IsnÂ’t His Hair Gray Enough Already?

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has apparently taken it upon himself to keep New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (and the rest of the city’s leaders) honest and accountable for the billions of dollars of federal aid that have been pouring in since Hurricane Katrina. Recently, he was back in the Big Easy to follow up on Nagin’s progress in fulfilling his promises to rebuild the city and to ensure that the American taxpayers’ money isn’t being squandered.Too bad he couldn’t make a similar visit to the State Capitol during the most recent legislative session. If he had, maybe the legislature might have actually accomplished something important instead of cleaning out their navels for three months…at our expense, of course.I’m not the only one who feels this way. Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Moret said, “All sense of urgency for reform appears to be pretty much gone.”The author of the new book Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long, Richard D. White, said, “We have been waiting for someone to step up with the big picture, with the state of Louisiana as his best interest, and we haven’t seen anyone.” In the wake of last year’s storms, White claims the state is in desperate need of leadership reminiscent of Long’s style.

Good Lord, what does it say about our current leadership when people are seriously suggesting that what the state needs is another Kingfish? If Huey Long is the solution to our problems, itÂ’s time to just pack our bags and go.

Critics blame the lack of headway on important issues in the session on Governor BlancoÂ’s modest agenda, as well as the absence of any real push from lawmakers to set aside traditional differences for the sake of progress. Sadly, this really doesnÂ’t surprise me. I must be getting cynical in my old age or something.

To her credit, the governor did manage to get the legislature to pass an amendment to the stateÂ’s Constitution that would merge the seven New Orleans assessors into a single office. However, it still has to be approved by voters this September, plus there were a lot of other pressing matters that got little or no attention from state lawmakers.

For instance, legislative watchdogs have been insisting that health care reform should be a top priority. The governor even created a 37-member committee to study the issue for the past two years. Did you hear anything about it this year? DidnÂ’t think so.

The two hurricanes last year did a major number on several of LouisianaÂ’s colleges and universities. Many said that this called for a reexamination and reform of the stateÂ’s higher education system. Alack and alas, no such luck.

Then there was the whole ethics reform issue, which never made any true headway. MoretÂ’s group, and many others, claimed that real ethics reform for state lawmakers would be a great step toward showing the rest of the nation that we were serious about changing our corrupt image.

Maybe if Anderson Cooper had been there to shine the national spotlight on our elected officials during the session, they might have actually accomplished things that are of import to the stateÂ’s residents. I canÂ’t believe I just suggested that the guy who hosted The Mole could be our savior from legislative shenanigans. It might be time for me to start packing my Gloria Vanderbilt luggage after all.

One Step Forward, 31.6 Million Steps Back

Amidst the fiscally restrictive environment immediately after the hurricanes, Gov. Blanco did away with the infamous urban and rural development funds. You might know them as “slush” funds, or by their non-Kosher moniker, “pork.”

Critics lauded Blanco for the move. Many saw the funds as a way for the governor to scratch the back of lawmakers who proved obedient and loyal.

Unfortunately, while the funds have been eliminated, the projects for which they were designated have not. Somehow, those sneaky bastards managed to slip their pet projects into the stateÂ’s $26.7 billion budget to the tune of $31.6 million.

As bad as it was before, at least all the projects were contained within a single legislative instrument. Now, the pork projects are scattered throughout the budget under the listing “Special Legislative Projects.” The Public Affairs Research Council’s Jim Brandt says since the projects are now “lodged and embedded” within the budget, they’re much harder to track.

To make matters worse, the amount of pork has actually doubled since Blanco ditched the urban and rural funds. Geez, thatÂ’s real smucking fart.

So what will the governor do about this? Nothing, apparently. While she has the power to 86 the projects, she has given every indication that she wonÂ’t do a damned thing about them. Way to take a stand against wasteful spending there, KBB.

What does all this mean? It means that state lawmakers are allowed to continue playing one of their all-time favorite games – hide the boudin. (No offense to female legislators.)

Fowl Engagements

So what exactly did they get done? Well, lawmakers passed a law (albeit one challenged as “unconstitutional” by the video game industry) that makes it illegal to sell or rent to minors video games deemed too violent. However, kids under 18 are still able to enjoy a good, old-fashioned cockfight. Hurray for cockfights!

Yes, the annual rite of trying to make New Mexico the only state without a ban on cockfighting was a rather interesting one this year. For a moment, it seemed that the proposal actually had legs, but then, as usual, its tendons were sliced by the spurs of the House Agricultural Committee.

Opponents of the “sport” insist that next year is the year of the chicken. They’re beginning to sound like Saints fans. “Next year, we’re going all the way!”

