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25.5.06

Blanco ready to aid reelection chances at state's expense

Like a foolish poker player, Gov. Kathleen Blanco has continued through on her weak bluff to squeeze more money out of the federal government. It will be called and Louisiana will be the poorer for it.

Blanco appears to be committing the state to filing suit against the federal government to block its annual August sale of oil leases off Louisiana’s coastline in an effort to get the federal government to fork over more royalties to the state. Through a tragicomic series of historical events, the state gave away access to an estimated $5 billion a year from them.

The law setting up those sales permits a governor to object to them, but then the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service can override that. Blanco did exactly that, saying the sale of leases threatened Louisiana’s coast by its being inconsistent with the state’s coastal management plan, so MMS naturally came back and rejected the reasoning, and quite properly so. It’s not the sales that could cause environmental degradation, but rather the activity that occurs after the sales.

Any court will recognize this distinction, so Blanco has no hope to win that way. Instead, she’s trying to tie up the process to frustrate the federal government’s collection of these revenues in a timely fashion, attempting to goad Congress into approving legislation (such as Rep. Bobby Jindal’s H.R. 4761) that would shovel more of the royalties Louisiana’s way.

As is its wont, the Blanco Administration and its lackeys are disseminating plenty of disinformation the public’s way about the matter. The legal counsel hired for the proposed suit, Robert Szabo, claims the federal government is depending on revenues from the sale. Her Executive Assistant on Coastal Activities Sidney Coffee claims they could be between $300 million and $1 billion.

Neither assertion likely is to come true. Last year’s sale was one of the highest ever, at $285.2 million. At current rates, that’s an amount of money the federal government runs through in 54 minutes. In short, Blanco is embarking on a course that will not lead her to legal victory over stakes that the federal government would consider trivial if not insignificant. It’s a bluff with no leverage that will only antagonize Congress, which must approve of any additional monies going to the state.

So why has Blanco gone to lengths to create such publicity about the issue? Because she continues to flounder as governor with low opinion poll ratings heading into an election year (fourth lowest in the nation comparing approval to disapproval), and publicizing this may make her look better to the uninformed. She would rather spend in the neighborhood of a million dollars in state money on legal fees on a tactic whose only productive outcome is to assist in her own re-election campaign than to use it for the good of Louisiana.

When will Blanco learn that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and that it’s wasteful to use the people’s money to buy the vinegar?

24.5.06

Mayor's race results tell something about Jefferson successor

With most of New Orleans focused on election returns last Saturday, many miles away the federal government conducted a raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s office, discovering very condemnatory evidence on top of the hot cash he had put in a cool refrigerator in his house found right before Hurricane Katrina. This event may prove more significant than Mayor Ray Nagin’s successful reelection.

As a result, national Democrats have thrown Jefferson overboard, calling for resignations of various kinds. The national party is eager to put out of mind perhaps the most prominent of its trangressors, having no popular positions of their own on which to campaign in the fall elections, in order to try to fool the American public into thinking it is uncorrupt compared to the Republicans and to manufacture that as a campaign issue.

Thus, it has become open season in the Second Congressional District. Historically, chances to nab this spot come far and few between. Jefferson won it 16 years ago and is just one of four, and the only one not married to, or who defeated, or who was Hale Boggs, who has served in the district representing the majority of Orleans since the 1930s. With a very weakened Jefferson pledging he will not resign anything and regardless that he has not indicated that he will not run, ambitious politicians will not let him run unopposed if he does choose to attempt reelection.

However, the results of the mayor’s election tell us much about what kind of candidate can become the next U.S. representative from the city – in part a product of the electoral geography. The district is about 80 percent contiguous with Orleans Parish, except that towards the east about 25,000, almost all white residents are in the First District of Rep. Bobby Jindal, while to the west the Second District encompasses about 115,000, majority black, Jefferson Parish residents. In other words, it is even more heavily comprised of Democrat and black residents.

