Thursday, May 31, 2007

Good Ol’ Boy Network run amok.

Treasurer John Kennedy, someone of whom we should all be proud, is being “sliced and diced” by the Good Ol’ Boys lead by Hines, Salter and, yep, you guessed it, Odom.

Corrupt power on parade, folks, via SB 14.

Bill to weaken power of state treasurer passes Senate committee
By MELINDA DESLATTE The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bill to dilute the power of the state treasurer easily passed a Senate committee Wednesday, the continued fallout in a political dispute over the rejection of a state-financed sugar syrup mill.

Treasurer John Kennedy said Senate President Don Hines, who sponsored the bill, is retaliating against him for helping scuttle the syrup mill project in Hines' district. In response, Hines said Kennedy abuses his power as chairman of the State Bond Commission and manipulates the process to grandstand and get attention.

"Thank God for the syrup mill, or he'd be an obscure politician," said Hines, D-Bunkie.

The Bond Commission oversees state borrowing and financing of construction projects, totaling billions of dollars. The panel includes statewide elected officials, representatives of the governor's office, the Senate president, House speaker and other legislators.

As treasurer, Kennedy is chairman of the Bond Commission and was chairman of the commission when it derailed attempts to get state backing for construction of the sugar syrup mill Hines and Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom sought for central Louisiana.

Hines' bill — also sponsored by House Speaker Joe Salter — would rotate the Bond Commission chairmanship each year between the treasurer, Senate president and House speaker. The three would form a committee that sets the agenda for each commission meeting, rather than just the treasurer.

The bill was approved without objection by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee and heads next to the full Senate for debate. It would take effect with the new terms of office that begin next year. Kennedy is running for re-election.

Hines, D-Bunkie, said he brought the bill because there have been problems getting items on the Bond Commission agenda — problems he blamed on Kennedy.

"If you don't kiss his ring, you don't get on the agenda," Hines said.

Kennedy said he believes he's been reasonable about setting agendas, waiving rules to help people get their projects heard and working with legislators to get the financial information needed on proposals before the commission.

"My feeling is if it's not broke, you don't try to fix it," said Kennedy, a Democrat.

Hines and Kennedy have publicly disagreed since the sugar mill was proposed in January 2005, and the fissure was evident at Wednesday's committee meeting.

Hines said the treasurer "played politics" and used the mill to get attention for his political ambitions, which Hines said included an expected run by Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 2008. Kennedy said he was only running for re-election as treasurer.

Kennedy said he was threatened by Odom for his opposition to the mill and was told there would be political retaliation. Odom, who didn't attend the hearing, denied that allegation.

"I've never threatened him as such. I may have been mad at him at some point, but I've never even read this bill," Odom said in a phone interview.

Supporters of the mill sought to use an annual stream of state gambling money to guarantee some of the borrowing for the project, which they said would help central Louisiana farmers lower their transportation costs. Hines said a group of farmers would pay off the debt with the earnings from the mill. Hines's son-in-law was one of the sugar farmers who committed to provide cane to the Bunkie mill and would have jointly owned and operated the facility.

Kennedy repeatedly said the mill, estimated to cost anywhere from $135 million to $150 million, was financially risky and could leave the state saddled with debt if the mill proved unsuccessful. He cited two studies that said the mill likely would go bankrupt.

"It was like taking $150 million in taxpayers' money and throwing it in the dirt," Kennedy said.

Blanco and her allies on the Bond Commission helped kill the sugar mill proposal, but only after multiple commission meetings and months of Kennedy talking against the project.

Kennedy refused to put the syrup mill discussion on one Bond Commission agenda, saying the backers of the project didn't provide the requested financial documents. But the commission voted to overrule Kennedy, getting a two-thirds vote to add the item to the agenda. Kennedy said that showed the process in place works.

But senators on the committee said the process puts too much authority in the hands of one person, the state treasurer.

"One person having almighty control, it can't be that way," said Sen. Chris Ullo, D-Harvey.

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