Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


The President is facing an uphill fight in his quest to change the face of healthcare delivery in the US. Each day, more and more Americans are concluding that the billions being spent to shore up the economy, do to the economic collapse, is about all the country can afford, at least for now. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has an alternative approach that he says will cost nothing. But is he merely proposing “health reform lite?”

First, the President’s plan. He keeps talking about how Republicans are fighting to block health-care reform. But all he had to do was to sell his health agenda to the Democrats. After all, his party owns the White House, has a 70-seat majority in the House, and a filibuster-proof Senate. Not one Republican is needed. All the Democrats have to do is agree on something.

His problem is that Democrats like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Congressman Charlie Melancon go home to Louisiana each weekend and hear overwhelming apprehension and concern from their constituents. And the same thing is happening to Democratic members of congress nationwide.

In dealing with health insurance issues for some 12 years as Insurance Commissioner, I learned quickly that our health care system is engineered, deliberately or not, to resist change. To millions of people, they don’t realize they are paying the bill as money comes out of their paychecks and paid as insurance premiums without most users even realizing it. Often, a small co pay makes us think we are getting a lot for very little. So to many, why change?

Governors have reservations because of what will be an inevitable shift in much of the Medicaid cost to the states. Louisiana has a really sweet deal. 70% of Medicaid costs are paid by the federal government. The average state reimbursement is 57%. Health officials, particularly in Louisiana, are justifiably concerned about the major increase in what the state will have to pay.

When Obama was first elected, “change is good” was the mantra. But it’s the national mood that has now changed. Recently, the Congressional Budget Office released a study concluding that the purposed healthcare bill would not just save any money, but would actually cost more than a trillion dollars over the next decade. A majority of Americans, for now, are concluding that the deficit will be increased, taxes will go up, new fees and fines will be imposed, and they just can’t afford such a new program right now. If the most pressing problem is the economy, then start there before major healthcare changes are undertaken.

So in to the mix comes Gov. Bobby Jindal, returning to the national scene after a 5 month sabbatical recovering from his national meltdown address. His speeches and Op Ed columns in various publications talk about “massive new taxes being proposed,” and he sets out a 7 point alternative agenda for congress to consider. But here’s his Achilles heel. Every proposal listed could be adopted on the state level right here in Louisiana.

Jindal’s list includes pooling for small businesses, pay for performance, health savings accounts, and change in lifestyles to reduce likelihood of chronic disease, insurance reform, and medical lawsuit reform. But the Jindal plan does nothing to address the 40 million people who are uninsured, though some of his items would reduce present costs. Every single proposal the Governor lists could, and in most cases should, be put in place on the state level. In fact, by enacting a comprehensive “Louisiana Plan,” Jindal would have a platform to use in touring the country and saying; “Hey, look at all we did in Louisiana.”

He could begin immediately with lifestyle changes by implementing a wellness program for the 257, 000 state employees and their families who get their health insurance though the state group benefits program. Louisiana has the highest rate of obesity in the nation, and obese people spend 42% more than people of normal weight on medical costs. This amounts to more than $1500 more a year. A major wellness effort among public employees could result in huge savings for Louisiana.

The Governor goes on to suggest a litany of other needed changes. Post treatments and procedures to the internet, portable electronic health-care records, more coverage for pre-existing conditions (a cost increase), better coordination in care for chronic conditions, and other ideas that he thinks has merit and will help in controlling escalating costs. But Bobby Jindal needs to do more than just talk the talk. If he is really serious, then walk the walk.
Call a special session of the Louisiana Legislature this fall to implement his ideas. My guess is that lawmakers would readily go along. Then he has an agenda to point to. Jindal can take his program nationwide as an alternative to what the President is offering.

Right now, Jindal is adding just one bit of rhetoric in the mix. He has the unique opening to move towards implementation rather than just offering proposals. He should practice what he preaches and seize the moment. The President is bogged down and Jindal has a window opportunity to offer an alternative. Will he be both courageous and politically smart enough to take on the challenge?

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies." —Groucho Marx

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



It was like old home week at the National Governors’ Conference in Biloxi, Mississippi this past weekend. The Louisiana Governor seemed to be the center of attention, with other state governors coming up to greet, give hugs and pay respects. When Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour welcomed the various state chief executives and their numerous staff members in attendance, he only acknowledged one governor in the crowd. Louisiana’s. But we were told Gov. Bobby Jindal wasn’t going to show? And he didn’t.

So how could he be in Biloxi? Well, stick with me here now. It’s a really good story you did not read or hear about any place else. Are you ready?

