Rep. Valerie Hodges has second thoughts about vouchers upon learning that Islam qualifies as a religion: who knew?
If one were to set out to find the perfect example of religious intolerance on the part of someone who espouses the principles of religious freedom the place to go would be Louisiana Legislative House District 64.
If you thought when David Duke faded into political obscurity, Louisiana had finally rid itself of the international embarrassment of bigotry and religious intolerance, than you sadly underestimated the buffoonery of one Valerie Hodges.
Valerie Hodges is a first-term Republican state representative from Denham Springs. Her biography on the legislature’s web page lists her occupation as an accountant, as vice president of Straightway Ministries in Baton Rouge and co-pastor of Destiny International in Denham Springs.
When Rep. Hodges voted for House Bill 976 which was subsequently signed into law as ACT 2 by Gov. Piyush Jindal, she envisioned widespread approval of vouchers for schools like Faith Academy in Gonzales (approved for 80 vouchers); BeauVer Christian School in DeRidder, the school that was unable to correctly spell “scholarship” on its sign (119 vouchers); Dreamkeepers Academy (4) and Evangel Christian Academy (80) in Caddo Parish; Eternity Christian Academy of Westlake, the school that teaches the existence of the Loch Ness monster as a means of disproving evolution (135 vouchers), Old Bethel Christian Academy in Caldwell Parish (59), Angels Academy (106), Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy (28), Hosanna Christian Academy (200), Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy (30), Riverdale Christian Academy (30) and Trinity Christian Academy (25) of East Baton Rouge Parish; Gethsemane Christian Academy (music) and Lafayette Christian Academy (4) of Lafayette Parish; New Living Word School (315) the school with no classrooms, no teachers and no books, of Ruston; Holy Ghost Academy (29), Life of Christ Christian Academy (91), Light City Christian Academy (117) and The Upperroom Bible Church Academy (167) of Orleans Parish; Family Community Christian School in Franklin Parish (54); Claiborne Christian School (28), Northeast Baptist School (40) and Prevailing Faith Christian Academy (26) of Ouachita Parish; Cenla Christian Academy (72) of Rapides Parish; Boutte Christian Academy (85) in St. Charles Parish; Family Worship Christian Academy (66) of St. Landry Parish; Northlake Christian Elementary School (20) and Northside Christian High School (30) and The Upperroom Bible Church Preschool and Academy (3) of St. Tammany Parish; Lighthouse Christian High School (18) of Vermilion Parish; Faith Christian Academy (38), Heritage Academy (10), Victory Christian Academy (music), and Islamic School of Greater New Orleans (38) of Jefferson Parish.
Islamic School of Grea…sputter, sputter…Islamic?
Hodges, joined by Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) was quick to disavow Jindal’s voucher program if Islamic schools were to be eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers.
It’s perfectly okay to shell out money to religious schools to teach that Nessie is real—a modern-day dinosaur that proves that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that evolution is a lot of hooey. But don’t even talk about some missing link.
Religious, after all, means Christian, right?
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” Hodges huffed. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”
Snake chunkers okay, Islamics not so okay.
But wait. Did she really say the Founding Fathers’ religion was Christianity?
Yes she did. But while she may take at face value the teaching that mother earth is only 6,000 years old, it seems her American history is no better than her ancient history.
The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, Deists, not Christians.
For the benefit of Rep. Hodges, Deism teaches that the universe was indeed created by God but that He assumes no control over life, exerts no influence on natural events and provides no divine revelation. In short, He left us to our own devices to work things out as best we can.
Also for Rep. Hodges’s erudition, the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
It is those few words that prohibit the establishment of a state church – words on which the principle of separation of church and state is based.
No mention of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, Dianetics, Scientology, or any other specific religion. Just that there shall be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion—whatever that religion may be.
Rep. Hodges apparently subscribes to the Animal Farm political philosophy (with apologies to George Orwell) that all religions are created equal but some religions are more equal than others.
As evidence of Rep. Hodges’s narrow view of religion as a Bible wrapped in a flag affixed to a bayonet, we have this quote from her: “We need to insure that it (the voucher plan) does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
Wow. A thousand? Really?
We were unable to substantiate quite that many. We did, however, find that one little school in Kenner: the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans that put in its application for 38 vouchers.
But you know what? Its application was withdrawn before HB 976 was even passed.
We’re still looking for the remaining 999.
Whoa! Wait a minute here. Did you notice that 999 is 666 upside down?
But please don’t tell Rep. Hodges.
“The Department of Education’s legal department has determined that the documents are in the ‘Pre-Decisional Status,’ and we’re unable to allow you to examine them.”