Therefore, as the recent contest highlighted, Republicans and white candidates need not apply. Further, only black Democrats who had some area-wide political muscle will have a chance (Jefferson, for example, had been at-large city councilman before having lost a bid for mayor). Making matters even more interesting, politicians in this category mostly stood for election this spring, straining their resources for another, almost immediate campaign – although some less so than others.

While it’s early to be discussing who specifically might fill the bill, it would have to be somebody in the mold of Oliver Thomas, at-large city councilman who cruised to reelection a month ago. Officials in his position, the way things are going, stand a better chance of securing the seat than Jefferson does of retaining it.

23.5.06

Winners and losers from New Orleans elections

So who are the winners and losers in the aftermath of New Orleans’ elections?

Winner: Mayor Ray Nagin. Starting with the obvious, Nagin completed an improbable reelection, reinventing himself from a political outsider that endorses Republicans who happened to be a black Democrat to a black Democrat who touted his insider qualifications to oversee the city’s recovery. Since he did and said what many consider to be outrageous things (at least to those around the rest of the country) and still won, coupled with his term-limited status he has carte blanche to do pretty much what he pleases. Never forget, there’s the right way, the wrong way, and the New Orleans way, and a majority of Orleans voters proved that to the rest of the country with their votes for him.

Loser: Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Mary’s little brother now is 0-for-2 in his New Orleans mayor’s bids. Recall that his 1994 loss was followed next year by sister Mary’s failed gubernatorial bid, so only recently has any aura of invincibility been formed around their political family. That’s been dusted again by someone the rest of the country thinks is a political gadfly. This has damaged any aspirations of his beyond his current office for the next few years, maybe forever.

Winner: Pres. George W. Bush. As scorn got heaped upon Nagin for his handling of affairs directly after Hurricane Katrina’s swipe, he eventually sensed that rehabilitation lay in getting things done, and that meant cultivating a good relationship with the man with the most power to grant his wishes, the President. As time went on, he essentially got into a competition with state officials for direction in rebuilding New Orleans, and it’s fair to say he emerged with the upper hand, for Bush as endorsed actions more like Nagin’s and less like those coming from the state.

Loser: Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Increasingly, she was the one Nagin competed against with the federal government, and no doubt harbored resentment towards him even before the hurricane disaster for his Bobby Jindal endorsement during the 2003 governor’s race. A Landrieu win would have put a Democrat regular like herself in the office rather than the unpredictable Nagin – and would definitively eliminated Landrieu as a potential competitor for the governor’s mansion in what is sure to be a free-for-all against Blanco next year. Even if Landrieu’s luster has worn off, at the very least he would make it difficult for Blanco to make the general election runoff.

Winner: black/liberal interest groups. They were the ones that launched massive get-out-the-vote operations, running buses and the like. They didn’t care if Nagin was cozying up to Bush and endorsing Republicans, as long as he looked black enough they were going to get likely voters going his way.

Loser: the Republican Party. As winter approached some in the GOP were getting quite giddy that the tremendous demographic dislocations of the hurricanes could do the unthinkable and make New Orleans a Republican city. A quick look at even the sketchy statistics available as early as November should have put to rest that notion. Even with a higher proportion of Republicans on the ground for both elections than had been in the city for years, if anything the election revealed a step backwards, with its best mayoral candidate finishing fourth and losing its only representation on the City Council. Maybe its statewide fortunes are better off, but the situation for it is as hopeless as ever in Orleans Parish.

Winners: the citizens of New Orleans. With Nagin continuing as mayor, recovery can continue apace without stopping to adjust to a new administration. Nagin’s business background also cannot hurt in getting recovery going.

Losers: the citizens of New Orleans. But, Nagin’s also erratic. With him, chocolate is relevant not just in terms of describing the city, but in revelation of the box that is him – like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get with him. This characteristic might retard recovery.

There you have it. Now with these elections resolved, can everybody get back to business as usual – not Louisiana usual, but the business-like attitude needed to get the state fully rebounded?