I drove over to Biloxi to hear Johnny Mathis perform at the Beau Rivage this past Friday night. Since I had read about the National Governors’ Conference being held there, I thought “what the heck.’” I’m with the press, so let’s get media credentials and stop by. I registered on line as a medial representative from Clear Channel Radio, picked up my badge when I arrived at the Beau Rivage, and headed for the opening Friday night reception for all in attendance.

I walked into the main conference room on the hotel’s second floor, and the place was packed. Open bar, great food, and a good band playing southern music. I recognized a number of faces from national news stories. Of course Gov. Barbour, as well as Gov. Brian Schweitzer from Montana, and Gov. Joe Manchin from West Virginia. I greeted Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who I knew from the 1980s when we both served as Secretary of State from our respective home states.

But the Governor who was obviously garnering most of the focus was from Louisiana. OK OK. No more suspense. The Louisiana Governor getting all the attention was Kathleen Blanco with her husband Raymond. They were both working the crowd a la Bill Clinton, and getting a fine reception from Democrats and Republicans alike. Then Gov. Barbour took the stage and seemed to go on and on with praise for “my former colleague and dear friend,” Kathleen Blanco.
Gov. Blanco was coy when I quizzed her about why she was here, and should I read anything in to her attending. “Just visiting a number of old friends,” was the best she would offer. Her husband, “Coach” Blanco was more animate. He made clear his feelings that the present administration has more than one billion 500 million dollars more to spend than did the Blanco Administration, and there was no justification for cutting higher education in Louisiana. “Coach” indicated he would have some strong words to say about the present legislative wasted spending in comments to the Morning Advocate.

He did unload a few days later by writing in a letter to the editor: “During the first session in which the Tucker Gang was in charge, they spent money like drunken sailors, with nothing of great value to show for it. Convincing themselves that Louisiana would be immune to a national economic downturn, Tucker’s gang increased state spending by an unheard of $1 billion in one year, naturally creating a spending problem.”

The “Coach” listed Tucker, but it was obviously a hit at the Jindal Administration. Which, of course, lead to my next question to Gov. Blanco. “So are you running next time? Will we see Kathleen Blanco on the ballot in 2011?” I asked. She smiled and said her focus for now was the book she is writing. “We will let the future take care of itself,” she said. But she kept the gleam in her eye, and there seemed to be little doubt that if she thought there was a chance, she would seriously consider running again for Governor.

The consensus of most political observers is that if Katrina had never happened, Blanco would have been re elected. She had beaten Bobby Jindal to win the governorship initially, and with no real controversies or major stumbling in her first two years in office, Jindal had little opening to mount a major race again, even though he had been elected Congressman from the New Orleans area. But her gubernatorial momentum came to a crawl when she blinked for a moment and turned down the President’s request that the Louisiana National Guard be nationalized and the feds take over the Katrina recovery effort.

As even ole’ Edwin Edwards said at the time, he would have given the President such authority in a New York second. “It would then have been all George Bush’s headache,” Edwards surmised. So in that brief moment of indecision, Blanco gave Jindal the opening to jump into the recovery fray. And although he had no real authority, Jindal’s travels though out the state gave him many opportunities to be in the news fighting for the state’s recovery.

Would Blanco have any real chance to defeat Jindal? Some of the luster on the present Governor’s star has certainly dimed in recent months. One year ago, Jindal’s favorability rating was in the mid 70s. In April of this year, he was holding at 66 % in a poll by the Public Policy Institute. But in a new poll by the same group released this week, Jindal’s positives have dropped to 55 %. Still good numbers for any governor. But if the trend continues, there seems little doubt that Kathleen Blanco will give the race a good look.

The rumors of Blanco’s interest might even be a wakeup call for Jindal. The present Governor seems to be standing still, holding the line on spending, and putting out daily brush fires. But expectations were much higher for the Rhodes Scholar policy wonk. Many thought they were electing a new kind of Governor; one with vision and much higher expectations. He seemed to have the talent to set out a scenario of state goals for many years to come. Perhaps the daily grind of governing has kept him out of sync. Or maybe the expectations of the Louisiana electorate were not realistic.

For whatever reason, voters are expecting much more from Jindal. If he does not rise above the minutia of government, he will have Kathleen Blanco looking over his shoulder as 2011 gets closer.

A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

~James Freeman Clarke
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears weekly in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. You can read all his back columns by going to http://www.jimbrownla,.com/. You will also see a number of relevant videos and current updates on this website.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor Not the Best Pick for High Court!

