Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WHAT VOTERS FACE AT THE POLLS!


Thursday, October 23rd, 2013
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


WHAT VOTERS FACE AT THE POLLS!

Election Day for the congressional and local elections is right around the corner.  In fact, a Louisiana voter can absentee vote right now.  The Secretary of State’s office predicts some 45 to 50 percent of registered voters will actually show up and vote. Having run that office for a number of years and predicting voter turnout through the 1980s, I predict closer to a 60 percent turnout.  Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler and I have a lunch wager on whose prediction will be more accurate.

I was one of the first to vote by my home in Baton Rouge on the first day of absentee voting.  And I can tell you the elections officials are strict on making everyone show a photo I.D.  When I went in to vote, I was easily recognizable as the former Secretary of State, and the guy who spearheaded the building of the State Archives where the absentee voting takes place.  I wrote the current election code that sets the rules for voting in Louisiana.  So when it comes to the elections, no one is more recognizable I am.  And most of these elections officials know well that I live just a few blocks from the voting precinct.

So after lots of visiting and refreshing of old friendships, I asked for an absentee ballot.  The response was quick and to the point.  “Sure Mr. Brown.  But, of course, we’ll need to see a government issued photo I.D.”  No exceptions here.  And that’s how it should be.  After all, I have to show a photo I.D. to cash a check at the bank, pick up a prescription at the drug store, get on an airplane, use a credit card for many purchases, give blood, get a passport, pick up a package at the post office, buy car insurance, buy a gun at a gun shop, do business at the social security office or the welfare office, sell an items at a pawn shop -- I could go on.  So what’s the big deal about pulling out a photo I.D. at the polls?

The easiest parts of my ballot choices were my picks on the 14 constitutional amendments.  I pulled the “NO” lever on them all.  Every one.  There’s not a single issue on this year’s ballot that cries out for an immediate correction.  I was a delegate to the 1973 constitutional convention that created our present governing document.  It was too long at 92 pages, but still, it was a framework for governing that delegated legislative authority.  But rather than updating or adjusting the laws on the books for current needs and required changes in yearly legislative sessions, lawmakers have found it politically expeditious to pass the buck to voters and offer them a menu of modifications.

Virtually every amendment proposed could be handled by our elected legislators.  Let me give you an example of how out of whack some of these proposals are. Amendment No. 4 allows for the investing of state funds into a Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank.  But guess what?  There is no such bank. If such a bank and the rules governing how it is to operate are ever needed – they can be created by a legislative statute.  Why make voters decide about creating a financial entity they don’t understand?  Why pass the buck?

I could write pages on the irrationality of most of the amendments being proposed.  Voters in the state have already amended the constitution 175 times since 1984.  If so many changes are needed, isn’t it time to have a new constitutional convention to update our current governing document?  Calls for a convention are nothing new.  When I ran for governor back in 1987, one of my main campaign planks was to call for a constitutional convention.

Isn’t it time to bring Louisiana into the 21st century?  Instead of making voters decide on numerous parochial issues, a courageous legislature could authorize a review of all our laws and constitutional provisions.  Voters are entitled to a bold thinking legislature that takes on more responsibility -- not one that punts or runs away from tough issues.  Isn’t that what public service is all about?

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LOUISIANA-THEY’RE GOIN’ TO WASH US AWAY!


Thursday, October 16th, 2014
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

LOUISIANA-THEY’RE  GOIN’ TO WASH US AWAY!

On a family vacation, our trip ended up in Boston.  The newspaper headlines were startling.  Boston Sinking into The Sea” blared the New York Times.  Boston Could Become the Next Venice” lamented the Boston Globe.  A newly released report by the Urban Land Institute predicted that “Boston is sinking at a rate of more than a tenth of an inch a year.”  The Governor of Massachusetts has set up a statewide strategy commission and earmarked $50 million out find out how to save the city from drowning.  There’s panic up in Boston.

An inch a year?  Parts of south Louisiana are sinking at a rate ten times faster than Boston.  Public officials throughout the Bayou State have known about the continuing and growing losses for decades.  There have been numerous studies done, but that’s about it. And as each year passes by, the price tag continues to escalate.

Twenty-five years ago, the cost of major damage mitigation was pegged at $14 million.  There was the assumption that significant federal help would be available.  After all, the nation has bountifully benefited from the reaping or the state’s natural resources, from oil and gas, seafood, sulfur, and the largest chemical suppliers in the country.  And Louisiana’s congressional delegation had repeatedly ballyhooed to voters how strong their political sway was in Washington.

