I was rewatching Miracle recently. That’s the Disney-produced movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The first peak in the rising action comes when the players, who had previously been playing for various rival colleges, have lost an exhibition game because they could not work together as teammates. The coach, Herb Brooks, (played by Kurt Russell) keeps them on the ice for hours after the game, doing repetitive drills ad infinitum. One by one he asks them, “Who do you play for?”, and when they reply with their college, Brooks blows the whistle and barks, “Again!”
Up and down the ice, feet dragging, knees wobbly, hardly able to hold their sticks…
“Who do you play for?”
“Who do you play for?”
And the panting player, exhaustedly croaks out, “U.S.A.”
It got me thinking, Who do our lawmakers actually play for?
How do you feel about someone who opposes merely studying an increase in the nation’s third-lowest weekly unemployment benefits, after raking in nearly one and a quarter million dollars in pandemic “paycheck protection” benefits for his own companies?
What would you think if you found out one of the companies run by that same person defaulted on a multi-million-dollar business loan, subsequently filed bankruptcy to avoid losing that business, but is one of the select few who decides where and how your tax dollars in the state’s $30-billion budget will be spent?
And what if it turned out another of this person’s companies has done more than a million dollars worth of business with state and local governments during the time he has been a member of the state legislature?
This person is state Representative Blake Miguez, Republican, from Iberia Parish.
But wait, you say. You liked him on that TV show about shooting competitions. You rooted for him because he was from Louisiana. Okay, so he lost. Early. In both seasons that he competed.
And he is fairly good-looking. Apparently, he’s also reasonably well-liked – or at least respected – by his party peers in the legislature. After all, they chose him as chairman of the Louisiana Republican Legislative Delegation.
Still, one has to ask: Who or what does Blake Miguez represent? And who or what has first claim on his loyalty – the party he belongs to, or the people who elected him to represent them?
Miguez first ran and won his House seat in a February 2015 special election to replace Simone Champagne. He was listed on that ballot as Blake “Top Shot” Miguez, utilizing his semi-fame as a competitor on the History Channel show, which aired from June 2010 through August 2013.
In his “real” life, away from the legislature, Miguez is the president and CEO of SeaTran Marine, a family owned business that services, supplies, and transports workers for offshore oil rigs. Miguez, who earned a law degree from Southern University in 2008, also has ownership and management duties with other family-owned LLCs operating under the SeaTran corporate umbrella, including Iberia Marine Services, Miguez Fuel, Third Generation Holdings, BG Equipment, and Advanced Oil Products and Filtration, and as many as 19 boats that SeaTran has boasted comprise some of their assets.
While Blake Miguez was conducting his first re-election campaign in the fall of 2015, one of the companies he presides over — Iberia Marine – took out a $22.5-million business loan from First NBC Bank. According to subsequent court filings, the loan was secured by eight offshore vessels and was personally guaranteed by the lawmaker’s dad, Steven Miguez.
Fast forward to 2017, and Iberia Marine stopped making payments on the loan after the New Orleans-based First NBC Bank failed. The note for Iberia Marine’s loan changed hands a couple of times, and ultimately, in fall of 2018, foreclosure on two of the company’s boats was imminent. The business and the senior Miguez each filed Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy in order to retain the vessels and keep Iberia Marine Services in business.
When reporters asked Rep. Miguez about the alleged loan default and the bankruptcies, considering that filings with the Louisiana Secretary of State list him as an officer of the company and an agent for the two ships in foreclosure. he was quick to bristle defensively.
“We are reorganizing to work this out. That is what bankruptcy courts are for,” he told the Daily Iberian, adding, “I am not named in any of the suits. This is all being blown out of proportion because of my position in the legislature.”
That’s right. It’s not his fault, specifically. He’s being singled out because he’s an elected official. Never mind that he’s the chief executive officer of the parent corporation that defaulted on a multimillion dollar loan. Blake Miguez was being picked on because he’s a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, with direct voice and influence on how our tax dollars will be allocated and spent.