–Department of Education (DOE) Public Information Officer Sarah Mulhearn, in a telephone call to LouisianaVoice on Monday after agreeing last week to allow LouisianaVoice to examine copies of all applications for vouchers/scholarships received by DOE. She was asked to send the department’s reasons to LouisianaVoice via email but thus far, has not complied despite verbally agreeing to do so. (There is no provision in R.S. 44:1, the state’s Public Records Statute, for excluding public documents from view for something called the “Pre-Decisional Status.”)
Administration’s new transparency determination: DOE says vouchers in ‘Pre-Discisional Status,’ and they are not public
Apparently, the “transparent and accountable” administration of Gov. Piyush Jindal is becoming increasingly less so—if that’s even possible.
Hammond attorney and political blogger/junkie C.B. Forgotston, who has probably forgotten more about Louisiana politics than any of us wannabe peers or anyone in the Jindal administration will ever know, including Piyush himself, has been cut off—as an apparent act of retribution by Jindal Communications Director Kyle Plotkin.
Conservative Kool-Aid drinker Jeff Sadow, a conservative blogger/political science professor at LSU-Shreveport, apparently is still in the loop.
LouisianaVoice, on the other hand, can appreciate neither extreme as we never were in the loop to be cut off (a point in which we take considerable pride), so we have no way of knowing whether we’re being punished or not. Ignored would seem to be a better term with this clique.
And as of Monday, July 9, 2012, a new standard has been arbitrarily applied by the administration to R.S. 44:1, otherwise known as the Louisiana Public Records Law: the heretofore non-existent exception to the law now known as the “pre-decisional status.”
Forgotston this past week informed his readers that he had been removed from the governor’s office’s email distribution list for press releases.
The releases are considered public documents, he noted.
“While the information in the releases is not necessarily earthshaking, it is of interest to those of us who like to be informed about state government.”
He said he contacted Plotkin about being reinstated on the list but never heard from him, a move Forgotston appropriately—and most probably, accurately—labeled as a childish move and an example of Plotkin’s “pettiness.”
“Apparently, this childish move by Plotkin is payback for my blowing the whistle on a Jindal adviser,” Forgotston wrote.
“Stafford Palmieri, Jindal’s Policy Director, has been living in Louisiana and driving her daddy’s car with New York plates on it for months, if not years. This is illegal and avoided the payment of state taxes.
“Interestingly, none of the state police officers regularly stationed at the Capitol noticed the New York plates on her vehicle parked in a space reserved for Louisiana public officials.
“Shortly after making an issue of Palmieri’s violations, she was forced to not only get a valid Louisiana plate, but a valid Louisiana driver’s license as well.
“Unless Palmieri received special treatment by the Office of Motor Vehicles, it must have cost her quite a few bucks, especially considering fines and penalties (that might apply). Obviously, she was upset about having to comply with the laws of our state that she helps make.
“This is not the type of treatment that a citizen of our state would expect from a person traveling around the country telling everyone how he ‘reformed’ Louisiana.
“It is, however, the treatment one received during the reign of Huey P. Long and his henchmen.
“The primary difference between Long and Jindal is that Long, despite his tyrannical rule, actually helped a few people in Louisiana.”
(Forgotston informed us after this was posted that he had been reinstated to Jindal’s press release mailouts.)
A second blogger recently complained to LouisianaVoice that Sadow appeared to have an inside track on all pronouncements emanating from the Capitol’s fourth floor. “He gets information not available to the rest of us,” the second blogger said. “They have to be spoon-feeding him information.”
That’s not unexpected, considering Sadow’s unique ability to regurgitate the administration’s party line on any issue almost word for nauseating word.
LouisianaVoice, on the other hand, has begun encountering more and more obstacles in efforts to obtain what is clearly public information.
Case in point: On Tuesday, July 3, we sent a request to the Department of Education (DOE) for what we considered innocuous information. Our request opened with the usual, “Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana, R.S. 44:1 et seq., I respectfully request the following information:
“Please provide me with a complete list of all schools that have been approved for or have requested vouchers/scholarships.”
The request was pursuant to the recent passage of House Bill 976, signed into law by Gov. Jindal as Act 2 of 2012.
Our request continued:
“Also, (we) would like to examine copies of all applications and letters of approval of vouchers/scholarships at the Department of Education offices. Please give (us) a time and date within the next three working days (no later than 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 10, 2012) that (we) might be able to review the records.”
Two days later, on July 5 (the Fourth being a state holiday), DOE Public Information Officer Sarah Mulhearn sent the following response:
“…Is there a day/time early next week when you would be able to come to our office to review the applications? Please me know.”
