Thursday, October 29, 2015


October 29th, 2015
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Do a majority of folks in Louisiana even care about who governs them in the coming years?  You wouldn’t think so based on election turnout in last week’s gubernatorial election.  Election officials had projected just under 50% turnout. As a former head of elections during my time as Secretary of State, I had projected a bit above 40%.
The final total was a miserable 38.5%.

Now remember that some 30% of adults over eighteen who could register have not done so.  That means the less than 30% of Louisianans over eighteen bothered to show up at the polls to vote.  And with a competitive runoff for governor and a number of other races, projections are even lower for the runoff less than thirty days away. I wrote in last week’s column as to why the lack of interest.  (  So what can be done to spark more “election fever” in the future?

First, eliminate all election dates but one.  We have way too many elections.  In the past year alone, Louisiana has held 10 different elections. All these special and local elections could wait until one election date a year. The savings to taxpayers would be some six million dollars.

And why have statewide elections in the fall to begin with? Many other states hold elections in the spring. Fall elections compete with LSU and Saints football along with fairs and festivals. A spring date would engender more interest.

Second, go back to party primaries.  Louisiana is the only state in the nation that has our convoluted open primary system.  When all candidates run in the same primary election, political parties become more irrelevant. But when candidates run within the old closed primary system, democrats and republicans alike are out working for their respective candidates in an organized fashion to get out the vote. The closed primary system generates a much greater interest.

Third, strictly enforce the laws that prohibit a candidate from coordinating with a third party PAC.  Millions of dollars poured into Louisiana from outside the state by sham PACs set up by the candidates.  I’m against such PACs but the Supreme Court recently made them legal.  Candidates are prohibited by law from any involvement or coordination.  But both candidates and PACs regularly violate the law.

Without all this outside money, candidates will have to get back to “retail” politicking; showing up at fairs and festivals, riding in local parades, and re-engaging directly with voters.  This will certainly create more interest on Election Day.

Forth, make voting easier. The world has changed in some many ways. You can buy, sell, conduct business, pay your bills and taxes, and interrelate in just about any possible way with the exception of how you vote.  Why does one have to get in their car, drive to a polling location, wait in line, all just to vote?  Isn’t it possible to design a system to allow voting electronically wherever you happen to be?

Oh, the naysayers will holler wide spread election fraud.  I disagree. A voter could enter their social security number on a smart phone and cast their ballot. Yes, it would be possible to use a family member’s number to illegally vote.  But someone who would attempt such a scheme is messing with your right to pick those who run the country and keep us safe.  So stick them criminally if any attempt is made to defraud the system.  How about a minimum of ten years in jail for such perpetrators?

Fifth, let Hard-Working Undocumented Immigrants Vote: Just kidding. I wanted to see if you're still paying attention.

But seriously, how about this idea.  If we eliminate all these special elections, the state will save millions of dollars in elections costs. So let’s give some of those savings back. When a voter finishes cast their ballot, the system gives them a number. That’s right. A lottery number! The state takes $500,000 of that multi-million dollars savings, and the lottery picks twenty different voters to each receive $25,000 for being a winner in casting their vote. Think of the renewed interest and higher turnout that would take place.

Poll after poll indicates that Louisiana citizens have little confidence in how their state is being run.  But the present system offers little incentive and too many roadblocks to make voting easier.  Maybe a little creative thinking by new legislators in Baton Rouge could help in getting voters out of their current doldrums. There is really not much at stake.  Well, except for the future of our kids and our quality of life.


“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” -- George Jean Nathan

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 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

Thursday, October 22, 2015


October 22nd, 2015
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In the numerous gubernatorial debates that have taken place over the past year, candidates have been asked time and time again what they will do about the massive state debt that continues to grow. How will they fill the financial hole that some say will approach two billion dollars in the coming year?