The usual suspects handled the task of clipping the wings on Sen. Art LentiniÂ’s (R-Kenner) bill that would have banned the practice. Rep. Troy Hebert (D-Jeanerette) used the domino theory to defend the cause of allowing birds to fight each other with razors strapped to their legs. He claimed that a cockfighting ban might lead to a ban on crawfish boils.

Rep. Hebert, I have a strong inclination that, if any lawmaker in this state ever suggested such a ban, he or she would probably end up as bait in a crawfish trap, most likely in St. Martin Parish.

Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Abbeville) appealed to his colleaguesÂ’ softer side by employing an emotional argument that cockfighting can prevent a young man from leading a life of crime. No, seriously, he said it could steer a possible delinquent toward a productive existence.

Gautreaux also tried to put his district on higher moral ground than the New Orleans area, the region many cockfighting opponents represent. “Come to Vermillion Parish. We have cockfighting, but we don’t have strip joints.”

You know, I canÂ’t help but wonder about a guy who, instead of watching a nearly naked woman seductively dance on a pole, would rather watch two angry cocks.

Then there was the most powerful person in the state – Bob Odom. The Secretary of Agriculture tried to downplay the barbaric reputation of the blood sport when he said, “At least 50 percent of the birds live.”

Hey, I’ve got news for you, Bob. There’s a term for those birds. They’re called “the winners.”

A good number of passionate citizens attended the committee hearing, too. I saw one guy on WAFB say, “If you don’t like cockfighting, don’t go to a cockfight.” Is it just me, or does that sound eerily similar to, “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” Hmm, I can’t help but wonder how that particular citizen feels about “legislating morality” involving that issue.

Another cockfighting supporter, Kenneth Gravois, who happens to be a chicken handler from Vacherie, claimed, “This is America. It’s been going on for years and years.” The same was probably said about slavery, too.

Is it a stretch to compare cockfighting to slavery? Well, a majority of people finds it morally repugnant, but because of culture, tradition, and economics, itÂ’s still around. You tell me if itÂ’s a stretch.

Just take a look at all the other states that have banned the practice. Four of them outlawed it before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Twenty-nine of them banned it before the turn of the 20th century, including Mississippi and Arkansas. Who knew that our neighbors to the east and north were such bastions of liberal philosophy?

I’ve got a question: What would happen if someone released a video game about cockfighting? (See the Game of the Month in this issue’s debut installment of “Tech Corner” for more details.)

Would it be banned for being too violent, or would minors be allowed to purchase it because it has “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”? I think it would be fun to watch legislators tackle this paradox. That night on the evening news, one by one, you’d see legislators’ heads exploding all over the place. Who would need term limits then?

To be truly honest with you, I donÂ’t see why we need a bill to ban cockfighting. After all, didnÂ’t the legislature outlaw same-sex marriage two years ago? That sounds like a de facto cockfighting ban to me. Think about it: They both involve a pair of cocks in close proximity, and once theyÂ’re engaged, itÂ’s usually til death do they part.

By the way, the legislature also passed a bill requiring a certain amount of ethanol sales within the next couple of years. Some of that ethanol will be made in the state using Louisiana crops, such as corn and sugarcane. I find it quite ironic that the same lawmaking body that banned homosexual marriage would pass a bill mandating that Louisiana residents be required to “put a little sugar in their tank.”

A Different Kind of Pumping

While IÂ’m on the subject of gay marriage, a recent attempt to pass a same-sex marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution failed in Congress. The amendment would have defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

I tend to agree with conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on this issue. He said, “The Constitution was never intended to set social policy. Its purpose is to establish the rules of governance and secure for the individual citizen rights against the power of the state. It defaces the Constitution to turn it into a super-legislative policy document.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The amendmentÂ’s defenders say that itÂ’s needed to protect the institution of marriage. You know, IÂ’ve been happily married for nearly 14 years. That whole time, gay people have been having sex. I donÂ’t understand what the threat is. Will my wife and I suddenly file for divorce the moment gay people are allowed to screw while wearing wedding bands? I really donÂ’t see it happening.

As for genuine threats to the institution of marriage, fighting over money has to be one of the biggest. What one portion of the family budget has almost tripled over the last few years? You guessed it – fuel prices. Ergo, it would seem to me that, if the folks in Washington were really concerned about defending the institution of marriage, they would do something about gas prices first.

Furthermore, if theyÂ’re morally opposed to state-sanctioned sodomy, they should address gas prices, anyway. Every time I fill up, I leave feeling like IÂ’ve been nailed in the ass by every board member of ExxonMobil. At least back in the old days, there were stacks of oilcans at the pump you could have used to make the encounter a little smoother.