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Landrieu billing antics feed her dishonest image

We now discover just how deep was Sen. Mary Landrieu’s hand into the cookie jar by her self-revelation that over two-fifths of all her air charter travel since 2002 had some portion illegally charged to taxpayers. What’s not new is the inadequacies in her trying to explain it away.

At the very end of the week’s news cycle, four days after Landrieu had said the information would be made public, lawyers contracted by her admitted 43 such erroneous billings had occurred. In each instance, regardless of whether any campaign-related activity had occurred, the entire amount had been billed to taxpayers, as if the staff had no idea of the operative Federal Election Commission and Senate rules. Landrieu shrugged off the incident by saying her campaign account had reimbursed the federal government some $33,000 for this, that it was only “sloppy bookkeeping,” and that procedures were to be changed to prevent this from happening in the future.

Left unaddressed were several embarrassing questions for her:


Glass-housed legislators posturing irresponsibly

If nothing else, emulating Pres. Barack Obama, you can count on Louisiana’s legislators to identify something as a “problem” that they created themselves, then disclaim any responsibility for it, as we see in the instance of needed changes to the benefits system of state employees and retirees (and some school board employees).

In his six years, repeatedly Obama has implemented policies that create or exacerbate a problem and proceeds to blame anybody who did not assist him in that problem’s creation for it. He raised taxes and wildly increased deficit spending to engineer the most simpering economic recovery on record; he made disability payments and unemployment compensation easier to get to bring the country’s workforce participation rate to the lowest in almost 40 years; his health care insurance policies have sent costs escalating without any positive impact on outcomes. And we have the Louisiana Legislature acting much the same as it looks to convene a gripe session over what it did to itself.

This concerns plans of the Office of Group Benefits to restructure benefits provisions for health insurance. While some clients will end up paying less overall, in the aggregate insured persons likely will face increased health care costs – even as their rates are about four percent lower than they were two years ago and their plans provide benefits much in excess of typical policies for rates significantly below that paid in then individual market and often better than in the group market as a whole.


Landrieu debate hypocrisy reveals untrustworthiness

It’s interesting how six years and a comparatively inferior electoral position can change the tune of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu as she finds out what life’s like being the underdog.

As the electoral environment for Landrieu continues to deteriorate with the clock ticking towards the day of reckoning for her reelection attempt, depressing her chances to succeed in that quest, incumbent Landrieu has gotten increasingly strident in demanding that the race leader, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, engage her in debates. These “debates” aren’t really that, but question-and-answer forums that provide little opportunity for detailed answers but many chances to commit gaffes.

For that reason, front-running candidates minimize their participation in these because they have the most to lose by making a mistake, the exact same reason those behind want more of them. Not surprisingly, Cassidy has committed to just a pair, one to be in Shreveport and broadcast over public television stations, and the other in Baton Rouge to be broadcast over a consortium of commercial television stations. He has turned down other attempted empanels, including one in New Orleans.


Democrats may resort to strategic voting in CD 5

This space recently conjectured whether a Republican other than Rep. Vance McAllister could make a runoff for Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, and if the entrance of Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway as a Republican into the contest diminished those chances. A new poll gives us some data on which to assess these observations.

Done by the same firm which released the only previous independent and public poll on the race, which had showed McAllister leading the field but with a dismal 27 percent and the only Democrat in it Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo next at 21 percent, revealed the previously highest-placed challenger Republican to McAllister, physician Ralph Abraham, now topped the group at 22 percent. McAllister had slumped to 20 percent and Mayo was down just a point fewer than he to 15 percent. Holloway debuted with 9 percent of the vote, in fifth place, behind businessman Harris Brown at 11 percent, who nearly doubled his previous total. Losing as much as McAllister was the previously fourth-place holder, salesman Zach Dasher, who fell to sixth place at 7 percent.

(There are some methodological quibbles with this poll and its predecessor, such as it fails to rotate answers throughout, meaning there’s a slight bias towards earlier-listed names and away from those nearer the end of the alphabet. But in terms of changes in candidate totals between polls that shouldn’t matter for analysis.)


Maness goes useful idiot with lame apology request

While she’s getting a Maness-churian candidate assist on the subject, the very nature of the issue’s dynamics is not going to turn a remark made by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy into any appreciable fodder to help the deteriorating candidacy for reelection of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu.

That remark was one where Cassidy compared the Senate leadership of the chamber political head, Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, as overseeing a plantation – orders are given, and the party out of power has no input into any of them, which does violate the collegial norms of the Senate. It’s not a new or even controversial assessment, as political historians have noted that Reid runs the Senate in one of the most closed, iron-fisted fashions ever.

And the idea, proffered by both Reid himself and minor Republican Senate candidate Rob Maness that there’s something objectionable about the terminology Cassidy used – presumably because plantations in America historically used blacks first as slaves and then until only a few decades ago as virtually indentured servants – seems hardly credible. Former Sen. Hillary Clinton used just such an analogy to describe House of Representative’s Republican leadership in 2006 to an almost-exclusively black audience and was asked to apologize by GOP leaders.


Thompson leaving earlier improves district's prospects

With state Rep. Jeff Thompson’s election as a 26th District judge, the process of picking his successor, depending how it’s done, creates conditions that could leave district residents better or worse off.

At the end of qualifying, no one but Thompson signed up to run for the District B slot to succeed Ford Stinson, automatically putting him in line to be sworn in early next year. To do so, he must resign his current office before then. State law says that when the presiding officer of the chamber, in this instance Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, receives notice of a resignation when more than six months of a member’s term remains (Thompson’s expires in early 2016) without a regularly scheduled election prior to a session’s start, he may designate a qualification period and election date.

