In recent weeks we've seen John Bel strike a deal to steer hundreds of millions of dollars toward highly questionable Superdome renovations. Among the planned changes are the destruction of much-loved stadium exit ramps and the addition of a "natural lighting" source which many of us believe would ruin the atmosphere in there. At the state bond commission meeting where the funds for this were approved, the commission deferred a decision on $7 million for affordable housing in New Orleans because they had too many questions.
But the important thing for John Bel is that he's satisfied the state's most high profile billionaire and the criminal sports entertainment empire she represents. That's not just good campaign "optics." It's how you pay off powerful potential allies to make sure they stay that way.
Speaking of which, we also find that John Bel has handed a massive state "energy services" contract to serial disaster profiteer Jim Bernhard. The benefits to the state in this privatization deal are murky and debatable. The immediate political benefit to John Bel for entering into it is easier to figure out.
Bernhard Energy Solutions partnered with the HVAC company Johnson Controls at the request of the Edwards administration after both firms submitted proposals to the state. Bernhard Energy Solutions is one of several companies controlled by Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by former Shaw Group chief executive and Democratic Party official Jim Bernhard, who was floated as a potential candidate for governor before ruling it out last year.And then there is the strange case of John Bel's handling of the state's Medicaid contracts. This year the Governor decided to cut out Aetna and Louisiana Healthcare Connections and hand their shares of the $8 million pie over to Humana. While I still haven't seen any reporting that points us to exactly why that choice makes political sense for the Governor (it does seem to have upset Cedric Richmond) there must be some reason. The companies who lose out on the deal seem to think so, for what that's worth.
A Louisiana state health department evaluator fell asleep during the sales pitch for one of the companies trying to land a state contract worth billions.The point is, as election time rolls around, John Bel is doing the most to attract a lot of buy-in from some powerful players around the state. Which is why this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anybody.
At least that’s the way Kendra Case, the chief operating officer at Louisiana Healthcare Connections Inc., recalled the June 24 meeting in a sworn affidavit presented as proof that the state had gamed the competition to keep them from winning one of the lucrative “managed care” contracts.
Jim Ward and Fred Heebe, the owners of the River Birch landfill in Waggaman whose prodigious political donations were at the center of a sweeping, four-year federal criminal probe that eventually imploded without any charges being filed, have re-established themselves as a dominant force in Louisiana king-making.Nothing untoward there, for sure.
Ward, Heebe and other landfill executives are some of the largest financial backers of the effort to reelect Gov. John Bel Edwards even as they gird for a civil trial that will air long-standing accusations that some of their earlier political donations constituted bribes — in particular, a batch of checks they gave to disgraced New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who sits in prison on unrelated corruption charges.
New Horizons USA PAC, a political group formed by Dominick Fazzio, the longtime chief financial officer at River Birch, has donated at least $200,000 to Gumbo PAC, an organization that is expected to play a crucial role in Edwards’ reelection bid. That tied New Horizons for the title of largest in-state donor to Gumbo since Edwards took office.