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15.10.05

Landrieu showing she's on her way to a Senate exit

Slowly but surely, Sen. Mary Landrieu continues to become more marginalized, and thus more shrill, as her power begins seeping away.

She knows the math as well as anybody else – in the Southern state which perhaps has better bucked the Republican trend than any other, its gradual drift towards a Republican majority suddenly got a good push from Hurricane Katrina, as those likely to have left the state disproportionately would have been future Democrat voters. In both 1996 and 2002 she won Orleans Parish, by an average of 90,000 votes, where her final margins were in the neighborhood of 6,000 and 42,000, respectively. That buffer is more than gone.

Further, Louisiana’s federal elected Republicans and their national legislative leaders who control Congress have shunted her to the side now that they have one of their own, Sen. David Vitter, as a headliner to work through in the Senate. Thus, reconstruction efforts after the hurricanes can be structured to make Vitter look good and remove Landrieu from any taking of credit. Indeed, her bickering and obstructionism that delayed the $750 million loan to help local governments keep afloat smacked of the same dogmatism that cost Democrat Max Cleland his Senate seat in 2002.

Were Landrieu truly a centrist, she might act gracefully in the light of this and thus have a shot at reelection in 2008. But she’s a liberal at heart whose strategy, in absence of an ideology she shares with the Louisiana public, is to attack, and increasingly she continues to spout nonsense that only serves as the shovel she continues to dig with more deeply the hole she’s in.

She criticizes a guy who has real power in the Senate to determine what kind of aid Louisiana gets when he voices his concern over to what uses aid allocated to Louisiana goes, and the best rejoinder she can come up with is an example that backfires on her – the recent engineered indictment of House Majority Leader Republican Tom DeLay by a corrupt Democrat. And she stays on the same Pres. George W. Bush-bashing that has been so thoroughly discredited while obscuring her own culpability in setting up the conditions for the disaster.

But she stoops to a new low when she starts criticizing the American Red Cross. While she may be accustomed to thinking that government ought to control everything, somebody needs to tell her that the Red Cross is a nonprofit agency, not part of the government. Through the goodness of their hearts its volunteers and donors are providing assistance. They don’t have to.

FEMA does contract the Red Cross as one of its three non-federal primary response agencies for disasters, which means it holds the final authority in this area. So if Landrieu wants to keep trying to deflect blame from herself, the least she can do is stay on message criticizing FEMA and not start beating up on a charity.

Her reactions continue to show that, while she’s only halfway through her term, she knows full well her days in the Senate are numbered.

13.10.05

Blanco: confused, overshadowed, and vulnerable

With two years to go until the 2007 elections, encouraged by her lack of performance in the wake of the Katrina and Rita hurricane disasters, state Democrats are starting to draw long knives to use on the political career of Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

A month-and-a-half later, Blanco continues to look uncertain and in over her head dealing with the aftermath. At a press conference with Sen. David Vitter, the timing of her appearance at which implies she was an unanticipated, perhaps not eagerly desired, guest, she argued that Pres. George W. Bush could authorize use of funds to allow local governments to fund continuing operations.

Vitter noted that his information concluded any such authorization would have to be statutory in nature, a matter for Congress to deal with. Later, Blanco staffers continued to insist the president had the authority, but this insistence only serves to make Blanco look as unaware of what she needs to do as she did in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

Blanco appeared to refer to her Sep. 23 request to the president to allow federal government full funding of local government employees with this remark. She bases her request on a regulation tied to the statute concerning federal government paying for rebuilding of local assets using local government employees, not paying for continuing operations. A regulation can be changed through the executive branch, perhaps even by something as simple as a presidential executive order, but if the statute defines the kind of activity allowable which is unrelated to the request then the statute must be changed.

