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2.11.06

Montgomery switch may turn out to be mistake

State Rep. Billy Montgomery switched from Democrat to Republican because he believed it would be “easier” to win state Senate District 37 next year. It’s a gamble that easily could backfire.

Montgomery has represented District 9 since 1987 but runs up against term limits in 2007. In a bid to keep his political career alive, he hopes to move into (literally, having declared a new residence there only at the beginning of October) District 37 to take over from another term-limited politician, Republican Max Malone. Obviously, Montgomery’s views haven’t changed from one day to the next; his rationale for switching now, about a year out, appears to be a bid to intimidate potential Republican candidates from pursuing this spot, representing perhaps the most conservative district in the state.

Supposing that was his objective it’s almost certain to fail, and makes him more vulnerable than ever. Many longer-standing Republicans in both Caddo and Bossier Parishes (the district straddles both) have asserted there will be a conservative challenger to the liberal (but moderating in the past year) Montgomery. In fact, already two such candidates have expressed interest, one having run for state office before, the other having served in local office. Republican activists hope all can unite around one quality candidate, which would decisively defeat the goal of Montgomery’s tactic to switch and to do it at this time.

If a quality, well-funded conservative challenger enters the race, Montgomery does have serious problems, because his only advantage in that instance, money (at the end of 2005 he had nearly $100,000 on hand after raising over $100,000 that year), can be countered. For one thing, this new district he likely seeks is precisely that, new to him. The boundaries of District 9 and it overlap just barely, with just four precincts shared between the two, representing only 9 percent of the Senate district and less than 23 percent of his old district.

Further, not only is he a stranger to the new district, in many ways he’s a stranger to his current one. Montgomery has not had to campaign against an opponent since 1991; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since and the area he wishes to represent, not so much on the Caddo side (with about 52 percent of the voters) but very much the Bossier side, has changed dramatically, and so has the nature of campaigning.

In addition, even as Montgomery has started to moderate his voting record in the House, plenty of recent votes of his would make conservative voters scratch their heads wondering why he calls himself Republican. As a point of reference, most of House District 6 is part of the Senate district, which is itself perhaps the most conservative House district in the state, represented by probably the most conservative member of the House, Mike Powell. On 10 key votes in the past two years, from taxes to perks for legislators to wasteful spending on reservoirs to raising the minimum wage to government regulation of gasoline sales, Powell and Montgomery have been on opposite sides 9 of those times. (And, to state the obvious, it was Montgomery in favor of the tax hike, the perks, raising the minimum wage, regulating gas prices, and wasteful spending, among other things.)

To be sure, Montgomery’s record for those two years and many more will be highlighted by a quality candidate. As well, a number of others promise to highlight Montgomery’s record (such as the invaluable http://www.votetherecord.com/, fast becoming the spot for information about how Bossier Parish politicians vote on important issues).

Where this move really can backfire is Montgomery now has opened up the opportunity for a Democrat challenger. Had he remained a Democrat, no serious candidate of that label would have entered the contest. Should one do so, he will get squeezed by this candidate and a conservative Republican. The switch made sense only if he knew no quality GOP candidate would emerge, but the way things are going, it looks as if he miscalculated on that account.

Montgomery made many good decisions roaming the hardwood as a basketball coach, a career he voluntarily left. This decision well might cause his involuntary departure from political office.

1.11.06

Jones exposes Glover record, gets blamed

A tremendous amount of misunderstanding has occurred relative to Shreveport Republican mayoral candidate Jerry Jones and his ads highlighting the voting record of, policy preferences of, and performance of his opponent Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover in the mayor’s race. (I’ll leave aside analyzing the somewhat curious choice the Shreveport Times made in running the original story, and then the absolutely bizarre choice of doing a story on the story – almost as if it felt it needed to justify the original story.)