Thursday, July 16, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


“Elections have consequences.” These were the words of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, as he questioned Judge Sonia Sotomayor on the first day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. “Republicans lost the November election and President Obama won. And that ought to matter.” Graham has hoisted the white flag of Republican surrender. No real fight to oppose the Sotomayor nomination. But are Republican Senators asking the right questions?

The new nominee profiles in lock step with the current court member she hopes to replace, Justice David Souter. But there are both questions and disturbing decisions that any senator, Democrat and Republican alike should both investigate and question. We are talking about a lifetime appointment, and this will be the one and only chance to delve into the mind of a Judge who can and will shape public policy that affects every citizen for many years to come.

There has been much written about the New Haven decision where a three judge court, that included Sotomayor, rejected the appeal of white firefighters who contended they were victims of racial discrimination when they were denied promotions. And you would have to be completely callas not to feel sympathy for firefighter Frank Ricci. He studied for over a year to pass the city’s promotion exam, hiring as tutor and using flash cards for practice to overcome his dyslexia. He was one of several firefighters who scored high, but was denied the promotion because too many of the highest-scoring test takers turned out to be white like Ricci. Just last week, the US Supreme Court overturned the Sotomayor decision, saying the city violated federal civil rights law.

Sotomayor’s actions are disturbing on two levels. It was not just that the decision was wrong. There was no reasoning. No explanation. No guidance for other jurisdictions nationwide that were initially bound by what Sotomayor wrote. This was a decision that had huge civil rights and policy implications, yet Sotomayor chose to write only two paragraphs. Issues as urgent and volatile as minority hiring cry out for much more than a perfunctory thumbs-up-or-down response. The lower court’s decision ran 78 pages. Yet all that Sotomayor and her one supporting colleague could offer was two paragraphs.

In another quite short opinion involving a major national issue (Didden v Village of Port Chester), Sotomayor sided with a town that condemned private property for “public use” in what legal scholar Richard Epstein called “about as naked an abuse of government power as could be imagined.” And just like in the Ricci case, Sotomayor’s opinion was both short and barely analyzed the important constitutional claims concerning the taking of private property.

Is this a reflection of work ethic? Once confirmed, Sotomayor joins a court that is notorious for a light work load. As each year goes by, the Supreme Court works less and less. Some 10,000 petitions are filed in the Supreme Court each year, and almost all of them are turned aside. This year, the court might consider some 60 cases. They never worked too hard in the past, but at least up until some 15 years ago, the normal load was 125 cases or more. But no longer. The Supremes workload lightens year after year.

With her flimsy opinion in the highly volatile and important New Haven and Didden cases, Sotomayor should be quizzed at length about her own work ethic and commitment to getting her workload done. Does she agree with taking a three month summer vacation, and continuing to accept a lighter caseload as each year goes by? Does a lifetime appointment allow judges and justices to work at whatever pace they please?

And what about all this “empathy” talk? How much of a bleeding heart is the judge? Not much if you look at her questionable and cold hearted decision in the Deskovic case. As a 17 year old student, Deskovic was convicted of the rape and murder of a classmate despite a negative DNA test. He served 16 years in prison before he was ultimately exonerated with additional DNA evidence pointed to another man.

When his lawyer appealed Deskovic’s conviction, the local clerk of court misinformed him of the deadline for filing the appeal. The case went to Sotomayor’s appeals court, where she ruled, along with the other judge on the panel, that the lawyer’s mistake did not “rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances,” so as to forgive the delay. There was no need to look at the evidence that would have cleared Deskovic. He was an innocent man, but Sotomayor opted for procedure over fairness and finality of conviction over accuracy. He was innocent, but that apparently did not matter to the judge.

I hope this is not what she means when she says that “a wise Latina” would make better judicial decisions. In these and other decisions, Sotomayor has opted for procedure over fairness and finality of conviction over accuracy. She has shown to be shallow in her rhetoric, mediocre in her scholarship, and insensitive to basic notions of what is the right thing to do in determining a just result.

Sen. Graham is probably right when he told Sotomayor: “Unless you have a complete meltdown,” he said, “you’re going to get confirmed.” In a country with so much bright legal talent, the President and the US Senate could and should have done much better.

“Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each wave of new judges blown in by each successive political wind.”

Justice Hugo L. Black, in Turner v United States, 396 US 398, 426

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Can Jindal Salvage a National Image?