He certainly doesn’t mind profiting from another of the family companies he oversees doing a bunch of business with state and local government entities. Just take a look at Rep. Miguez’s required annual personal financial disclosures.
Miguez Fuel is a subsidiary of SeaTran, in which the lawmaker has a 16.7% ownership interest. He also claims he is directly employed by the fuel company, part time.
Just in the time Blake Miguez has been in the legislature, Miguez Fuel has done business with political subdivisions in eight parishes, including police juries, city governments, sheriff’s departments, and school districts. All together, Miguez Fuel has done more than a million dollars worth of business with local governmental bodies in Acadia, Iberia, Jefferson, Lafayette, Natchitoches, St. Landry, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes from 2015 through the present.
Blake Miguez also filed a personal financial disclosure for 2014 – the year prior to his election. That shows Miguez Fuel doing $38,371 total business with state entities, including DOTD, Wildlife and Fisheries, the Agriculture Department, and U-L Lafayette. He has declared no state business since then, but public records from the state Division of Administration indicate at least $17,329 in oil and lubricants was ordered by DOTD from Miguez Fuel between October 2015 and February 2018.
Miguez Fuel’s largest governmental client is Lafayette City-Parish Government, a relationship that began in 2014, with a contract to provide fuel products on an “as-needed” basis. From 2014 through 2019, “as-needed” has become $278,523 worth of business for Miguez Fuel, with the contract extended twice without competitive public bidding, then rewritten completely following public bids in 2017, and getting at least one no-bid extension since then.
Miguez Fuel was also beneficiary of Paycheck Protection Program funding, as part of the first federal COVID relief package passed in late March last year. On April 13, 2020, the company was approved for over a quarter-million dollars to help protect 17 jobs.
That same day, SeaTran Marine, Miguez Fuel’s corporate parent and the company presided over by Rep. Blake Miguez, was approved for its own Paycheck Protection Program funding: $968,627 to protect 42 jobs. Three days after the pair of Miguez family-owned companies were okayed for a combined total of more than $1.2-million in potentially forgivable loans, the entire program ran out of money.
Some might say it was luck. Okay, but was it fair? Or was it an example of “It’s who you know, not what you know”?
Consider: Of the more than 73,800 Louisiana businesses approved for PPP funding, 88% received less than $150,000 each. And according to the Washington Post, 78% of the total $522-billion available for the program nationally went to businesses described as “well-connected.” Indeed, SeaTran and Miguez Fuel used their connections. The bank approving both the loans was Community First Bank in New Iberia, which also handles Blake Miguez’s campaign funds.
On the bright side, Rep. Miguez’s employees were presumably kept out of the unemployment line, as the Paycheck Protection Program was targeted to do. For other state residents those IN the unemployment line due to the pandemic, the chair of the legislature’s Republican Caucus was, shall we say?, less magnanimous, empathetic, or understanding.
In June 2020, the House Labor Committee had a hearing considering, among other things, a resolution to ask Congress for continued supplements to state unemployment benefits, as well as a resolution to study the possibility of increasing and expanding state unemployment eligibility and amounts.
(Presently, the maximum weekly state benefit is $247. That’s the third lowest in the nation, behind Mississippi’s $235/wk and Arizona’s $240/week.)
Miguez opposed both, remarking he had just read about a Baton Rouge-area restaurant owner who’d had to close two of his four restaurants “because he’s having issues.” Miguez went on to say the owner couldn’t pay employees as much as they were receiving from the then-federally supplemented unemployment.
Those federal add-ons of $600/week were due to expire the next month. Still, Miguez opposed even studying ways to increase state benefits, saying pedantically, “The solution is to get people back to work as soon as possible.”
Miguez, of course, was one of the loudest voices insisting upon immediate and full reopening of everything in Louisiana. Business first: COVID-19 contagion, hospitalizations, and deaths notwithstanding.
Republican ideology first.
We, the people – our health, lives, and livelihoods – last.
Who do you play for, Blake Miguez?