Some subscribe to the ridiculous notion that these ads somehow signify that Jones is campaigning in a mean or undesirable way. Jones, the former city attorney, himself described perfectly why they are not: he is relaying information to potential voters, information that is a matter of public record, and trying to persuade consumers of it that the inferences he draws about the lesser capability of Glover to govern as well as Jones asserts he can are valid. After all, Glover is not going to volunteer these interpretations, so Jones does the audience a service by informing them of these.

It’s smart politics, too. One recent opinion writer argued that the candidates had not done enough to distinguish themselves on the basis of issue preferences. Jones’ ads certainly draw contrasts between himself and Glover, which will win some votes for Jones not because they criticized Glover’s record, but because they showed that Jones did not mirror Glover’s record which likely a minority of voters would find appealing.

In his reaction, Glover showed little understanding of these nuances, saying he won't use “attacks” in the final week heading into next Tuesday's elections but instead will keep his campaign focused on the “issues.” Nothing in Jones’ ads did not focus on issues, and Glover shows an unintentional self-revelation by terming an “attack” an ad highlighting his record – meaning Glover himself believes his record is worth hiding because someone else revealing it he terms a provocative act.

(Jones’ approach is unlike that of some state Democrats who ran ads against Jones shortly before the primary which were full of innuendo and false information accusing Jones of favoritism. To equate that to Jones’ approach that utilized verified, public information simply is asinine. Just as asinine is the uninformed assertion that these ads were not truthful and therefore cast aspersions on Jones himself; again, everything in those ads was public knowledge and verifiable, unlike the September attacks against Jones.)

By telling the public what he does not support, Jones also has used this opportunity to claim a mandate if he wins next week. He can claim a vote for him is comparable to rejecting a vote for higher taxes, more spending, more debt and that he would pursue a different philosophy to revitalize the city economically. It may prove to be a valuable resource to persuade a City Council certain to have a Democrat majority.

Glover largely cannot cope with the ad campaign. To attempt to address it would call attention to actions that, again, he seems uncomfortable publicizing on his own. So all he can do is mouth some kind of mantra about taking the high road. It’s not the kind of debate to which voters to whom ideas matter will respond favorably. It’s another reason why Jones looks to win.

31.10.06

Ameliorate claims payment woes and bigger government

An idea floated by (relatively new) Republican state Rep. Blade Morrish has potential to benefit the state as well as his political career, but he and others have to see it through to its logical conclusion to make it a real service to Louisianans.

Morrish wants to help pay down the debt owed by Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state-owned insurer of last resort, as a result of horrific claims filed after the 2005 hurricane disasters by diverting the tax currently paid by homeowners on insurance premium to this purpose. Currently, this estimated $124 million a year goes right into the black hole of the budget known as the general fund where it can be spent potentially on things like unaccountable nonprofit agencies. This would obviate the need for special assessments in addition to the tax being paid by policyholders.

This elegant proposal would match the origin of the tax with a purpose related to its origin, insurance. It’s a fine first step, so good that even the hardheaded Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco administration recognizes that (after it had to get dragged kicking and screaming to the whole idea of doing something to eliminate or reduce the assessments in the first place). It also helps Morrish politically, as he pursues a post-term-limited House career by running for the state Senate next year.

But it becomes a great idea completely executed only if Morrish and others take the next step, and that would be not to find another $124 million in revenue to supplant it, but to cut that spending entirely. Any surplus then could go to pressing matters such as debt reduction, overdue highway construction, or shoring up unfunded accrued liabilities in retirement plans. And the final step would be, when the bonds are paid off, to eliminate this tax in its entirety.

Anything less ends up being just an exercise in shuffling money around, in effect creating a special assessment by other means. Fairness and fiscal discipline argue this total solution must be part of any upcoming special session; let’s just hope Louisiana’s politicians have the courage to do so.

