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31.3.05

Chauvinism: it's a Democrat/Liberal thing

David Duke may have been a blip on Louisiana’s political radar, but to this day his image still blots a considerable portion of others’ radar reception of the state. (Personal anecdote, of which I promise few and far between: when in 1994 I was staying in Belize City barely on the right side of the tracks, my brother and I hung out one night on the second-floor veranda of our hotel. An itinerant, like the plurality of Belizeans, black and, by his manner, not well educated, came wandering by and struck up a conversation with us and a woman from California also staying there. He digested her residence and Jonathan’s, Texas, with equanimity, but in response to mine he noted, “The state with David Duke and all those racists”).

Thus when about a year ago an article published in the premier online journal in political science, The Forum came out essentially arguing racism was alive and well in Louisiana’s 2003 governor’s contest, it got some attention. The state’s leading unaffiliated journalist John Maginnis wrote about it, the state’s leading talk show host Moon Griffon mentioned it, and a couple of newspapers noted it in editorials.

It got my attention too because a number of years ago I got involved in an intramural argument about the meaning of the Duke vote in 1991. Essentially a set of authors argued that vote still showed a considerable anti-black affect among white Louisianans. I eventually published another piece disputing that and demonstrating that a better electoral interpretation was that Duke had tapped into an anti-interventionist, anti-big government populism among Louisianans. In short, contrary to what the other authors asserted that a nontrivial portion of the Duke vote came from racial prejudice, instead it came because they saw him as an outsider ready to take on a government too ready to support special interests at their expense.

Now emerged this argument that out of racial animosity normally sure Republican voters had abandoned nonwhite Bobby Jindal in favor of Kathleen Blanco, especially in northern Louisiana which has a history of being less tolerant to people who are different than are people in the rest of the state (mainly, but not exclusively, because of the Catholic heritage in the southern part of the state). A surface glance at the returns of the general election kind of indicates that Jindal ran more poorly in northern Louisiana than he should have.

After reviewing the authors’ work, I had some quibbles in how they had tried to prove their point. Without going into all of the gory details, I thought they could have used better variables and more of them to make for a better-specified, more complete model. Still, when I ran the numbers, I got results somewhat different but still seeming to show prejudice in voting in north Louisiana. Intuitively, I knew something wasn’t quite right here.

Then it was suggested to me that I check out some data my alma mater, the University of New Orleans, had obtained through the outfit where I had my first academic job, the UNO Poll. What bugged me was that the other authors and I were using aggregate data (for example, percentage of Jindal vote in a parish) where individual-level data (such as answers to the question who an individual intended to vote for) would do a much better job in revealing certain information, such as partisanship.

They had done such a poll and its data unlocked the key to the mystery. As it turns out, partisanship effects overwhelmed all other considerations in this contest. Republicans (over 90 percent) voted solidly for Jindal, as did social conservatives. It was among moderates and liberals, independents and Democrats, and especially among blacks, where a wide gap opened between north and south in the state, where northerners of these stripes were far less likely to vote to vote for Jindal.

In other words, there was a kind of “chauvinism” in reference to Jindal, a negative feeling about him disproportionately in north Louisiana – but it came strongest from Democrats, liberals, and particularly blacks. They were the reason his vote totals seemed “too low” in the northern part of the state; they seemed, for whatever reason, to be much less likely than their southern counterparts to support him (whereas Republicans and conservatives supported him almost uniformally across the state).

It’s not possible with this data to tell definitively whether bitterness or reverse discrimination or whatever reason fueled this phenomenon, but one thing is clear: if there was any racial prejudice in voting in this election, it didn’t come from Republicans or conservatives. And so recently The Forum published this work of mine.

Will the state’s media show as much interest in this as it did the other, now shown as questionable in conclusions, research? We’ll see, but I bet not, because it doesn’t fit that all-too-convenient storyline that the liberal mainstream media wants us to believe, that there are an abundance of wild-eyed white conservative Republican racists in this state, who are the reason why we elect a Bush, a Vitter … a Jindal?

30.3.05

Loose ethics = no federal dollars

Quick, what do begging the federal government for coastal restoration funds, lobbying the executive branch, and carping legislators have in common? Well, they all boil down to a matter of trust that without is what makes getting some right things done so hard in Louisiana.

It appears, finally, that the commonsense application of lobbying regulations to the executive branch as well as the legislative branch of state government is about to happen. The administration/politics dichotomy in any executive branch does not exist as many of its members, from department head (elected or appointed) all the way down to minor functionaries who interpret regulations make policies with their decisions. Thus, they become targets for influence and the extension of the limits only can be positive.

