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29.12.05

Blanco doesn't get it; neither will she get reelection

The reason why Gov. Kathleen Blanco will not get reelected in 2007 is she just doesn’t get it.

Blanco seems to think that the public’s low marks given for her and her reelection chances are a function of a perception of her as weak and indecisive. To her and her handlers, the solution then seems to be an image makeover. If so, that belies a lack of reflection and understanding about a singular fact: ideas have consequences.

The fact is, Blanco is a liberal politician in a state growing more politically conservative. She expresses some conservative viewpoints (such as being pro-life) but on issues of the economy and government activism she easily fits into the mold of the national Democrats, with a dash of populism thrown in. She has shown a consistent desire to raise taxes, to expand the size of government, and to resist efforts to govern efficiently rather than primarily politically.

Like most liberals, she remains captive to one or both of two fictions: either that liberalism resonates among the public (or perhaps doesn’t because of mean, illegal, subversive efforts of Republicans and conservatives that continually fool the poor saps that comprise the mass public that are so intellectually inferior to her and her kind – if this were true, wouldn’t we have passed into a dictatorship long ago instead of having the world’s greatest democracy and economy?) or that liberalism does not but that her kind needs power because the poor saps that comprise the mass public that are so intellectually inferior to her and her kind can’t be trusted to do the right thing, so it’s necessary to fool them into her “helping” them.

Obviously, that mindset is the undoing of both her and other liberals. It’s not the image or style that turns people off about Blanco’s tenure; it’s the policies, stupid. Just to name perhaps the most recent of many examples, running after the levee reform horse after the public opinion barn door has closed is a perfect example of how Blanco can’t see past her ideology and understand its inherent flaws and the need to embrace conservatism not only to become in greater touch with the peoples’ policy preferences, but to provide better governance.

Unless Blanco begins to do things like dramatic paring of fairly unneeded government functions thus causing a big drop in government spending, rescinding tax hikes and even cutting taxes more, using her power to insist on efficient operations rather than patronage and electoral spoils, etc., she will not be doing the things necessary to govern effectively in Louisiana’s time of post-disaster need, nor convince enough people who eyes have seen laid bare by the disasters her suboptimal ideological predispositions to give her another term.

28.12.05

Bad jurisprudence marks election suit decision

It’s not often that you get poor jurisprudence from all three parties – plaintiff, defendant, and judge – in the disposition of a lawsuit, but when you throw in a dash of judicial activism, that’s to be expected, and is what happened in the disposition of a federal lawsuit against the state to force it to hold New Orleans city elections according to the law.

U.S. District Judge and Clinton-appointee Ivan Lemelle essentially put the suit on hold, wisely to let the political process in this matter unfold, meaning he preferred to see the majoritarian branches of government work out the matter. Legislating from the bench betrays the Constitution and subverts democracy, and had Lemelle left it at that there wouldn’t be much to write about on this issue other than to applaud his use of good sense and reason.

But Lemelle also threatened that he might step in sometime in the (near, given the compressed timeline) future. This treads dangerous waters, because the only time judicial intervention ever is permissible is when a clearly articulated right is breached or law is indisputably broken, and, despite their questionably partisan motives, neither Gov. Kathleen Blanco nor Secretary of State Al Ater appear to have acted illegally. The enabling statute seems to have been followed, and a lot of interpretation would have to be inserted into the executive order to argue the delay contains any illegality.

While he remained on steadier ground when observing an equal protection violation could exist by not having elections in New Orleans when others were occurring in other Hurricane Katrina-affected parishes (and, he could have added, still others impacted as badly or worse than Orleans by Hurricane Rita), he really started going off the rails when censuring the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not turning over data about displaced persons to Ater. Neither federal no state law mandates any such requirement that the state without solicitation by the individual send information about voting and elections, using this as justification for a decision, if it comes to that, constitutes the exercise of raw political power within the judiciary and should be challenged.

It has not come to this because Ater now appears satisfied at the information given to him by FEMA. Translation: (1) Ater was getting beaten up in the court of public opinion and now is looking for a way to claim victory in his dubious pursuit, and (2) the threat of the judiciary ruling against the elections delay has gotten to him. He seems bent on wasting taxpayers’ money on this task that he is not required to perform. If anything, this matter ought to become the subject of a lawsuit by any Louisiana taxpayer as an equal protection violation – why was not such additional aid rendered to past voters who would be out of their parishes on election day? Is this not discrimination in voting rights?

