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26.11.14

Voters thinking ideologically explains Landrieu failure

If we seek to understand the political behavior in and political culture in Louisiana, we must interpret correctly what the capstone 2014 elections signal in regards to electoral preferences in the state. Incomplete, if not erroneous, attempts to do so fail to accomplish this.



It’s not that 2014’s results, which will culminate in the dumping of the last statewide elected Democrat likely for some time, represent some kind of sea change. Rather, they stand as marker of the completion of a process that began some decades ago. As previously noted, Louisiana’s political culture has changed significantly in this time period as in-migration brought a competing political culture, educational delivery improved substantially that increased the cognitive capacity of the public as a whole by which to evaluate politics, and informational channels exponentially enlarged, freeing citizens from overreliance on established elites such as politicians, political organizations, and the traditional media for knowledge about politics.



These forces have transformed the political culture into what the instrument that symbolizes that the tipping point has passed, Rep. Bill Cassidy, calls the “post-pork” paradigm of Louisiana politics. To expand on this, that means that a critical mass of voters have formed that place issue evaluation before candidate image and (what actually happened long ago for many people calling themselves Democrats) partisanship. For national contests now, a controlling bloc of Louisiana voters now are enabled to understand policy implications emanating from issues important to their well-being, to know with accuracy candidates’ preferences and actions relative to those issues, and to relate the two.

25.11.14

Restructure LA elderly services to improve efficiency


The next step in state Rep. Joe Harrison’s war on efficiency in state government may end up backfiring in becoming the impetus to more efficient government in the area of elderly affairs policy.



For the past few years, Harrison has tried to birth an entire new bureaucracy in this area, commencing when the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration sought to fold oversight of all elderly affairs matters into the Department of Health and Hospitals. This would have threatened the absurdly decentralized system that empowers and directs money to local nonprofit agencies, one in each parish, known as Councils on Aging. Federal law has states designate Area Agencies on Aging to disburse federal dollars, overseen by a designated state agency, in Louisiana’s case the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs.



GOEA’s functions would have been subsumed by DHH, but resistance from COAs, where Harrison became their legislative point man, resulted only in a partial transfer. Unlike other states, most of which create a dozen or two AAAs as implementers, in Louisiana half of all AAAs are COAs, with four others acting as umbrella organizations directing the other half. This creates much inefficiency in administration, with many functions duplicated and lack of standardization of processes and procedures that falls to GOEA to coordinate. Worse, it gives COAs as a whole outsized influence in this policy area with little incentive to induce efficiency as that would scale back their individual authority and budgets.

24.11.14

Certain tax exemptions to blame for budget woes

Once again, budget adjustments towards the middle of Louisiana’s fiscal year have had to be made, illustrating a particularly problematic part of the state’s fiscal structure that hampers ability to budget accurately and to capture revenues efficiently without hampering economic growth.



The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration announced it wrung cost savings of around $50 million from government operations, involving noncritical services and mostly from a spending freeze, vacant job eliminations, and contract curtailment, of which about five-eighths must be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, and cobbled together about $130 million more revenues to close the gap of $181 million. Of the revenues, about $24 million comes from a funds sweep, around $74 million from underestimating revenues dedicated to other purposes that could be repackaged into the general fund, and the remainder was bonus tax amnesty receipts. None of the revenues found can be counted upon to show up in the future.



The sixth of these in seven years begs a few questions, starting with why the powers that be involved in revenue determination, essentially the staffs of both the Governor’s Office and Legislature Fiscal Office, seem to miss on revenue projections. In fact, from the first budget over which Jindal had control, fiscal year 2009, through the last fiscal year for which data are complete, FY 2013, the average overestimation was about $375 million – and FY 2009 actually turned out to be underestimation of about that magnitude, meaning successive years had much higher overestimations. And in reality the estimations usually are pretty good on the general fund side, which is mostly income and sales taxes, where over the FY 2009-13 period all but one year had forecasts barely under the actual results, that being FY 2010 when the forecast overshot the actual by nearly $1 billion.

