Missing Big Votes

After showing up at only two debates the entire election season, it was still unclear late last week if U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, would attend the final televised forum of the race. The conflict? An important vote was scheduled in Congress the same day on the S-CHIP child health-care program. Jindal ultimately did not cast a vote on that issue; he didn't even show up. According to the roll call records of Congress, Jindal hasn't voted since Sept. 10, missing a total of 133 consecutive votes (now 134). He missed votes on the energy bill, affordable housing, improving government accountability (one of his campaign's war cries) and hordes of others. Overall, Jindal has missed 214 of 2,172 votes, or 10 percent, since he took office on Jan. 4, 2005. GovTrack, a nonpartisan nexus of federal data, ranks that as 'poor, relative to peers." While Jindal has spent weeks encouraging others to vote, constituents in his congressional district may soon wonder when he plans to do the same in D.C. " Alford


Mo' Betta Money

Granted, gubernatorial frontrunner Bobby Jindal raised more than $11 million in his race for governor. But if he happens to need more green, there are several places he can turn. Among them is All Children Matter, a Virginia-based '527" organization that is not covered by federal regulations to the same extent as other campaign groups. Most recently, ACM paid for a light and fluffy radio campaign in support of Jindal. Traditionally, that group almost exclusively funds candidates who promote school vouchers. To give ACM a little boost, Jim Walton of Bentonville, Ark., a top honcho at Wal-Mart, put up $100,000 earlier this month. So did Bruce Covner of New York. Phillip Stutts, general consultant to ACM's Louisiana chapter and Jindal's former campaign manager in 2003, says the group will get involved in other races during the runoff. He declined to expound on the amount of help that might be thrown Jindal's way if he is forced into a runoff. 'We're a bipartisan group," he says. 'We support both Republicans and Democrats." " Alford


Cash Helps 'Free' Odom

Polls late last week showed state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom headed for a Nov. 17 runoff. The longtime incumbent also is apparently free of a seven-year courtroom saga, thanks to campaign contributors who helped him fight off multiple state criminal charges. A Gambit Weekly check of Odom's campaign finance reports since his 2003 election shows that the incumbent has spent more than $300,000 in campaign funds over the last four years for 'legal expenses." Most of that money was paid to three high-powered Baton Rouge attorneys: criminal defense lawyer Mary Oliver Pierson, who received $165,288 from the Odom campaign since 2004, including 106,037 earlier this year; Lewis Unglesby, who received a single lump sum payment of $100,000 on Jan. 9; and Karl Koch, who was paid $48,834 in campaign funds since 2003. (Koch also represented former Gov. Edwin Edwards' son Stephen Edwards, who was recently released from federal prison after serving time for corruption charges.) To hear Odom talk, the campaign funds that went to his lawyers was money well spent. He described the charges against him as 'nothing but political." State campaign finance laws allow for officials to use campaign funds to defend themselves against criminal and civil litigation related to their terms in office. Late last week, WWL-TV polls showed Odom headed for a runoff with Republican state Rep. Mike Strain of Covington. " Johnson


Prof Flunks NOPD, Media

Texas State University criminologist Peter Scharf, a frequent critic of the New Orleans Police Department, blasted the local news media's coverage of the city's nation-leading murder rate. During the International Association of Police Chiefs annual meeting here last week, Scharf said editors and reporters are failing to hold criminal justice officials accountable for a homicide toll that hit 175 late last week. 'The media is giving [officials] a free ride," Scharf said. Murders continue at a rate of 15 to 17 a month, the professor continued. 'There is no sense that any of the tactics or strategies that have been applied [by law enforcement] are having any effect." " Johnson


Chief's Change of Heart

Speaking of strategy, Police Chief Warren Riley has apparently had a change of heart. Riley last week attacked a recommendation by the private Metropolitan Crime Commission that cops focus more on building major cases against violent offenders and less on misdemeanor offenses and traffic violations. In its second quarter report for 2007, the MCC said: 'Traffic and municipal violations continue to account for over half of all arrests" since the end of the first quarter. However, the additional arrests have not effectively reduced the city's violent crime rate, which rose 17 percent, during the same period, the MCC reported. Testifying before a congressional field hearing here last week, Riley defended the use of arrests for minor offenses as an effective tactic to take violent criminals off the streets. During NOPD's budget hearing last November before the City Council, the chief agreed that NOPD should be issuing more summonses for minor offenses instead of making arrests for such incidents. Riley, who recently received a pay raise to $170,654 a year, marks his second year as police chief next month with support from local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and FBI agent Jim Bernazzani but rising doubts over the effectiveness of the 'community policing" strategy that he unveiled three months ago. " Johnson


