In fulfillment of retired congressman Billy Tauzin’s flippant observation that “half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment,” Hurricane Isaac has obliged with the first half and Louisiana politicians are obliging with the second half.
Bobby Jindal came into office in 2008 vowing to strengthen Louisiana ethics laws to rid the state of the political corruption which has perennially stalled its growth and left it the butt of political corruption jokes for decades. Many argued that the new governor’s scarce political capital would be better spent on tax reform or eliminating wasteful programs from the state budget to better cope with Louisiana’s boom and bust economic cycles, but Jindal persisted in his quest for strengthened ethics laws over the objections of his detractors and got his ethics bill passed into law. Described at the time by a fawning press as the toughest ethics regulations in America, the immediate effect was a chilling in prospective applications to serve on various boards as many preferred the anonymity of their undisclosed personal financial transactions to the prestige of serving on a thankless state board or commission. Jindal pointed to this as proof that his vaunted ethics regulations were already causing those prone to corruption to remain on the sidelines while allowing for honest individuals to serve the public.
After five years of the toughest ethics regulations in America, one would assume that Louisiana’s corrupt past would finally be laid to rest and that morally upright individuals of integrity would inhabit her public offices leaving prosecutors little to investigate in the area of political corruption. Sadly, this is not the case. A review of political scandals from around Louisiana reveals a spate of corruption indictments and convictions with more on the way.
Former Ouachita Parish sheriff Royce Toney was recently allowed to plead guilty to nine misdemeanor counts of accessing a protected computer to cover up an affair he was having with a married woman in a deal which reduced the original 21 counts of fraud, identity theft, and obstruction of justice for firing a deputy as part of the cover up. Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone was recently found to have misrepresented asset ownership on a federal grant application, although no charges were filed in connection to this incident.
Last year, an Amite woman pled guilty to stealing nearly $2 million dollars from the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission over a ten-year period. Also last year, Winn Parish Sheriff A.D. “Bodie” Little was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had facilitated drug deals for his girlfriend, and the former sheriff is currently serving a 13-year sentence after being convicted earlier this year. Over in Monroe, former city councilmen Arthur Gilmore and Robert “Red” Stevens were convicted in May of 2011 of racketeering and extortion in a scheme to extort money from Monroe businessman Eddie Hakim.
Then there is Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson whose escapades have been thoroughly chronicled by Walter Abbott on the Lincoln Parish News Online website. Jonesboro is currently under the control of a fiscal administrator appointed by the state due to multiple financial irregularities instigated by Mayor Thompson over the objections of the city council. Rumor has it that Mayor Thompson is also under investigation for malfeasance in office, and his political enabler Second Judicial District Attorney Jonathan Stewart may get singed in the fallout.
The FBI’s investigation of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s office in Lafayette has resulted in the resignation of Barna Haynes, DA Mike Harson’s longtime office administrator, after she had been placed on unpaid leave following the FBI’s confiscation of files relating to traffic offenses. Meanwhile, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office recently fired assistant district attorneys Hugo Holland and Lea Hall for falsifying a federal/state application to acquire eight M16 rifles for the Caddo DA’s office.
This is just a sampling of recent corruption investigations and does not take into account malfeasance yet to be discovered. Perhaps Governor Jindal should have heeded the advice of his critics by investing his political capital in a venture less likely to disappoint and more likely to provide benefit to Louisiana over the long term. Humans being what they are, political corruption will always be with us in spite of the laws we pass, and only the election of citizens with moral integrity can diminish the lure of political corruption that casts its spell over those in power. Lest one get the idea that Louisiana is the epitome of political corruption, one should be reminded of events in Illinois and New Jersey.
Having said that, perhaps Governor Jindal will finally focus on the tough political fights Louisiana so desperately needs to broach since his quest for national office appears to be stalled with Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Governor Jindal has burnished his Republican credentials at the expense of Louisiana citizens who suffer from a lack of employment opportunities so that he could avoid taking on the tough fights that would truly earn him respect with conservatives around the country. His ethics bill notwithstanding, political corruption is still a way of life down on the Bayou and it’ll take a lot more than another law to change that.