In part, Lemelle probably was guided by some inferior reasoning by both the plaintiffs and defendant (the state). Inexplicably, the plaintiffs seem to have bought this manufactured notion that the state must notify displaced voters and argued outside of court the state had not done enough in this regard. How that line of reasoning should compel the court to force elections to be held on time is beyond me. In addition, the plaintiffs did not appear to offer substantial proof of any irregularities in the process that would make this a juridical, rather than political, matter.

For its part, the state offered an incredibly lame excuse to explain away its equal protection problem in allowing some parishes to proceed with elections while delaying them in New Orleans. It argued the law compelled Blanco to set election dates in Acadia, Jefferson, and St. Bernard Parishes, Yeah, because she didn’t issue the requisite executive order as she did in the case of New Orleans, so this argument entirely misses the point as to why parishes with small proportions of racial minorities living there prior to September were allowed to have elections set on time, while a place with a majority of racial minorities got delayed. This does, as suggested by the plaintiffs, smack of racism.

The real questions here are the matters of the state creating out of thin air an extra burden on itself (notification) and then using that as a justification to delay elections, as well as its differential impact on certain classes of citizens (racial minorities and previous absentee voters) from an equal protection standpoint. It’s not the general presumption that Blanco’s and Ater’s reasons for delaying elections weren’t “good enough.” Even if he used bad jurisprudence Lemelle blundered his way to the proper decision about letting the process play out. If Ater finds a way to miss the Apr. 29 general election deadline and/or Ater uses state money to fund his quest for notification, then a suit based on the proper objection can be filed.

27.12.05

Government serves best by staying out of rebuilding New Orleans

In the U.S., and even in Louisiana to a great extent, there seems to be a great sentiment to allow “democracy” to prevail in governing. Keeping that concept in mind and expanding beyond the parochial thinking and agendas currently articulated will serve the rebuilding efforts of New Orleans well.

As the focus of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shifts from cleaning up to recovery, the plans the myriad of commissions (after all, this is Louisiana and where would be without a lot of duplicative, inefficient government) dealing with the idea of how New Orleans will rebuild fall into three major camps. First, there are those that argue for highly-controlled planning by government; second are those that allow for some free-market input (such as the suggestion that anything be allowed to be rebuilt in certain areas for a year or more, see what happens, and then plan accordingly); and third are pure market solutions, letting building and use occur wherever properly zoned.

Strict planning argues that government should prevent private sector building in certain areas of the city, so not only that people stay out of potential harm’s way from future storms, but, with now somewhat of a blank slate, that the city can structure itself geographically and demographically to encourage economic growth. It argues that to let the individual make too many decisions in rebuilding would create alternating islands of activity and blight where the latter kind would prevent the former from prospering and raise the cost of services to government.

But this view ignores the central, salient fact that advocates of government planning never properly grasp, that, just as government cannot tax its way to economic prosperity, neither can it plan its way to the same end. Simply, the aggregate of individuals, separately making decisions, produce superior collective decisions than any group which attempts to do the same (F.A. Hayek’s “catallaxy”). This is because no institution is privileged to all of the information and to the valuations to individuals of the various scenarios involved.

Thus, optimally the pure market solution is the best for New Orleans’ rebuilding. Inevitably, coercive planning will produce suboptimal decisions and the city will not live up to its potential. This does not mean that government’s role must be absolutely minimalist (along the lines of Robert Nozick’s “nightwatchman” state) but rather can offer a few infrastructural incentives to encourage individuals to decide in a certain manner (such as the building of a light rail system in the hopes that development will occur around certain areas). However, this would preclude schemes such as venture capitalist operations funded by tax dollars to attract certain interests (disasters of small kinds presently unfolding in both Shreveport and Bossier City).

Rebuilding New Orleans presents a unique opportunity. The most rapid economic development and most dynamic rebuilding will come not by heavy government involvement in its decision-making, but by precisely the opposite. The new New Orleans could become a showcase for how not to involve government by the creation of a catallactic order. Ironically, a “favorable” confluence of events – widespread destruction of the old order, available federal dollars, desperation for optimal solutions – has put the city and state on the cusp of something truly (and, in some ways sadly given the obvious nature of the solution) revolutionary.