The answers put forth by all the candidates are generally the same. First, no new taxes because we have a spending problem. Second, call a special session of the legislature the day they take office. The same clichés over and over again. No specifics. We skeptics keep asking, “Where’s the beef?”  The pat answer of “just trust us ‘cause we can work this out,” has gone stale. Voters have been hearing the same banalities year after year.
There have been a number of stopgap solutions suggested to stop the fiscal dike from overflowing in mounting debt. Cap the movie tax credits, eliminate the homestead exemption, put a cap on the educational TOPS program, curtail the industrial tax exemptions, eliminate the state sales tax holidays, get rid of the numerous special tax breaks that seem to be widespread for everyone but you and me, wipe out the numerous annual grants to non-profits; the list goes on and on.
The proposals right now seem to be heading towards a special session of the legislature reviewing item by item what funding should be cut or eliminated. Can you imagine the herd of lobbyists camping out at the state capitol pleading for their special funding or exemption to be left alone?
Here’s a novel idea. Why not just go back to square one? The legislature, without any direction from the new governor, could go into a special session, either with the governor’s support or on their own, and re-build a financial plan for taxing and spending from scratch. Why have a knock-down, drag-out fight over what funding to cut or what exemption to preserve? Just let the legislature do its job with a clean slate and no “locked in” spending requirements.
Back in 1973, I was an elected delegate to the constitutional convention. I was co-chairman, along with former governor Buddy Roemer, of the revenue and finance committee of the convention. After months of discussion, we directed that the legislature assume the constitutional responsibility of determining year in and year out just how state funds were to be spent. No special exemptions. No advantages or money protection for any one group.
Article 7 (Revenue and Finance) of the new constitution specifically spelled out that spending priorities were to be determined by the legislature. But little by little, the legislature bowed to the whims of special interest groups and allowed constitutional amendments that limited the legislature’s ability to prioritize spending. The state was in better financial shape when voters passed these amendments, and no one had the foresight to see the financial crisis that would happen in years to come.
As political watchdog C. B. Forgotston has suggested, the legislature could come into a special session on day one of taking office, and deal just with Article 7 of the constitution. Eliminate all dedicated funding for any special interest. Remember, that’s how it was in 1973. It would take just one constitutional amendment to be considered by the voters next year.
One of the most prosperous times in Louisiana’s history was just after our present constitution was adopted and before it was weighted down was so many special interest dedications. In 1974, and in the early years following, it was a flourishing time for the state economically. Yes, energy was an important economic factor. But the new constitution played a significant role in the state’s growing economy.
If a new Article 7 was adopted, then the legislature would have fresh authority to set priorities for the state’s future. If such an amendment would fail, then a majority of voters would have made the decision that Louisiana will continue to fester at the bottom. It will take a courageous legislature, a committed new governor, and a voting public that is tired of the status quo. But the clock is running.
It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money.”
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 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

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Remember the 1970 song by Chicago; “Does anybody know what time it is, does anybody really care?”  Well it’s close to Election Day in Louisiana, and it would seem by early voting and general lack of interest that Louisianans are not holding their breath to cast their ballot. Why the lack of attention to an event that affects the future of the state? There are a number of reasons.

Louisiana has become a strong red state with major advantages for the republican candidate. A number of democratic leaning voters feel going to the polls is just not worth the effort. “Why bother if my vote really won’t make any difference,” is the feeling of many more moderate inclined voters.

It’s much harder for candidates to get to voters today. It used to be that a voter had the choice of three TV stations, a few radio stations and one local newspaper. The Internet has changed all this.  From cable to web newspapers, to information streaming, voters have so many new choices.  And political media campaigns often get lost in the scuffle.  It is simply much harder to get to the average voter without raising and spending more campaign dollars.

“Retail politicking,” particularly in statewide races, has become a thing of the past.  Up until just a few years ago, candidates would never miss the chance to shake hands at numerous well-attended festivals and fairs across the state.  When I was out looking for votes during my seven statewide elections, I would send over a convertible at the crack of dawn on parade day to get in the front of the line, often jousting with a number of other candidates. Today, few statewide candidates show up for such events. 

Now candidates raise campaign dollars and hand it over to consultants, who then decide how the money is to be spent.  And the majority of the spending is for 30-second attack ads in the final days of the campaign.  Both sides attach each other, and voters are relegated to the choices of bad or worse.  As one candidate put it: “ I want voters to hold their nose and vote for me.”

The press does not cover political campaigns like they once did. This is a reflection of the financial cutbacks by newspapers, radio and TV stations across the state. Louisiana’s largest newspaper, The Times Picayune, now only prints three times a week.  A reader has to go on line to read their news in a city where 40% of the voters do not have an Internet connection.

 Radio stations are doing much less local programing. Thousand’s of voters used to listen to interviews about local and state politicians during morning and afternoon drive time.  But much of the programing is now syndicated, with stations using talk show hosts who have little interest in local politics. TV stations in the state, with a few exceptions, no longer have the resources to do any in-depth comparisons of candidates. The result is that voters are less informed, and thus less interested.

