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10.6.06

Political reason among others for Blanco veto of ethanol bill

As Gov. Kathleen Blanco ponders whether to veto HB 685, the bill that would mandate in a short period of time the production of enough ethanol to comprise two percent of all automotive fuel sales in Louisiana she should consider some things.

While part of the reason why ethanol is much more expensive than gasoline is because of government mandates artificially increasing demand faster than supply increases, there’s still the issue that it takes petroleum to make ethanol – a ratio of one unit gasoline to distill two units of ethanol which promises to keep prices higher simply because of the high price of gas as well as that provides even more competition for gas to drive its price higher.

The same logic applies to how the contracting process may exaggerate actual prices for delivery – production costs create a floor on ethanol higher than that of gasoline and send both higher. Proponents may argue that technological breakthroughs may cause this cost to come down, predicting in two years the price will be sufficiently low (and presumably less demanding of gasoline use) to make a unit of ethanol competitive with a unit of gasoline. But it hasn’t happened yet and when it happens is unpredictable.

8.6.06

Certain vetoes/threats would burnish Blanco reform credentials

Bills inviting a veto by Gov. Kathleen Blanco continue to stack up. Whether she will is another matter, but they would give her a chance to walk the reform walk.

HB 685 certainly deserves it, mandating the use of ethanol in gasoline in as little as a few months which very likely would drive up considerably the price of a gallon of gas and have environmental ramifications while assisting only some agricultural producers; after initially saying she’d sign it, Blanco has wavered and needs to reverse that earlier pledge. Another which may deserve it is HB 909 which has its good points in reforming election law but has one serious error violating the spirit of the Constitution in that it redefines when a term starts and thus could add potentially four more years to the terms of otherwise term-limited, initially-elected mid-term, legislators.

Proponents argue that casting floor votes should define when a term starts, which occurs after taking the oath of office which happens at the beginning of a session, as opposed to when the necessary paperwork is filed under current law. But plenty of new, between-session, members have been active in committee meetings, which can make official recommendations to the entire chamber and meet between sessions, and members get paid for these and their regular salaries the moment they are certified.

Blanco will have to weigh whether the beneficial parts of the bill are worth this violation of the spirit of the Constitution. Or, perhaps she could cast a veto and instruct the Legislature to initiate change concerning the existing standards about when the oath is given and the legal change to start payment only after the oath is administered.

Another pair may end up needing a veto, HB 829 and SB 89. The relatively minor changes they make are more than offset by the unfortunate consequences they would loosen on levee governance reform efforts. Amendments to them doing this slipped by apathetic and/or inattentive lawmakers. Under the guise of fairness and efficiency, they created situations that basically gut the purpose of previous legislation that sought to consolidate, not to balkanize, flood control policy.

Blanco needs to inform the Legislature for these that she intends to veto both with these provisions, giving the chambers a chance on the floor or in conference to strip the provisions, and if they don’t she needs to carry out the threat. Instead, she has wavered on SB 89’s amendment which would create a permanent Jefferson Parish majority on the new West Bank levee district’s board. This is unacceptable: the idea is to unify and govern comprehensively, not to give one constituent part control over others.

Vetoes cast on these measures will bolster Blanco’s shaky assertion that she supports reform policy that looks towards the good of the entire state, not just aiding the interests of a few.

7.6.06

Census data confirm coming GOP majority in Louisiana

While perhaps less accurate and precise than usual, U.S. Census Bureau data released today confirm educated guesswork concerning the political and social ramifications of the hurricane disasters of 2005 in Louisiana.

While actual electoral conflict has shown that Orleans Parish will remain a Democrat and black stronghold for the foreseeable future, the political map has changed on a statewide basis. As a whole, Louisiana is thought to have lost about 379,000 people by the early part of 2006 (by all anecdotal indications, that figure has drifted somewhat downwards since). However, the corresponding loss figure for the Orleans metropolitan area (Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany Parishes) was about 467,000 – basically, the entire 2000 population of New Orleans.

Extrapolating from data from other sources, about 173,000 of that comes from outside Orleans, leaving New Orleans’ population at 159,000. It’s probably crept up over the 200,000 mark since, but these figures confirm that not only will the state lose a congressional seat for the 2012 election cycle, unless the city makes a relatively rapid population recovery, very likely it will be a seat uniquely identified with New Orleans.

The racial breakdown of figures is even more interesting. About 279,000 fewer blacks live in the metro area, comprising about 60 percent of the fled population. In 2000, in the metro area, 66.3 percent of all blacks lived in Orleans, meaning (assuming the post-disaster proportions are the same) New Orleans itself was short nearly 185,000 black citizens. Statewide, 226,000 fewer blacks remained, a reduction of over 17 percent. At typical registration figures, this translates into a loss of 67,000 votes for statewide Democrat candidates.