But the dollars never materialized.  And now the price tag has skyrocketed.  State officials throw out a current cost of some $50 billion.  But a number of scientists, who often have been left out of any solution discussions, say this figure is drastically low. A minimum of $100 billion or higher would be more in the ballpark.

So while Louisiana state agencies have dawdled in uniting behind one cohesive master plan, competition for federal dollars has increased dramatically.  Florida is lobbying for appropriations to save their everglades.  The cost is slightly less than what Louisiana says it needs.  Boston is now in the mix as well as a number of other cities along the east coast.  Hurricane Sandy showed the vulnerability of New York, and at risk are large swathes of land along the New Jersey shore. All these areas are now in completion for federal funds at a time when federal deficits make it unlikely that such dollars will be forthcoming.

So what can be done to stop the sinking?  Parts of south Louisiana, primarily around Terrebonne Parish, are proposing a seawall around the more populated areas, similar to the current flood protection around the greater New Orleans area. The problem with such a plan is that many parts of south Louisiana will be left out.  Basically, those proposing such a plan are playing defense.

Those scientists who have studied this problem for years, and who are rarely consulted by state officials, say the state has to go on offense.  Their plan, and in their opinion the only plan that has any chance of long-term success, is a massive sediment diversion on the lower Mississippi river.  Diversion canals would be built with dams and other outflow structures to flood low lying areas that would be covered, over time, with new sediment from the river.  This too would be expensive, but many feel, and I’m beginning to agree, that this could be the only viable long-range solution.

So how do you pay for such a project?  In a number of ways.  Hopefully, a BP damage settlement should bring in five to seven billion dollars.  That’s a start. After years of state officials turning a blind eye to oil company environmental damage, a south Louisiana level board has filed suite to hold the oil industry accountable.  My guess is that the industry knows it has massive exposure, and that some settlement with the state will come about.  The dollars should be in the multi-billions and could help in kick starting a major land recovery effort.

Then there is an old idea that seems to be gaining new momentum, and that’s a CWEL tax on new energy production.  Governor Dave Treen, a republican, came up with the idea in 1982.  The Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy would be a “go forward” tax on oil and gas production to mitigate future damage.

These three funding sources would give the state a fighting chance to stem the land erosion.  What if some foreign country would come into the U.S. and seize thousands of American acres? We would immediately go to war.  Well, we are at war with nature.  If we don’t win, than Randy Newman’s song prophecy will surely take place.  Louisiana-they’re goin’ to wash us away.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.




Wednesday, October 08, 2014

MORE PRIDE NEEDED IN LOUISIANA?


Charlotte, North Carolina

MORE PRIDE NEEDED IN LOUISIANA?

One of the biggest priorities facing Louisiana’s next governor is the challenge of re-instilling pride in the attitudes of many Louisianans. Government can only do so much. But a governor can be a catalyst in raising the public’s expectations.

The whole focus of public accountability and local pride came to mind as I traveled up to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina recently to see the leaves change. Now I do admit a bit of favorable prejudice towards the Tar Heel State, having graduated from Chapel Hill back in the 60s. And 50 years ago, many observers linked North Carolina and Louisiana as the two southern states with the greatest potential for economic growth and a higher quality of life in the South.

Both states had a strong agricultural base, with tobacco being king in Carolina and both cotton and sugar cane offering farmers a good living in Louisiana. It was textiles in Carolina and oil in Louisiana. There were two great university presses in the South – one at Chapel Hill and the other in Baton Rouge, with major American literary figures concentrated around the two state universities.

But an economic downturn hit both states in the late 70s. North Carolina quickly diversified and centered its future economic development on an innovative research triangle that attracted startup businesses from all over the nation. High oil prices enticed Louisiana to keep the status quo. And things haven’t changed much since then.

Several Louisiana cities have recently sent groups of business leaders and public officials around the country to observe what seems to be working in other cities. They would do well to make a pilgrimage to Charlotte. If they do, here is what they will find.

One of the first things you notice is the cleanliness, not just in Charlotte, but throughout much of the state. By and large, you just don’t see the litter that seems to cover Louisiana.

Several years ago, a Louisiana state senator was a guest on my national radio show. He told the story of his efforts to bring a Japanese automobile plant to Northeast Louisiana. The Senator had picked up the Japanese officials in Shreveport and drove them to the proposed plant site some 20 miles east of Monroe. The Louisiana group made what they thought was a first-rate presentation, but the Japanese decided to go elsewhere. When he followed up the visit to find out why Louisiana was turned down, the Senator was given two reasons. First was the lack of a trained workforce. But just as important was the litter along highways. He was told: “Your people do not seem to take much pride in keeping their state clean.”

