A key staffer to Gov. John Bel Edwards resigned from his position after the administration launched an investigation into sexual harassment claims. Sources related to the investigation claimed litigation against the state and the executive branch employee could be forthcoming.
LaPolitics made a public records request on Nov. 22; by the afternoon, Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Planning Johnny Anderson had resigned.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Carbo said in a prepared statement. “Upon commencement of the investigative process within 24 hours of first learning of these allegations, Johnny Anderson resigned from the Governor’s Office. The investigation will continue, and we are unable to comment any further.”
Carbo added, “Gov. Edwards has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and it will not be tolerated in this administration.”
In 2007, according to reporting from WAFB-TV, Anderson was chairman of the Southern University Board of Supervisors and faced similar charges. He was “accused of sexual harassment of female employees at Southern University of Baton Rouge,” and was “allegedly seeking sexual favors for promotions or job security,” late investigative journalist Paul Gates reported at the time.
Anderson eventually stepped down from that position with Southern’s board. He told The Advocate recently he was “exonerated” in the 2007 incident and is “innocent” of any wrongdoing in his former capacity as an executive branch employee.
EWE: Harassment Claims A “Serious Problem”
The former Louisiana governor — who’s fond of saying, “You’re only as young as the woman you feel” — offered up some unexpected remarks recently about the growing number of sexual harassment claims grabbing headlines around the nation.
Edwin Edwards transitioned into the issue while addressing a reunion of the 1973 constitutional convention at Juban’s restaurant in Baton Rouge.
He initially focused his comments on the lasting legacy of the Constitution, which was adopted by voters in 1974. But he took a sharp turn soon after.
“All of the bad things that have been said about me, and I know some of you remember some of that, no one ever said I attacked a 14-year-old girl,” Edwards told the audience, making a reference to U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.
It was a surprise topic from a governor who once counseled that the best thing to do with a Republican is “sleep with them.”
When asked on another occasion about the number of women he was adding to his administration, Edwards said, “The motto from here on out is up with skirts and down with pants.”
Edwards attempted to strike that same humorous tone earlier this month, while simultaneously underlining his concerns about the claims that are surfacing. “It’s amazing to me how much of that is going on now. I didn’t think all of that was happening. I must have missed something in my life,” Edwards told the delegates, to a sprinkling of laughter. “I really think it’s a very serious problem in America. I hope in some way the attention it’s getting will help resolve it and bring some attention to this serious problem.”
Election Aftermath Unfolds
Now that Louisiana’s November runoff elections are over, the candidates can face their ultimate fates as state officials publicly ponder what to do about a string of record-low turnouts.
The October primary ballot yielded votes from just 14 percent of the electorate, and the tally dropped to 12 percent for the runoffs.
It’s certainly a quick turnaround for the victor at the top of the ballot, former state Rep. John Schroder, who was sworn in as Louisiana’s next treasurer on Tuesday, Dec. 5, in Kenner. The Secretary of State’s office promulgated the elections results from the November run-offs the day prior, Dec. 4.
In the meantime, at least one of the challenges to the unofficial results has been resolved. A New Orleans City Council election was dragged into a recount after Jay Banks bested Seth Bloom by 131 votes. That recount allowed Banks a second chance to claim a win and prepare for his swearing-in ceremony.
As for turnout, the lack of interest may add support for Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s argument that election fatigue warrants a change to state law. Schedler wants to replace major special elections with temporary appointments. “It costs the same to host the special treasurer’s election as it did the presidential election in 2016, when close to 70 percent of voters participated,” he said.
The topic is expected to resurface during the 2018 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature.
Political History: Zachary Taylor, Reluctant President
Each November in Louisiana usually brings with it a moment or two to reflect on Zachary Taylor, a reluctant president who came by way of the Bayou State.
It was 169 years ago, on Nov. 7, 1848, that Gen. Taylor became the only Louisiana resident ever elected as president.
And it was two years ago that The Advocate’s Charles Lussier recalled that strange election — and its somewhat stranger victor, who had almost no formal education and “little interest” in becoming the commander in chief.
“The lifelong military man didn’t even know that he’d been nominated, was not a member of any political party and, after accepting the nomination, refused to campaign,” Lussier wrote. “Most remarkably, he hadn’t voted. Ever.”
Taylor had just settled into a private life in Baton Rouge with his wife, Margaret. In many ways, he embraced life along the Gulf Coast much more firmly than he ever did the Beltway environment.
“The family lived in a modest four-room cottage, later destroyed, that overlooked the Mississippi River,” Lussier wrote. “His newfound celebrity followed him back to his adopted home. He sat for hours in the saddle of his horse, Whitey, posing for portrait painters. Steamboats cruised near the east bank of the river seeking a glimpse of the white-haired hero.”
Those carefree days, of course, were among his last. Louisiana’s Zachary Taylor rode north to Washington, D.C., in 1848 as a reluctant president — and a leader who would die in office just two years later.
