Inside Politics for Dec. 9, 2012

capitol news bureau

Tony Ligi
Tony Ligi

Media spotlight turned on Levine

A CBS “60 Minutes” investigation put former state health chief Alan Levine in the national spotlight and caused a legislator to wonder whether the now-Florida hospital company executive was trolling for business here.

Levine defended his company — Health Management Associates — from allegations that the firm pressured physicians to admit patients whether necessary or not to meet specific quotas. The company is under investigation by federal officials, according to the report.

Levine, who had been appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, served as secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals from 2008 to 2010.

State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, wondered why Levine had been in Louisiana in recent months suggesting that state plans to close or privatize LSU hospitals “may have something to do with it.

“Levine has a history of brokering deals where the people of Louisiana foot the bill while private companies — like Health Management Associates — reap the benefits,” he suggested in a statement.

Asked whether Levine or his company is involved in private partnerships under discussion at LSU’s seven hospitals in south Louisiana, LSU System Executive Vice President Frank Opelka said: “Not that I know.”

Dealings involving LSU’s three north Louisiana hospitals are being headed up by a private LSU Health Sciences Center connected foundation. Health Sciences Center Shreveport spokeswoman Sally Croom said: “We have had no contact with HMA from either vantage point. Not from our leadership nor the foundation nor the firms hired by the foundation. They also have not contacted us.”

WSJ pans Louisiana public education

Despite years of improvement efforts, Louisiana’s public school system is still regarded as less than stellar outside of the state.

In an editorial on Monday, The Wall Street Journal called it “one of the developed world’s worst school systems.”

The newspaper made the comment in an editorial denouncing a ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge, that declared Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher expansion law unconstitutional.

Edwards: It’s Jindal’s issue, not court’s

House Democratic Party chairman John Bel Edwards said last week that the parents of New Orleans voucher students shouldn’t blame 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge, for ruling that the new state voucher program violates state law.

The New Orleans program, which began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was funded separately, not as part of the state Minimum Foundation Formula that funds public schools, Edwards said.

“Nobody even challenged New Orleans,” said Edwards, of Amite. “It was a separate line item.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal, state Superintendent John White, Louisiana House Education Committee chairman Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, decided to fund it through the MFP “after being told that jeopardized that voucher program,” Edwards said.

“It’s all because of what Bobby Jindal did, not Judge Kelley,” he said.

Ligi resignation not effective until April 2

State Rep. Tony Ligi joked that he is undertaking the longest resignation in the history of the Louisiana Legislature.

Ligi, R-Metairie, accepted an offer to serve as executive director and chief legal counsel for the Jefferson Business Council.

Although he starts his new job on Jan. 2, he said he likely will not resign from the Legislature until April. He said he wants to wait until a successor is chosen through a special election.

“I’ll stay in place to protect Jefferson Parish,” Ligi said.

A number of people are said to be interested in succeeding Ligi.

Chas Roemer elected BESE president

Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, was elected president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week for 2013.

Roemer will head the 11-member panel that sets policies for public school students statewide.

He succeeds Penny Dastugue, who has held the job for the past two years.

Jim Garvey of Metairie was elected vice-president.

Holly Boffy, who lives in Youngsville, was selected as secretary-treasurer.

Parker, Rasberry, to lead education panels

Wayne Parker, of Choudrant, was re-elected chairman of the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors last week. Vice Chair Russell Mosely from Baton Rouge, and Parliamentarian Paul Aucoin from Thibodaux will also serve again in 2013.

The Louisiana Board of Regents, which sets the state’s higher education policy, elected Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry, Jr. of Shreveport as chair for 2013. He replaces Bob Levy, of Ruston.

Joseph Wiley of Gonzales was elected vice president and Charlotte Bollinger, of Lockport, was chosen as secretary.

Dardenne offers survey of La. life

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne gave a 20-minute version of his 200 years of Louisiana history during a Rotary Club of Baton Rouge speech last week.

The presentation was chock full of information and a few little-known facts, including one about former Gov. Jimmie Davis, a singer famous for “You Are My Sunshine,” who served as governor from 1944-1948 and then again from 1960-64.

“He was out of this state for six months when he was governor one of those times, which is an interesting phenomenon that has been repeated somewhat lately,” Dardenne said, prompting a laugh as he, without mentioning names, apparently referred to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s frequent absences.

“He (Davis) was actually making a movie. He filmed a movie called ‘Louisiana’ in Hollywood while he was governor of this state,” Dardenne said.

DeSoto system head Lee retires from post

Walter Lee, who lives in Mansfield, has retired as superintendent for the DeSoto Parish school system.

Lee, who was the longest-serving superintendent in Louisiana, is the senior member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

He was a superintendent for 33 years and joined BESE in 1991.

Lee has been an educator for 55 years, including a variety of jobs in the Caddo Parish school system.

“Can you imagine how many trips from Shreveport to Baton Rouge I have made?” he asked colleagues during a recognition ceremony on Wednesday.

Lee’s advice? “If all those other folks would just listen to me, we’d be all right.”

BESE names manager of communications

Brodrick Hampton was introduced on Wednesday as communications manager for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hampton, when asked for his salary, replied by email that the request was forwarded to the state Department of Education’s human resources office.

Those officials, he said, “are going to provide as fast a turnaround as possible for you.”

It took about 10 minutes for Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez, public information officer for the State Civil Service, to report that Hampton is paid $70,000 per year.

Jim Brown’s brother, Jack, dies after illness

Former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown buried his younger brother last week.

Brown said his brother, Jack, died after health complications.

Jack Brown worked over 32 years as a contract attorney for the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation, according to a tribute to him posted on the DNR website by Conservation Commissioner James “Jim” Welsh.

“I will truly miss him - as will those that have known and worked with him,” Welsh wrote.

At the funeral in Shreveport, a huge crowd turned out to bid a final farewell, Jim Brown said. “He was well remembered,” he said.

Foster Campbell to speak at Press Club

Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell will be the speaker for Monday’s noon meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Campbell will discuss his concerns about the fee for telephone calls to inmates in Louisiana prisons being 15 times the going rate. The PSC is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a measure from Campbell to reduce the cost of prison phone conversations by 25 percent.

The Press Club meets at De La Ronde Hall, 320 Third St. in downtown Baton Rouge. Lunch, which is served at 11:30 a.m., is $12 for members and $15 for nonmembers.

The public is invited, but only members of the Press Club and the news media are allowed to ask questions.

Rally will be outside Sen. Landrieu’s office

The Capital City Council of MoveOn.org will stage a Fiscal Showdown Rally at 4:30 p.m. Monday outside of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s offices in the Federal Building, 707 Florida St., Baton Rouge.

The group is urging Landrieu to stand with other Democrats behind President Barack Obama in the ongoing negotiations over the coming “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.

Groups rallying at congressional offices nationwide Monday for a “Fiscal Showdown Day of Action.”

Barfield to address
BR Rotary Club

Tim Barfield, the new executive counsel at the state Department of Revenue, will address the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on Wednesday.

The Rotary Club meets at noon at Boudreaux’s on Government Street.

Compiled by the Capitol news bureau. Contact email address is cnb@theadvocate.com.