Assuming potentially that people of other races net out between Democrats and Republicans, it’s clear that the Democrat statewide advantage, eroding slowly but surely for decades, likely now is gone. Subtract this many Democrat votes and the state’s senior senator becomes Suzanne Terrell, its governor becomes Bobby Jindal, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu barely scrapes into office, and a number of other races become more competitive.

At the level of the Legislature, this suggests that New Orleans will lose half a dozen state House seats and a couple of Senate seats for the 2011 session. With almost all seats in the city now held by Democrats, expect both Senate seats to go Republican and most of the House seats likewise to wherever they get redistricted to. With term limits hitting the chambers in 2007, this makes it probable that Louisiana will join most of its southern brethren by having Republican majorities in its Legislature by then. Combined with the GOP becoming the majority party among executive office holders, these changes should have Democrats very, very worried.

6.6.06

Flood of GOP Shreveport mayor hopefuls may doom race tactic

The floodgates have released with candidates coming out of the woodwork for Shreveport’s mayor’s job – and so has controversy in the form of race-baiting politics that tells us something about the people applying to the voters for the position.

As Shreveport, a city with a history of minimal cross-racial voting in elections, looks citywide to have white and black voter registration just about even come election day in the fall, a disturbing strategy has emerged in the mayor’s contest. Some activists, at least one identified with connections to television executive Democrat Ed Bradley’s campaign, have passed out materials condemning blacks who would even think of supporting a white candidate in the contest, and attack those who work with white politicians.

As sad as that might be, worse yet is that Bradley so far publicly has refused to condemn the specific act, although he has issued a general statement renouncing the concept of race-based electoral appeals. This not only raises the issue of hypocrisy with Bradley, as an implicit theme of his campaign is he supposedly strives for cross-racial appeal, but also that the tactic of urging a vote primarily on the basis of race will become legitimized if not a decisive factor in this contest.

Some in the community we may identify as “angry blacks” have this as their primary goal. They feel that the vast majority of the problems in the black community are attributable to whites (particularly Republicans and/or conservatives) having political power. Any black who thinks for himself and thereby chooses to support a white and/or Republican and/or conservative candidate to them is a race traitor deserving of the highest scorn.

They wish to create such an attitude as a way to exert pressure on blacks not to “break ranks” so to speak and not to support a “genuine” black candidate, because the electoral math they believe for the first time ever is on their side. That would be true – if they have such a simplistic, unrealistic worldview which imagines a world where whitey votes into office white conservatives to visit more plagues on blacks, and so blacks must defend themselves against these devils by voting as a solid bloc for black liberals who have minimal connections to white officials (while they consider black conservatives as turncoats selling out their own race).

Shamefully, Bradley seems to have given unspoken permission to go after this angry black vote – probably by way of political opportunism since his major competitor, Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover, historically has avoided such divisive politics and last week condemned them in no uncertain terms. Rather than taking the opportunity to act as a uniter, Bradley chooses to be a divider by this tactic of convenience. However, whether this will work to bring Bradley victory is another matter.

Glover himself has been slammed publicly by the angry black cadre as being too “accommodationist” to the white devils. Understand this group’s agenda: by using racial appeals to fuse a black solidarity, they hope to push Bradley into a runoff with a white candidate, and then these same appeals so with superior numbers this will propel Bradley to victory.

However, Republicans may be doing a good job of sabotaging that strategy through their own enthusiasm over placing candidates into the contest. Already in the contest are former City Attorney Jerry Jones and city Economic Development Coordinator Arlena Acree, along with longer-shot Vernon Adams who drew 25 percent of the vote in the 2002 contest. State Sen. Max Malone may join them in about a month, on the evidence that he will hold a fundraiser soon and cannot commit that money to a Senate run given his term-limit status. There are other offices he may be contemplating, but the most logical would be that of mayor.

And now, the imminent entrance of Shreveport city spokeswoman Liz Swaine to the contest will divide the white vote even further. With three other serious candidates in the contest plus a fourth Republican, it’s possible that the conservative vote will become so fragmented that both black candidates will make the general election runoff. And Bradley can count on diminishing white support as long as he and his campaign refuse to denounce the racist materials being distributed, giving Glover a clear win in this scenario.

No matter how you look at it, Bradley’s refusal to distance himself from the material seems more and more a losing gambit. Not only does it demonstrate poor judgment on his part as a potential governor of a large urban city, but it seems to show inferior political tactics as well. Which really begs the question, is Bradley so hypocritical and na├»ve to believe in this strategy? And is that the kind of person Shreveport wants as mayor?

