LSU chancellor must be independent

LSU chancellor must be independent

It appears that Michael Martin, president of New Mexico State University, is set to be the next chancellor at LSU. The search committee voted to recommend him unanimously, though he was the only finalist to visit campus, which upset some folks.

The search committee was chaired by Jack Hamilton, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication and someone for whom I have great respect. He applauded and defended the job of the search committee and said, “It is my judgment, out of the field of those we tried to recruit, Martin was the one who will serve LSU best.” Regarding Martin's visit to campus, Hamilton added, “Out of 75 response forms received from faculty after his visit, 73 were positive.”

That is certainly a good sign.

But what wasn't a good sign was learning from Martin that LSU System President John Lombardi had contacted him in November 2007—not long after Lombardi had been hired and while Sean O'Keefe was still the chancellor. Martin had served as a senior vice president at the University of Florida under Lombardi. Martin claims they did not discuss the chancellor position.

The fact Lombardi made this contact fuels the “conspiracy theory” suggesting Lombardi wants to basically be president and chancellor and run the whole show—just as “The Mob” [Jerry Shea, Jim Roy and Rod West of the LSU Board of Supervisors] planned it. As I wrote in January after O'Keefe resigned [“A mob and a hit man at LSU,” Business Report, Jan. 29], Lombardi helped The Mob run off O'Keefe. Now he's hired the new athletic director and is about to recommend a former employee from the University of Florida for chancellor. You can see how folks could get the wrong impression—and this could put Martin in an awkward position coming into the job.

But Hamilton says that perception of Martin would be inaccurate. “After spending three days watching him interact with people, I would be shocked if he would be a pawn for anyone, including President Lombardi. Martin has a strong and purposeful personality,” Hamilton says. Let's all hope so.

Recent news reports suggest Lombardi and Martin share some traits. One New Mexico State professor said Martin has a reputation for bullying faculty. He also said Martin “suffers a little bit from foot-in-mouth” disease. Likewise, since arriving in Baton Rouge, Lombardi has come across as a bull in a china shop and managed to put both feet in his mouth.

As you may have noticed, I'm not a Lombardi fan. I don't trust him. I believe his actions have hurt LSU and even hurt the search process and the number of top candidates who might have been interested but shied away due to his actions in January. I heard that one search firm noted the lack of interest in the LSU job. That is sad.

If Michael Martin is the new chancellor of LSU, I will certainly wish him the best of success. LSU is near and dear to my heart and critical to the future of Baton Rouge and Louisiana. But he will need to prove he is independent and leave no doubt he is at the helm of the flagship.

La. image wins in Arizona

Everyone is worrying about Gov. Bobby Jindal's trip to Arizona over Memorial Day weekend to visit with Sen. John McCain. They are anxious over the idea of Jindal being asked to run on the Republican ticket as vice president, and therefore possibly losing him as governor.

That is a possibility, though one I would not like to see happen—for selfish reasons, of course, considering the tremendous challenges and opportunities that remain in Louisiana that must be addressed now. Nonetheless, it is an honor for Jindal and a plus for Louisiana's image to have our governor hanging out with Sen. McCain, Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Charlie Crist and other political leaders and business executives for the weekend. This sends a message to America that we have a new leader in Louisiana with the character, values, ideas and abilities that could potentially help lead the nation.

Now that will sell—and improve our Louisiana brand.

The national exposure and business contacts are invaluable. You can't put a price tag on that. People nationwide get to know our governor—and through him, our state—in a positive light. It is also invaluable when the governor is calling on Fortune 1000 CEOs, and they know who he is and return his calls.

Because of his trip, he is on national news and in every newspaper in America with “governor of Louisiana” right behind his name. I watched Gov. Jindal on Fox News with Greta Van Susteren last week talking about changes in our state and the opportunities. He invited Americans to visit and executives to come do business. He was selling a new Louisiana. It makes one proud to be from Louisiana for a change.

So for those who are complaining because he made the trip to Arizona and is on the short list for vice president, would you stop talking long enough to think for a minute? If we want our national image to change we must have leaders and politicians who do positive things [like get considered for vice president] to replace the memories of former Louisiana politicians who did negative things [like go to prison]. Got it?

Ding dong, Stelly's gone ...

With Gov. Jindal's support, Sen. Buddy Shaw's Senate Bill 87 is set to become law and reduce state taxes by $300 million a year, giving relief to the middle class.

The maximum tax cut would be $500 for single tax filers and $1,000 for married tax filers. The bill would reduce the income tax rates to what they were pre-Stelly.

The Stelly Plan was meant to swap income taxes for state sales taxes—and to be revenue neutral, initially. SB 87 will reduce the state income tax rates but will leave the state sales tax off of groceries.

I opposed the Stelly Plan at the ballot box years ago and I am glad it is finally gone. Gov. Jindal points out this is the sixth tax cut since he has come into office.

Step up to the plate

In the June issue of 225 magazine [our sister publication], the editorial is a call and a challenge to readers to stop complaining about the politics and politicians on our Metro Council and get involved (click here to read). And that could mean it's time to step up and run for office yourself. I want to second that motion. [See “Council's cast overhaul,” here, for another view from Executive Editor JR Ball.]

Oh, you can come up with a million reasons why not to do it or why to delay. But why not now and why not you?

Official qualifying will be July 9-11 and there are three great reasons to do it now: 1] Our city is growing and changing and you can help lead the way; 2] there may be as many as 10 out of 12 seats vacant with no incumbent [easier and less expensive to run]; and 3] we need new faces, new ideas and new leadership if we are going to seize this opportunity to make our Capital City the premier city in Louisiana. If you are interested, contact Kristy Mc-Kearn with the Chamber's Future PAC at 381-7125.

Along with our mayor-president, our Metro Council will set the course for the next four years. The council also names boards and commissions and approves planning. Let's recruit, run and elect our best and brightest. No regrets. The time for Baton Rouge is NOW!

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