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Strain adopts short-sighted approach on Cuba

Public administration has a theory regarding the behavior of executives overseeing discrete policy areas, that over time these individuals’ focus shifts away from more ideological approaches to greater alignment with the culture and interests of the agency directed. After almost a decade of running the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, current boss Mike Strain fits this pattern.

The Republican entered office in 2008 promising to clean up after former head Democrat Bob Odom, who left a legacy of waste and patronage. He largely has accomplished this, slimming down department numbers (perhaps more than he preferred, given recent state budgetary struggles) and managing a spending drop from $102.7 million in fiscal year 2008 to last fiscal year’s $74.5 million.

But in recent remarks to the Baton Rouge Press Club, Strain indicated that he has checked some other conservative issue preferences at the door to his office, specifically regarding the issue of Cuba. Still run by the Castro dynasty for almost six decades, despite extremely modest changes from its Soviet model, Cuba’s government and economy remain exceptionally closed and oppressive. In fact, the very tepid reforms launched under Raúl Castro seem to have run out of steam – ironically, in part because former Pres. Barack Obama removed travel restrictions and set to normalize relations.


Weak appeal designed to appease Edwards' base

He took his time, but Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards three months after losing an injunction mooting his executive order JBE 16-11 got around to appealing the ruling – a move seemingly more for political consumption than with any real hope of prevailing.

At the end of last year, District Judge Todd Hernandez ruled favorably for injunctive relief sought by Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry concerning the order, which, among other things, added language to contracts that barred discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” – terms not defined in Louisiana jurisprudence. Landry refused to approve of such contracts, noting in an official attorney general’s opinion that, because of the terms’ absence in Louisiana law or in its Constitution, the order had the effect of creating new law beyond the scope of the governor’s powers.

Hernandez agreed, although he deferred on ruling whether it violated aspects of the U.S. Constitution regarding the Commerce Clause or the First Amendment. Citing no actual controversy, he did deny the contention of Edwards that the governor was superior to the attorney general where a dispute about legal matters defaulted to the governor’s position, and granted only that once the attorney general had acted to approve of private counsel the state’s top justice officer could not retroactively review their actions.


Edwards wanders in reelection no-man's land

Standing out like a boil in the old Confederate South, no wonder Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards attracts attention, good and bad.

With Republicans controlling every legislative chamber in these states and only Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe and North Carolina’s Roy Cooper joining Edwards as a Democrat chief executive – although among the deep South states the only Democrat-run branch of government comes courtesy of Edwards – such an outlier does not go unnoticed. The odd and unique 2015 election that sent him to the Governor’s Mansion and his trials and tribulations since have prompted both speculation about his future and actions to shape it in ways he would not like.

After the 2016 election confirmed the steep downward trajectory of Democrats over the past six years – propped up from falling into an electoral crevasses only by the concept known as former Pres. Barack Obama – some argued that the way back would come from accepting less liberal candidates, with Edwards standing out. He explicitly ran on God and guns, even as his anti-abortion stance seemed somewhat manufactured, while maintaining thoroughly liberal views on the size of government and economics. Possibly, some observers suggest, he may serve as a model to enable his party to come back.


Nuisance jackpot justice suits finally may disappear

Finally, the tunnel has light at the end, regarding the nuisance suit attempted by a once-rogue state subdivision that sought jackpot justice to fund coastal protection.

A panel of the U.S Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower district court that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lacked standing to bring suit against nearly 100 energy firms for alleged environmental damage they caused. A few years ago the agency, a subdivision of the state, hired lawyers on contingency to try to collect possibly billions of dollars with a poison pill in that contract stating if its board dropped the suit it owed expenses that could reach into the eight figures.

Prior members of the SLPAE-E board, despite disputes over whether companies had acted illegally or negligently, whether the state had felt they had acted illegally or negligently in the past, or how much, if any, damage the energy extractors actually caused, saw these entities as piñatas ready to bust to fund agency activities. After they brought suit, Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal when their terms expired began replacing members supportive of the action with others who took a more circumspect approach to government activism. Eventually, lawmakers enacted a measure to moot the suit, giving the state control over any such maneuvers.