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22.3.07

Paranoiac, clueless Blanco misunderstands own failings

We have the megalomania of Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco to thank for her decision not to seek a second term, and the persecution complex that it spawned.

Administration aides indicate that, according to Blanco, the decision to drop out became made firmly when the federal government informed her that the Road Home Program was in violation of regulations regarding fund disbursement. The program was set up so that government, which was Blanco’s preference because her ideology distrusts the ability of the common folk to conduct their own affairs, controlled grant disbursement. The rules, which have existed for a long time and were communicated to Blanco months ago, state at the least that recipients must have the option to get funds immediately or else the nature of the program was such that additional qualification would have to be met.

This apparently was added to a litany of other perceived slights Blanco thinks she gets from the federal government, which include a belief that Mississippi got more hurricane disaster recovery money than it should have relative to Louisiana and health care redesign that promoted taking money away from state institutions and instead giving it to the uninsured. One also could add the federal government only partially removing the state matching requirement for some recovery funds the entire amount of which almost always in the past for other states regarding other disasters has been removed. The motive, according to her, was partisanship by the Republican administration.

Naturally, this worldview betrays an inability to see things as they are and to understand the political world:

  • Mississippi by some metrics did do proportionally better than Louisiana in getting money, but not really because they had Republican senators and a governor of that party. It was because those senators had senior positions relative to the appropriations process, the governor previously worked with those senators and the then-GOP majority as party leader, because the law of long-standing capped the amount Louisiana could get relative to other affected states, and the state acted much less rashly and more effectively than did Blanco in her initial recovery plans
  • Indigent health care redesign is focusing on different ideologies about how to care to the poor: continue to route money into an institution-based charity system that is less efficient and produces worse outcomes, but which brings the state government more money and employees, or to send money to potential patients themselves where they could choose to spend it how they preferred on their care. It wasn’t a basic question of partisanship, but one of ideology: Blanco favors continuing to empower government, while the majority of health care professionals, non-government institutions, patient advocates, other states, and the federal government wish to empower people.
  • The state is being asked, at this point, to return less than 1 percent of the $60 billion (and counting) the state has been given, far more than any state in history, while it has benefited several times that requested refund in terms of tax revenues culled from the federal money and the federal government also built in a way for the state to have the money to meet the match through other disbursements.
  • And why should the Road Home be exempt from regulations any other grant program must follow? Why does Louisiana deserve to be an exception to rule (just like with the charity hospital situation)?

    None of this has anything to do with partisanship, except in the sense that Republicans and Democrats differ fundamentally ideologically. And the richest irony of all is that while Blanco blames the GOP for playing politics, she never has done anything but in her term. For example, records show that as soon as the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s effects became evident, she immediately began to formulate a political response to avoid (unsuccessfully) for being blamed for suboptimal actions she took that made the situation worse. Or, witness her refusal to create pay raises for educators in last December’s special session when Republicans offered to do so if she would cut other spending, and then she blamed the GOP for this.

    Since taking office, Blanco always has displayed an incredible myopia regarding political conflict. She never has understood that she has the wrong ideology to move Louisiana forward, a liberalism that puts more faith in government than in the people, and a populism that had her focusing first on the good of her allies and special interests, and then only on the rest of the state. It is an ideology thinking people oppose on the basis of principle. Unable to grasp this, she therefore imputes all opposition to her (because she, by her definition, possesses a special wisdom that the great unwashed masses lack) as a product of venial political motives.

    While Edwin Edwards may have acted out the Crucifixion in jest, Blanco by her own words would have us believe her political career has died for the sins of a Republican Party out to get her just because she was a Democrat. It’s why, clueless to the end, she seems honestly to believe a simple change of partisan label would have spared her all the criticism she has received for acting on an ideology wrong for Louisiana. Somebody needs to do her a favor and where she cannot help but see it slap a note paraphrasing a Louisianan’s advice to a presidential candidate, altered to fit Blanco’s own paranoiac view: “It’s the ideology, stupid.”
  • 21.3.07

    Breaux candidacy possible crippling Democrat mistake

    With Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s pass on running for reelection, a number of observers both in and out of elective office seem fixated that lobbyist John Breaux, a former Democrat senator from Louisiana, will change residency from Maryland and move it back to Louisiana. Breaux himself has encouraged such speculation by asking for an attorney general’s opinion on his citizenship status in the state. (That office says Breaux has not and legally cannot.) A review of both legal facts and political realities shows that Breaux and any Democrats supportive of this move are making a tremendous mistake that could cripple the state party for years to come.

    Louisiana State University Dale Bennett Professor of Law John S, Baker, Jr. has argued convincingly that Breaux could not meet the Louisiana Constitution’s citizenship requirement of five years. As such, given that a challenge to his candidacy would occur days after his filing, even an expedited court hearing probably would not have the case heard prior to the middle of September. Appeals then would be filed regardless of the outcome and no doubt eventually would make its way to the Louisiana Supreme Court which, again even expedited, might rule barely three weeks before the Oct. 20 election at the earliest. And if the judiciary were to follow well-established case law, as Baker observes, Breaux has no real chance of successfully fending off the challenge.

    Nor can the process begin any quicker. An attorney general’s opinion is just that and has no impact on a court’s decision. Neither can any challenge to the Constitution on this part be made in state court until there is party to be challenged, i.e. Breaux filing. Even a federal challenge, Baker notes, would be highly unlikely to work and would push the process past the election date.

