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9.2.06

Disingenuous support tampering with election law

From all the blather about displaced Louisianans being able to vote, you’d think that a simple upholding of ballot security makes for a police state, and that not relaxing voting standards is a greater threat to democracy than the inevitable fraud that would result from doing so.

Some legislation proposed in the special session would allow people whose names are on rolls but who never have positively identified themselves to a registrar would let them vote without identity verifiable by a Louisiana election official. Other bills would allow voting at polling places practically anywhere other than a home parish where verifiable records for any voter would be absent. Elections held under these conditions just beg to be stolen.

Complainers moan about “evacuees in Avoyelles Parish won't have a say in what's going on” or “give [evacuees] the right to vote” or “We want to see that evacuees have a chance to vote.” OK, here’s how you do that: click here and then fill out this form. The law already provides ample opportunity for any person outside his precinct on election day to vote, so long as that person can be positively identified.

Of course, the whiners want such positive identification standards dropped, just asking for fraud to contaminate the process. And it’s no accident that radical organizations such as the Industrial Areas Foundation are pushing these measures because they know it will make it easier to stuff the ballot box with the votes of impressionable displaced persons and (from their perspective, “don’t ask, don’t tell”) for dishonest brokers that agree with their leftist agenda to manufacture votes for their preferred candidates.

(The IAF claims it is nonpartisan and nonpolitical. In fact, the organization was founded by Saul Alinsky who advocated massive redistribution of wealth and power in society. It still proudly hawks his seminal tract Rules for Radicals and other like works on its web site. Alinksy, who referred to himself as the “devil’s disciple,” argued that projects to help the needy were insufficient without political activism of those helping and being helped. However, because he saw American government and the free enterprise system as discriminatory and prejudicial, even destructive of the “poor,” he believed the agenda of this political activism by the “poor” and their allies should be to restructure society and government in a socialist direction.)

Were groups like the IAF genuine in their desire to enable the franchise and not interested in promoting an agenda, they would educate people on using the existing workable process. Their failure to do so shows they are more interested in agendas than in democracy or in the people they claim to represent.

8.2.06

Desperate consolidation opponents advance silly arguments

You know you’re on to a good idea when all its opponents can do is to come up with gobbledygook in opposition. State Rep. Jeff Arnold confirmed as such with his inane comments about why Orleans Parish governments should not be consolidated.

Arnold contends that Orleans seven assessors and two judicial systems, while every other parish suffers with just one or each, should be left alone because (1) it has fewer elected officials per capita than any other parish and (2) the cost per citizen to run the assessing in Orleans (by the way, Arnold’s father is one of the seven). (It should be noted that Arnold bases these assertions on 2000 census data of around 482,000, not the revised 2004 estimate of about 462,000, nor the January best estimate of about 156,000.)

Let’s investigate the logic, or rather illogic, behind this thinking. New Orleans/Orleans Parish is essentially a metropolitan government that is just one city and lacking a formal parish government. By contrast, other large-population parishes such as Jefferson or even formal metropolitan government such as in East Baton Rouge have other incorporated areas with their own officials which dilute this average. And when we turn to smaller-populated parishes, economies of scale are lost: rural parishes that struggle to have 10,000 residents often have the same number of police jurors as do parishes with much larger populations.

In other words, on this statistic, New Orleans comes out with a higher number of residents per officials because it happens to have (had) the most people and because of an accident of political geography. And note the illogic behind the presumption: if New Orleans does not have too many, then shouldn’t Arnold be championing consolidation of other parishes’ governments?

The same applies to the argument about per citizen costs being the lowest. Setting up the infrastructure for an assessor costs roughly the same for any parish whether you have 10,000 or 400,000 people. In fact, operating costs may be higher in rural parishes because of the much greater distances assessors must travel to property, and the much larger land holdings that must be evaluated. Where they would not be, it would be as a result of the higher personnel costs exacerbated by the duplication of services times seven, even if having 40 times the number of people dilutes the per resident figure. (And I wonder where is more “efficient” on a per parcel, rather than per person, basis – it’s not people but parcels being assessed). So, again, why this statistic comes out this way is just a function of a denser population packed into a smaller area, not any inherent advantages to having so many officials.