Hearing Moves Closer For Duncan
Despite concerns about his nomination from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, it appears as if Baton Rouge native Kyle Duncan will finally receive his confirmation hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Kennedy is a member. Duncan is President Trump’s choice for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
His confirmation hearing had been delayed because Kennedy was withholding support for a vote. Kennedy has expressed some doubt in the past regarding Duncan’s qualifications.
Usually, the objection of a committee member is enough to keep a confirmation hearing in limbo. But Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, broke with tradition and signaled that a meeting is coming.
Groups like the Judicial Crisis Network have rolled out campaigns in recent weeks to drum up support for Duncan. While Kennedy hasn’t been mentioned by name in the ads, those affiliated with the pro-Duncan groups have been working reporters hard and floating the idea that Kennedy’s eventual stance will be some sort of hard-right litmus test.
This isn’t the first time Kennedy’s name has been dragged into the Duncan nomination fight. More than a month ago, the Louisiana Family Forum urged its followers to contact Kennedy and ask him to support Duncan.
The Judicial Crisis Network spent six figures in Louisiana on TV, radio and digital ads in support of Duncan. The ad running now features Attorney General Jeff Landry praising the nominee.
Hall Of Fame Inductees
Another class of politicos are preparing to be inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, the birthplace of three Bayou State governors.
But the induction banquet isn’t being held on the home turf of Huey Long, Earl Long and Oscar K. Allen. Instead, it’s being hosted by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans on March 10.
Next year’s induction class includes the late state Rep. Avery Alexander, current Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, former state Rep. Quentin Dastugue, columnist James Gill, former state Rep. Charlie Lancaster, former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, the late Alton Ochsner, Sr., and U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
The Braden family is being presented with the “Political Family of Officeholders Award.”
Ethics Committee Created
The members of an advisory committee reviewing Louisiana’s ethics laws sound optimistic, some even confident, that significant policy changes will be recommended to the Legislature — maybe even in time for the regular session that begins March 12 of next year.
A pair of legislators and key Ethics Board members are leading the committee. In separate interviews, they expressed a shared interest in tweaking some of the Jindal-era “Gold Standard” policies that were adopted in 2008.
“I think there’s some sentiment for altering some of those things, like the smaller (disclosure) tier, and whether we need all that,” said Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau, the chairman of the Ethics Review Committee and a former state representative who chaired the House Republican Delegation. “We’re finding laws that were added just to get the state more points in those good government rankings.”
Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, occupy the two legislative seats on the review committee, which was created by the Ethics Board. Miller and Morrell are striking the same tone as Bruneau on certain topics.
“The sentiment is there,” Miller said, referencing possible changes to the 2008 disclosure and reporting laws engineered by the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I don’t want to go too far, but I also want a common-sense approach.”
Morrell added, “The whole 2008 reform was more about getting points for those ethics ranking systems. And for talking points. If anything, this is long overdue.”
Bruneau said he was “hopeful” that his committee would have some recommendations in time for the 2018 regular session. But members are really just beginning their work, and they’re nowhere near the drafting stage of their mission.
There was an organizational meeting in September, and a more structured gathering in October, when committee members discussed travel provisions and the various reporting tiers for financial disclosure statements. Members are expected to explore solutions for those travel-related issues. They’ll likewise continue their conversations about financial disclosures.
By most accounts, the committee’s work represents the first organized review of the ethics code since the late 1990s. It may become the most thorough analysis ever conducted with public support.
“We’re looking at everything, and we’re looking to simplify,” said Bruneau. “The ethics code ought to be easy enough for the average state worker or local or state candidate to pick up, read and understand.”
Some members are interested in taking a deeper look into the monthly reporting requirements for lobbyists, arguing that quarterly filings should be sufficient. Others are more curious about fees and how the Ethics Board is allowed to determine or negotiate fine and penalty payments.
For champions of this proposed clean-up effort, term limits may prove valuable. Forty-one percent of the Senate is on the way out and 33 percent in the House is term-limited, as well. Those with one foot out of the door — and a pragmatic touch earned from years of service — could make all the difference, especially if opponents start labeling the revisions as loopholes.
Other members of the review committee pulled from the Ethics Board include former Rep. Jane Smith, Lawrence Brandon and Board Chairman Bob McAnelly.
They Said It
“I often get asked if I’m raising my girls to be Republicans or Democrats. My answer to that is, ‘Do you have children?’ I can’t even get them to close the door.”
— James Carville
“You can heat turkey up. You don’t have to eat it right out the oven.”
— U.S. Sen. Kennedy, on the urgency of a tax reform vote, on FOX News
“This is doing my work for me; this election.”
— Secretary of State Tom Schedler, on the need for election reform in light of recent turnout, in The Associated Press
“As you know, the state is broke.”
— State Sen. Dan Morrish, during a legislative committee meeting
“I have no idea. I just work here.”
— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on the judicial confirmation process, in The Advocate.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.