Jeremy Alford Thursday, November 7, 2013 0

he new president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Stephen Waguespack, officially stepped down from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education before assuming his new role.

He was an at-large member appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“I really enjoyed it, and thought it was a very rewarding experience,” Waguespack said.

Waguespack took over LABI in Sept. He is currently touring parts of the state in an effort to meet with the organization’s members, and will be making a local stop in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Jindal is working to fill the spot on the education board.

The governor’s press office released a prepared statement saying, “We’ll be looking for a replacement to fill Stephen’s seat in short order.”


Borderline Bribe Precedes Loss Of License

In making his transition from puncher to promoter, James Johnson of Shreveport thought it might help his situation to offer the Louisiana Boxing and Wrestling Commission a “large donation” to help move the licensing process along — and he did so in writing.

Based on records obtained by LaPolitics, the borderline bribe was made known to the commission at its April meeting, with Johnson, a former boxer, qualifying that it wasn’t really a bribe. In response, several members weighed in on the inappropriate nature of the whole thing.

According to the minutes of the meeting, commission member Dr. Thomas Ferguson, of Houma, said the incident “disturbed” him, which was verified by some of the board’s leadership in follow-up interviews.

“We had to jump on (Johnson) pretty good about that,” said Alvin J. Topham of Lake Charles, the current chairman. “You don’t bribe us to do anything.”

The commission, appointed entirely by the governor, did end up granting Johnson a promoter’s license, the same license he actually forfeited last month following talks with the commission’s attorney.

Despite the urging of commission members in April to “start off small,” Johnson organized a show in North Louisiana that appears to have fallen apart on the business side.

“We learned there were some money issues that were not taken care of, and there will probably be lawsuits by these people who say he owes them money,” said Topham. “There were also some issues with the venue not being happy with how Johnson handled the ticket sales.”

While Johnson’s offer of a “large donation” didn’t stop the commission from approving his promoter’s license, the handling of his first event did prompt them to question whether he should maintain it in the future, thus his voluntary action. The commission, though, may not have heard the last of Johnson, who sources say is now considering applying for a matchmaker’s license.


On The Rail Again 

The Louisiana Intrastate Rail Compact was approved by the Legislature more than three years ago, during which time there’s been very little movement on the side of government, due largely to Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden taking his time to appoint members. The New Orleans City Council, for its part, immediately signed on and appointed members to the group that has been charged with exploring passenger rail service between Red Stick and the Crescent City.

The good news is that everyone’s finally onboard, including Ascension and Jefferson parishes. The first meeting of the compact was scheduled to take place this week in Gonzales, and is expected to produce a strategic plan for moving forward.

“There’s a renewed sense of energy on this project, and a plan is going to start coming together on how to best approach a passenger rail by taking incremental steps,” said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

Sources say St. John the Baptist Parish could be the next to sign the compact and appoint members, although other locales between Baton Rouge and New Orleans are interested, as well. Indeed, one of the challenges of the past three years has been the parishes in the middle. Informally, there have been requests for multiple stops, which in turn could lessen the effectiveness of the proposed rail system.

Nonprofits in the two larger cities have kept the project alive and moving, and have underwritten an ongoing study that will not only review possible stops, but also reveal the feasibility of adding service for the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

It’s completely possible that the project would have been further along if Gov. Bobby Jindal hadn’t, four years ago this fall, rejected money from President Barack Obama’s administration to build a high-speed rail system between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. At the time, Jindal told Obama’s administration that Louisiana didn’t need the transportation funding because upkeep of the rail would eventually cost the state $18 million annually. But it was from the high-speed rail talk that the current passenger rail project was born.


Regional Disparities Mark Lottery’s Success

While the Louisiana Lottery Corporation is transferring a record amount of money to the state, its retail and sales growth in north Louisiana might appear sluggish when compared to its booming popularity in the southern part of the state.

In the Shreveport region, sales have dropped by $6 million over the past four years, and 21 retail locations have been lost since 2010. Additionally, eight retail locations have been shuttered in the Alexandria region since 2011, and sales were down by $387,000 during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

But those figures can fluctuate greatly from one year to the next, and are certainly tempered by the growth rates experienced in south Louisiana, Lottery officials say.

“That’s where most of the state’s population resides,” pointed out Kim Chopin, the Lottery’s communications manager.