22.5.06

Myths dispelled about Orleans mayor vote: it was all about race

After having done this for two decades, it should not surprise me but it always does how myths about the causes and determinants of election results get propagated so quickly. The general election runoff of the 2006 mayor’s race appears to be no exception.

One myth appears to come from political convenience. From his concession speech on, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu has asserted that, from his perspective, the best things about his defeat was that it demonstrated the building of multiracial coalitions with crossover appeal.

In an absolute sense, that’s ridiculous. A number of politicians have shown far greater crossover appeal (like this guy’s wins). But even if we start to put qualifiers in play, Landrieu makes quite a reach for us to buy that.

Let’s narrow the scope of the claim, to say that for a race where you had a white and black candidate in the deep South this showed relatively high cross-racial voting. All right, best we can tell (no surveys yet having been done) from surrogate voting results data and weekly registration reports, the division was in the neighborhood of 80/20 – 80 percent of whites voted for the white Landrieu, 80 percent of racial minorities voted for the black reelected Ray Nagin. That’s still around 4:1, and considering both ran as Democrats, not really remarkable.

In 1994, I conducted an exit poll concerning the Shreveport’s mayor’s runoff which was between a black Democrat and a white Republican. About 14 percent of white voters voted for the Democrat, while around 7 percent of black voters went for the Republican. Had both been Democrats, it’s possible crossover voting would have been higher. So it’s hard to argue that Saturday’s results in New Orleans reveal either candidate, absolutely or relatively, had some unusual crossover appeal.

Landrieu probably wished to have this established as conventional wisdom for his (and his family’s) political future. Landrieus will look less viable as candidates unless they create an expectation as Democrats that they can appeal to all racial segments of the party or electorate. Otherwise, white candidates who have a greater appeal or minority candidates become more likely to challenge them.

Another myth probably is more one of ignorance, that voting patterns show this election was “not unusual” that it was about “leadership” and that Landrieu failed to ideologically “distinguish himself from the opposition, from the incumbent.” (Note to reporters: just because you are a demographer does not make you in any way knowledgeable in understanding elections. Trust me, I’ve seen it time and time again.)

In fact, the election was highly unusual, not at all in the mostly monoracial voting pattern, but in how Nagin won. Typically, voting turnout declines in Louisiana’s blanket primary system from the primary to general election runoff, especially in New Orleans. (For example, in 2002, white turnout dropped about 3 percent and black turnout about 1 percent from primary to runoff.) Yet turnout increased about 2 percent overall in this contest. And (we can’t definitively tell yet without the post-election statistics) what probably will show up most remarkably is the bulk of this increase came from among the lower-turnout precincts which are heavily black. As any political scientist who studies electoral participation will confirm, this is unusual.

Which also tells us what really mattered in this contest: race. It wasn’t about leadership because that was a theme both candidates harped upon, that each was more competent than the other to lead the city’s recovery. If ever some survey data are collected about this contest, it’s likely that any perceptions of leadership are going to be filtered by race; simply, most blacks will judge Nagin as more competent, and most whites will have seen Landrieu as more competent.

You have to hand it to Nagin and the best campaign consultant in New Orleans, Jim Carvin. For them, the contest was all about getting out the black vote from the areas of town predominantly black, whether they actually presently resided in the city. They knew (perhaps because they read this months ago) that blacks would make up the majority of the electorate on the ground and, if they could get some with Landrieu’s baggage (the “dynasty” issue) into the runoff, they could pick off or get to stay home enough whites. Then it just began a matter of get-out-the-vote, and they succeeded.

Admirably, not only did they achieve this in the most difficult precincts in which to get out new voters (I think the post-election results will show), they largely did it without making pandering racial appeals. (Even more intriguingly, activist organizations who never would have supported Nagin were he not black came out of the woodwork to help his campaign through their own GOTV efforts.) So the atypical nature of the contest stemmed not from the prominence of race in it, but by the skill employed by the Nagin campaign to maximize the use of that advantage.