Now compare Orleans’ costs with Harris County, Texas. Even with a larger Houston city council and a five-member Harris County Commission, with its 2 million people, you can bet Harris has fewer elected officials per person than Orleans, and its single appraiser spends less per citizen than Orleans. So what does Arnold want the state to do, go out and kidnap people to boost our population to get better economies of scale in operating local government?

I don’t have the statistics, but I’ll bet if you took total assessing costs per parish and divide them by units assessed, Orleans would fare very poorly – that’s the relevant metric. When dealing with statistics, it’s not enough just to throw out numbers you also must investigate the theory behind it. And Arnold’s pathetic attempt to save his father’s job and patronage opportunities reveals the ridiculous arguments behind it.

7.2.06

Hightower Expo Hall plans may be just more corporate welfare

Part of the collateral damage of the opening of Shreveport’s convention center concerns the fate of the city’s Exposition Hall. The facility has run well short of capacity or breakeven in supporting itself financially for some time. Until the opening of the Convention Center, whether it contributed financially didn’t matter so much because the city needed a location to stage certain events of its own.

But now the city apparently has signaled that it plans to shift those kinds of activities to the Center and has declared the Hall superfluous, by trying to shop it around leased out for purposes of economic development. Not only does this reflect curiously on the city’s financial priorities, but its intended use for economic development itself poses serious questions.

Mayor Keith Hightower wants to lease the Hall for a rock-bottom price for 15 years for two purposes. First, it costs the city about $400,000 annually to maintain the property and is used but around 25 percent of the time according to city officials. By having a private concern pick up the maintenance tab, the city saves hundreds of thousands of dollars. Second, he wants to rent it out for use it as a movie production stage to complement the heightened interest in Shreveport as a film location, and perhaps to extend this interest to keep productions displaced from shooting in New Orleans to stick around here or to come back.

(There’s an interesting discrepancy here, because Shreveport’s 2005 budget claimed the Hall was used 58 percent of the time in 2004. This may be due to the fact that a number of users have their rental fees waived, and that may have been what was meant by the 25 percent figure, paying users. It’s hard to believe usage plunged that much in 2005. In any event, rental fees for all city structures, not just the Hall, accounted for only around $300,000 annually the past few years. Also, the 2005 budget notes a number of capital improvements needed for the Hall, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars more in future expenditures.)

The financial consideration is a bit shortsighted. It seems curious that an administration that plans to blow $150 million on a dubious convention center and exceptionally dubious publicly-owned hotel, and tens of millions more on a sludge conversion contract that ended up financially benefiting Hightower allies, can be so concerned about a less than $400,000 or so yearly drain on the city’s coffers (unless it’s to cover losses stemming from the hotel that taxpayers will have to pick up).

Those users of the Hall who pay also have complained, since many do not have gatherings of the size to make renting the Center cost effective. Some have threatened for their meetings to head over to Bossier City which has taken a less penny-wise, pound-foolish approach by retaining its Civic Center even as its CenturyTel Center loses money.

Simultaneously, the idea to lease out the Hall for stage purposes also seems rather half-baked. Primarily, as a local industry insider recently pointed out, that kind of work typically is not done on location except for smaller, independent makers. Still, the idea might have merit if there were more of an infrastructure to entice major studios to haul non-local actors to Shreveport to do the inside work, as long as they are there for location work.

In fact, that may be on the horizon. Bossier Parish Community College is implementing a program to train workers for the film industry. Certainly this would increase chances of more productions coming this way that want the use of stage facilities (provided the state continues its corporate welfare for the film industry, which actually drains the state treasury more than it indirectly brings in). Shreveport even could offer, as part of the lease, to allow BPCC to use this envisioned one for its educational purposes.

