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Stephanie Grace: TOPS becomes pawn in political struggle

For a man who won the election last fall by a more-than-comfortable 12-point margin, Gov. John Bel Edwards is visibly struggling to get lawmakers to follow his lead. One major plank of his campaign, a modest $1.25-an-hour minimum wage increase, appears stalled. Another high-profile proposal, a bill to make it easier for women to pursue allegations… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: McFarland, Havard spark talk about sexism

I didn’t really feel like sitting down to write this column Friday morning. I wasn’t feeling sick or anything, just not in the mood. Then a thought occurred to me: Maybe I could call in female. I never would have conjured up such an idea up on my own, so credit goes to state Rep. Jack… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Louisiana stripper 'joke' seems like part of Donald Trump’s America; we don't have to tolerate it

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Republican Rep. Kenny Havard, of Jackson, awaits the vote on one of his bills.

Am I the only one who heard about state Rep. Kenny Havard’s supposed “joke” of an amendment to regulate strip clubs and thought, “Is this what it would be like to live in Donald Trump’s America?” The presumed GOP presidential nominee had nothing to do with Havard’s measure to mandate that dancers who work at… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: No longer on same side, Gov. Edwards and Rep. Henry spar over budget issues

There was a time when Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Rep. Cameron Henry were, in a sense, on the same side. As legislators during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s time in office, both Edwards, then the Democratic caucus chair, and Henry, a leader of an informal conservative coalition knows as the fiscal hawks, criticized the administration… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Vitter still firing away at congressional health plan

Call it David Vitter’s white whale, the subject of a lonely, yearslong crusade that the retiring U.S. senator appears bent on pursuing until his final days in office. I’m not talking about some grand policy goal but rather the subsidized health insurance available to members of Congress and their staffs. As it stands now,… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Donald Trump’s big-name critics are in the GOP

The big-name Republicans who populate the first major ad of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presumed general election campaign have two things in common. One, they’ve shared some choice words about Clinton’s all-but-official opponent, reality TV mogul Donald Trump, on camera. Clinton’s web-only video takes more than a minute to let Trump’s former primary foes —-… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Perhaps hard to believe, but there's one set of ex-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ideas still in play in Louisiana

If there’s one thing that seems to unite the warring factions that make up the state’s political class, it’s the firm belief that many of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies should be undone. Legislators, Republican and Democratic alike, are in the process of enthusiastically passing bills that can be read as direct rebukes to the former… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Decoding Mayor Mitch Landrieu's New Orleans violence speech

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu speaks about violence will displaying a photo of Ka'Nard Allen at Tulane University's Dixon Hall in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Allen lost his cousin 5-year-old cousin Briana Allen at his birthday party to a gun violence and he was also wounded in the neck, his father was killed by gun violence, and Ka'Nard was also grazed by a gun in the face during a mass shooting at a second line.

From the outside, it’s not entirely clear what New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was getting at when he made what was billed as a major address on violence in New Orleans last week. Was the main goal of the emotional hourlong speech at Tulane University to explain how intractable the problem is? How it’s… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Here's why Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards shifted right on food stamps policy

AP file photo: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards

During his winning campaign for governor last fall, John Bel Edwards sharply criticized outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal for trying to cut benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. Once elected, Edwards successfully petitioned President Barack Obama’s administration to reverse Jindal’s move and keep the benefits in… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: The sins of the mighty aired in the courthouse during Danziger case

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Former New Orleans Police officer Arthur Kaufman, center, enters the Hale Boggs Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Metairie, La. Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Five officers were sentenced in the case where New Orleans Police Department officers fired at unarmed civilians on September 4, 2005, killing two people and wounding 4 others, and later tried to cover up the shooting by blaming one of the civilians.