Harbinger for Jena 6

Here's a trivia question for anyone following the ongoing criminal prosecutions of the Jena 6: Who issued the following statement? 'We have a dual system of juvenile justice in this country, one track for white adolescents [and] a separate and unequal one for black adolescents." If you answered Rev. Al Sharpton or Rev. Jesse Jackson, you're wrong. The author was University of Michigan Law School Prof. Samuel R. Gross, whose findings of racial bias in the nation's juvenile justice system are included in a pre-Jena report titled, 'Wrongful Convictions." Louisiana Chief Justice Pascal Calogero wrote an introduction to the study, which he released at a national meeting of top court officials in August 2005 " more than a year before six black youths in Jena were charged with attempted murder in the controversial 'tennis-shoe" stomping of a fellow white student at Jena High School. The Michigan report focused on exonerations of criminal defendants through DNA and other evidence and not the alleged 'overcharging" of the Jena 6 in adult courts. However, the pre-Jena study suggests 'safeguards" for reducing the likelihood of 'prosecutorial misconduct or mistake" (such as limiting reliance on 'jailhouse snitches") to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. Some findings in the 2005 report suggest why the Jena case has become a national civil rights touchstone. In the early 1990s, for example, black youths represented only 27 percent of all juveniles arrested in the United States " but 67 percent of all juveniles prosecuted as adults. Blacks made similar allegations of a racial double standard in Jena. Adult charges against the Jena 6 were ultimately reduced or dismissed amid a national outcry. More than 20,000 people marched on the town. One of the six remains in jail; Mychal Bell was sentenced to 18 months last week for probation violations. " Johnson


Georges, Jindal and Jena

Mayor Ray Nagin late last week affirmed his endorsement of John Georges' campaign for governor, saying the businessman was the only candidate in the field to attend a massive civil rights march at Jena recently and 'that showed a lot of courage." Actually, the 'courage" Georges showed consisted of passing out water bottles (bearing his name) to marchers from the sidelines. Meanwhile, front-runner Bobby Jindal's last-minute dash to the Oct. 20 primary featured reminders of his support from 88 officials in North Louisiana. Among them: controversial LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, prosecutor of the Jena 6; Jena Mayor Murphy R. McMillin; Jena Police Chief Paul Smith; LaSalle Parish School Board members Johnny Fryar and Charlie Anderson; LaSalle Parish Assessor Jimmy Dean; and Coroner I. C. Turnley Jr. In the 2003 governor's race, Jindal, a dark-complected Indian-American Republican, lost the predominantly white town of 2,000-plus to Kathleen Blanco, a white Democrat, by 61 to 29 percent of the vote. Jindal has been campaigning heavily across north Louisiana for the last two years, visiting churches and even donning cowboy boots and jeans. " Johnson


The Nation Endorses

Shortly before last week's primary, the liberal weekly journal The Nation posted on its Web site an endorsement of Malcolm Suber, a local community activist who ran for the New Orleans City Council at-Large seat formerly held by Oliver Thomas. Adolph Reed Jr. , an expatriate New Orleanian and professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, penned the endorsement essay in favor of his former grad school classmate. Reed laments that much of the city's recovery has occurred only in those areas 'where residents had resources before the storm." Reed also disparages the 'outrageous injustice that defines life in the city that property ownership is the sine qua non for consideration as part of the civic community in the calculus of recovery and rebuilding." He blames the late Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate economist who taught in Chicago, for that 'eighteenth-century model of citizenship," but otherwise cites no New Orleans source for it. Reed praises Suber for his proposals to restore and halt demolition of public housing developments, sponsor a rent-control ordinance, introduce an ordinance requiring businesses with 50 or more employees in the city to pay a minimum wage of $16 per hour, and reopen Charity Hospital. Reed adds that Suber endorses the idea of a Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, which would rebuild infrastructure much like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) did during the 1930s. Reed warns that without 'aggressive intervention into local political debate," the rebuilding efforts of charitable groups and volunteers 'will amount to little." " Winkler-Schmit


Boustany to Blanco: 'We Need Answers'

Lafayette Congressman Charles Boustany, a Republican, rolled out the red carpet this week for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, when she visited him during her D.C. trip to drum up money for recovery. Turns out the pomp was just that. According to Boustany's office, it was the first time since Hurricane Rita destroyed the Acadiana district that Blanco made a personal visit to Boustany, who noted that Blanco and her administration, including the Louisiana Recovery Authority, have yet to be specific about projected funding shortfalls in the Road Home program. Those shortfalls are estimated to be somewhere between $3 billion and $4.5 billion. Most of all, Boustany says he wants specifics on everything, not just housing, before asking Congress for another pile of dough. 'Gov. Blanco has a responsibility to be open about the Road Home program and should provide Congress with specific requests," he says. 'Congress deserves to know what the money will be used for " levees, rebuilding, coastal restoration, etc. We need answers from the governor." " Alford