30.10.06

Fault, Olivier, lies not in media but in yourself

In the world according to Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Mike Olivier, the reason why Louisiana has a hard time attracting business is not because of the state’s good-old-boy political system that rewards more who you now than what you do. It’s also not because the state is overtaxed, nor is it because its big government regulates business too much.

No; according to Olivier, Louisiana has a hard time getting businesses here because the state has a free press. In remarks made during the fall meeting of the Livingston Economic Development Council, he congratulated the effort to attract a Bass Pro Shops outlet to Denham Springs by using tax increment financing (in other words, public support of a private firm), only days earlier this having been permitted by the Louisiana Supreme Court and, in doing so, offered the following words of wisdom:

“You've been very team oriented,” Olivier said. “I wish we could take you guys as a model to show people in the other parts of the state. You do show a team spirit that is not necessarily shared in other parts of the state.”

Then he got more specific:

Olivier also wishes the New Orleans Time-Picayune would be a team player. Holding up a front page story in the newspaper from two days earlier, the state's highest paid non-coach employee said the article was irresponsible.

The article centered on a junket by Olivier and other state officials to Germany to lure a steel plant to St. James Parish in competition with three other states.

“This article serves to do only one thing: Tell our competitors in Alabama and Arkansas what we are doing,” Olivier said, “It probably has lost the deal for us.”

He argued that journalists in Louisiana have a responsibility to help the state, particularly after the devastation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“This kind of help we don't need,” Olivier said. “Are they trying to tell people the news or are they trying to queer the deal. It's debilitating is what it is.”


Even stranger than Olivier’s disdain for publicity of his activities was the fact that, in the article he questioned, his remarks appear in it, as well as in several articles prior to that one about the same deal – a deal heavily publicized by his boss, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who asserted she’s like to devote part of a legislative special session to the deal … a deal the company announced its intentions about in August. In other words, not only did the whole world know about this, but his employer was the one shouting from the rooftops about it. What secrecy was so vital here to make the deal?

Unless, of course, his complaint was a smokescreen to hide his real sense of injury over the publicity – the exposure of his participation in a “junket” to Germany. (Oh, and he’s going on another one, to Asia, this week with Blanco). All of which sums up the Olivier philosophy of economic development (apparently carried over from his days as chief of economic development in Harrison County, MS) – live high off the hog at taxpayers’ expense and justify doing so by occasionally landing a decent-sized commitment of new jobs.

Olivier likes to argue his efforts have brought about around 80 projects worth over $5 billion that have produced 17,000 new jobs. What we don’t hear him talking about is how, just in Monroe during his watch, thousands of jobs have been lost. (Ironically, during his speech Olivier said Monroe should follow Denham Spring’s lead, which I guess means get public dollars to finance private ventures – is this guy for real?) And, even if statistics concerning the state’s job picture have been skewed by the hurricane disasters of 2005, chances are without them, the state still would have been a next exporter of jobs with Olivier at the helm.

This is because Olivier’s inadequate strategy is reminiscent of a fisherman who drops his net and then pulls in his catch. Only this guy goes picking through the haul looking for the biggest fishes to show off as trophies, in the meantime letting a bunch of little ones flop their way back into the water. So it goes with Olivier – he’d rather pursue and talk up the big ones than get down in the trenches and try to keep as many of the little ones around as possible.

Because if Olivier really were serious about economic development in this state, he’d be spending a good deal of his time jawboning his boss and every legislator about how taxes have to be cut to make it easier for business to survive, about how regulation must be slashed to do the same, about how ethics laws for politicians have to be tightened to give business greater confidence in the state’s business climate, and other things which all add up to move Louisiana away from its current business-unfriendly status. It might not be glamorous and it might not make it popular. But it might convince enough lawmakers to make these changes that are the only long-term, effective economic development strategy.

But I suppose that gets in the way of jetting about and dining on lobster. And no doubt if he ever discovers this posting, he’ll consider this just another mutinous distraction making his job harder, in living the high life while ignoring the policy pathologies that are the real causes of his failures.