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24.11.05

Thanksgiving Day, 2005

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed bu the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are five of these: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Thursday, Nov. 24 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

23.11.05

Session results further dig Blanco's political grave

Perhaps it was her governance from the left in her first two regular sessions of the Legislature which attracted too much criticism for her liking. Or maybe it was the gravity of the situation after the hurricane disasters – reality predictably and reliably turns liberals into conservatives. But as Gov. Kathleen Blanco moved towards the ideological center, partly by her own volition, partly by others’, in her managing of the special Legislative session she endangered her political future even as she did many, if lukewarm, necessary things to help the state.

In this session, Blanco let the reins loose on Republican/conservative/good government impulses while pulling back on Democrat/liberal/populist ones. But, as has been her wont, she did so very inexpertly. She supported ethics reform – weak reform. She supported reducing taxes – barely and/or temporarily reducing. She supported budget reductions – but at the margins, not the real structural changes needed except by getting rid of the urban and rural (slush) funds.

By contrast, she did not stop efforts to make minor changes in the election code that if mishandled could promote fraud, or to redefine the nature and purpose of the Budget Stabilization Fund to allow more spending rather than encouraging increased, necessary budget cutting and, worst of all, backed a tepid marginal change in flood control policy in the state instead of throwing her weight also behind a comprehensive, vital overhaul. In short, she grudgingly adopted watered-down versions of the conservative/reform agenda, and allowed her allies on the populist left to have some small victories that left them wanting more.

Human psychology is such that people tend to attach more weight to and remember longer their disappointments. When trying to govern from the ideologically mish-mashed center, as Blanco appeared to do over the past three weeks beginning with the session call, those on the left and right will remember more intensely and for longer the episodes where they feel Blanco subverted their agendas rather than those moments of her support for them. In other words, she always will make more enemies than allies by governing from the center.

If Blanco could keep tacking to the right, to mirror the slow trend towards conservatism in the state now accelerated by the outcomes of the disasters, she might have a chance to win another term. Her problem is, she didn’t start there and two long-time, genuine conservatives at any time could step right into the race and corral majority conservative support across the state – Sen. David Vitter or Rep. Bobby Jindal. Then she would be in no-woman’s land, having burned too many bridges of support with the state’s liberals, especially as their leadership becomes more infused with the kook fringe and ignoramuses, for her to get meaningful political support from them.

One disappointed leftist faction, the Legislative Black Caucus, will continue to act as if it had meaning and relevance even as the post-disaster environment spurs its loss of political power. When its chairman state Rep. Cedric Richmond complains that “her administration has to be more open to input from the Legislative Black Caucus,” he fails to realize that “input” does not equal “influence.” Failing to grasp the distinction, it will be eager to find another candidate to support in 2007. Given the post-disaster environment’s producing a decline in black voters to make further a liberal black candidate unelectable in Louisiana, they likely would find appealing the candidacy of a member of Louisiana’s leading plantation family – Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

In other words, the hard left will support the likes of Landrieu, genuine conservatives will rally behind a Vitter or Jindal, and Blanco will be out of the Governor’s Mansion in 2008 – if these guys run and Blanco continues to govern as she has. Which, given her move to the center towards the right away from the left, actually is the best thing for the state. She won’t win reelection as a result, but will have performed valuable service to the state, and that’s what a politician’s primary goal in office should be.

22.11.05

Last legislative session moments produce troubling results

Two bad things happened on the last day of the Louisiana Legislature’s special session, when attention spans of legislators wane and time constraints make some of them do things they ordinarily shouldn’t.

One was allowing the Senate to hijack HB 140 that would have the effect of preventing the full amount of money that should go into the Budget Stabilization Fund from doing so. The idea originally had been in another Senate bill but when that seemed to go nowhere in the House the Senate seized upon this bill and it easily passed both houses – even its Senate opponents in the Senate bill voted for it. However, this may be because of the contention by many Republicans that the bill is unconstitutional in its attempt to amend the Constitution by statute, and they passed it out simply to be able to challenge it in court if Gov. Kathleen Blanco signs it.

If it holds up or the challenge never comes after Blanco’s expected signature, this doesn’t necessarily mean the state will go hog-wild in spending when cuts may make better sense and to show the federal government that the state is serious about bringing more sanity to its fiscal affairs. Still, it’s best not to have the temptation present.

The other was restoring in HB 156 much of the money cut from the state’s Legal Service Corporation, funded also by the federal government, emanating originally from the governor’s executive order. Nationwide, this government-funded activist organization uses taxpayers’ dollars to engage in legal actions on behalf of a leftist political agenda with which the vast majority of Americans disagree, rather than any genuine legal assistance for the poor. Given its history (including falsifying its reporting of its activities), much stronger assurances that the recipients of its grants address genuine needs rather than engaging in political activism should have been sought before giving back most of is previous appropriation.

The last day of any session always is the worst – advocates of efficient government in the interests of the people always must be on the lookout for craziness out of the state’s Legislature in its waning moments.

21.11.05

Stuck on stupid IX: Protecting patronage, not people

On the Louisiana Senate floor, not long after receiving the bad news, Sen. Walter Boasso lamented the coma into which his SB 95 had slipped, as a result of the House’s decision not to fast-track the bill which would consolidate most levee district functions for most levee districts in southeastern Louisiana: “It’s politics as usual.”

