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Edwards leaves LA worse off than he found it

It’s legacy-salvaging time as the embers die on the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration, with a full-bore effort to turn impossibly a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

At the specific policy level, for example, you have its Commissioner of Administration trying to stave off the undoing by incoming governor Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry of a costly and counterproductive taxpayer-funded parental leave scheme for state employees while proclaiming “History is going to look very favorably on … Edwards and what he’s done.” This shilling is backed more broadly by a propaganda campaign using tax dollars touting alleged accomplishments, if not reframing failures.

Dardenne is dead wrong: if history is kind, it will relegate the Edwards years as a footnote; if bluntly realistic, it will register the 2016-23 period as one where his policies botched economic growth and development and coarsened society while privileging special interests at the expense of Louisianans – all in all, a retreat into the past following an agenda that disserved the state for decades. The data leave no other assessment possible.


Unwelcome paid leave time bomb needs excising

Don’t expect, in the dying days of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ misrule over Louisiana, that we won’t see more attempts to lock in bigger and more redistributive government than just attempting to create generous paid parental leave that incoming governor Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry needs to curtail.

Starting in 2024, almost 38,000 classified state employees will gain this perquisite at taxpayer expense. It allows up to six weeks of this following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. That comes through regular channels: the State Civil Service Commission, which quietly promulgated the rule in September, then somewhat more publicly signed off and expanded by Edwards earlier this month.

Another roughly 4,000 unclassified employees which includes the other two branches of government, those of other statewide elected officials, and non-civil service employees in higher education, Edwards included through executive order, leaving just under 27,000 uncovered in the executive branch. All in that branch could be covered at the discretion of elected officials and higher education management boards, and the several hundred in the other branches could be covered by assent of the two chamber leaders of the Legislature or of the Louisiana Supreme Court.


In BC, monuments come before employees, people

It’s not just Bossier City employees who find the city’s staggering debt load forestalling their abilities to receive pay raises; retired Bossier City firefighters face the same hurdle with paying for their health insurance.

Last week, the city approved a budget without a cost-of-living pay raise to employees, but did use one-time money to provide a bonus, costing about $2 million. A downturn in revenues, mainly from reduced sales tax collections, not only prevented locking in higher pay but also forced the city to dip into other funds that normally paid for capital expenses to shore up the budget. Also hampering this was continuing to siphon general fund dollars, around $4 million, to pay down a high amount of debt.

But money that would have been available for raises eaten away by debt servicing also could have gone to maintain the city’s subsidization of retired firefighters’ health insurance. A recent television news story brought to light that several years ago the city halted this, forcing retirees to pick up the entire tab. Louisiana state government picks up a portion that grows the more years a retiree worked for the state, and local governments do the same for the most part. By way of example, twenty years of service for a state employee usually means the retiree pays just a quarter of the monthly premium.


Knife-edge Caddo sheriff race poised for redo

It’s still advantage Democrat Henry Whitehorn, but, if allegations made by his opponent for Caddo Parish Sheriff Republican John Nickelson prove correct, that may end up switching things for good – eventually.

Initial tallies on Nov. 18 gave Whitehorn a single vote lead out of over 43,000 cast. Certification by the parish could occur as late as 4 PM Nov. 27, which involved the board of election supervisors verifying machine totals and early voting and absentee totals, with the additional task of conducting a recount as requested by Nickelson. Keep in mind that a recount only comes from absentee ballots, 7,780 in this instance, because these are the only ones not entered electronically but are scanned.

This put Nickelson at a partisan disadvantage. The board is comprised of the clerk of Court, Democrat Mike Spence; Registrar no party Dale Sibley, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointee Democrat Brenda Traylor, and representatives one each from the major political parties. The board as part of its duties reviews absentee ballots that initially didn’t optically read correctly to discern, if possible and by majority vote, the intent of the voter – a process engineered by a “recopying” technique.

That equated to adding three votes to each candidate, leaving the Whitehorn one-vote margin intact. Nickelson immediately sued, citing a number of irregularities. Clearly, Nickelson’s legal team had done its homework. Its petition noted problems including at least two voters voting both early and on Nov. 18, some voters claiming their votes didn’t register, at least one voter saying he supposedly was registered legally at a precinct but denied being able to vote even provisionally, at least four voting unable to do so legally as interdicted under law, and as many as six votes cast on election day from people deceased.

Further, the filing questioned the administration of the recount. It alleged imprecision in the machine recount that demanded a hand recount of all absentee ballots that the board denied in the interests of time, improper retention for counting of ballots with disqualifying marks, and improper witnessing and voter signing on the envelopes in which ballots were sealed.

The filing asked the district court, which by law will hear the case at 10 AM Dec. 1, to order a hand recount, and declare a winner if possible, or schedule a new election which would be held on the statutorily-designated day of Dec. 16. This almost certainly guarantees a new election, because unless the hand count is allowed and shows a remarkably large swing in favor of one candidate, the other who then otherwise would be declared the loser can claim that so many irregularities exist that even a small lead leaves open the possibility with so many tainted votes out there that this makes the original election’s outcome unknowable.

And if it does come to that, Nickelson may come out the winner. Nickelson in the general election racked up 45 percent of the vote because in precincts where white Democrats and Republicans made up at least 70 percent of registrants, Republican candidates averaged 91 percent of the vote, while Whitehorn got 35 percent because in precincts where black Democrats made up at least 70 percent of registrants, black Democrats averaged 88.8 percent of the vote. In that election, turnout in precincts where at least 75 percent of the registrants were white averaged 27.9 percent of the vote, while in precincts where at least 75 percent of the registrants were black averaged 14.8 percent.

But in the runoff, turnout in those mostly-white precincts fell 5.3 points while in those mostly-black precincts actually rose 1.2 points. If these numbers reverted even slightly to the general election form, Nickelson wins a special election.

On the one hand, as overall turnout slipped between elections 2.4 points, Whitehorn did better with his base, so another election that could be expected to feature even more reduced turnout the trend would indicate he would do better still. But on the other hand, and perhaps more compellingly with just a single contest on the ballot, fewer than ten days before Christmas, and where Nickelson by the latest campaign finance reports would appear to hold a significant funding advantage necessary to drive turnout of his base, he might be in better shape to hold onto voters.

That resolution may or may not happen anytime soon. Depending on what happens in district court, appeals could go all the way to the state Supreme Court, and may push any election into 2024. Its certification may have been completed, but this contest is far from over.


Bossier Jury jumps from pan to fire on library

On the issue of its Library Board of Control, maybe the Bossier Parish Police Jury is jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Just how hot, we may find out soon.

At its last meeting earlier this month, the Jury without discussion voted unanimously to appoint all of its members onto the parish’s Board. Currently, unlike any other such board in the state, jurors serve on it and in all five of its slots, and there have been at least two jurors on the Board since 2016.

The law provides for a maximum of seven positions, so the Jury apparently will try to dodge this requirement by rotating members in and out, although the law also specifies the lengths of terms at five years. Perhaps it could utilize the provision that allows for the Jury president or his designee to serve ex oficio and give different jurors that role each month. It also means that Democrat Juror Charles Gray, defeated in his reelection attempt last month, will be kicked off the Board as soon as possible unless he resigns earlier.