This year at the annual Legislative House vs. Senate HoopLa Basketball game and Out of Bounds Bash, participants enjoyed an intensely close game, on court entertainment, the issuance of charitable contributions, and much more. This year, HoopLa was held on Monday, May 2, 2016, at 6:00pm, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU. Tip-off started at 7, and it was a close game throughout, with a tied score of 40-40 in the final minutes, but the House lost by 1 point in the last second of the game, due to a penalty shot, and the Senate overcame the House for the second year in a row. District 17’s Senator Rick Ward scored the winning point at the free throw line with 0.2 seconds remaining, after a foul by District 101’s Representative Ted James, leading to the Senate victory and final score of 41-40.
Throughout the game the Pelicans’ dance and entertainment teams, led the show with dancing, interactive competitions, and a kids’ zone. Additionally, an impressive half time performance was provided by the band and dance team from New Iberia Senior High, in Speaker of the House Taylor Barras’ hometown. Participants also had the opportunity to participate in the courtside fundraising event, the HoopLa Out of Bounds Bash, where attendees were provided with food and drinks, courtside tables, and a silent auction.
Beginning in 2009, when several State Legislators formed the Legislators’ Charity Fund, a not for profit corporation whose objective is to enhance the lives of the people of Louisiana through charitable works, each year, proceeds from the Out of Bounds Bash are used to restore community basketball courts in need of refurbishing around the state of Louisiana. The 1st Annual HoopLA Gala took place in 2009 to benefit local communities, supporting physical fitness and promoting healthy recreational activities for the youth. The winning court is chosen in a drawing, House and Senate members are entered into a raffle and the chosen member receives funds to restore the basketball court of his or her choosing. This year’s winner, for the 3rd time in a row, was State Representative Major Thibaut from New Roads. He will choose a public court in his district, District 18, to rebuild and provide recreational space for the youth of the area.
The second donation of the night was made to St. Jude, in honor of Markell Day, established by the Louisiana House of Representatives by House Resolution 85, authored by Speaker Barras. HR 85 expresses condolences upon the death of Markell Gregoire, a native of Speaker Barras’ district, and designates Monday, May 2, 2016, as Markell Day at the state capitol. Markell was a 16-year-old who passed away after losing an extended battle with cancer. Markell greatly enjoyed sports, especially basketball, a sport he played avidly until his move to St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee, six years ago. In honor of Markell’s life and love of basketball, this year HoopLa was coupled with Markell Day. His family and former teammates were invited to the Capitol and a check from HoopLa in the amount of $10,000 was presented to St. Jude for providing Markell and thousands of other children with much needed care and cancer treatment. The check was presented by State Representative John Schroder, who leads the HoopLa event every year, and received by Kelly Schulz, Vice President of Communications for St. Jude.
Though the game ended in disappointment for House members and their supporters, the event was an all-around success, building support for the state, communities and St. Jude.
(See Photo gallery here)
Audrey Fry of the State Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism speaks to ladies of the Louisiana Women Veterans group.
By Nancy Johnson
If the tour guides in Memorial Hall of the Louisiana State Capitol had a motto, it might go something like this:
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay these tour guides from their appointed rounds."
Okay, so the words above are borrowed from the widely known tribute to American postal carriers. But if you pause to think about the dedicated ladies and gentlemen who perform tours nearly every day of the year and the sheer number of school-children and tourists who pass through the halls of the State Capitol, you too, might be tempted to adopt words of a similar, heroic nature.
The tourist desks that flank the brass doors that open to Memorial Hall from the steps at the front of the Capitol become the first destination for many people who stop in and visit, with and without an appointment.
Memorial Hall, which connects the two chambers of the Legislature, rises to a majestic two stories in height, and serves as a central gallery that displays statues, friezes and Art Deco wall murals depicting the state's history. In early morning and evenings, the hall is tranquil. But after visitors arrive, the hall becomes alive and very noisy. The acoustics in the hall allow the voices of large crowds to swell to deafening crescendos that rocket back and forth against the walls, punctuated occasionally by the shrill screams of unhappy babies. Many times, the roar goes on and on for hours at a time.