A brand-new monorail system has just opened in downtown Charlotte linking all the major hotels to the convention center. Inner city congestion has been greatly reduced and I found it to be a quick and easy way to travel from my hotel to the sports arena. This is an idea well worth considering for New Orleans.

Charlotte and other North Carolina cities are being wired. Even midsize cities like Winston Salem are installing wireless broadband networks. As one city official told me, “We are trying to differentiate our North Carolina cities from other locations as we are competing for knowledge-based companies. If your city is not wired, you’re just not going to be competitive.” As has been written here in several recent columns, Internet access, particularly for students statewide, could be the single biggest asset towards moving Louisiana’s lackluster educational system giant steps forward.

The bottom line is that in setting out an agenda for a better future for Louisiana, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a number of progressive ideas emanating from cities and states all over the country. Many of these ideas will require a major financial investment. But others, like keeping our roadways clean, are simply a matter of instilling a sense of personal responsibility. That’s where pride begins.


******
“When you look at a state, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.”
- Hugh Newell Jacobsen

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com

Thursday, October 02, 2014

LOUISIANA CATCHING UP TO THE 21st CENTURY?


Quebec, Canada
LOUISIANA CATCHING UP TO
THE 21st CENTURY?
With tax dollars scarce in Louisiana, this might be an excellent time to streamline on the state and local levels. Just how many boards, commissions, water districts, sewer districts, parish auditors, law enforcement offices, and other special districts are spread throughout Louisiana? Some estimates are as high as 7,000. No one really seems to know. Would you believe that no agency, public or private, can list all the public bodies that exist in Louisiana today? And if no one knows that number, then it goes without saying that no one can even begin to know the overlapping costs.
Start with the sixty-four parishes. In the rural farming economy of the early 20th century, each parish served as the synergy of daily life in Louisiana.  There was a need for local road and water districts to take care of rural needs. Government, by nature, was local.  Police jurors and sheriffs ran their respective local districts like fiefdoms.  Rural voters elected local candidates who directly touched their lives.
The sheriff was not there just to keep you safe, but to offer you a ride to town for groceries or to take you to the doctor.  The local police juror kept the ditches from overflowing and could see to it that a little gravel was spread on the dirt road leading to your farmhouse.  Baton Rouge was often a two-day ride on horseback or an all-day trip by car over muddy dirt roads.  What happened or did not happen at the local courthouse had a direct bearing on the daily lives of a majority of Louisianans.
But that was in days gone by. Times have changed, and the state has assumed the vast majority of public duties including the funding and administration of highway construction, flood protection, healthcare, and an array of other public needs.  Yet the local governing structure, with thousands of commissions, districts, and boards, hasn’t really changed in the past 75 years.
Do we need sixty-four parishes?  Or would forty-five work more efficiently and save $millions?  Do cities that take up the bulk of the parish like New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport really need both a sheriff and a police chief? Some of the small, rural parishes have as few as nine thousand people per district judge.  The average is more like 20,000 per judge.  Should consolidation be undertaken?  Why does every parish elect a coroner?  Back in the 70s in my home parish of Concordia, a local logger held the job.  Couldn’t professionals run this job on a regional basis?
As demographer Elliot Stonecipher has pointed out in a recent study, Louisiana’s population is exactly the same today (4,410,000) as it was in 1985.  Yet, instead of a reduction in local and state governmental entities, the number of entities has been substantially increased. Over the past century, little has changed in Louisiana in how local government operates, and the system in place today is run by the same archaic institutions that were put in place before the invention of the telephone, light bulb, automobile, and, of course, the computer.
 The same overlap exists on the state level. Do we need four boards to govern higher education?  How come states like California and North Carolina, where colleges rank at the top of national lists function quite well with just one board?  And how about the slew of state boards and commissions that appear to make up ways to regulate where none is needed? If I go to my local grocery store and buy a dozen roses for my wife, do I really need a licensed florist, who has to be tested and certified through a floral board, to wrap them for me?  Do I need a board to oversee someone I hire to help decorate my office or home?
Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw discussed the problem and the opportunity:  “Every state and every region of the country is stuck with some form of anachronistic and expensive local government structure that dates to the horse-drawn wagons, family farms and small-town convenience.  It’s time to reorganize our state and local government structures for today’s realities rather than cling to the sensibilities of the twentieth century.”
Streamlining state government will hopefully be a key issue in next year’s gubernatorial election. Louisiana needs some changes. President John Kennedy said it well. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. Louisiana has a lot at stake.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com