Also notably at the conference, Louisiana’s Treasurer John Kennedy received more of a headliner status than did Blanco. Perhaps more than Blanco he has appeared at the forefront of the state’s response to reconstruction efforts, dispensing a slew of good advice (which his staff will be happy to inform readers about at Treasury’s blog). It makes one wonder where this Kennedy was last year during his ill-fated campaign for Vitter’s job when, in an effort to differentiate himself from conservative Vitter and moderately liberal former Rep. Chris John, he ran hard left to populism, an ideology he now counsels against in reference to acquisition of and uses of reconstruction funding.

Democrat Kennedy’s increased exposure amidst the disparaging evaluations of Democrat Blanco’s performance (punctuated by Vitter himself?) fuels speculation that he could be a serious rival to her in the 2007 governor’s contest. That he or somebody else could provide her a serious challenge from Democrats receives confirmation from the criticism she has received from legislative Democrats, black and white.

In short, Blanco continues to look confused, overshadowed by a potential rival, and therefore vulnerable in 2007.

12.10.05

Vitter vs. taking the money and run spells problems for Dems

Sen. David Vitter has begun to find his political legs as partisan implications begin to creep in to post-hurricane reconstruction politics in Louisiana.

Last week, Republican Vitter argued contrary to Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s view that an emergency $750 million (sliced from the current $62.3 billion amount allocated to the state for cleanup) to fund government operations in the state should come in the form of loans due in three years, rather than be an outright gift. Landrieu argued that past federal bailouts in time of emergency has been grants, not loans (actually, nine times out of ten), applicable here because local governments may well be too strapped over the short run to pay back funds.

Vitter said House attitudes were such that he could not see a grant going through in time for a 10-day recess following last Friday, and the House did hold up its end of the bargain by zipping the loan measure right through. The loan as opposed to grant aspect got Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon in a lather, who famously counseled local governments receiving such funds to “take the money and run.”

But Vitter is right. With political shenanigans so well known that even the Louisiana media’s opinion columnists and news reporters write about it, Congress will not let any money given for government operations go without at least the appearance of strings attached. Vitter also has promised to work to get those strings detached over the three-year exemption window.

Note the different psychological approaches involved. If there were no strings from the start, this would discourage more thorough bookkeeping and accountability. But if localities knew they were on the hook for the funds, even with an implicit promise that they would be forgiven, they have much more incentive to be frugal and wise in the funds’ use, knowing that this manumission would occur only if the federal government felt the funds had been used that way.

And thus note the different psychologies of the Democrats Melancon and Landrieu compared to the Republican Vitter (and, apparently, the remainder of the Republican Louisiana House delegation). When Melancon says to “take the money and run,” he reveals his own beliefs about resources collected by government, that it is inconsequential that they come from the people, and that the goal is to get and spend as much of them as possible. Vitter, by contrast, urges responsibility for government in its duty to carefully shepherd the people’s bounty.

It’s a good comeback for Vitter, who, when in a rush to look like he was trying to “do” something about the disaster he authored a bill filled with pork for Louisiana’s recovery, took a lot of heat both at home and nationally. His Republican House counterparts have taken the tack of less-grandiose, more-workmanlike specific bills, to which Vitter should allow the gutting of his vehicle to accommodate their present and future efforts.

If so, Democrats Melancon and Landrieu could be in for rough electoral sailing. Melancon is the only House member willing to stick with the Vitter mega-package (and Landrieu’s identical version). Next year, Republicans can use his comment and support of the mega-bills to fairly paint Melancon as an unconcerned big spender. And if Republican Washington sets up Vitter to be able to take credit for getting the loans forgiven by 2008, it also will become easier to tag Landrieu the same way in that reelection year for her.

If Vitter takes this route, then federal Louisiana Republicans not only will accomplish getting relief to the state and be able to take credit for it, they will make federal Louisiana Democrats look bad in the process.