“Monday morning (July 9) around 10:30 a.m. would be fine,” we replied.
“OK, fifth floor of the Claiborne Building downtown Baton Rouge,” Mulhearn answered in return. “You will most likely have to call up to me from the guard station on the first floor. You can call 342-3600.”
But on Monday, about 8:30 a.m., we received a call from Ms. Mulhearn.
“I’m sorry, but our legal department has determined the documents are in the “pre-decisional status” and we won’t be able to show them to you.”
R.S. 44:1(A)(1) says, “To be ‘public,’ the record must have been used, prepared, possessed, or retained for use in connection with a function performed under authority of the Louisiana Constitution, a state law, or an ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of a public body. This definition covers virtually every kind of record kept by a state or local governmental body. In Louisiana, a ‘public record’ includes books, records, writings, letters, memos, microfilm, and photographs, including copies and other reproductions.”
The statute says further: “In Louisiana, any person at least 18 years of age may inspect, copy, reproduce, or obtain a copy of any public record. The purpose for the document is immaterial and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason, except to justify a fee waiver.
“…The custodian may prevent any alteration of the record being examined, but the custodian cannot review anything in the requesting person’s possession (including notes).”
Nowhere in R.S. 44:1 will one find any reference to the term “pre-decisional.” It is referred to obliquely in R.S. 44:5(B)(2) in the section on “deliberative process,” a phrase that has been invoked several times by the administration as a means of hiding information from the public. It’s a sham, to be sure, one behind which the administration has no compunctions about hiding.
To throw that out as a reason for preventing an inspection of a public record is not only a bit creative, but downright deceptive and certainly un-transparent and non-accountable. Any blatant violation of the public records law is illegal and subject to fines, court costs, requestor’s attorney fees and, if a judge should deem the violation of such magnitude to warrant it, jail time.
We asked (by telephone and followed up with an email) Mulhearn to provide the department’s reasons for refusing to comply with our request in writing. She promised she would do so, but thus far, she has failed to respond. DOE may be hunkering down for our promised legal action.
We should not be the least bit surprised by this, though. The governor’s office has for months ignored our request for Gov. Jindal’s travel status on a list of dates we provided in another formal request.
A year ago, Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals Bruce Greenstein attempted to defy a legislative committee that was convened to consider, of all things, his confirmation as DHH secretary. The committee was attempting to determine the identity of the winner of a $300 million DHH contract to administer Medicaid claims for the state.
Greenstein had a reason for not wishing to divulge the information, but it hardly justified his attempt to hide the identity of the winning bidder considering it was a firm for which he had once worked. Even his subsequent denials of any contact with CNSI Corp. during the selection process proved false when emails subpoenaed by the committee revealed extensive contact between Greenstein and his former company.
It was a scenario similar to the one in which Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater refused to release a copy of the so-called Chaffe Report to a legislative committee meeting to discuss the proposed privatization of the Office of Group Benefits.
When the committee threatened to likewise subpoena that report, which was commissioned by Jindal in an effort to gain support of his proposed sale of the agency, it was quietly leaked to the Baton Rouge Advocate—or was it?
The date that Rainwater and DOA attorney David Boggs said Division of Administration (DOA) attorney David Boggs said the Chaffe report was received and the date that Chaffe officials signed off on the report were different (the Chaffe representative’s signature was on a later date, indicating the report was not issued until later than the date Boggs and Rainwater said they received it) and none of the pages of the report were date-stamped—in direct violation of standing DOA policy.
And of course, State Superintendent of Education John White and his now-infamous Emailgate in which he emailed Plotkin and Palmieri (Whoop! There she is!) that he intended to throw up a smokescreen about the “next phase” in the approval process for school vouchers and that he’d “like to create a news story…before Murray (Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans) creates an additional story for us tomorrow.
White’s plans for the deliberate ploy of duplicity, his premeditated attempt to mislead a legislative committee that, again, was meeting to consider his confirmation, “would allow us to talk through the process with the media, muddying up a narrative they’re trying to keep black and white,” he said.
Strangely enough, the governor’s office, upon receiving White’s email, did nothing to rein him in and to ensure that the administration would continue to be “transparent, accountable and the most ethical administration in Louisiana’s history.”
In Palmieri’s case, though, that’s understandable. She was busy transferring the registration of her vehicle from New York to Louisiana and obtaining a new driver’s license and new plates for her car.
These things take time—especially with all the personnel cutbacks instituted by her boss.
Tom Aswell is publisher of LouisianaVoice.com