In June 2017, I joined nearly all of my colleagues in the legislature in voting to pass HB 596, which eventually became law in Act 356. This law appeared to be a mechanism to allow private sector involvement on coastal restoration projects through the model called performance-based contracting. What I and the rest of the legislature didn’t know at the time, however, is that the wheels may have already been greased to ensure one of Governor John Bel Edwards’ closest friends was first in line to feast at the buffet of taxpayer funds.
By selecting Murray Starkel’s company as one of only six allowed to bid on coastal projects, John Bel’s best friend and college roommate is set to potentially make $250 million per project. This does and should raise questions in the minds of all Louisianans. The first is simple – how did this all transpire? Did Starkel have backroom access to officials at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)? Was he allowed to influence and shape a program only to try and profit from it after it passed?
The original bill was intended to have the state work with local Louisiana companies that not only have experience but also share the state’s interest in preserving our coast. This was not intended for new, out-of-state companies that have absolutely no experience or interest in Louisiana, except perhaps a new political connection, to take our state’s money. The original bill prevented this, but after it passed out of the House committee, the governor’s floor leader slipped in an amendment which changed that and allowed out-of-state companies with political connections to swoop in.
Thanks to some very thorough research and ad from Truth in Politics, the details around the potential sweetheart deal are coming to light, and the legislature should launch an investigation.
I, along with other legislative colleagues, have asked House Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop to immediately call an oversight hearing to investigate this matter. Chairman Bishop has agreed.
We will dig into the details surrounding the suspicious arrangement and will leave no stone unturned. We deserve to find the truth to support the claims we keep hearing. If corroborated by the facts, the governor’s actions were not only improper, they embody exactly the kind of shady activity that has earned our state a reputation of political corruption.
Since Truth in Politics’ video was released, John Bel was quick to use his establishment media allies to attack the credibility of the ad. Well, the truth train is rolling now, and we will find out if any improper or corrupt dealings happened between the governor and his college roommate, Mr. Starkel. Stay tuned.
Clay Schexnayder is a Louisiana State Representative for District 81, based in Gonzales