Over the past seven years, the greater New Orleans region has added 190 retail locations and increased its sales by a staggering $92.9 million, culminating in an all-time high of $198 million last fiscal year. That was 44 percent of the Lottery’s total sales.

The Baton Rouge and Lafayette regions account for roughly 16 percent each, although the latter seems to be the Lottery’s real growth market outside of the Big Easy. The Acadiana market, which includes Lake Charles, had nearly $73 million in sales and 681 retail locations last fiscal year, another regional all-time high.

Also lifting up the losses in north Louisiana is the fact that the Monroe region remains a bright spot, adding 63 new locations and nearly $2 million in new sales since 2006.

You won’t hear lawmakers complaining. With more than $447 million in revenue last fiscal year, the Louisiana Lottery Corporation transferred $160 million to the state treasury for K-12 public education.

The annual contribution was the Lottery’s second highest ever, up more than $3 million over last year and $26 million more than what was budgeted.

“We always budget low like that,” said Chopin. “We just never know what jackpots and other factors might be like.”

While there were two record Powerball jackpots last fiscal year, scratch-off sales also ran $30 million higher than they did just five years ago.

Under state law, 35 percent of Lottery proceeds is transferred to the state treasury and dedicated to public education. Another 50 percent is returned to players in the form of prizes, and less than 10 percent is retained by the Lottery for operating costs.

While no other lottery jurisdiction in the U.S. contributes a greater percentage of revenue to its government, reports last year from The Times-Picayune and other publications found that the state Department of Education was unsure exactly how much from that revenue stream goes to each local school district.


Common Core Controversy On BESE’s Agenda

The controversy over Common Core has reached the responsible party. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will hold hearings on the new guidelines for instruction and testing at its meetings that began Oct. 15.

“It will be on the agenda, and I suspect people will show up and talk about it,” BESE president Chas Roemer told LaPolitics.

Last week, about 200 parents and children demonstrated at the Department of Education building against the new teaching methods and standards that opponents, including Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, have labeled as a “federalized curriculum.” He has publicly asked the governor to instruct BESE to have the state withdraw from Common Core.

Roemer and Education Superintendent John White have challenged those assertions, stating that there are no federal controls and that local school districts are in charge of implementing the new teaching models over this school year and next. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said that he favors more rigor and higher standards but opposes a federalized curriculum, a statement that has left legislators and education officials uncertain of his stance.

BESE adopted Common Core in 2010, joining 44 other states that have signed on to use the new system that was developed by an arm of the National Governors Association and the national council of state superintendents. But only when its implementation started this school year have opponents raised objections at school board meetings and legislators’ town hall gatherings.

Roemer thinks it is time for citizens to address BESE on the matter.

“We have heard and read and seen what people are talking about,” he said. “Probably the responsible thing to do anyway is to understand and listen to what people’s concerns are.”

Legislative sources say a future Joint Education Committee might address the topic as well, but nothing has been set.


Maness Looks To Maintain Fundraising Pace

Another federal fundraising quarter ended last week, with observers expecting U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, to maintain their torrid pace when their reports are filed later this month.

Banking far less but still hitting his goal is the other Republican candidate, Rob Maness of Covington, who will report passing $100,000 for his cumulative total raised. That would represent about $60,000 for the past quarter, or less than Landrieu and Cassidy have collected in a good week.

Yet the retired Air Force colonel, in his free media attacks on both opponents, is making an impact on the GOP right wing — the question is: How much?

The end of September also was the self-imposed deadline for state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, to decide on jumping into the race. He told LaPolitics that “no decision has been made,” but one could come at the start of 2014. His name was recently included in a statewide automated telephone poll on the Senate race, along with the three declared candidates.


They Said It

“Even if I was to respond, if I told you yes, I would have to resign.”

— Civil District Judge Michael Bagneris on the possibility of him running for mayor of New Orleans, citing judicial election rules.


“None of it is his.”

— Press secretary Ryan Cross, comparing the $560,000 raised by his boss, Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, in the 5th Congressional district to the $295,000 campaign loan made by opponent Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.


“I did implement blue jean Fridays.”

— Stephen Waguespack, on one of his first decisions after taking over the presidency of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.


“There’s no way I would criticize ‘Duck Dynasty.’ It’s one of the few programs I let my kids watch on TV. I’m proud to say those boys are from here.”

— Gov. Bobby Jindal, during his opening remarks before the Louisiana Family Forum’s Legislative Awards Banquet.



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