He got that right. Unless heroic resuscitation efforts occur immediately, this necessary bill’s (which passed the Senate unanimously) life ends at 6 PM Nov. 22. News reports last week underscored more than ever the importance of such a move in their reporting that evidence of weakened levees in Orleans Parish had surfaced months before the fatal onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, but the bureaucratic maze surrounding the administration of levees stymied efforts to fix the problems.

It’s true that the Army Corps of Engineers’ designs for the levees may have underestimated their strength and were possibly archaic. It’s true that federal officials such as Sen. Mary Landrieu gave flood protection a low priority. It’s true that New Orleans and state officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco and previous mayors, city council majorities, and governors paid insufficient attention to the political ramifications of their appointees to the Orleans Levee District board. It’s true that the Board itself neglected flood control duties in favor of more glamorous pursuits or the absurd. Still, perhaps all of these obstacles could have been overcome had the lines of authority over the levees been clear – a view endorsed by experts studying the problem.

Boasso’s bill would do that. Unfortunately, it also would interfere with carefully built networks of political patronage and power certain elected officials such as state Rep. Ken Odinet (Boasso's opposite number in the House) have built in their backyards. The House’s decision not to send the bill to committee shows a majority in the House, mostly Democrats and/or members of the Legislative Black Caucus, care more about their own and their allies’ power and privilege than protecting the public and their property from ravaging floods. Blanco also must shoulder some of the blame for not pushing harder for the bill, likely fearful it would steal the spotlight from the bill she supports (SB 71) which is far less reaching and would do little to solve this problem.

Time’s about up in this session for the bill, but if Blanco is serious about flood control she’ll include the item in her January special session call and this time she’ll crack the whip for it on the good old boys who once again have done the things that keep this state in the rear and, as always, will use their points of personal privilege on their chamber’s floor to moan about how they’re being treated “unfairly” in the media when it reports these things. It just goes to show yet again how they’re stuck on stupid.

20.11.05

Stuck on stupid VIII: Louisiana in need of tough love

While it well may be true that the vast bulk of federal emergency monies given to states has been forgiven, neither should Louisiana expect this nor should it be any surprise that it won’t happen given state leaders’ past and present behavior.

Even as Sen. David Vitter has hinted that payback provisions for federal aid would be waived by the Republicans who control the federal government (just in time for 2008 elections), behind this unspoken clemency is the expectation that Louisiana shows it’s trying to help itself by making fiscally prudent choices in the aftermath of the hurricane disasters.

Instead, the Democrat good-old-boy network in the Legislature and its good-old-girl equivalent in the executive branch keep sending absolutely the wrong signals to Washington. The state owes about $30 million on its first “installment,” leaving the Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration to fret how to meet it. Well, why weren’t they thinking about that when they, through the Blanco-controlled State Bond Commission, authorized some $45 million in capital outlay expenses to go ahead, despite the fact that $17 million of them were peripheral, if not even really necessary, especially in light of what should have been adjusted budget priorities?

No doubt that of the $30 million, the federal government could claim at least $17 million of it was for capital projects reconstructed. Thus, this money easily could have been redacted and the rededicated in the legislative special session to pay this bill.

But even if Blanco had the wisdom to have done this, whether the Legislature would have done its part is another matter. While they have agreed with Blanco and among themselves to cut nearly $600 million from the state budget, they spend more energy trying to twist the state’s Constitution to grab more money which imperils the state even more in the future instead of adopting the new religion of fiscal discipline.

Worst of all, they steadfastly refuse to admit that the same populist/liberal regimen that they have followed for decades which has made the state last in economic development and first in political shenanigans was to blame for Louisiana’s hyper-vulnerability to the economic consequences of these disasters and is a recipe to make any recovery much longer and harder than need be. Instead, on the floor of the Senate you have demagogues like Sen. Rob Marionneaux making partisan points of personal privilege about the latest news of political corruption in Washington in an attempt to minimize his state’s well-earned reputation in that field of endeavor, or like Sen. Robert Adley blaming the media, saying it’s assisted by the remarks of some of his fellow legislators, for painting Louisiana in a bad light.

Either these clowns are so stuck on stupid that they don’t realize it’s their very attitudes about and actions related to governing of those with these same attitudes that draw the nation’s suspicions and bring ridicule upon themselves, or they are so concerned about their political futures and/or legacies that they have to find scapegoats to blame for their own inadequacies as leaders in this state. It is their populist/liberal agenda shared by all too many of their colleagues that has gotten this state into so much trouble, and is what will prevent any meaningful recovery any time soon.

And Washington recognizes this. For some diseases, medicine to cure them is very powerful and creates a thin line between the dosage that can knock out the disease, and a slightly higher one that can kill the patient. The disease of populism/liberalism and the poor quality of government it spawns deeply is embedded in Louisiana political culture, and to allow it to flourish as a result of federal policy designed to help the state recover would be wasteful, foolish, and detrimental to its citizens in the long run.

It’s cure or kill time for Louisiana relative to the federal government. If state policy-makers stop doing stupid things and demonstrate they have the acumen to lead the state to recovery, the cure commences. But if they do not, first the pervasiveness of the disease of populism/liberalism must be killed in order for any cure to work. If needed, this would begin by cutting the state no slack in its federal repayment obligations until obstinate state policy-makers realize the error of their ways (or after a new legislative majority and governor are elected in 2007). Only then could the cure begin.

From the federal government it would be tough, but necessary, love.