BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The head of Louisiana's gambling regulatory board has been ousted by state senators who refused to confirm his reappointment on the final day of the regular legislative session.
Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, was among 11 appointees selected by statewide elected officials to serve on boards and commissions who did not receive approval Monday, June 1 from the Senate, according to a list provided to The Associated Press.
Senators debated the confirmation decisions behind closed doors in an executive session. They didn’t discuss the appointments publicly, but rather crafted a list of hundreds of appointees who were confirmed in one vote. Jones wasn’t on that list.
“There's not a whole lot I can really say about that,” said Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who chairs the Senate committee that holds confirmation hearings and manages the process.
Jones, an appointee of Gov. John Bel Edwards, said Tuesday, June 2 he was blindsided by the decision.
“It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “After the Senate had adjourned, I got a call from a staffer with the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said, ‘I have to tell you that you were not confirmed.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He said it again, and I said, ‘Wow.’”
Gov. Edwards released the following statement Tuesday in response:
“I am deeply disappointed that Ronnie Jones was not confirmed after his decades of service and experience in gaming regulation. He had served as the chair of the Gaming Control Board since 2013. Ronnie has been involved in regulating gaming since the 1990s, when riverboat and video poker gaming were first approved. Because of his time with Louisiana State Police, as a consultant and as a long-time member and chair of the board, he was uniquely qualified to fairly and ethically lead the group that regulates the gaming industry."
The Senate traditionally has given individual members the privilege to block confirmation of appointments from their home districts to boards and commissions. No reason has to be given. Jones says he lives in the New Orleans district of Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday.
Hewitt says she could not say what objections any senator may have raised to reconfirming Jones for the position he has held since August of 2013, or comment on how many senators objected to the confirmation.
“All of those discussions would happen in executive session, and so I'm not able to share any of that,” she said. “I'm sworn to confidentiality, as is every senator and staff member that was involved.”
The 11 people who weren’t confirmed to their jobs included appointees of Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain. One of Strain’s top assistants, Fred Bass, was refused by the Senate, and former Rep. Walt Leger was rejected for his position as president of the New Orleans Convention Center board.
Gov. Edwards issued the following response about Leger not being confirmed:
"I am equally disappointed that Walt Leger was not confirmed as the chair of the Ernest N. Morial-New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority, especially as Walt has been a key partner in the Fair Share negotiations with the City of New Orleans and as the state has operated a medical monitoring unit at the Convention Center. Walt has a passion for New Orleans and years of experience in the Legislature. He is an asset to the City and to the board and it is troubling that he was not confirmed.
It’s especially disturbing and unfortunate that during this time of great uncertainty, when we need experienced leadership to help our gaming industry continue to reopen safely and for New Orleans’ tourism and convention industry to recover, two highly qualified and experienced appointees were unexpectedly blocked.”
Besides Jones, two other members of the Gaming Control Board received approval for their appointments, Hewitt says.
The nine-member board regulates Louisiana’s riverboat casinos, the New Orleans land-based casino, more than 2,000 video poker sites, and the slot machine facilities at four racetracks. Board members serve staggered, six-year terms.
Jones, a retired state police deputy superintendent, was appointed chairman of the board by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Edwards, a Democrat, reappointed Jones in July.
Jones had worked at the state police for three decades and helped the agency oversee the roll-out of riverboat casino and video poker licensing and regulations in the 1990s. He started with the Louisiana State Police in 1974 as a trooper.
“This isn’t how I anticipated 46 years [of state service] wrapping up,” Jones said. “I respect the process, but I don’t think it serves the citizens of the state very well.”
Jones says he lives in the New Orleans district of Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday.
Hewitt says everyone who didn’t receive confirmation from the Senate was notified Monday night. She says Jones’ ouster takes effect immediately.
“If you’re not confirmed by the time we adjourn, you are out of job,” she said.
Jones says he cleaned out his New Orleans office Tuesday. Edwards will have to appoint someone else to the position, who can start in the interim and will have to be submitted for confirmation during the 2021 regular legislative session.
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