Thursday, July 9, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


“Whatever happened to Bobby Jindal?” That is the question posed in this month’s Economist Magazine. “At one point he was the great hope of the GOP and now we hardly hear a word about him.” So is it time to begin writing obituaries about the Louisiana Governor’s once rising nation political ambitions? Maybe not yet, but Jindal obviously has his work cut out for him.
After Jindal’s less than stellar response speech to the President’s State of the Union address, the criticism came raining down, and he all but disappeared from any national view. The conventional thinking among Jindal’s staff of advisors was for him to lay low and let the “Kenneth-the-Page” fiasco pass. Let time be the healer, and then find the right opportunity for Jindal to re appear on the national scene.

The problem for Jindal is that by not staying visible outside Louisiana, the only impressions many political observers have of him is the “Little Ole’ Bobby moment” seen by millions this past February. The Governor did have his hands full in the recently ended session of the Louisiana Legislature. But timing can be everything in politics. And with other potential presidential contenders dropping out right and left (Governors Palin and Sanford, and Sen. Ensign to name the latest), Jindal could be missing important opportunities that could lead to a revitalized stature on the national scene. Just what could he begin to do that would draw favorable national attention?

First, jump head first into the national healthcare debate. When he was running for governor, Jindal played up his credentials as a healthcare policy wonk. He served in Washington as Executive Director of a major bipartisan healthcare commission set up by former Senator John Breaux. Jindal is supposed to know health issues forward and backward. He missed a grand opportunity in the past legislative session to set out a solid reform agenda in Louisiana that could be transposed nationally.
It is still not too late for such a Louisiana effort, and the issue could well justify a special session of the legislature that, coincidently, would be widely viewed all over the country since healthcare has moved to the front burner of major national concerns.

Louisiana has applied for a medical waiver from the federal government to implement Jindal’s Health First Initiative to direct Medicaid recipients to special primary care providers or “group homes” so as to build continuity in continuing care. This, in theory, gives better care and saves money in the process.
The program could be part of an overall medical reform plan that Jindal should espouse nationwide. But so far, he has left selling and implementation to the bureaucrats. When a major overhaul took place in Massachusetts a few years ago, then Gov. Mitt Romney was in the forefront, and traveled the country discussing his concept. The Louisiana plan needs more work and more “meat” that widens the coverage net, but it’s a good and timely platform for Jindal to climb aboard.

Secondly, he should take off an afternoon to read Malcolm Gladwell’s informative best seller, The Outliers. How do you find a way for Louisiana to jumpstart its’ mediocre educational apparatus so as to at least come close to the innovations taking place in many other states? Gladwell points out that merely trying to “keep up with the Jones” in today’s competitive educational climate is not enough. Other states, ranked significantly higher than Louisiana in educational performance, are also experimenting and looking for new ways to get better results. Something dramatic has to be done to make a significant jump.

Just released results on Higher Education from the Southern Regional Education Board lists Louisiana as having the lowest graduation rate in the 16 state group, with only 37 percent of full-time freshmen graduating within six years from beginning their studies. It is more than obvious that Louisiana has huge strides to make up. So where to begin? Maybe the word “internet” might serve as a catalyst. It’s great to go off to college, cheer on the home team, and take in the keg parties. But if the state is truly in an economic war to keep jobs where we have to pour $50 million into a plant to hire chicken pluckers, the Governor should consider building a new LSU in cyberspace.

With major budget constraints, Jindal can either tell educators to do less with less, or he can charge them with the calling of quickly developing and implementing a cyber class system, giving students “anytime” options of lectures by the best faculty for the entire higher ed system. The choices are unlimited. Science labs could be made available on weekends, and at night. The social networking technologies are available (email, text messaging, visual direct communication with a computer camera) to support student interactions with instructors and each other.

Hey Governor, when you are in a crisis, the best offense is often innovation. Sure there are many issues to work out but you have the moment; the chance to put high quality higher education within reach of tens of thousands more Louisiana students in a cyber-campus that could deliver state-of-the-art options online. It is timely, it’s the right thing to do, and the efforts would be closely observed all over the nation.

And finally, to “go national,” Jindal should go international. There are bountiful opportunities throughout Latin and South American for international trade with Louisiana. A new nonstop flight began last week to Mexico City. The Legislature just passed new tax credit help for ports along the river making it attractive for shippers to come through Louisiana.
I wrote at length in a recent column about the range of Louisiana natural resources in demand through Latin America as well as India, where the Governor has strong blood ties. Economic development trips can be profitable for the state, and good politically for Jindal. He can meet a number of international leaders that he can refer to in the months to come showing a grasp of international issues, something few governors, particularly Sarah Palin, have been able to do in the past.