While many eyes were on the long-awaited end to the epic Danziger Bridge case last Wednesday, something else extraordinary was happening at the federal courthouse in downtown New Orleans. Even as the five former New Orleans officers prepared to plead guilty in the high-profile post-Katrina shootings, two other former law enforcement officials faced allegations that they… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Closure of Danziger cases downplays the victims

Here’s a name that featured prominently in Wednesday’s two-hour federal court hearing, in which five former New Orleans cops pleaded guilty in charges stemming from the horrific post-Katrina mass shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge: Justice Department lawyer Karla Dobinski. Here are some names that barely came up, if at all: James… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Louisiana GOP lawmakers get exactly what they asked for: chance to cut; can they do it?

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Then-Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, center, listens to Rep. J. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, right, and Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, left, meet in a back room of the House chamber during debate on the state budget in 2014.

The exchange between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican state Rep. Cameron Henry last week could not have been more civil. Edwards appeared before the House Appropriations committee to explain where he proposed to strike some $792 million from the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, in order to account… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Regressive South makes Louisiana look good, inclusive amid flood of anti-gay legislation

It’s not so hard to look like you’re taking a big step forward when everyone around you is taking one step back. And so Gov. John Bel Edwards won perhaps more praise last week than he might have otherwise for issuing an anti-discrimination executive order, amid a flood of anti-gay legislation bubbling up in… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser goes rogue on wacky economic deal with Iraq

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser testifies on SB148 concerning monuments in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

During a memorable 2011 League of Women Voters forum between two candidates for lieutenant governor, incumbent Jay Dardenne, a tourism policy wonk, hammered challenger Billy Nungesser on his knowledge — or lack thereof — of the job he was seeking. As Nungesser cast himself as a plain-talking outsider who follows his gut, stands up… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Breakthrough with Big Oil on coast more possible now

Author John Barry and his former colleagues on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East board may have watched their landmark lawsuit against the oil and gas industry get pummeled by politicians and ultimately dismissed in federal court. But judging from some intriguing developments in Baton Rouge, it seems they were on to something all along. In… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Panel makes right call to allow New Orleans to decide fate of Confederate monuments

FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee stands in Lee Circle in New Orleans.  Backlash has stalled work to remove four Confederate monuments in New Orleans. The backlash has come in the form of lawsuits, boycotts, a possible torching of a contractors car, alleged death threats against contractors and protests. Now, a bill in the Louisiana Legislature is taking aim at the removal. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

It’s too bad that it took a legislative committee stacked with New Orleanians to stand up for the city’s right to take care of its own business. But that’s what happened Wednesday, when the state Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a bill by new Franklinton state Sen. Beth Mizell that would have required New Orleans… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Listen up, Louisiana legislators; at least consider minimum wage hike, think about people affected

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gov. John Bel Edwards makes his address Wednesday morning at the 52nd Annual Louisiana Governor's Prayer Breakfast at the River Center.

Edwards’ minimum wage push is part of a larger focus on expanding the safety net, which also includes new laws on pay equity and the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act... Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: My 3 questions about Louisiana's not-so-April Fool's Day tax increases

A few loosely-related questions for this Sunday morning: 1) Whose idea was it to have Louisiana’s new, temporary, costlier, and really confusing sales tax regimen kick in on April Fools’ Day? 2) Is there something even worse than worst? 3) And where have you gone, Vic Stelly? OK, the first two of… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Before staring down China, ISIS, others, Donald Trump faces off with ... Louisiana's GOP

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he gets into his vehicle in Washington, Thursday, March 31, 2016, following a meeting at the Republican National Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By now, we all should know Donald Trump’s grandiose promises by heart. The Republicans’ improbable frontrunner is going to stare down China on trade. He’ll make Mexico not only pay for an ever-growing border wall, but like it. He’ll “kick ISIS’s ass,” if we’re to believe Sarah Palin, who all but out-trumped… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Louisiana should learn from Georgia, stop discriminatory legislation against gay people

After weeks of pleas and outright threats that corporate titans such as the NFL, Apple and Disney would take their business elsewhere, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal did the right thing Monday and said he’d veto a so-called religious liberty bill that would have effectively allowed employment and other types of discrimination against gay people. Deal,… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Louisiana GOP rips taxes its own member supported

Louisiana’s branch of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative interest group that’s closely aligned with the industrialist Koch brothers, issued a legislative report card last week rating lawmakers’ votes in the recent emergency special session. And not surprisingly, those who did the most to close much of a huge budget gap scored the worst in the group’s… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Unpopular at home, Bobby Jindal grasps for national role

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gov. Bobby Jindal talks about his tenure as governor in December 2015.

Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges, writing in Sunday’s paper, picked the perfect time to pose a burning question: What will former Gov. Bobby Jindal do next, now that he’s left office and dropped out of the presidential race? The story appeared just as Jindal’s Plan B came crashing down, days after the presidential candidate he’d… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: New Orleans' new marijuana ordinance is a welcome reduced punishment in line with offense

New Orleans’ new marijuana ordinance, approved unanimously last week by the City Council and about to be signed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is far from an ideal instrument. It contradicts state law, creating uncertainty over whether any individual simple possession offense might net only a cash fine of $100 or less, or a much… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: TOPS an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky idea, much like Bernie Sanders’ free college promise

Advocate staff photo by CHARLES CHAMPAGNE  —  Incoming freshman and transfer students head to their next STRIPES activity Tuesday, August 11, 2015 on Louisiana State University’s campus. ORG XMIT: BAT1508121038074895

If I didn’t know better, I’d think TOPS was the brainchild of a Vermont senator, not a Louisiana oilman. That enticing but hopelessly unrealistic dream that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders keeps talking about, the one where government provides a free public college education to all? Well, it’s really not so far off from what Louisiana… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: In special session, Edwards’ realism clashes with GOP denial

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves a press conference following the closure of the 25-day Special Session  of the Louisiana Legislatiure in March 2016.At right is Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

It’s hard to pinpoint just when the special legislative session’s frantic conclusion crossed the line between haphazard governance and full-on farce. Was it when the Senate, desperately trying to make order of what the House was sending over in the session’s final hour, had to rescind an amendment it had “inadvertently” tacked onto the… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Governors not faring well in White House runs

There was a time, not so very long ago, when Republican leaders thought they had the deepest, most impressive slate of potential presidents in ages. The sentiment owed largely to the fact that the huge early field was rich with current and former governors. It was these state leaders, the theory went, who were busy getting… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Just in time for Saturday's Louisiana primary, David Duke heralds another race from hell

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Former Klan leader David Duke defends the Confederacy outside the Lod Cook Hotel during a meeting of the Daughters of Confederacy, Thursday, September 10, 2015. Duke was not affiliated with the meeting and later asked to leave the property by LSU Police.

Most journalists who’ve run across David Duke probably remember their initial encounters. This is what happened during mine. It was early 1996, and the Louisiana Republican Party was taking a stab at shaking up the presidential nominating process by jumping to the head of the line and staging a caucus before anybody else. Most candidates stayed… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Gov. John Bel Edwards not trying to scare people? Sure looks like it

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Louisiana Governor-elect John Bel Edwards. ORG XMIT: BAT1601051615460496

Gov. John Bel Edwards insisted during his highly unusual address Thursday night that he wasn’t trying to scare people. Well, of course he was. Why else paint a doomsday scenario on statewide television three days before the Legislature will gather to deal with an immediate cash shortfall of nearly $1 billion and a hole… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: From Confederate monuments to police response times, New Orleans gave Carnival krewes plenty to mock this year

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- The Knights of Chaos parade uptown with 225 members including the captain and his lieutenants of horseback along with 16 floats to the theme "Chaos Theory"  in New Orleans, La. Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.  The club members tossed float-specific and lighted throws.

Some news stories practically exist to be lampooned. So as this election-year Carnival season approached, the burning question was whether any target of ridicule could possibly trump Trump. Amazingly enough, the answer was yes. So give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for Gen. Robert E. Lee and his long-dead Confederate compadres, who made the job of… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Making nice not getting Gov. John Bel Edwards very far ... yet

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Governor John Bel Edwards speaks during a forum hosted by Louisiana Association of Educators -- teachers and other public school employees sounding off on their education needs.

