Several groups poised to get into play in BESE races

The elections for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education around the state could become expensive if the slate of so-called reform candidates from 2011 face serious challenges this go around.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry estimates that 47 percent of its total election budget, which stands today at $675,000 but will grow, will be dedicated to BESE races only.

“We spent $30,000 in 2007, around $305,000 in 2011 and it’s looking like we’ll reach that level again soon for the current BESE races,” said Brian Landry, LABI vice president of political action.

At stake are the reform seats secured last cycle and the eight-vote bloc needed to keep, or remove, Education Superintendent John White next term. The reform group on the 11-member board has overhauled teacher tenure, boosted charters and championed private school vouchers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Republican Party played a big role in underwriting the election of those reform members in 2011. But Common Core, which the reform members and White (in favor) and Jindal (against) split on, has also splintered the party and now neither are playing in the races.

“We haven’t endorsed anyone in the races and most are Republican versus Republican. So as of now, no,” said state GOP executive director Jason Doré when asked whether the party would get involved.

So who is picking up the slack? In addition to LABI, there’s the Alliance for Better Classrooms PAC, organized by businessman Lane Grigsby and directed by Dan Juneau, LABI’s former president. Juneau said he’ll have a better handle on just how active the races will be after qualifying, but he expects ABC to raise money in the high six figures or maybe even the low seven figures.

Empower Louisiana, whose board Grigsby sits on, may be the only super PAC in the field on the pro-reform side. While union groups from outside Louisiana aren’t showing much interest, opting to instead attack on the school board level, several national groups with Louisiana affiliates will be fighting for the reform candidates, including the pro-charter Stand For Children; Federation For Children, which has businessman Eddie Rispone attached; Democrats For Education Reform; and Black Alliance For Educational Options.

The Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, run by Carline Roemer Shirley, is part of this coalition as well.

On the other side of the fence, so far, is only FlipBESE, which has been loosely organized by anti-Common Core parents. It has its own slate of candidates opposing the so-called reform campaign and they’re being promoted primarily on a Facebook page.

“There is no money involved in this whatsoever from our side,” said spokesperson Amy Lemoine of Lafayette. “We want a board not tied to out-of-state special interests and candidates who realize the current education agenda is inadequate. We want a board that will get rid of John White. We want him gone.”

Another player to watch for is the Network for Public Education, which was founded by activist and education historian Diane Ravitch of New York. The advocacy group, which opposes corporation-backed school reforms, has started making endorsements in the state.

Louisiana could see $22 million in presidential ads

Virginia-based media company Borrell Associates has released a report forecasting that political advertising in 2016 will eclipse $11.4 billion nationally, which is 20 percent higher than the last presidential cycle in 2012.

Around $50.75 will be spent per eligible voter, with every $1 out of $5 going toward presidential messaging.

In Louisiana, where there are 2.8 million registered voters, Borrell expects $22.3 million will be spent by those involved in the presidential race. The 2016 U.S. Senate race in Louisiana should produce another $9.4 million worth of political advertising and our U.S. House seats about $3.6 million.

The decrease in political advertising on broadcast television will be “breathtaking,” according to the report, with the backlash from over-exposed politicians beginning in 2017 and spending dipping below 2009 levels. But for 2016, it still leads all other categories.

“Broadcast TV is likely to continue to lose political ad share and perhaps even show, for the first time since the birth of television, a decline in political advertising dollars,” the report states. “Newspaper spending will also likely see a decline. We foresee most large metro papers ceasing daily publication within the next two to three years, shifting to three days per week. The majority of the nation’s 20,000 papers, however, continue to serve their towns and smaller cities with little change and should be viable venues for local campaign ads.”

A for the Internet, the report suggests that by next year social media sites will absorb more than half of all online political ad spending.

When coupled with any local races that might be competitive in 2016, as well as special interests and ballot initiatives, Borrell Associates predicts $31.33 will be spent in Louisiana on political advertising per eligible voter next year.

State lobbying laws get passing grade

Despite the perception some may have of lobbyists, those plying their trade in the Bayou State are publicly reporting what they spend and do so at a threshold that’s well above the national average.

Louisiana is among 15 state that received a grade of “B” for its disclosure of lobbyist activity and compensation, according to a new report issued by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

Only seven other states received an “A” grade. While the Louisiana Ethics Administration has a searchable database online of registered lobbyists, there are still six states that withhold registration altogether from the public, the report found. And there are 33 states where lobbyists are not mandated to disclose their expenditures, but Louisiana is not among them.

The report does recommend that Louisiana could begin forcing lobbyists to reveal which specific pieces of legislation that are seeking to influence. For some working lobbyists following a regular session of the Legislature, such a report would make for a lengthy read.

The state could also pursue more specific expenditure disclosures and make sure that lobbyists are reporting their compensation, although Louisiana law already requires them to do just that using ranges of value.

Overall Louisiana received a score of three points in five different categories, placing it in the higher bracket of states that received a “B” grade. The report is available in full on the Sunlight Foundation’s website.


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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