by Elliott Stonecipher
[Advocate referenced story] I was 8 or 9 when I first made the car trip from Shreveport to Baton Rouge. It was then a long and dangerous drive/ride, and with no I-10 bridge, we crossed the Mississippi on old 190, making it into the capital area by way of the first piece of new I-110. We kids usually pleaded for a detour to and by Capitol Lake. I think most of us from Louisiana’s other state up north were wowed by the Lake’s proximity to “Huey Long’s capitol” (well, his statue was right up front, and he was buried there, right?) and, once open in the early ’60s, the new governor’s mansion. (When I first saw it, I assumed Governor Jimmie Davis needed such a gob of space for his singing gigs, especially given his many Hollywood friends no doubt always there.)
To understate it, Louisiana’s political hook was set in me early. Before too many years whizzed by, my reading strongly suggested the reality of Louisiana politics stomped any warm-fuzzies about much of anything, especially any falderal over lakes or edifices. By my mid-20s, Edwin Edwards was revved, and I was solidly in the reform wing of Louisiana politics, the wing numbered in thousands among a state with a few million. I soon realized how perfect was the exhortation of reformers that Louisiana government “drain its political swamp.” Working for education reform in the capital complex, I came to figure that if one wanted to drain our political swamp, the plug was likely always near, at the center-bottom of Capitol Lake, earlier revered or not.
Now, a handful of decades after my earliest trips, the need to dive-in, find and pull that drain plug somehow seems more dramatically critical. Ironically and sadly, Governor Bobby Jindal again has Louisiana down in the swamp’s muck and mire, with pre-election promise then so wildly loose among us as to seem no-miss. Now, with both the measure of his gubernatorial reign and his presidential fairy dust swirling behind as he leaves, he rates no better than just one of Louisiana’s many governors who took us on a snipe hunt for structural, lasting reform, and its accompanying mitigation of corruption.
Attention thus shifts, yet again, to draining one of the nastiest political swamps anywhere. As we have learned, Louisiana’s drain-plugs are no better located and pulled by Republicans or Democrats or Tea Partiers. Into that void must step those who know what a snipe hunt is, who use parties rather than the other way around, and who demand and will work for reform.
The odds for such reform, though, are not helped if major news media jump the track on us.
Dear (Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette) Advocate: Please Explain Today’s Editorial
As Louisiana moves in a hopefully steady march to the election of a reform governor and legislature in 2015, our news media and blogosphere must call the tune and play it well – so well that it touches us, rousting us from our don’t-give-a-damns.
But, please, news media, leave off with the kind of editorial we read in today’s Advocate. I and others picked up a good time ago that there is no love lost between you and State Treasurer John Kennedy. Regardless, any criticism of anything any public official does to get back any of the nasty millions tossed and lost to NGOs seems purely anti-reform. As you note, “… the spending, the paychecks to political cronies and even family members, was the real reason these slush funds were established.” That is a precisely correct statement of the genesis of this nasty piece of Louisiana’s uber-nasty political and governmental enterprise.
In scoffing at Kennedy’s attempts to reclaim some of the hundreds of millions tee-teed away over these decades, it is these words, particularly, which stunned me in my first and following readings of the editorial:
“Alas, getting any money back will be basically fruitless, as the purpose of the appropriations and slush funds was to spend money. We’re quite sure the money was spent.”
Wow and whoa with that last sentence! Yeah … ‘damned straight tootin’ it was “spent.” What’s more, a sizable wad of us around here – bound together in our dumber-and-dumber-seeming commitment to pay our taxes – really and honestly believe it was “spent” after it was more or less stolen from us by a corrupt government of serial misfeasers.
Look, if John Kennedy or Jay Dardenne or John Bel Edwards or any other state official said to be running for governor can and will turn up the heat on those still among us who pocketed a few hundred thou while playing “public servant,” I say “Hip Hip Hooray and Hot-Damn!!” Republican, Democrat, Tea Party or Spotted Ape Party, I’ll talk ’em up, root ’em on, and tie a green ribbon around a tree in my yard to remind us of them! And, I don’t care if it’s a lone absconder of a thousand bucks: cut the new debt recovery office lose on them. Go get those dollars. Send a message. Make a point, make it loud, and make it often! If those few of us provably committed to real reform cannot agree on recovering all possible such well identified (thank you Mr. Kennedy) and ill-gotten gains, what hope for reform is there, really?
Mr. and Ms. Advocate, I get that you have a burr under your saddle about our treasurer, but are you really and honestly certain that shooting at him on this subject is the right thing? Heck, I’m one of your everyday readers and long-time supporters. I choose, therefore, to chalk this editorial up to a bad moment. I get it and live by and with it: it is your ink and paper, and your website. You clearly have your reasons or your editorial’s biting close – “The main return we are likely to see in the future is publicity for Kennedy, rather than recovery of the state’s money” – would not have been written and published. Regardless, I appeal to you to reconsider your disappointing stance on this issue … especially now, when two million recovered dollars from NGO bad actors would pay twenty-five Louisiana school teachers for a year. The debt recovery bunch is now in place and funded. Why shoo them away from attention to this well known and understood cesspool?
‘Truth be known, every time kid Elliott made that ride down to and by Capitol Lake, I finagled as necessary for a proper window from which to scope it all out, full view. ‘Can’t say why I was a born junkie for it all, especially since so few others I knew were, but that’s the fact of the matter. It’s five decades later, and Louisiana’s still looking for the plug in our godawful political swamp. Finding and pulling it remains the dream. Yes, I know how silly may be all such dreams, but it is yet alive, and very much mine. Such is the stuff of dreams, right?
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.