Those involved in this enterprise in government must resist calls for all but the most minimal government participation in land-use choices. If individuals choose in some areas to rebuild and few others do, presently they will see their decisions as sub-optimal and will abandon the area. Local government can hasten that by reminding them of the risk and that, given the area’s sparse population, they should not expect much in the way of services. If worst comes to worst, New Orleans simply could de-annex those areas.

Together, others will decide through the democracy of the marketplace rather than by artificial, less-informed decisions of government, how the reborn New Orleans will look. Government planning will not reconstruct New Orleans well; it just needs to create the conditions by which they can make these choices, then to stay out of the way.

26.12.05

Bossier Parish's best government in northwest Louisiana

Despite sitting on a pile of money, despite having made bad economic development decisions, despite alternative ways of dealing with the problem of using gambling revenues besides jacking up fees on Bossier City residents, its City Council voted to do precisely that for 2006.

Irony abounded in it all. You had a Republican mayor, Lo Walker, recommending this course of action and almost all Republicans on the council – David Montgomery, Tim Larkin, and Scott Irwin – going along with taking more money out of the peoples’ pockets (more predictably Democrats Don Williams and James Rogers would). Yet two of the less likely individuals to be the ones to vote against it, independent Jeff Darby (perhaps because his constituents, who have a higher percentage of lower-income indivudals among them, would get hardest hit) and Republican David Jones (less likely because of his consistent pro-big government spending record), did not vote for it. But two voices for sanity were not enough to carry the day.

But along with this money grab, in a bizarre effort to show that the city somehow was fiscally responsible, the Council also decided not to fund 14 new hires, many in public safety. So it comes back to this, still again: the city will give away parking garages worth over $21 million with little or fiscal no return from it, yet won’t pony up $485,000 for these positions which would improve public safety. (And, don’t forget, the $56.5 million CenturyTel Center lost a little less than that amount this year.)

Still, whatever follies have been committed by Bossier City are overshadowed by those occurring next door. So maybe Bossier City spent $78 million on “economic development” schemes which return basically nothing and haven’t produced any development, but at least it wasn’t twice that amount, didn’t add onto a mountain of debt to do so, and, on the aggregate, probably won’t lose much money.

This dishonorable situation of course goes to Shreveport’s Mayor Keith Hightower and the Democrats on its City Council in their decisions to build a convention center and (in this instance totally on their own) a publicly-owned hotel to go along with it. And although Bossier City’s budget over the past several years has shown mild growth past the rate of inflation, Shreveport’s rate of increase has left it in the dust.

As work begins on Shreveport’s 2006 budget, it looks to weigh in at $339 million – a 134 percent increase since Hightower took office while the Consumer Price Index rose just 22 percent over the same period. Unless you own certain meter-reading companies, owe money for revitalized real estate, or are middlemen in waste-handling deals, it’s impossible to argue that in the past seven years that the city has provided a double-and-a-third more services to you and/or performed these services that much better. But, it is going to make Shreveport residents and consumers pay for it anyway.

Perhaps Bossier City should have saved its $78 million to reduce its absconding of people’s money. But this is nothing compared to Shreveport with almost a billion dollars in debt and a backlog of infrastructural improvements in the hundreds of millions. Even if Bossier City just jacked up sewerage rates by a third, Shreveport is readying to finally jack up its water rates by about 50 percent, on top of its mountain of debt and infrastructure needs.

However, lest Bossier City residents feel too much better by this “grass-isn’t-greener” comparison, here’s one that will bring them back to earth: not only is Bossier Parish not taking more from its citizens, in 2006 it will give out salary raises and actually cut its budget by 24 percent! Of course, most of this is as a result of dramatically lower capital expenditures since major projects such as the parish courthouse addition and new jail will be finished and it will forgo budgeting with the approximately $2 million it could expect from the state. While this would delay some projects it would create little inconvenience and, if the state does come through with the usual funds, these projects could be tackled immediately. Most importantly, there are no fee hikes involved here.

It’s refreshing to see at least one area government that doesn’t go out building monuments to itself in the mistaken belief that government, not the private sector, creates economic development, or, as in the case of Caddo Parish, would rather refuse changing its spending priorities in order to squeeze more from the taxpayers (in this case, for juvenile justice operations). For these reasons, just as in 2004, Bossier Parish’s government is 2005’s best area government.