However, at best this constitutes only a short-term solution. BPCC will not want to spread inefficiently its resources geographically and no doubt should move to have its own production facilities built as quickly as it can. And then the contemplated Shreveport complex would have state-subsidized competition that likely would make it a losing proposition that no lessee concerned about making a profit along these lines would want to touch and the city is back to square one.

Balancing the desires of smaller organizations that use the Hall against a doubtful plan which, if anything, would turn into Shreveport’s own version of corporate welfare (with some interest hitting the jackpot with essentially a free building), Hightower needs to scrap this idea.

6.2.06

Even the best get seduced by the trappings of power

Maybe radio talk show host Moon Griffon has a point when he says don’t vote for any legislator facing term limits in one Louisiana legislative chamber if trying to get elected to the other in 2007. His idea is that even the best politicians, if they stay too long in Baton Rouge, become seduced by the trappings of power in state government and they need to go home after as many as 12 years. Ironically, he’s become personally involved in a case that proves his point.

For a conservative like Moon, Republican state Rep. Ernie Alexander on the surface would seem to be a great legislator. In the 2005 regular legislative session, he ranked the highest (70/100) of all 144 on my Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting record list. Indeed, Alexander has been a guest on Griffon’s program many times. But when Moon began publicizing state Rep. Blade Morrish’s voting record (he scored 56/100), a friend of Alexander’s who is one of those term-limited House members looking to win a Senate seat, Alexander took umbrage.

He sent a letter to Griffon basically stating that candidate advertisements being run on Griffon’s show, combined with Griffon’s negative tone towards the records of other putative candidates running for the same offices, meant that Griffon’s might be yanked by broadcasters:

If the general managers of the stations on the Moon Griffon network understood what the facts are … they would have to make the decision to remove your program from the station lineup or become a willing participant in any lawsuits or FCC investigations that could follow.

Except that this summation, incredibly enough made by a former general manager of radio stations, is almost totally wrong and false. The Code of Federal Regulations is very clear concerning the obligations broadcast licensees must follow regarding political speech by candidates for public office (the Federal Communications Commission summarizes them here.) To summarize:

  • Griffon can say anything he wants about any candidate for office. He is not a candidate for office and thus none of these rules apply to him. The days of the “fairness doctrine,” which would have been unlikely to apply in any case, are long gone.
  • If one of his affiliate stations runs a network Griffon ad for a political candidate, to be in compliance with the law/regulations, all the station would have to do is allow other candidates for that office to buy air time at a price regulated by FCC rules at a time broadly set by FCC standards (see 47CFR73 Subpart H Sec. 73.1941).

    There is no standing to sue; indeed, a plaintiff first must lodge a protest with the FCC, but such a protest would go nowhere because stations are required to keep records on these matters and any reasonably competent manager merely would have to prove that if a rival candidate had come to his station and asked to buy air time when the station had aired an ad for a candidate in the same contest via syndication from Griffon, that he offered such at non-discriminatory rates and non-discriminatory times. There’s simply no reason a station would need to remove Griffon’s programming on the basis Alexander claims.

    Which leads to what appears to be Alexander’s regrettable motives. Surely someone of his experience in the industry knows all of this; if not, he must have been a pretty incompetent general manager (if so, I’ll leave a seat open for him in my introductory American Government class, for the lecture that we go over this). It seems to me that a genuinely friendly, if misguided, reproach could have been done without involving the citizenry’s money; that he spent Louisiana tax dollars by using legislative stationery and had the state pick up the cost of mailing also is telling;.

