana State Society and the DC Louisiana Collegiate Coalition are hosting the largest crawfish boil east of the Florida parishes. Bayou Fête XIV is slated for June 10 at noon at Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria (Virginia, not Louisiana). GET TICKETS

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Analysis: Distrust Reigns Supreme At Capitol

Many in the state House of Representatives don’t trust Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vision for Louisiana, which probably doesn’t come as a shock to his administration.

That’s because the governor, in turn, is highly skeptical about what might come out of the House during the ongoing regular session. And he’s not shy about voicing those concerns.

On the other end of the Capitol’s first floor, members of the Senate are losing confidence in the House’s ability to coalesce around a single plan of attack for the state’s mounting revenue and spending problems.

At the same time, conservatives in the lower chamber aren’t exactly eager to negotiate with the Senate — some even went as far as to sever lines of communication with senators during the February special session.

So many bridges have been burned at the Capitol over the past 16 months that it sometimes feels like there aren’t any left. You can sense it inside the building’s public cafeteria in the mornings and at the various cocktails parties in the evenings.

The good-times, same-team vibe that used to define the Louisiana Legislature is being supplanted by bitter, partisan politics. You’ve no doubt heard or read about this line of thinking at one time or another since the current term commenced.

But you may not know that other Capitol players are stuck inside this uncomfortable storyline as well.

The staff attorneys, secretaries and economists that do the heavy lifting in Baton Rouge are being dragged into conflicts between the House and Senate and, more frequently, into dustups between Republicans and Democrats. They’ve gone from being neutral participants to political pawns in a game that very few of them want to play.

If there was enough money to make it happen overnight, the Legislature would likely be tempted to create separate staffs — one for each party, like other states have already done. Given the landscape, it’s not an outlandish notion.

Then there’s the Capitol’s lobbying corps. Last year saw an angry lawmaker publicly hurling accusations at a longtime lobbyist during a committee meeting, prompting headlines of improprieties that remain unfounded.

You can add that incident to the many reasons why special interests, to some degree, care less about which bills are being introduced and more about which lawmakers are going to carry them. To hear longtime influencers tell it, legislators who are willing to compromise in earnest are slowly becoming an extinct breed.

Statehouse reporters, many will surely be glad to learn, have not been excluded from the crossfire. The governor, when addressing members of the press, particularly last year, has personally called out journalists for stories he felt were flimsy. The GOP leadership in the House has also become more selective this session in doling out interviews.

To be fair, the mainstream coverage coming out of the Capitol these days includes more politics than ever, with perspective writing periodically peppering otherwise straight reporting. As such, some lawmakers feel like they’re not getting a fair shake.

This theme of distrust extends to voters and citizens as well. Just glance at your social media feeds, where reporters are tagged as the enemy and lawmakers are lambasted in ways that are occasionally vile and personal.

If anyone is praying that this mood lifts from the Bayou State during the regular session that adjourns on June 8, they should probably forget about it right now. A political door has been kicked open in Baton Rouge and an immense amount of force and cajoling will be required to slam it shut. (That may indeed be an impossible task.)

But don’t feel sorry for anyone. This is, after all, politics. Moreover, it’s politics in Louisiana, where the faint of heart are unemployable and those lacking gamesmanship are, on average, ineffective. That may not be the reality we want, of course, but it’s the one we’re faced with today.

Please feel free, however, to embrace the uncertainty and fear. This trend of escalated party politics and widespread distrust in the legislative process is still slightly novel in Baton Rouge. So we have no idea how detrimental the byproducts — meaning the budget shortcuts, failed reform efforts and frayed relationships — will be for Louisiana in the long run.

The rules of engagement have simply changed at the Capitol. The House is attacking the governor, the Senate is taking swings at the House, lawmakers are bad-mouthing special interests, reporters are taking their lumps and voters are questioning the integrity of everyone involved.

It’s difficult to see how smart policies might emerge from this mess, which is why injecting some goodwill into the legislative process might be more important than anything else at this juncture.

Yet with a quarter of the regular session already behind us, time may be running out.

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A message from Harris, DeVille & Associates:

Sasol building careers, local business and community

HDA salutes our client Sasol on its positive impact in southwest Louisiana. As Sasol builds a world-scale petrochemical complex in Louisiana, the company is also building careers, local business and community.

“I enjoy working for a company focused on hiring local residents, and I’m honored to be a part of Sasol’s growth as we expand our operations.” 

Terrell Thompson, senior accountant at Sasol

“I enjoy working for a company that explores innovative technologies to work safely and efficiently, providing an edge over competitors. It’s an exciting place to work.”

Lucas Barlow, unit manager at Sasol

“We are privileged to be a part of Sasol’s growth in Southwest Louisiana. We anticipate doubling our Lake Charles workforce”

Ben Bourgeois, Human Resources and Development Director at Turner Industries

“I have personally seen countless small businesses increase their hiring over the last couple of years and I expect this trend to continue. The financial benefit and experience provided by the Sasol U.S. Mega Project will be used by many local businesses, including BHP, to increase their product lines and tap into markets that were previously unattainable.”

Bryan Hollingsworth, Owner of Business Health Partners

Learn more by clicking here.

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Birthdays

— Today: Sen. Neil Riser, Eva Kemp and Jace LeJeune

— Wednesday 04/26: Bo Staples 

— Thursday 04/27: Tina Vanichchagorn and Michelle Shirley

— Friday 04/28: Rep. Pat Smith, Tom Clark and Nelson Hellwig

— Saturday 04/29: Matt Watson, Jimmy Burland and Denice Skinner

— Sunday 04/30: Former Congressman Bob Livingston, former Rep. Erich Ponti, late Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand and John Pastorek

— Monday 05/01: Greg Hilburn, Caitlin Berni and Rhett Davis

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Anniversaries

Kelly Kane and Amy Jones are celebrating their wedding anniversary today.

Scott Gaudin and his wife Kay toasted to another year together last week.

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