Gov. John Bel Edwards had clearly hoped that things would go differently. That the state’s politicians would give one another’s ideas a fair, open-minded hearing. That the Republican-dominated Legislature and Democratic administration — both of which can fairly claim popular support — would cling to Louisiana’s historically nonpartisan ways, rather than fall into a Washington-style war. That somehow,… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Early signs hint at partisanship ahead

Earlier this month, I wrote a column predicting that, while Louisiana’s House of Representatives is clearly turning more partisan, Baton Rouge is still a long way from Washington. Do I have to eat my words already? We’ll see once lawmakers convene in a couple of weeks, but the first real signal out of… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Explosive growth of TOPS should serve as a cautionary tale

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- James Caillier, left, executive director of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation; Bob Baumann, with Taylor Energy; and Cody Wells, LSU student body president; testified against legislation that would limit TOPS awards to $3,200 per year. Caillier has criticized the growth in student fees -- which are not covered by TOPS awards -- as an end run around tuition hikes.

Back when Louisiana politicians launched TOPS a generation ago, they probably had no idea they were creating a monster. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students — named for late oilman Patrick Taylor, whose privately funded promise to help high-performing poor students attend college inspired… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: In partisan Legislature, Senate President John Alario remains master of the Senate, without dissent

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Senate President John Alario, Jr., R-Westwego, directs procedings in the Louisiana Senate during the Legislative session Wednesday.

As the Legislature gears up for a grueling special session, all eyes have been on the big power shift in the House, where the Republican majority broke with tradition and elected one of its own as speaker rather than going along with the Democratic governor’s favored candidate. Just as interesting as why that happened in the House… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Pro-life banners on St. Charles Avenue carry suggestion of government-endorsed message

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Banners featuring a fetus and a pro-life message are hanging from city-owned lamp-posts on St. Charles Avenue near Nashville Avenue Monday, January 4, 2016. The banners say the message is from Louisiana Right to Life.

As far back as anyone can remember, the city of New Orleans has offered up government-owned lampposts to organizations promoting this or that feel-good, hometown cause. So it’s entirely commonplace to drive down the street and see an array of banners touting a festival, a landmark school, hospital or church. The practice amounts to civic boosterism… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: After declaring independence, lawmakers must own whatever pain budget process inflicts

A rare contested election for House Speaker took place in the Louisiana House, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La. Rep. Taylor Barras, left, R-New Iberia, won after two voice votes for House Speaker. Former Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, right, passes the ceremonial gavel to Rep. Barras, left, after the vote. Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, won for Speaker-Pro-Tem.  (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

When it comes to the balance of power between Louisiana governors and the Legislature, lawmakers have long pined for a more independent role. And this year, they finally acted on the impulse. The House, in dramatic fashion, ignored tradition and rejected Gov. John Bel Edwards’ choice for speaker, New Orleans Democrat Walt Leger. Instead, members of… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: Potomac Fever not catching at State Capitol

Now that Republicans in the state House have rejected Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ choice for speaker, should we start referring to the capital as Washington on the Mississippi? Probably not. But neither is it the same Baton Rouge political watchers have always known, one that operated by a set of unwritten… Continue reading →

Stephanie Grace: John Bel Edwards' order scolds Bobby Jindal for forfeiting cool $3B in Medicaid funds

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks Tuesday at the State Capitol at a  press conference with legislators, community leaders, and key stakeholders, just after issuing his first executive order, No. JBE 16-01, to provide for Medicaid expansion in the state of Louisiana.  Dept. of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah E. Gee, MD, is at right.

John Bel Edwards’ first executive order actually reads kind of like an accusation. After a day and night of inaugural festivities Monday, Edwards got down to business Tuesday, put his pen to paper and kept his promise to accept federal money to expand Medicaid for 300,000 or more poor Louisianians under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care… Continue reading →