    It tells that Alexander has been in office too long to know the difference between ethical and unethical use of power and taxpayer’s resources (Alexander accuses Griffon of “doing something which is unethical;” might the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program be interested in Alexander’s use of state funds on what seems to be a personal political quest)? It tells us that even a conservative who often has spoken and voted against the arrogance of big government can become seduced by it. And it tells us that maybe Moon is right – throw all the bums out regardless of their partisan affiliations or their ideologies, because if a representative like Alexander can be turned into the thing he appeared to be against, than anybody can be.
  • 5.2.06

    They're state legislators, and they're here to help?

    If it seems that Mississippi is making much greater headway in recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, one reason would be our policy-makers have learned the wrong lessons and do not understand the problems facing Louisiana, if an interview with northwest Louisiana state legislators is any guide.

    Perhaps I overstate the difference because the Shreveport Times’ editorial board only reported remarks from three black Democrats, a good-old-boy white Democrat, and a liberal Republican – a group of plodders representing groups that have caused the state much misery. Much sharper and more aware legislators, such as state Rep. Mike Powell and state Sen. Max Malone, were not included, so maybe things aren’t as bad as we think. Still, four of these gave us plenty to worry about.

    State Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek observed that regarding “elder indigent care, people will just move north because they know that their parents are aging and they're going to need care and they're not going to want to fight for it down in south Louisiana.” Astutely, state Sen. Robert Adley then pointed out that “[t]he federal government has told the state of Louisiana, you have an opportunity now, and this is their wording, you have the opportunity to restructure health care differently than anybody else has ever done it before, and if you will do it, we will fund you.”

    Since Cheek is the vice chair of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, you would think she’s right on the spot to help lead the reform Adley mentions that will help areas outside of the Orleans metropolitan area to handle elder care, indigent care, and any other kind needed. Think again: Cheek consistently has allied herself with interests that promote less efficiency in spending health care dollars and oppose such reforms. One only hopes the light finally has come on in her head and she’ll start doing the right thing.

    But nor does Adley really seem to understand some of the challenges ahead. He remarks that a problem is too many out-of-state workers and employers are being used in reconstruction, and so his solution is “to pass a law to levy heavy taxes on companies doing work from outside Louisiana to pay taxes in Louisiana, and the only way to get around the tax is to hire people in Louisiana to do it.”

    Presumably, the reason why the out-of-state interests win these bids is because they can do the best job at the lowest price to the taxpayer. So what Adley argues for here is to use state tax policy to make us pay more for less service. Why doesn’t he instead look to change the reasons why Louisiana concerns may be less capable or competitive, which in part go back to government interference in the free market?

    And it seems state Rep. Cedric Glover also labors in ignorance in understanding the root causes of problems resulting from the disaster, which would make him less likely to make correct decisions about how to deal with them. Glover asserts that, in reference contributing factors to flooding in the Orleans metropolitan area, “the truth of the matter is, the United States government and the Corps of Engineers and all the testimony we've heard from both sides, they are the responsible party.”

    Perhaps Glover slept through the relevant testimony and didn’t bother to read the reports or at least the media articles associated with them, but flooding occurred because government at all levels failed. While the latest theory about the Army Corps of Engineers argues transcription errors are at fault, also the record indisputably shows that were Louisiana’s fragmented levee governance system not so dysfunctional infused by so much politics and allowed to be come this way by the inattentiveness of state politicians (most sharing his Democrat party label), such problems may well have been detected; instead, negligence of state and local governments and of their representatives in the federal government institutionalized the weaknesses that contributed to flooding.

    Such monumental vapidity makes state Rep. Rick Gallot’s oversight seem trivial, but it must be noted: when Gallot said, referring to government consolidation, “there are approximately 45 different judges in Orleans Parish alone, versus Jefferson which has, well I guess no population now, but pre-hurricane about 29 judges,” he seems totally unaware that Jefferson Parish’s population is almost back to pre-storm levels. Then again, he’s only vice chair of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee which will deal with the consolidation matter, so what does he know?

    With attitudes like these, is it any wonder Louisiana is so far behind in everything?