And finally, I wonder if many voters in the state know how to vote anymore?  I have run for office in ten different elections beginning in the early 70s.  I   cannot remember being pigeonholed by voters who made their choice of candidates based on a single issue. Today, more and more voters toe the party line, and look for either the R or D after a candidate’s name. Too often, we don’t consider which candidate has a broad vision for what is in the best interest of Louisiana.

Have we relegated ourselves into “kneejerk” voting based on single issues?  Consultants talk about the Catholic vote, the abortion vote, and the Cajun vote, often all based on self-interest, and not founded on a range of issues that are critical to getting Louisiana out of its economic doldrums.  If these “self interest” issues are not on the line, doesn’t this dampen the interest in going to the polls?

Elections officials are predicting a 45% turnout, one of the lowest for statewide elections in he past 100 years.  There are number of ways to reinvigorate the electorate and make voting easier and more interesting. That’s fodder for a post election column.  In the meantime, every Louisiana voter will hopefully take the required few minutes to cast an important vote on Saturday, October 24th.  Geaux vote Louisiana.


If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.  ~Jay Leno

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 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

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Leave it to a preacher to ask a serious and relevant question about ways to save money in a state that faces a huge financial crisis.  At a recent forum of candidates running for Lt. Governor in Louisiana, Pastor Lewis Richerson of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge asked an interesting question. 

“Some have said that Louisiana does not need a Lieutenant Governor’s Office. In light of the budget crisis that our state is facing, what apologetics could you make tonight to validate the Lieutenant Governor’s office in the state of Louisiana?”

The four candidates in attendance muttered the standard time-worn lines that the job is “a heartbeat away from the Governor,” and lamented that a number of state agencies would go to hell in a hand basket if the Lite Guv’s office were eliminated.  Ah, the melodrama of Louisiana political campaigns.  Let’s be realistic.  If the office of Lt. Governor were eliminated, nary a voter would see the slightest difference.

Under the present Louisiana constitution, the Lt. Governor has no assigned duties. The person holding the office is at the beck and call of the governor.  When I served as Secretary of State back in the 1980’s, I would often make fun of my friend, Lt. Governor Bobby Friedman.  If he were in attendance at a gathering, I would tell the crowd that I knew what the Lt. Governor did all day. “As best I can figure, the Lt. Governor gets up in the morning to see if per chance the governor died the night before.  If not, he’s free go fishing, play bouree, or do whatever he wants.” 

Friedman would always feign laughter, but the point was made. The job has no constitutional duties.  The legislature has put the Lt. Governor in charge of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, but do we really need to elect a bureaucrat to see that the trash is picked up in state parks and museum pictures are dusted off?

Seven states across the country do not even have a lieutenant governor, and Tennessee and West Virginia just give the title to the president of the State Senate.  In 21 states, the governor and the lt. governor run as a team on the same ticket, similar to how national elections for president and vice president are selected. In fact, only 17 states have entirely separate elections for governor and lt. governor.

Having the two offices run as a ticket actually makes pretty good sense.  The governor would then have a lt. governor of his or her selection, and would be able to assign duties to a colleague well trusted to work together as a team effort.

Quite frankly, several other statewide offices could also be appointed by the governor as is done in a number of states. I held two such offices that could well go on the chopping block.  The Secretary of State is an appointed position in 12 states and three more don’t even have the office that some refer to as a “high end or glorified clerk of court.”  The Louisiana constitution requires that the Secretary of State be the keeper of the “Great Seal of Louisiana.”  I looked for the Seal during my entire 8 years in office, but never found it.

And how about the office of Louisiana Insurance Commissioner?  Would you believe there are only 11 insurance commissioners elected in the entire country? Commissioners spend a good part of their time raising campaign dollars from the very people they are supposed to regulate.  Is this the best way to assure policyholders of reasonable insurance rates?

And then there is the Agriculture Commissioner.  Twelve states select, while 38 states appoint.  It must make Louisianans more at ease to know that some politician is checking up on the veggies and milk they consume.  There’s a move by a number of education groups to elect the Superintendent of Education.  Oh great!  Let’s put a politician in charge to screw up the education of our kids even more.  Why not just elect ‘em all right down to dogcatchers and trash haulers, right?

Pastor Richerson makes a good point.  In a time of major fiscal crisis caused by inept political oversight, does Louisiana need to elect more positions than any other state in the nation?  Some consolidation would seem to make good sense for a state on the verge of going broke.  But are any public officials listening?


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 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