Yet for closing the one loophole that exists, free tickets to sporting events (and cultural events, but I haven’t seen lawmakers in LSU caps desperately queuing up for the Ballet FolklorĂ­co), legislators still voice concern over not just the elimination, but even any reduction, in the $100 limit. Sen. Jay Dardenne plans to file a bill to remove it (after a similar one failed last year) and still has picked up co-sponsors equaling only about a quarter of the Senate for what should be a slam-dunk measure.

Why are these strengthenings of ethics laws in the state so important? Because Louisiana’s reputation that lawmakers play fast and loose with rules and resources precedes itself, and maybe that’s why the federal government is so hesitant to commit funds to the state for grand purposes that don’t already directly involve some interest of constituency. Witness how Gov. Kathleen Blanco has gone to the length of wanting to introduce a constitutional amendment to dedicate funding to the task, the hopes of attracting federal dollars to it.

We’ve already gto nearly three-quarters of the state budget tied into some revenue stream somewhere, and Blanco may even understand that to reduce this flexibility further is bad public policy, but, if so, she’s desperate enough to do this anyway to get this money to do it. Put simply, it’s an attempt to tell the federal government that state government actually will do with grant monies it gets what it promises to do.

It’s going to take a lot more than this tightening of ethics laws to turn that image around, but it’s never too early to start erasing the reputation that makes for a national joke.

29.3.05

Party may be over for Caddo's Hanna

Who says you can’t party in Shreveport like you can in New Orleans? We have parish administrators and governor’s aides who actions testify otherwise.

Of course, having multiple drinks at a time is not a reason to fire Caddo Parish Administrator Bill Hanna. But a questionable job performance in terms of effectiveness is. Just in the past two years a number of incidences have occurred that point to his waning effectiveness.

  • He subjected the parish to an embarrassing personnel episode when a former high-level employee openly complained about his behavior, including what she described as obvious inebriation
  • He has failed to amicably negotiate through a dispute with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department concerning reimbursements to house prisoners
  • After issuing on behalf of the parish campaign materials insisting that voter defeat last July 17 in Caddo Parish of a 0.15% sales tax would cause massive cutbacks in service for juvenile justice, voters called his bluff and defeated the measure, and the sky hasn’t fallen yet
  • At least one parish commissioner has openly questioned his leadership and, in a maladroit maneuver, asked for his resignation

    Neither has Hanna acquitted himself well in this current episode by his statements. As the guy who launched the private investigation correctly notes, when Hanna protests that this revelation came as result of a vendetta against him, even if true it does not change the fact that Hanna was engaging in this behavior. Further, it makes it look like Hanna would have continued (if we take the Commission’s statement at face value) to flout the Commission’s wishes in this regard had this information never been uncovered. (And, honestly, when you’re drinking four fingers worth of vodka with a single digit’s worth of mixer three to four times during a lunch hour that may well affect your judgment on the road and on the job.)

    Hanna always has been a kind of accidental parish commissioner. He was mayor of Shreveport from 1978-82, having previously been a car dealer and, to be charitable, found that running a city is not the same thing, so with discretion being the better part of valor he chose not to run for reelection. He eventually drifted into Caddo Parish’s assistant administrator’s job and happened to be on the scene when the Commission finally tossed the corrupt (if unconvicted) Judy Durham out of the top job in 1996 to inherit it.

    As the parish’s financial difficulties become more pressing, and several experienced parish commissioners leaving because of term limits in 2007, now would be a good time to break in a younger, more energetic, and less controversial leader. Perhaps Hanna, if need be with a nudge that the Commission seems strangely unwilling to give, should reprise his decision he made as mayor and depart gracefully and soon.
  • 28.3.05

    Double-dipper Odom preparing to face music?

    It’ll be interesting to see how Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom reacts to the doings of a legislative committee he can’t control. The last person Odom probably wants to tangle with in the Legislature now is Sen. James David Cain, who gave some thought to opposing Odom for the job in 2003 and now probably wishes the election occurred in midterm.

    Cain, who heads the Senate Insurance Committee, no doubt has plenty of motivation to thoroughly vet Odom’s third career as a contractor (his second being controlling state Democratic Party functions). Even if Odom has built up allies in the Legislature (and has the Senate Agriculture Committee and its chairman Mike Smith in his back pocket), even if he is a separately elected executive officer, even if about $69 million of dedicated monies and fees come under his control with another $10 million or so from the federal government, the fact is with a budget of around $109 million he needs the Legislature’s $30 million from the general fund more than it needs him.

    (Actually, there may not be a worse bunch for Odom to rumble with than this committee. It’s full of Republicans from urban areas and the remainder are black Democrats, most significantly the guy who got the rawest deal out of the “Unity Ballot” fiasco. They probably won’t have a lot of sympathy for Odom’s shenanigans.)