23.11.14

Schedler dissent unwisely attacks free speech rights

Louisiana’s Sec. of State Tom Schedler seems all out of whack about a constitutional exercise, for reasons that don’t appear obvious or even fathomable, as the first phase of the state’s fall elections has come to a close with the remainder in full swing.



Over the past few weeks, not only in Louisiana but in many places across the country, the group Americans for Prosperity, a social welfare organization best known for gaining vigorous support from industrialists David and Charles Koch, whom the political left demonizes as the Svengalis of American politics, has been sending out postcards to some registered voters. In Louisiana, they appear to take the form of indicating whether the voter has voted in the past two national elections, while in other states reports are these also may include neighbors’ voting frequencies.



AFP has access to this information because the public does. It’s a matter of public record, and in Louisiana Schedler’s office will be glad to sell that information to anyone. Other organizations also make this information public, often through subscription services. Yet Schedler got all upset about this, fuming that “When you put [voting histories] on a postcard, I don't think that is appropriate,” and averring that he will want legislation next year to limit what can be placed on the outside of a piece of mail.

20.11.14

Reliance on dwindling group hampers LA Democrats


If we needed any confirmation of why Democrats have fallen from any meaningful power in Louisiana, we need only observe the intervention of the base upon which it dominated state politics into the congressional campaign of Prisoner #03128-095, the microcosm of the old Louisiana political culture, in the guise of Juror 68.



His given name being Victor Durand, he gained notoriety when during the 2000 racketeering trial of the Democrat ex-governor formerly known as Edwin Edwards he managed to get himself removed for repeated violations of juror standards, such as potential telegraphing of his presence on the jury to Edwards, refusing to participate in deliberations, bringing in study aids such as a dictionary to jury deliberations, and leaving these with notes, and then initially lying about it. He claims he had said aloud he thought Edwards likely was innocent and was subjected to intimidation as a result, and this he charged was why he got removed.



Had he carried through on his alleged stated intention, that would have thrown the case into a mistrial and, as in 1986 on a related influence-peddling case, Edwards could have been tried again (in that instance, he skated), or not. But as was confirmed both at the appellate level and at the Supreme Court, where judges (unanimously at a panel at the circuit level and the Court turning down hearing an appeal) noted the district court had acted properly in the matter, this did not detract from Edwards’ guilt. While Edwards may have made claims since then that he was railroaded by political enemies, it seems extremely far-fetched that circuit court judges and justices of the Supreme Court were out to get him as well. He merited his felony conviction that landed him in the klink.

19.11.14

Tyler in control of off-script Shreveport mayoral race

Most remarkably, to date the 2014 Shreveport’s mayor race has refused to play to form, but it probably will do so in its last stage.



As the year began, state Rep. Patrick Williams was maneuvering to become a fusionist candidate between races and major parties to position himself as the main opposition to forces behind Mayor Cedric Glover, whose ally City Councilman Sam Jenkins appeared poised to represent those forces. No white candidate then appeared emergent to rally Republican votes against these black Democrats.



But then Jenkins made what turned out to be a temporary suspension of his campaign, and elites connected to Glover’s city hall appeared to coalesce around former Caddo Parish School District Superintendent Ollie Tyler. Meanwhile, as many Republicans remained sanguine about putting up a candidate in the wake of the miserable showing their favored candidate had four years previously, the independent and political novice Victoria Provenza stepped into the void.

18.11.14

Don't ask LA citizenry to subsidize Obamacare more


Like herpes, the Patient Protection and (Un)Affordable Care Act, known derisively as “Obamacare,” is the gift that keeps on giving, this time threatening to bring additional injury to Louisiana taxpayers over salary payments to teachers.



Because of the law’s provision that any non-small organization offer and subsidize health care insurance to employees of at least 30 hours a week or pay a $2,000 fine for each, either way this would cause a substantial increase in costs. Thus, many school districts across the state are reducing the number of hours a substitute may teach, for generally after three days a week of substitute teaching another day would bump them over the limit. In turn, this is reducing the amount of available hours from the existing pool of substitutes, leading in many places to a shortage of instructors.