5.6.06

Blanco takes tiny step toward fiscal reform; big ones needed

All right, Gov. Kathleen Blanco won the first round when she got bills passed to consolidate Orleans Parish assessors from seven into one this morning. The matter is not quite home free yet because, given past behavior and rhetoric given the number of Democrat House members from Orleans as well as the number of other Legislative Black Caucus members, if they contest it about 20 votes already are against it in the House and 35 will stop it since it is a constitutional amendment. But its odds for passage now are pretty good as there’s not a tremendous amount of sympathy for this arrangement outside of Orleans.

Her next battle came this afternoon on the Senate floor concerning court consolidation in Orelans. This bill, SB 645, is the lite version of the efforts to consolidate all judicial operations in Orleans as represented by HB 514. It passed the House but remains hung up in the Senate, so the strategy has been to go for the less comprehensive solution.

Blanco put in a personal appearance in front of the House Ways and Means Committee to stump for the bill and it paid off. Some supporters bothered not to appear or fled the room when the vote happened. She couldn’t do that in the Senate (she did do it for HB 514 when it was in committee) but it was imperative that the bill get dealt with in very short order. Since it still is in the Senate, unless there’s a reach and it’s declared a duplicate of HB 514 with the latter then getting amended to match SB 645, it pretty much had to move and has to keep moving for it to beat the Jun. 19 session close.

In addition, complicating the task was an amendment tacked onto the bill in committee which would entail Orleanians approving the measure which may weaken the chances of the bill to be enacted; no other precedent exists for such a vote legislatively. (Judges for the courts insist this is necessary to adhere to the Constitution, but whether consolidation should be interpreted as a “merge” is another matter.)

As it was, it passed 29-7, no doubt through a lot of arm-twisting behind the scenes by Blanco, given the amount of and intensity of the floor debate. So, Blanco finally seems to be serious about these efficiency measures. That’s great, but savings from these pale in comparison to what could be done elsewhere in HB 1, the operating budget for which she has shown little enthusiasm. We keep hearing about how, backing out recovery funds from the federal government, it represents hardly a change over the past year. But what doesn’t get mentioned is the state’s population is down probably 8 percent (the best estimates at this point are here) so on a per capita basis spending may be up by as much as 10 percent.

Everybody’s got to start somewhere so maybe we can hope Blanco finally is starting to get it. Maybe taming Orleans Parish spending inefficiencies will lead to doing it statewide in 2007, goaded by it being an election year.

4.6.06

Will Blanco's finally campaigning for consolidation work?

It’s about time that Gov. Kathleen Blanco started supporting common sense measures that save the state money rather than costing it, she is signaling with apparent efforts to help consolidate Orleans Parish assessors from seven into one.

Until now she’s done practically nothing to streamline the inefficient, if not duplicative, separate judicial and assessment systems in New Orleans, preferring in the past, for example, to throw her weight behind measures such as those that unnecessarily went way beyond the law or Constitution regarding electoral participation in the city elections the previous two months. Aided and abetted by Secretary of State Al Ater and with Legislative approval, they got the state to waste $6 million extra on these contests and only attracted about 20,000 extra voters above and beyond what normally would have occurred (about 8,000 in the primary, 12,000 in the general election) – that’s $300 per voter as opposed to the normal $10 a ballot.

But presently she indicates she actually may fight for HB 642 which would put a constitutional amendment before voters (because the seven assessor-structure is in the Constitution) to make Orleans like every other parish in the state in having just one assessor – just like in the parishes of East Baton Rouge and Jefferson with higher current populations than Orleans. This is in stark contrast to the special session in 2006 where she did nothing to back an identical bill – and it died in committee 8-6.

However, in that action Feb. 10, several members of the House Ways and Means Committee (all but one are Democrats) were absent. The eight voting in favor of deferring the bill were all the six members from New Orleans, another black legislator, and Bossier City-area legislator Billy Montgomery. Further, the two other black members of the committee would be expected to lean against the bill, since the issue is seen by legislative blacks (although not admitted in public) as one of taking away patronage powers.

This means Blanco must peel away at least one member of this putative majority – likely Montgomery – and make sure all the other white members of the committee show up and vote to pass the bill through. Holding some capital outlay request items hostage isn’t a bad idea to do that – a stroll through the capital outlay bill HB 2 shows, for example, several items, generally non-critical, directly benefiting Montgomery’s district that could get a line item veto without too much trouble for her but a lot for him especially if he plans on running next year for the state Senate.

There’s absolutely no justification for the separate set-up in Orleans regarding assessment. With a system like every other parish’s, money will be saved and probably more accurate assessments made, among other advantages. Best of all, it will give the voters the chance to make this decision – both statewide and in Orleans Parish (because five or fewer parishes are directly affected by the amendment, it must get both a majority both statewide and among Orleans voters). Why should any elected official fear putting this kind of decision about government structure into the hands of the people?

Hopefully, Blanco’s new-found enthusiasm for smaller government, even if (and likely) temporary, will spill over into successful efforts for committee approval and subsequent passage of HB 642 (and its legislative enacting companion HB 656).