    The committee hearings on the matter of insurance risk to the state began today (and given this information won’t conclude today) should detail what a shady enterprise Odom runs. Not only are highly trained and educated employees being utilized in a manner that wastes their talents in other areas (and probably at higher salaries than even construction workers get), but begs the question if they have so much time not needed to being devoted to pesticide matters, veterinarian duties, legal things etc., that the department must be overstaffed in the first place.

    (That being the case, Gov. Kathleen Blanco had the chance to excise some of these jobs out of the Odom’s budget, as she did hundreds of others across the state bureaucracy. While in her budget she did request a reduction of 12 classified employees, she left the number of unclassified ones, those actually moonlighting on Odom’s orders as construction workers, unchanged. She did, however, indicate she wanted to slice away around $15 million out of his dedicated funds – the bulk of which was from the notorious venture capital account Boll Weevil Eradication Fund; well, let’s use the executive budget’s phrasing:

    Eliminates duplicate funding for bond payment of $12M, which is included in the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority funding and the Boll Weevil Eradication Fund -- which also has funding authority of $12M for the bond payment. In FY'06 $24M was appropriated to pay $12M in bond payments.

    So maybe she is catching on and least trying to rein in Odom. Apparently, he’s been double-dipping, or at least trying to, on the fund.)

    One thing the committee should do is make quite clear that Odom’s practices do not save the state any money at all. Either these employees are being underutilized in their real jobs, so those positions need not be there and cheaper construction labor from the private sector can be hired. Further, liability is a hidden cost. At least 10 workers have been injured on the job at Lacassine, and if the past is any indicator, that’s a hidden cost of perhaps at least $1 million to the final price tag of building the mill.

    Of course, Odom does have his special interest supporters. Witness this howler from the Lake Charles Cane Co-op, Inc.:

    He has brought together as much of the area talent skills and labor force, to do those jobs that they are best suited for, and by doing so he is exposing his upper management staff into the hard-core arena of what it takes to make development happen …. [He] has been and continues to be the only elected official in the state, that has partnered with the local farmers to do the 'heavy lifting' necessary to save the agricultural industry.

    So these bozos give state taxpayers the Bronx cheer by applauding the wasting of money by making white collars into blue, in the name of “hard core … development” and “heavy lifting” … because, as they blatantly admit, they want state taxpayers to subsidize them to keep them in business.

    Even if the Department of State Civil Service can’t do anything about this (because the employees being exploited are unclassified and this agency oversees classified employees), maybe this committee can do something to clean this cancer called Odom out of state government. What and how, I don’t know, but any attempt is better than none.Except for the very shortest terms, any stock fund of quality equities or bond fund of high-grade debt has beaten the government’s return over Social Security’s historyExcept for the very shortest terms, any stock fund of quality equities or bond fund of high-grade debt has beaten the government’s return over Social Security’s history

    27.3.05

    Gibson's bond plan performs duty, turns up heat on Hightower

    Not just at least a down payment on Shreveport’s infrastructure woes, the move by City Councilman and Council President Mike Gibson to propose a bond issue for street repair also represents a shrewd political move.

    The $75 million request to voters would address needs estimated in the $450 million range and politically stands in marked contrast to Mayor Keith Hightower’s bypassing voters on the $40 million question whether to fund a convention center hotel. Not only does Gibson want voters to have a say, it highlights the different priorities the two politicians seem to have.

    Almost everybody traveling around Shreveport can see first-hand the necessity of street and drainage repair, whereas no such need for a publicly-owned hotel is evident, especially as it now appears likely that legal changes concerning gambling in Arkansas and Texas could strip area casinos of half of their business, making the profitability of that hotel that much more questionable. And Gibson is comfortable giving people the choice; in fact, during the campaign he can apologize to voters that with approval of the general obligation bonds their interest rates will be slightly higher (thus costing city taxpayers more) because of the extra debt Hightower committed to an increasingly financially-precarious hotel.

    There’s no way Hightower can look good out of this. With Gibson and the other two Republican councilmen Thomas Carmody and Jeff Hogan almost sure to approve this, only one Democrat vote is needed for it to pass. Hightower would look incompetent to veto it (can you imagine this being thrown in his face in some future campaign, that as long as it’s above the ground no matter whether it’s needed he’ll build it, but if it’s on or below ground he won’t even if it’s vitally needed) and petty to oppose the referendum when the need is so clear. Hightower couldn’t even have suggested it and gain credit for it, after opponents of the hotel kept pointing out how massively the city has run up debt under Hightower.

    The move further locks Hightower, and his legacy as well, into the fate of the hotel, a fate that is looking simultaneously increasingly pessimistic for him and more costly to Shreveport taxpayers.