The building has drawn 30,160 visitors this year, and this isn't the peak season, yet. In 2015, the tour guides logged 104,397 visitors. Diverse groups from all over the world come to the Capitol for various reasons. Some assemble on the steps to make their voices heard on a particular issue during a legislative session. They may come to the Capitol, the tallest state capitol building in the nation, to stand atop the observation deck, and many want to visit the place where our laws are made. They are full of questions, but they have come to the right place for answers. The guides' personalities are so welcoming and they are so knowledgeable that they can anticipate and answer almost any question about the Capitol building, the city of Baton Rouge and regional attractions.
Audrey Fry with the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism said, "Many visitors are on a lifetime mission to visit the capitols of all 50 states."
Fry's associate, Lance Sullivan, added, "Many of our guests wish to know about the extensive military history that is prevalent on the Capitol grounds."
Another reason, they said, is that the State Capitol, which was dedicated in 1932, is the site of Huey Long's assassination. Because of his politics and political aspirations, many Huey pilgrims want to hear the story of his death, visit the back hallway where he was shot and touch the bullet holes in the marble walls.
Another fact that lures a lot of people is that the Louisiana State Capitol building is one of the foremost examples of the Art Deco design, second only to the Empire State Building. Virtually every surface of the Capitol features superb examples of Art Deco.
Visitors ask a multitude of questions, but Fry said, "The most commonly asked questions are: 'Are we going to see the tower?' 'Where was Huey Long shot?' 'Where is the pencil in the ceiling?'"
Presently, there are two full-time and two part- time employees. They know the composition or building materials used inside the chambers and hallways and brief visitors on the history behind the statues, murals and friezes that abound in the hall and adjacent chambers. The Capitol's tour guides have a great deal of institutional knowledge, as well. They explain the law-making process and answer questions inside the House and Senate chambers. They can point out where the representatives in the House chamber sit and where the senators in the Senate chamber sit. They know the names of many of the lobbyists, as well.
During the legislative sessions and the interim when the Legislature is not in session, state officials regularly schedule tours for their constituents. State Rep. Stephen Pugh, who frequently schedules tours, has high words of praise for the tourism desk.
"The people behind the tourist desks are very informative and very educated and if they're asked a question they don't know, they'll have the answer before the individual leaves," Pugh said.
"Those ladies and gentlemen have taught me everything I know so that I can give an authentic and factual tour of the capitol," he said.
"Our tour guides go above and beyond at all times no matter the size, the age or physical ability of our guests to make their visit to their Capitol an enjoyable experience," Pugh said.
At a “service day” when they established and planted flower beds and painted interior walls at the Greater Baton Rouge Salvation Army Worship and Activity Center are, from left: Ellie Schroder (seated), wife of Rep. John Schroder; Rhonda Connick, wife of Rep. Patrick Connick; Sandra Montoucet, wife of Rep. Jack Montoucet; Salvation Army Captain Mary Meredith; Rose Long, wife of Sen/ Gerald Long; Michelle Johns, wife of Sen. Ronnie Johns; Charlotte LeBas, wife of Rep. Bernard LeBas; Gina Abraham, wife of Rep. Mark Abraham; Susan Hoffmann, wife of Rep. Frank Hoffmann, Martha Reynolds, wife of Rep. Gene Reynolds, Daphne Danahay, wife of Rep. Mike Danahay, Joan Garofalo, wife of Rep. Ray Garofalo; Pam Ward, mother of Sen. Rick Ward; Paula Berthelot, wife of Rep. Johnny Berthelot; Dawn Ward, wife of Sen. Rick Ward; Cathy Morrish, wife of Sen. Dan Morrish; and Sherry Willmott, wife of Rep. Tom Willmott.
By Mike Hasten
BATON ROUGE – When the Legislature is in session, the separation from family and regular job for almost three months can be tough on lawmakers and their families.
