Four days into early voting and John Couvillon, the Baton Rouge pollster, tracks turnout as similar to 2008, with 127,737 voters casting early ballots between Tuesday and Friday. During the first four days of early voting in 2008, a presidential election in which U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was last re-elected, 137,223 votes were cast, Couvillon said.

Interestingly, voters casting early ballots had the same racial patterns: 67 percent white, 30 percent black.

In 2010, when the Republican Party won control of the U.S. House, 66,503 had voted four days into early voting, of whom 78 percent were white, Couvillon said.

Early voting continues until Tuesday. The election is Nov. 4.

Monaghan critical of White comments

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, disputed comments by state Superintendent of Education John White on the release of the 2013-14 teacher evaluations.

While the results for teachers rose, White said there are wide disparities from district to district and that, generally speaking, districts that grade teachers the hardest showed the greatest gains in student performance.

Monaghan said he was shocked that White would suggest flaws in the system explain in part why teachers fared better than last year.

He said teachers who landed the top rating — 43 percent this time compared to 32 percent last year — had those improvements sullied by the superintendent’s comments.

“I am a bit shocked that White would come out with this,” Monaghan said.

White said that, aside from any problems, the new teacher reviews have value.

“The goal of the system is not to label teachers,” he said. “The goal of the system is to ensure that teachers are getting guidance as to how they need to improve. The system is accomplishing that.”

Blanco drums up support for Landrieu

Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco penned a four-page letter to family and friends encouraging their support of fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

“In my 24 years in office I have worked with almost all Louisiana members of Congress on behalf of our state. I have never seen anyone who worked harder for our people than Sen. Mary Landrieu,” said Blanco, who then proceeds to share “a few of the many things she has done to help Louisiana.”

Blanco took a jab at Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in her praise of Landrieu’s help after the 2005 hurricanes.

“Sen. Vitter’s embarrassing sexual escapades were plastered on the covers of Hustler magazine and neutered his ability to help Louisiana, especially with his own Republican colleagues who pointedly avoided making contact with him during that critical period,” she states. “Mary helped me bring an outstanding $29 billion to Louisiana by crossing the partisan divide.”

Donelon supports proposed amendment

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon threw his support behind a proposed constitutional amendment eliminating a requirement that judges retire at age 70.

“Imposing an age limit of 70 amounts to an anachronism that fails to take into account modern lifespans and lifestyles,” said Donelon, who is a lawyer.

“More importantly,” Donelon continued, “judgeships are the only elected position in Louisiana with a mandatory retirement age, and experienced and competent judges are being forced to retire, and it’s Louisiana citizens who will pay the price.”

Donelon will hit age 70 on his birthday this December.

Republican group gives out Red Pelican Awards

The East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Women gave its Red Pelican Awards at a gala on Wednesday at the Old State Capitol.

The honorees were Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Secretary of State Tom Schedler, East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn, Ascension Parish Republican Party Chairwoman Kathryn Goppelt and Capital City News Editor Woody Jenkins, who also chairs the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party.

Office wary of spending state ‘surplus’ money

A Legislative Fiscal Office publication out this month indicates there could be big ramifications if the state spends the Jindal administration’s newly identified surplus dollars.

Part of the $319 million is being used to offset a budget deficit, leaving a $178.5 million surplus. The money left over from prior fiscal years has not been previously counted in revenue forecasts or the year-end balance calculation. The legislative auditor is reviewing Jindal administration data to determine its validity.

In the meantime, Legislative Fiscal Office chief economist Greg Albrecht had some thoughts on the “surplus” funds use.

“The implications of expending the general fund’s cash liquidity are material,” Albrecht wrote in “Focus on the Fisc.”

“During the fiscal year the state general fund engages in substantial borrowing from other dedicated funds. To the extent the general fund’s cash liquidity is eliminated by expenditure, this inter-fund borrowing will have to be that much greater,” Albrecht opined. “These borrowings are repaid with interest and will reduce total earnings available to the general fund.”

Candidates get candid at congressional forum

Here is how former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards finished his 90-second opening remarks during a 6th District congressional forum at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

“My name is Edwin Edwards. Good or bad. That’s me.”

Asked later why he wants to go to Washington, he said, “I don’t want to sit on my laurels and wait for my grave to come.”

Edwards is 87.

Republican Garret Graves said, “I grew up in Baton Rouge. Have a big Catholic family here.”

Republican Paul Dietzel II, asked to rate President Barack Obama on a scale of 1 to 10, said he would give Obama a 3 for leadership and a 7 for playing golf.

Tom Schedler to speak at Press Club of BR

Secretary of State Tom Schedler will be the speaker for Monday’s meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Schedler will talk about the Nov. 4 election — the largest Louisiana has had in a decade.

The Press Club meets in the Iberville Room at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel, 102 France St. Parking is free in the garage off Mayflower Street. 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.

OGB slates hearing on proposed plan changes

The state Office of Group Benefits will hold a Nov. 25 public hearing on changes it wants to make to its health insurance plan offerings.

The hearing will be in Baton Rouge but a location has not yet been determined, said Meghan Parrish, state Division of Administration communications director. She said officials are trying to find a location that can accommodate an anticipated large crowd.

The changes impact some 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents.

The changes scheduled to go into effect March 1 are required to be approved under Louisiana’s administrative procedures act, which requires public comments and opens the door for a legislative hearing.

Group Benefits enrollees have until the end of November to choose from a variety of new health plans — much before the changes can go through the APA approval process.

Some legislators have complained that the Jindal administration is seeking approval after the fact.

Compiled by The Advocate Capitol new bureau. Contact email is mballard@theadvocate.com.