11.10.05

Gibson's exit clarifies little Shreveport mayoral politics

So former City Councilman Mike Gibson has ridden off into the sunset, leaving a host of questions now and for next year in city politics.
Gibson was considered a leading contender for the mayor’s job in 2006, but a promotion to that office looked less appealing to him than a kind of promotion in his day job out of state. His sudden departure has ramifications for the present composition of the Council, its future composition, and the contest for the city’s top spot.
Gibson’s absence represents a big opportunity for Mayor Keith Hightower. Gibson probably was the biggest thorn in Hightower’s side, repeatedly questioning the spending priorities of Hightower. He could be counted upon for a sure vote against these matters where Hightower generally had four votes. While this still enabled Hightower to get things passed, he had no margin for error.
But with Gibson gone, there’s basically no chance that any interim councilman would be any more hostile to Hightower’s agenda than the guy being replaced, at the worst. At the best, for the next several months and perhaps until the end of his term, Hightower could have a solid ally.
In any event, likely the narrow Democrat majority will be refreshed as the Council gets to select its own replacement and it seems unlikely they would let this go even if District D leaned Republican in Gibson’s victory and trends have accelerated in that direction since. To pick a Republican for the interim would probably remove any chance of a Democrat picking up the seat in 2006, given an incumbency advantage that can be accrued.
This person will end up serving until the end of 2006. This year-plus of incumbency may create enough of a margin for a Democrat to survive in the regular election so Council Democrats would maximize their chances of holding the seat by picking as high-profile and uncontroversial a candidate as possible. This might mean Gard Wayt would be their choice, who has garnered good name recognition by heading up the Interstate 49 International Coalition.
This dynamic may eliminate from consideration another choice, former seat-holder Republican Phil Serio. While he argues that he would not seek the seat full-time, this could be a positioning to make a run for the mayor’s office. Even if he is an ally of Hightower’s, he’s unlikely to get the chance by getting the seat from what would be a long-shot candidacy in any event.
Yet the greatest long-term impact of Gibson’s departure undoubtedly will hit the mayor’s contest. Whether Gibson would have given up a safe seat now is moot, but this certainly increases the chances of two term-limited Republican politicians, state Sen. Max Malone and City Councilman Thomas Carmody. The dynamics of the contest suggest the general election will involve a black Democrat and white Republican so without Gibson as competition, this puts each of these guys one step closer to that result.
At the same time, it all but finishes the chances of City Councilman Monty Walford. As a white Democrat, Walford actually would have the best chance of winning against anybody in the general election, but with most whites voting Republican and blacks almost all for a black Democrat of the stature of state Rep. Cedric Glover and television executive Ed Bradley, too few voters are out there for Walford unless he could split both voting blocs. With Gibson definitely out, the splitting of the vote on both sides is not enough for Walford.
Unfortunately for Walford, his problems even in retaining his own seat are not much less severe. District B continues to pile up a black majority so any black running will have an edge on Walford. Where before Gibson’s exit Walford’s best bet might have been to seek the mayor’s office, now he might find the odds better to battle to stay in his seat.
The same dynamic in Walford’s district is being replicated city-wide and may have had a hand in Gibson’s deciding to leave the area. With the black population continuing to gain proportionally, white politicians’ chances for the top spot decrease in tandem. From Gibson’s perspective, taking leave from running a contractors’ association in a mid-sized city to be mayor might have been enough to offer having no current political career but leading the association in a smaller state. But with the chances of the former appear dimmer and dimmer for any white Republican in Shreveport, he may have been willing to forgo politics for greater career opportunities.

10.10.05

If you think Louisiana has had budgetary problems before ....

The wages of the political hacks on the board of the Orleans Levee District, and of those local and state elected officials who put them there, are about to cost taxpayers and/or homeowners huge sums of money.

Lawsuits already have come concerning the design and quality of construction of certain levees which gave way under the duress of Hurricane Katrina. In the coming months, researchers likely will confirm that preventable design errors and subpar construction efforts allowed the flooding to occur. Plaintiffs believe that without this negligence that they would not have lost most of their possessions and use of their homes.