Historically, in these kinds of situations where a November election produces a legislative vacancy, presiding officers have scheduled a special election anywhere from the end of January to early March. Thompson plans on this as he has expressed intent to resign at the end of the year. He may not be alone: over a half dozen other legislators (including state Rep. Patrick Williams for Shreveport mayor) are running for various posts with them not as lucky as he by being an earlier winner. If any win, some may do so on Nov. 4 and others on Dec. 6. The idea, then, would be that by the latter date all who will need to resign will know, these will happen, and the replacement elections will be held together statewide early in 2015.


Landrieu scam on voters works against U.S. interests

If Sen. Mary Landrieu wants to create the perception that she’s identified with Louisiana rather than with Washington, D.C., standing athwart of foreign policy that helps U.S. interests just to make that point isn’t the way to do it.

For weeks all that has stood in between the U.S. being able to levy certain sanctions against Venezuelan individuals involved in crackdowns directed at protests against that country’s authoritarian leaders, which would involve revoking the visas and freezing the assets of a handful of people, has been Landrieu’s insistence that the matter not be taken up in the Senate. Under the rules for this kind of measure that require unanimity, she has become the only objector, claiming that these would cost Louisianans jobs with her rationale being that these could affect operations at a CITGO refinery in Lake Charles, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Venezuela’s government-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A..

How intellectually she can come to such a conclusion is known only to her. The bill as drafted, assuming that you can conflate Venezuela’s leaders as “owning” CITGO, does not prevent its operation in anyway – confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers involved with the bill. But Landrieu’s office admitted they agreed with Venezuelan officials – working through the struggling Patton Boggs lobby firm recently acquired by Squire Sanders but retaining as its co-lead lobbyist the guy who showed her the ropes when she got to Washington, former Sen. John Breaux – that CITGO might conceivably someday be considered a legal person despite the committee staffers’ reassurance.


Vitter has chance for more reform impetus than Jindal

Sure, Sen. David Vitter is the early favorite to win Louisiana’s governorship in a bit over a year. And the reason he is – possessing strong, take-no-prisoner conservative credentials with nods to the populist strain in the state’s political culture – is what gives him room to expand his policy options in ways that may win more votes than lose them.

In the early sweepstakes for the state’s top job, featuring Republicans Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, observers generally think that Vitter would come out on top but not with a simple majority of votes, and that while he would win going away against Edwards in a runoff, matched with Dardenne he would retain but a slight edge. This is because Dardenne is considered able to get votes of some conservatives disaffected with Vitter for his stridency and past admitted commission of a “serious sin” over a decade ago which is thought to involve prostitution, and also should attract disproportionately Democrats.

But at his last stop on a tour of the state over the past few months, in Baton Rouge Vitter articulated some issue preferences that might cause controversy. When given the opportunity when discussing about how to find money to build roads, Vitter did not automatically rule out raising the state’s gasoline tax. He did offer that ending diversion of gas tax funds to pay for State Police operating costs, which is permitted by law but controversial because it leaves less matching funds for transportation.


LA ruling shows path to uphold same-sex marriage ban

To Louisiana’s credit, based in it federal District Judge Martin Feldman delivered the most cogent decision yet on the issue of same-sex marriage, almost making certain that this case will end up as one upon which the entire question will be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, and providing a preview into the basis for a decision using it in upholding states’ rights to define marriage.

In granting summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs who argued that Louisiana’s constitutional ban on recognizing any marriage besides that of a single man to a single woman violated equal protection, due process, and freedom of speech, Feldman exposed the poverty of that argumentation. He also tackled a root question prior to this, what kind of burden of proof states needed to regulate in this area.

While plaintiffs argued that the highest burden of proof was needed, thus reducing the ability of states to be able constitutionally to regulate marriage, Feldman demonstrated in fact the lowest was applicable, and in his opinion served notice that even if the highest were used, the justifications as such – the state having a legitimate interest in linking children with intact families formed by their biological parents and by ensuring fundamental social change occurs by social consensus through democratic processes – might well be just as compelling for that standard as the lowest. (He didn’t address another justification, not mentioned by the defense, facilely dealt with in Hebert v. Kitchen, that the state has a compelling interest in promoting procreation.)

Legislators casting social conservative votes tactically

Have Louisiana’s legislators become significantly more conservative over the past decade, as one source muses. Or is it just strategy on the part of many of them that just make it seem so?

At the end of July, the Louisiana Family Forum issued its 2014 Legislative Scorecard, prompting one observer to report the comparison made by the organization’s head that in 2004, of the 144 legislators, only 26 voted overall “pro-family and pro-life” (defined as voting at least 80 percent of the time with the organization’s preferences), while according to the 2014 version the number was 83. This prompted the assertion that there has been “further reddening of Louisiana.”

Reviewing the scorecards separated by a decade, and assuming the issues selected as represented by the votes constitute a representative sample of those, then it appears that on this universe of issues Louisiana legislators are voting considerably more conservatively, as the LFF uniformly picks what observers would consider conservative issue preferences to be scored high (thus higher scores mean more conservatism in votes). But those votes chosen by and large represent only issues of religious faith and personal conduct (which would be consistent with the organization’s objectives in championing traditional views on those). For example, in 2014, with its chosen slate of issues dealing with the right to bear arms, protection of human life, government regulation of conduct, and facilitating education delivery by faith-based organizations, the only vote on the scorecard that had any economic component to it was on Medicaid expansion. The ones in 2004 also showed just one tax issue among other dealing with the definition of marriage, cloning, and others.