Sen. Long hints at race for Governor
By Tom Aswell
State Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches) intimated on Wednesday, May 16, that he would probably be a candidate for governor in 2013.
In a wide-ranging interview, Long said, "I'm 67 years old and if I'm ever going to run, this will probably me my last opportunity. I am considering that option."
Long, also confided that there will be amendments to the administration's retirement bills that will water the bills down to the point of leaving them virtually unchanged but for new hires.
"The requirement that state employees work to age 67 is out," he said. The amendments will call for age 65 for employees with zero to five years' experience and age 62 for employees with six to 10 years tenure. All others will remain as-is," he said.
He said the Jindal Deputy Chief of Staff Kristy Nichol's insistence that even with the amendments, it was getting "what we wanted," was nothing more than a way for the administration "to save face."
A member of the Senate Retirement Committee, he sharply criticized Senate Bill 740 by Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) which freezes cost of living adjustments to retirees until the pension systems' fund reaches 80 percent-something that could take years to accomplish. "That was a really bad bill," he said. "Retirees could conceivably never receive a pay raise under the conditions laid out by that bill."
He said his Senate Bill 436 would tighten restrictions on the sale of water from Toledo Bend Reservoir by the Sabine River Authority. The bill, already passed by the Senate, also requires that any water sold must be at current market value.
A partnership comprised of two major campaign contributors to Gov. Bobby Jindal (Donald T. "Boysie" Bollinger of Lockport and Aubrey Temple of DeRidder and a San Antonio auto dealer (Billy Joe "Red" McComb) has been attempting to purchase water from the reservoir or resale to Texas municipalities but has met with local opposition.
Long said that members of the Sabine River Authority were angry at him for the bill because, they said, it placed too many restrictions on the sale of water.
"That's correct," he said. That's exactly what I intended the bill to do. First of all, if we are going to sell the water at all, why do we need a middle man to serve as a broker? There's no reason for the Toledo Bend Partnership (the partnership that has been attempting to broker the water sale) to be involved when the water could be sold directly with the money going to the state instead of Gov. Jindal's campaign contributors. In the next few decades, the availability of water is going to become the next oil and natural gas issue. We are going to have to have a plan to conserve our water. Louisiana is one of only nine states with no comprehensive water management program."
He said Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) will introduce an amendment when the bill goes to the full House to remove the parish police jury oversight of the water sales.
Long, while critical of Jindal's parent school voucher program, pointed out that Florida has had a voucher program for 10 years and has seen only 3 percent participation. "Indiana's participation is even worse," he said.
While generally supporting charter schools, Long was less enthusiastic about the governor's far-reaching education reforms. "How are you going to convince a private school to accept vouchers for $4,500 when they normally charge $5,500 and $6,000 for tuition? It's unrealistic."
He said he also has introduced Senate Bill 685 that would require teachers to schedule at least two parent-teacher conferences during the first semester of each school year. The bill would further require that at least one parent or guardian attend at least one of the conferences, which may be in person or by telephone.
Enforcement would be left to the local districts. One district, he said, is proposing to publish the names of parents who do not comply with the requirement.
Long, Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, was asked if he might be risking his chairmanship by his criticism of some of Jindal's programs, said he was unconcerned with that.
In March, Rep. Harold Richie (D-Bogalusa) was stripped of his vice-chairmanship of the House Committee on Insurance after he voted against a Jindal-backed proposal while sitting on the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill he voted against involved a tax rebate for those who donate money for scholarships to private and parochial schools. The committee approved the measure but Richie was replaced on the insurance committee the very next day.
"I'm not worried about that," Long said. "I have to do what I think is right without regard to whether or not the governor of (Senate President) John Alario (R-Westwego) want."
Long said that he initially joined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the request of a friend in the legislature, but does not plan to renew his membership when it comes up in July.
He was most likely referring to former Rep. Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro) who served as National President of ALEC last year and hosted the organization's annual convention in New Orleans last August.
"He asked me to join, and to tell you the truth, I didn't look into the organization that closely. My membership runs out in July, I think, and I don't intend to renew."
ALEC has received considerable criticism as a "bill mill" that drafts legislation for its members to take back to their home states for introduction in the various state legislatures and assemblies. It also received sharp criticism for its pushing for the "stand your ground law" that was the basis of the shooting of a black youth in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Several corporate members of the organization subsequently withdrew from ALEC.