The expectations for Bobby Jindal were lowered a bit several months ago when he was baptized by fire in his first nationally televised address. Bill Clinton bombed in his first national exposure back in 1988. But he regrouped and bandied his Arkansas successes. Jindal needs to be results oriented. These three listed ideas are a good beginning. There is still time for Jindal to also be considered as the “comeback kid.”


“Every day that’s another day of lost opportunity. I don’t think we can do this soon enough.”
Bobby Jindal

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Linville, North Carolina


That’s the question posed to me by a group of political consultants meeting in Charlotte this week as they tried to ferret out what Republican is a viable contender for the 2012 presidential nomination. The group felt that under normal circumstances, a presidential effort by current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would have been permanently sidelined by what they perceived to be a childish and weak televised response to Pres. Obama's address to the nation in February.
But that was then.

In the past month, the Republican presidential herd has been thinning fast. First there was Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who had recently set up a presidential campaign fund. But he surprised a number of fellow Republicans by accepting the President's offer to make him Ambassador to China.

Then the sexual escapades blew up in national news reports in a double whammy that took out of contention, first Nevada Sen. John Ensign, followed by the bizarre revelations of extramarital activity by Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Sanford had made the Louisiana Governor look like a piker when it came to turning down the millions of dollars on the table in stimulus money authorized by Congress. He admonished the President by postulating: "Since we're issuing debt to solve a problem that was created by too much debt; since that's taking place, and since those costs will be borne by the next generation, in fact it is sort of physical child abuse to do what we're doing." Sanford made it clear that there should be no spending government money in any unwarranted and inappropriate manner. You can imagine the surprise to hear how the South Carolina Governor spent almost $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to visit his Argentine girlfriend.

By the way, one of the hottest bumper stickers floating around says: “Sanford/Ensign in 2012.”
"I still believe our Republican nominee will be a governor," said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. He also added the nomination could very well go to someone with little name recognition. "When George W. Bush got reelected in 2004, Barack Obama was a state legislator," Ayers said.

Jindal's stumblings have given an opening to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour who appeared last week in New Hampshire for a party fundraiser. He also took over as chairman of the Republican Governors Association last week after Sanford step down, and he is off to Iowa next week where the first presidential primary caucuses take place.

Of course any Republican list right now includes Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But her family dramas continue to play like a long-running soap opera, and can she ever get beyond her comments that "I can see Russia from my house?” Last week, a Fox news poll indicated that a majority of Republicans say former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani would likely be the top contender; followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Palin comes in a distant fourth and Jindal is not even on the radar.

With so many of the higher profile governors either being labeled as has beens from the last campaign, or like Jindal have let a golden opportunity go by, lesser-known governors are beginning to test the national political waters. Those in the minor league hoping to ascend to the top-tier include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. The Hoosier state chief executive gained national public praise for his commencement speech at Butler University recently where he blasted baby boomers as self-indulgent. He recently won a second term overwhelmingly in a state carried by the President during last year's election.
My group in Charlotte all agreed that the Republican Party’s number one objective would be to find a candidate who can address public perceptions that the GOP is both intolerant and irrelevant, not to mention being scandalized by politicians who preach family values while getting caught up in extra marital affairs.

So who is there to lead the charge? And is there any way that Bobby Jindal can resurrect his national image and be considered a relevant contender for the 2012 presidential nomination? He did not seem to help his cause in the just completed annual session of the Louisiana Legislature. Newspapers throughout the state by and large have panned any significant accomplishments, and criticized Jindal for his failure to offer strong leadership and specific proposals.

The New Orleans Times Picayune headlined: "Legislative Session a missed Opportunity." The Lafayette advertiser bluntly stated that "Leadership missing this Session." And the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate concluded that "Jindal and legislature took steps backward." The Jindal team strategy was based on either cutting or holding the line on state spending. There were few specifics given to legislators that would define the Jindal scenario of a state government reorganization plan or any long-range goals for the state’s future.

If the group were called on to offer some specific advice to Bobby Jindal on how he can reclaim a top-tier spot as a major presidential contender, what would they suggest? Surprisingly, they offered a number of ideas. In their opinion, Jindal has let some golden opportunities pass both him and the state by.

The list is long. Oh, I’ll have it for you. But with space running out, keep a lookout for next week’s column. Here’s the challenge for Bobby Jindal. Is there still national political life after being compared to Mister Rogers?
"Being compared to Mister Rogers is better than some of the other comparisons we've had here in the past."
Bobby Jindal

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears weekly in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. You can read all his back columns by going to www.jimbrownla,.com. You will also see a number of relevant videos and current updates on this website.