The Louisiana Legislative Spouses Auxiliary serves “like a support group for each other” and for their spouses during sessions, says Carol Shadoin, wife of Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston. The group is made up of men and women who are married to legislators in the House and Senate.
Carol and fellow LLSA member Martha Reynolds, wife of Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Dubberly, say that being retired and having grown children gives them and several other spouses an advantage over some of the younger spouses because they can come to the Capitol while the Legislature is in session. Some spouses just come for special events.
“It’s tougher on those with young children at home,” Carol said. “It’s a family sacrifice.”
“For the ones who can’t come down here, there’s the sacrifice of being away from their spouses all that time,” Martha added. “I don’t know how some of those younger ones do it.”
“It really is difficult at times,” said LLSA President Rose Long, wife of Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield. “We’re there to support our spouses and there to support each other.
“People don’t understand the stress (caused by the disruption of family and job routine during sessions) and sometimes the negative things that happen” when someone disagrees with decisions made by legislators, Rose said. “There are a lot of good things, but people have strong feelings about things that happen.”
The spouses have that in common and although “we really don’t talk about those things, it helps to know that others are going through the same things,” she said.
Carol says it’s important for spouses to keep up with what’s happening in the Legislature so they can straighten out misconceptions. “It’s especially important when you have social media that misinforms people.”
“People forget we are just regular folks like them trying to make a difference for our districts and state,” she said.
“Some people think we’re down here going to a spa every week and we’re living in this fabulous place. They have no idea what The Pentagon looks like.”
Carol said she had to laugh at a recent news story that described The Pentagon apartments across the street from the Capitol as being luxurious. “Sharing a two-bedroom apartment with another couple and having only one bathroom? That’s not luxury by any means. It’s awkward. We have to set a schedule of what time we’re going to the bathroom.”
Martha and Carol are regulars sitting on the side of the House chamber and sometimes visiting committee rooms.
“It can be a double-edged sword,” Carol said. “Sometimes Rob is ready to go to sleep at night and I’m asking ‘Why did that guy vote for that?’ Five years ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many representatives we have.”
The Spouses Auxiliary has existed for decades. Before women began to be regularly elected to the Legislature, it was the Legislative Wives Auxiliary. So far, only one husband has participated in activities this year.
John Davis, husband of Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, attended the organizational lunch at Senate President John Alario’s apartment at the Pentagon Barracks and recently got an insider’s tour of the Governor’s Mansion given by First Lady Donna Edwards. He said he would like to do more but his job gets in the way.
“We got the scoop on the coop,” Martha says, laughing. “Gov. John Bel Edwards built a chicken coop behind the mansion.”
At the first gathering, spouses introduced themselves and told of their backgrounds – professional and personal. “It was interesting to hear their different background stories,” John said. “These are strong, accomplished wives. There are no shrinking violets. This is a comfortable group of folks who understand what public service means.” He said the spouses all feel their other halves are doing important work and that it’s important to support them. As for his wife Paula, “If I wasn’t supportive of her, it would make her job much more difficult.”
The auxiliary meets once a week during legislative sessions for a combination of fun and community service activities. The estimated 50 spouses who are active in the group pay dues of $50 a year to pay expenses of activities and make donations to charities.
“We volunteer in the community and tour sites in some of the districts, so spouses can show us what their areas have to offer,” Carol said.
“Sometimes we do fun things, and sometimes we do service projects,” Martha interjects.
The group’s most recent service project (See Photo gallery here) involved reworking and expanding flower beds and painting interior walls at the Salvation Army worship and community center. The Salvation Army serves several parishes in the Baton Rouge area and offers church services, meals, after-school activities and a number of other services in a low-income neighborhood in the Capital City.
The spouses purchased topsoil, flowers, shrubs and mulch and did all the work installing the flower beds. They also painted the interior walls of the Youth Hall inside the community center.
“The paint was donated but we also made a donation to the Salvation Army,” Martha said.
Two days later, Kim Allain, wife of Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, returned to plant two trees on the property.
Salvation Army Capt. Mary Meredith said the work done by the spouses “was on my list to do, but it wouldn’t have been done so nicely and certainly not as quickly. They were wonderful.” She said she considered the volunteer work “a blessing.”