For many, the problem is they did not have any flood insurance and regular homeowner insurance normally would not pay for these damages. While as a practical matter it would make sense for anybody living below sea level to have it, about half of New Orleans homeowners including those in this category did not. This creates a massive public policy problem for government because it, and the public, would resist any suggestion that those in the situation just suck it up and live with their short-sightedness.

This being the case, then either government socks it to the taxpayers to pay for most everything, or it tries to pass off the expenses to insurance companies anyway for policies they didn’t write and didn’t get premiums on. (Don’t even think about the consequences about a successful suit charging state government officials with violations of civil liberties for short-sighted policy-making.) The former would make a lot of voters angry, especially those affected by the flooding who did have flood insurance and paid for it, and who now would have to pay for somebody else’s retroactively at a far higher rate, in essence.

But the latter won’t work, either, because if the state ever attempted this, few if any insurance companies ever would want to write policies in the state again. Even if they did stay, rates would go sky-high to compensate, making homeownership prohibitively expensive and further battering the state’s fragile economy.

This investigation adds another wrinkle because the policy decision well may get ripped out of the state’s hands because if the initial suspicions become confirmed, the state will have no choice but to pay out a gigantic sum of money to participants in a successful class-action suit. Say if 100,000 homeowners with a home at an average value of $100,000 plus 1,000 business owners with properties worth on average $1,000,000 (including apartment complexes) were part of this. That’s an $11 billion hit to the state, or more than half of its 2005-06 operating and capital outlay budgets.

With this hanging over the state’s head, if you think Louisiana’s had budget problems in the past, you haven’t seen anything yet – nor the political courage to deal with this.

9.10.05

Don't let liberal/Democrat interests fool you about Katrina flooding

While its clear many that many parties – federal elected officials, state and local politicians, and certain environmental interests – had to collaborate in order to leave New Orleans vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina flooding, one thing all share is that they almost exclusively were Louisianans, and almost all political liberals and/or partisan Democrats, from decades ago until now.

As a result, some have an interest in trying to widen the circle of blame because these Louisianans represent almost exclusively liberal and Democrat political interests. There’s occasionally a Republican like Sen. David Vitter who as a member of the House of Representatives should have been more forceful about steering money to flood control projects, or a Gov. Mike Foster who continued to allow political hacks to serve on the Orleans Levee District board. And, liberals are always quick to assert, Pres. George W. Bush is responsible for everything bad in the world, including hurricanes, but, more specifically here, it is argued that he didn’t pay enough attention to coastal restoration efforts.

But let us not ignore the causal chain to explain the lack of sufficient effort to prevent this flooding. It began at, and was driven by, Louisiana Democrats and liberals. At the state and local level, they were the ones who did not push their federal elected officials for more and better protection. They were the ones who refused to find money to pay for it. Their cohorts elected to federal office collected far more money per capita in Army Corps of Engineers projects than any other state yet typically spent only about 1 percent of that on flood control projects (and much more on dubious “economic development” projects).

They behaved this way because their ideology is all about taking as much money as possible earned by others (minimizing the use of their own resources as much as possible) and redistributing it in order to win votes and to accrue power. While all politicians face this temptation, at least true conservatives (typically Republicans) follow a philosophy that urges them to minimize government coercion to abscond with the people’s resources. With a much smaller pot of money to distribute, it’s much easier to follow the principle of deploying it where it is needed, not to use it as a leveling tool.

This situation is best described by the analogy of a drowning person with another standing by clutching a life preserver. No matter how the person got into the floundering situation, the other should toss the flotation device to save him. But just because it was through the victim’s own negligence that got him in deep water to begin with it does not follow that the other, who could have used much more forceful means to prevent him from placing himself at risk, bears as much or even a fraction of the blame for his predicament as the one needing rescuing.

Partisans on the left will attempt to obfuscate the root causes of the thinking behind the decisions, grounded in liberalism and populism, that created the situation of flooding around New Orleans by claiming the causes were nonpartisan, but do not be fooled for a minute by that tactic. Following the dictates of their ideology was necessary for the disaster to happen.