A Look At The Top Stories In Louisiana During 2014
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The following is a list of Louisiana's top stories in 2014 as selected by AP reporters and editors in Louisiana:
U.S. SENATE RACE
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy defeated Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, denying her a fourth term in runoff election in early December. Landrieu had narrowly led a Nov. 4 primary ballot that included eight candidates from all parties. Landrieu's defeat is a blow for one of Louisiana's most famous political families, leaving her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to carry the banner. In the new year, Republicans will hold all state-wide elected offices. Cassidy, who spent most of his campaign linking Landrieu to President Obama, called his win "the exclamation point" on the message that voters sent nationally on Nov. 4. Since his election to Congress in 2008, Cassidy has declined to pursue budget earmarks — federal money directed to specific projects, usually in a congressman's district — and he's railed against federal spending and debt. He identifies himself as a member of the Tea Party Caucus and the conservative Republican Study Committee.
EDWIN EDWARDS RUNS FOR CONGRESS
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards was denied a political comeback. The colorful 87-year-old politician, who had served four terms as governor in the past, sought a return to public office after eight years in federal prison on corruption charges. Edwards, 87, lost the Baton Rouge area's 6th District to Garret Graves, a Republican who most recently served as Gov. Bobby Jindal's coastal restoration chief. "I have to admit that it's not unexpected," Edwards told the crowd during his Baton Rouge concession speech. "I was hoping for a better outcome." Edwards left prison in 2011 and was soon back in the public spotlight. He married for the third time to a woman five decades younger. They had a son and starred briefly in a reality TV series before he entered the 6th District race.
GULF OIL SPILL
The legal turns and twists of the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill continued throughout 2014. The latest court action in early December allows people and businesses who lost money because of the oil spill to file claims until June 8. The deadline doesn't apply to seafood-related businesses. BP PLC made separate settlements for medical claims and for seafood-related business claims. A former BP executive accused of obstructing a congressional investigation into the oil spill remains on track for a trial in 2015, despite defense efforts to have the charges dismissed. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt declined to throw out one count against David Rainey and took under advisement defense motions to throw out another. Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico for months. BP leased the rig from Transocean Ltd.
LOUISIANA BUDGET WOES
Gov. Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers continued to grapple with budget shortfalls, a persistent problem since 2008. Almost as soon as the budget is balanced, new financial gaps appear. The 2014 legislative session started with the Jindal administration and lawmakers facing a $500 million gap in what was needed to continue all existing programs and services for the 2014-15 budget year. They scraped together nearly $1 billion in patchwork financing to cover that shortfall and increase spending on services for the disabled, higher education and public schools in the $25 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, while also giving pay raises to rank-and-file state workers and state troopers. Falling oil prices and weaker-than-expected personal income tax revenue blew a $180 million deficit in the budget by November, but that was filled with more scraped-together funds and modest cuts. Because of the continued use of piecemeal financing, the state already faces a $1.4 billion shortfall for the next budget year.
Gov. Bobby Jindal changed his mind on the Common Core education standards during 2014, starting a fight with state education leaders and business organizations that is tied up in federal and state lawsuits and is expected to continue into the new year. The Republican governor once supported the standards adopted by more than 40 states as improving student preparation for college and careers. But the governor now opposes Common Core as an effort by President Barack Obama's administration to meddle in state education policy. Lawmakers refused to remove the English and math standards from public school classrooms, and Louisiana's state education board and education superintendent continue to support Common Core. Jindal sued the Obama administration in federal court over the standards and backed a state lawsuit seeking to get Louisiana out of Common Core. But so far, he's been unsuccessful in jettisoning the multistate standards. A state judge ruled that the governor overstepped his legal authority when he tried to suspend education department contracts that are being used to buy testing material aligned with Common Core. The dispute is expected to continue in 2015, both in court and in the next legislative session.
Kenner police in June obtained an arrest warrant for a man considered a suspect in the stabbing and dismemberment of a Bourbon Street dancer. Police obtained the warrant for Terry Speaks, 41, in the death of 22-year-old Jaren Lockhart, whose body parts were found along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Speak was indicted along with the girlfriend, Margaret Sanchez, with second-degree murder. Speaks reportedly admitted telling someone in a New York prison that he and Sanchez had killed a girl in Louisiana, carved up her body and dumped the remains off a bridge in coastal Mississippi. Lockhart was reported missing June 6, 2012, after leaving Temptations, a Bourbon Street strip club where she worked. Days later, parts of her body — including her torso and head — washed up in various places along the Mississippi coast. Prosecutors have said they plan to try Speaks and Sanchez separately. No trial date has been set. Speaks' bond has been set at $1.75 million, that for Sanchez at $1.5 million.
The congressional career of Republican Vance McAllister came to an abrupt halt in the November elections. McAllister, a married, family values Republican, lost the 5th District seat he was elected to less than a year ago after a video surfaced early this year showing him kissing another woman. McAllister was considered something of a dragon slayer in 2013 when he won a race to fill the unexpired term of another Republican, Rodney Alexander. Louisiana's GOP establishment had backed another candidate, but McAllister ultimately won, casting himself as a conservative Christian GOP member who would reach across the aisle to work with Democrats. But, the kissing scandal immediately blunted his credibility and political momentum. McAllister spurned calls for his resignation. At first said he would finish his term and not seek re-election. Then he changed his mind. Observers thought a runoff was a possibility for him but his run in Congress ended in the November primary.
HARD TIMES FOR OYSTERS
Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound in 2013, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest. Whether the spill contributed to the decline is part of an ongoing study; hurricanes, overfishing and influxes of oyster-killing fresh water had already put pressure on the industry. Louisiana has historically accounted for about half of the Gulf oyster harvest and about a third of U.S. production. The state has more than a dozen naturally producing public oyster bed areas along its coast, occupying more than 1.6 million acres of Gulf bottom. Louisiana's public reefs typically would produce anywhere from 3 million to 7 million pounds of oyster meat a year. In 2010 and 2011, production dropped to barely 2 million pounds, then nosedived to just 563,100 pounds in 2012 before rising to 954,950 pounds 2013.
DISABLED BOY KILLED
A Thibodaux father accused of beheading his disabled 7-year-old son was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity in February, after several experts on mental illness concluded he was delusional and believed that his son was no longer real but had been replaced with a CPR dummy. Judge John LeBlanc made the rare decision in the case against Jeremiah Wright, 32. Wright did not face a capital murder trial and was returned to the state mental hospital in Jackson. That is where he had been held for much of the 2 1/2 years since his son, Jori Lirette, was killed on Aug. 14, 2011. The boy's head was left in the driveway of the home from which Lirette's mother, Jesslyn Lirette, planned to evict Wright.
The trial of Trung Le, the only person arrested in this summer's mass shooting on Bourbon Street, has been pushed back to Feb. 23. Le was scheduled to be tried Dec. 1 on one charge each of attempted murder and manslaughter. Le was one of two gunmen involved in the July 29 shootout in which nine people were injured and 21-year-old Brittany Thomas was killed. Le's attorneys have claimed their client shot in self-defense — only after the other gunman drew his weapon and pointed it at Le and his friends. The exchange was captured on video surveillance. The second shooter has yet to be apprehended. Bullets from the second shooter's .40-caliber handgun killed Thomas. Le is currently being held on $250,000 bond.
– by AP Reporter Bill Fuller