The next service project is at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge where spouses will tour parts of the hospital. The project will consist of cutting out material that will be used for making caps for women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy and to make bags to hold patients’ medications.
The get-togethers aren’t all work. They have informational and fun tours and gather for lunch each week.
They’re also scheduled to visit Dufrocq Elementary School in Baton Rouge, which has become an annual visit. “The students love to present a play for us and we’re trying to find what their needs are,” Rose said. Last year, the group donated a camera for school use, but if there is no need spelled out this time, “we’ll pay for a party.”
Earlier this session, they had a “Fun Day” in Alexandria hosted by Leetha Harris, wife of Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria. They also toured the World War II Museum in New Orleans and had Lucky Dogs for lunch. Rep Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, is co-owner of Lucky Dogs.
First Lady Donna Edwards recently hosted the spouses for lunch and a Governor’s Mansion tour. Future field trips include: Windrush Gardens, 25 acres of landscaped property at the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge; the Celtic Media Centre, where several movies have been filmed; LSU for Kids and Grandkids Day; and, on the final day of the session, lunch at the Louisiana Midcontinent Oil and Gas Association office, a historic structure on North Boulevard.
John Davis said he has told the other spouses he is interested in several of the trips, but “It’s going to be difficult to motivate me to go to a jewelry show.” A May activity is a trip to New Orleans for the Helen Brett show.
He said he suggested skeet shooting and a tour of a rum distillery. “Their eyes lit up. They’re interested in that,” he said.
Spouses Auxiliary officers serve two-year terms with the presidency rotating between the House and Senate. Rose Long is the current president and the vice president is Paula Berthelot, wife of Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales. The treasurer is Charlotte LeBas, wife of Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, and the parliamentarian is Marilyn Thompson, wife of Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. Carol Shadoin is corresponding secretary and Martha Reynolds is recording secretary.
State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, has been selected as a recipient of this year’s Esprit de Femme Award presented by the LSU Women’s Center.
The award will be presented in March, which is Women’s History Month.
Smith is being honored for her efforts to elevate the status of women, which include pushing legislation to assure that women receive the same salary as men for doing to the same work.
Studies have shown women in Louisiana are paid less than men.
The Women’s Center says the Esprit de Femme Awards, meaning “Spirit of Women,” are an annual acknowledgement of individuals who have made exceptional efforts toward the advancement of women in Louisiana. This award honors individuals who elevate the status of women in our community through their contributions to the arts, education, healthcare, business and industry, charity and civic engagement.
The 2016 Esprit de Femme Sunrise Celebration will be held on Friday, March 18, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Boudreaux’s in Baton Rouge. Information about tickets for the event is available by contacting Summer Steib at (225) 578-1714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mike Hasten
When Brittney Reed, legislative assistant for Rep. Blake Miguez, wrote to the Rachael Ray Show, her greatest hope was securing a set of computer-assisted glasses that would enable her boyfriend, Hunter Tribe, to see clearly.
What she got far exceeded her original wishes.
Hunter and Brittney grew up in Erath, a small town in northeast Vermilion Parish. Although they both attended Erath High School, she said she knew who he was but they never met because Hunter was a senior and “I was just a freshman.”
He started losing all but his peripheral vision when he was 13 due to Stargardt disease. He’s now 31.
But Brittney says his eyesight problem didn’t stop Hunter from being one of the most popular boys in school.
Her grandmother told her of a “Rachael” episode in which someone who had the same disease as Hunter had received special glasses that enabled him to see his wife for the first time.
“I reached out to the show and told the producer about Hunter and our little love story,” she said. Because of his disability, he had never really seen her face. Macular degeneration wipes out sight of whatever is in front of a person.
The company eSight developed glasses to fill in the sight that’s lost.
After the show’s producer called her and asked if they could come to New York and be on the show, “I’m thinking I’m just there for the glasses,” she said.
She got the glasses, thanks to a donation from Keller Williams Realty.