In response, one affected superintendent conjectured that an increase in the amount a retired teacher could gain in salary as a substitute from 25 to 50 percent of pension income, set by state law, could alleviate the bottleneck. Except for positions of critical shortage that do not have to follow this standard, the cap prevents teachers from retiring and then double-dipping to any large extent, but by relaxing this requirement, theoretically as substitutes they could double their hours (and for those that would go over 30 hours as a result, insuring them should be moot as they already would have as part of post-employment benefits, largely paid by the state) and take up the slack now thrust upon districts by Obamacare.

17.11.14

Operating funds, not roads, deserve highest priority

Drowned out in elections hoopla was the annual fall exercise of members of the Louisiana Legislature’s transportation committees hitting the road to solicit input on funding transportation items. In the course of this, one member, Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee state Sen. Robert Adley, made some observations about funding that raise an interesting policy question worth some pondering.



Adley noted that, of the about $12.3 billion in identified spending on infrastructure in the state, this year only about 5 percent of that will get addressed. That means in 20 years it all could be taken care of, except that, of course, new things continue to emerge. So, practically speaking, the backlog on some items may go on for at least a decade.



It’s an issue he and other legislators have voiced concern about in the past, most recently when some of them complained about the state giving extra money than statutorily required for roads to parishes and how other dollars dedicated to roads were siphoned off to be spent on state police. Besides stopping these practices, Adley has thrown out another idea to whittle down the backlog.

16.11.14

Change incorporation laws to increase process fairness


With the incorporation petition for the proposed municipality of St. George undergoing vetting for validity, that very process plagued with political ambiguity, the Louisiana Legislature would act wisely to reform the process for that and annexation next year.



Given the legal parameters as currently exist, organizers opted to turn in the petition, on which there was no time limit to gather signatures, earlier than they had anticipated, the main problem being that nobody really knows what the law has to say definitively on the matter. During the roughly year-long collection effort, Baton Rouge-based interests not wanting the formation of a competitor city next to it annexed parcels of land designed to make a new entity less financially viable, so the actual number of signatures needed – one quarter of the area anticipated to be incorporated – is unknown because the boundaries kept changing, the eligible signatures kept changing, and the amount of them needed kept changing. Even though organizers wanted 20,000, well over the presumed target in the neighborhood of 17,750 (although it may be closer to 16,500), they turned them only a few hundred above that number, cognizant that time was working against them in terms of signatures remaining eligible (some who signed may have moved away or annexed out in the interim) and in legal motions Baton Rouge interests were making that try to invalidate the whole operation.



The entire episode pointed out shortcomings in the existing law regarding the creation of new cities and adding to those already in place – a timeline where petitioners could choose when to submit on the basis of estimated success in getting valid signatures and at the ballot box (through this in essence being able to choose when on the election calendar the item appears) and cities being able to subvert the process through defensive annexations that creates confusion and potentially thwarting electoral processes – and thus begs for statutory clarification. That does not mean an unwise embargo on all of these efforts, as attempted in one effort that fizzled last session, but by a reconceptualization of the process that brings order and fairness effective at the beginning of the state’s next fiscal year.

13.11.14

Despite electoral result, Maness political future dim



Defeated Republican Senate candidate Rob Maness apparently on his terms endorsed Rep. Bill Cassidy for that office. Which leads to the question of whether he really got anything politically out of that as it relates to any elective future he might have.



Despite almost immediately after it became clear that he would not advance to the Dec. 6 runoff that will feature Republican Cassidy and Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu he said he would endorse Cassidy in short order, it was not until six days later that Maness actually did so. Whether he held out the endorsement in exchange for being given a prominent place at or even putting on a “unity” event where he delivered it is unknown. However, that he did not endorse immediately suggests some kind of bargaining went on.



That was a wasting asset of sorts for Maness if he expected to have any future political career, for the longer he held out, the more Republicans would suspect his interests in running for office has little to do with party-building and assisting with implementation of the Republican agenda. The more quickly he bestowed his imprimatur, the more favorably the majority of Republican activists who doubted his commitment to the party’s fielding winning candidates – after all, his presence in this one cost Cassidy an outright win – would come around to embracing him as a future stalwart in office-seeking endeavors, if not becoming a part of the state GOP’s activist network.