But shortly after putting on the glasses and acknowledging that he could see the studio audience, Hunter turned to see Brittney for the first time. He gazed at her for a while before saying “one thing would make it better.” He dropped to one knee, pulled out a ring and asked her to marry him – on the show in one week.
Surprised, Brittney jumped back. Then, with tears running down her cheeks, she said “Yes!”
It was great television, especially when it was being broadcast the week of Valentine’s Day. The show played up the event in week-long wedding planning segments titled “Our Wedding in a Week” and broadcast the wedding Feb. 19.
“It was awesome!” Hunter says of the first time he could put all of the elements of Brittney’s face together at the same time. Without the glasses, “When I looked at her, it was like puzzle pieces. It was an overwhelmed feeling, a lot of emotion to see her eyes and her smile together, when I could see her whole face.
“I lost it a couple of times,” he said.
Hunter was already planning to ask Brittney to marry him but she didn’t know it. He had asked her father’s permission and purchased an engagement ring and wedding bands. She said she found out later that he had arranged with the producer to have the wedding on TV “all behind my back. Feb. 17 was our wedding date – the two-and-a-half-year anniversary of the date we stated dating.”
They first met July 14, 2013, when she visited CrossFit Cayenne, the fitness training center Hunter owns in Abbeville. Both enjoy CrossFit, a fitness routine that incorporates different types of exercise and strength-building.
“A million thoughts were running through my mind” after he proposed, she said. “I’m getting married in a week. I wish my family was here.”
The show, unknown to her, transported her parents, who were on a trip to Mexico, and her sister to witness the wedding.
Hunter’s three sisters also were there.
Brittney picked out a designer wedding dress from Kleinfeld, the world’s most famous bridal shop, and the show also provided a personalized wedding cake and bridesmaid attire. And there was a $6,000 gift card from Bed Bath and Beyond to set up their new household and a show-sponsored honeymoon at a resort in Cancun.
Segments showed the dress selection where Brittney was excited to use Kleinfeld’s “Say Yes to the Dress” dressing room featured on the television reality show. She said she tried on several dresses but eventually chose the first one she tried on.
It came down to two dresses but she said she felt the other one “was a little too sexy for a wedding dress.”
In another episode, they chose a Louisiana-themed cake with fleur de lis and magnolias with their favorite fillings. On top were a custom-made bride and groom which resembled them – complete with Hunter’s new glasses – and kettle bells, weights used in crossfit training.
They took a tour on a very chilly day, Feb. 13. Brittney said she stayed in the limo but her mother ventured out briefly to take photographs.
They decided to stay in on Valentine’s Day, which at minus-five degrees, turned out to be coldest Feb. 14 in New York history.
The finale, though, was the tear-filled wedding in which the couple recited wedding vows.
He said he fell in love with her touch, her voice and who she is without seeing her.
“It was never in my world to see my wife walk down the aisle,” Hunter said. “Now I see you. I always saw who you were. I knew the first time I heard you, you were the one I would marry.”
She said she knew the moment she saw him that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
“God touched my heart and told me you were my soul mate,” she said.
Brittney says that now that she’s married she has to remind herself to say Brittney Tribe when she answers the phone at Rep. Miguez’s office.
She says Hunter “helped me to see the world in a totally different way.” Now, “he’s naming all the things he’s never seen before.
“It’s a blessing. The only reason I went to New York is I wanted to get the glasses.”
The couple will go to Cancun for a late April honeymoon.
See Photo gallery here
The House of Representatives is mourning the loss of one of its own: Rep. Ronnie Edwards, D-Baton Rouge.
Edwards, 63, passed away in the afternoon of Feb. 24 after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer. She was sworn in Jan. 11 but unable to return to the Capitol because of her illness.
Upon hearing of her death Wednesday, Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, called for a moment of silence in the House.
She was described by fellow Baton Rouge Rep. Pat Smith as being “very spiritual, quiet-spoken, very gentle and kind.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards offered his condolences in a statement: “She fought for her district with the same fortitude that she fought a difficult two-year battle with cancer,” he said. “Her time in the House of Representatives was short, but it was a dream-come-true for her and a testament to her hard work and determination not to let anything hold her back, not even illness.”
Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, said “The Louisiana Legislature will not have the benefit of experiencing the wonderful spirit of Rep. Ronnie Edwards. We were blessed by her brief service with us and her great service to her community will live forever.”
Edwards served on the Baton Rouge Metro Council until her election to the House in November. She was hospitalized during much of her legislative campaign but a majority of voters in her district chose to elect her, anyway.
State Rep Denise Marcelle, who served with Edwards of the Metro Council and was elected at the same time, called her “a fighter.”
By Mike Hasten
At least six (six) state House members and deux (two) state senators do, and visitors from French-speaking countries who tour the Louisiana State Capitol while the Legislature is in session are happy to find that someone speaks their native language – even if it might be a bit antiquated.
The Cajun French spoken in South Louisiana is similar to the French spoken in other countries but hasn’t evolved since people with names like Boudreaux, Bourgeois, Breaux, Hebert, LeBlanc and Thibodeaux left France in 1632 to settle in Acadia, and in the 1700s moved to Louisiana.
“We speak the French taught to us by our parents and grandparents,” said Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, and they learned it from their parents and grandparents.“Education wasn’t prevalent in early Louisiana, so everything was learned at home.
“I’ve spoken with some people from Haiti,” Huval said. “Haitian French is very much like Cajun French.”
Some English words have crept into Cajun French over the years “because we didn’t have French words for certain things,” he said.
Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, was recently recruited to communicate with a French couple on the way to Lafayette for the first time.
“I don’t speak fluently,” Pierre admits. “But I am able to communicate. I can carry on a conversation very well,” which came in handy on his visits to Quebec and Montreal and when francophones visit the Capitol during legislative sessions.
Pierre said a recent couple wanted to know all about Lafayette, especially the food, so he was able to tell them all about it in French.
“With my Creole background, I could tell them all about Cajun and Creole food,” he said. “I gave them information about the Capitol and about tourism in the state.” Brenda Wright, who manages the ground floor gift shop, among her other duties, called Pierre to talk with the couple. She also has called on other French-speaking lawmakers when needed.
“If I have a customer at the booth (the gift counter on the ground floor) who is visiting America from another country, I try to communicate with them,” she said. “If they speak French, I tell them we have French-speaking legislators and I look for who is available or nearby to come and speak. They are always willing to help.
“Last week, I looked for Montoucet and LeBas and heard about Falconer but, Vincent is who was available.”
She said she knows enough French to tell them hello and welcome to Louisiana.
“They’re excited that there’s someone to communicate with them,” she said. “We have so many French tourists here.”
Besides Pierre and Huval, Reps. Jack Montoucet, D-Scott, Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, and Jerry “Truck” Gisclair, D-LaRose, converse in Cajun French. Gisclair has hosted a French radio program.
Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, is a relative newcomer to the language and speaks modern Parisian French in conversations with visitors.
“I go to class on Wednesday nights, since 2003,” he said. “We have a bottle of wine and that helps the French to start rolling.”
He said a French couple recently visited the House and Huval asked him to speak to them because they spoke “‘real French.’ I’m expanding his vocabulary with Parisian French, but because I don’t do it every day, I have to get my mind set.”
A key phrase when speaking to people for whom French is their native language is “Tu parles trop vite pour moi. Lentement s'il vous plait,” Falconer said. It means “You speak too fast for me. Slowly please.”
Sens. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, also speak fluent French.
Although Sen Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge, has the thickest Cajun accent in the Senate, he confesses that he doesn’t speak enough French to carry on a conversation.
Huval says French-speaking visitors come to the Capitol “in spurts” and groups traveling the United States from other countries like to come to Louisiana because they can find other people who speak French.
They’re not all from France or Canada. French is spoken in many countries across the world.
Last month, a television crew from Madagascar came to the Capitol working on a series on openness of government in the United States. While attending a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, Committee Chairman LaFleur was pleased to find that they spoke French, so the conversation and following interview quickly switched from English.