    Those are the legal realities, which are daunting enough. But the political impact of going through all of this will cripple a Breaux candidacy and will tarnish the reputation of state Democrats for trying to defend it, to the point that Breaux would be a significantly weakened candidate who would drag other Democrats down with him.

    Understand that Breaux is the poster child for the good-old-boy network and politics as usual in the state (plus his longtime association with former governor Prisoner 03128-095). The reputation these labels have with a growing proportion of state voters is that these kinds of politicians are in it for themselves and their friends first, leaving the state ranked at the bottom of almost all significant quality of life indicators in the U.S. Better than almost all others Breaux has managed to metamorphisize away from these labels, but the events surrounding his candidacy will reverse all of that.

    Already the state’s voters have been sensitized to the issue by the attempted chamber-jumping of state legislators to avoid the modified three-term limit (three consecutive terms maximum for a particular chamber seat, meaning term-limited members of one house can run for the other). Watching Breaux bend over backward in the weeks immediately prior to the election, contorting the law to extremes to make a case he qualifies to run for the office, will only fuel people’s cynicism about his motives and squarely associate him as the kind of politician that is trying to get into to office despite the letter and the spirit of the law to take advantage of the job, rather than to serve the state.

    And with major Republican candidates Rep. Bobby Jindal and state Sen. Walter Boasso with a likely excess of $10 million to use during the campaign, reminders about how Breaux, like so many Louisiana politicians of the past, is trying to twist the law for political reasons will keep the focus squarely on Breaux as a corrupt politician. This doesn’t even include the pounding he would receive for having fled the state the second he was out of the Senate and how he didn’t lift a finger to help the state after the hurricane disasters (for example, picture a Boasso commercial showing the state senator as he tried to rescue people in the days after Hurricane Katrina, while the ex-senator is shown living the high life in and around his East Coast mansion and in fancy Washington restaurants).

    In short, Breaux will be depicted in a saturation of the media as an opportunistic carpetbagger who doesn’t really care about the state engaged in shady legal maneuvering to get a prize that he will use to feed his million-dollar spending habits acquired as a high-paid lobbyist and to reward shady political allies and operatives. This to a state continuing to drift away from the Democrats who doesn’t really know Breaux or remember him, which hasn’t experienced a Breaux campaign in nine years, nor a serious one in 21 years, to try to convince them he does not comport to this image. It is folly to think that Breaux would not be an underdog candidate in this environment.

    But let’s say for whatever reason Breaux and Democrats still think he could win despite all of this. And let’s also say that, despite tremendous legal evidence otherwise (maybe because they think they can manipulate the state judiciary?), they think there’s even a good chance a Breaux candidacy would be allowed to legally happen. The fact is it is a tremendous, ill-advised gamble on which everything could be lost.

    It’s bad enough that Breaux as the Democrat standard bearer could become seen as the face of a tired, stuck-in-the-past, solution-less, perhaps even dishonest party, lose the election and drag down a lot of other Democrats with him, but the chance, even if (in their minds) it is not a large chance that he could be disqualified should alert any thinking political strategist that it is a huge risk with poor payoff. Simply, going with Breaux would be putting all their eggs in one basket that could completely scrambled weeks, or even days, before the election itself.

    The whole point of Blanco removing herself from the contest was to enable Democrats to unite around a particular stronger candidate. But if that candidate himself has a non-trivial chance that he would not qualify, it is a stupid bet to go in this direction. If not allowed to run, Democrats would have no chance to find a “replacement” and the only other Democrat of consequence running, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, is not the answer to the Jindal-Boasso juggernaut (indeed, Campbell would gleefully pile on against Breaux). And you can’t have a “backup” simultaneously running with Breaux, because this defeats the purpose as it would split the Democrat vote (something party insiders already worry about with Campbell).

    But even if the challenge to Breaux is unsuccessful, that outcome itself dooms a Breaux candidacy. By having a judiciary warp the Constitution and law to find a way to allow Breaux to run would be the perfect demonstration of why Breaux should not be allowed to win: a corrupt system allowing in one of its own to save itself. His opponents would argue voting against Breaux would be the perfect way to demonstrate protest against this regime. So either Breaux stays on the ballot in an untenable situation, or he’s off and Democrats are left with no candidate that could compete against Jindal and Boasso.

    Perhaps Breaux can be excused if he is deluded enough to think he can get elected governor in this environment. State Democrats cannot be and have lost touch with reality if they think there are not other candidates who would stand a better chance against two strong Republican foes, given the risks brought to the party by a Breaux candidacy.

    20.3.07

    Blanco out, but Democrat gubernatorial hopes still shaky

    Floating a phantom candidate such as John Breaux worked: now the question is, with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco announcing she won’t seek reelection, what will state Democrats do to stop a conservative (state Sen. Walter Boasso) to a very conservative (Rep. Bobby Jindal) successful Republican candidacy for that office?

    Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is not the answer, who has staked his entire candidacy to this point on a dubious fiscal scheme. Not only is the shell-game of dropping income taxes in favor of jacking up taxation of oil companies not going to solve the state’s fiscal difficulties, Campbell has no plans, unrealistic or otherwise, to address the engorged size of state government and its suboptimal spending habits. Nor is Breaux the answer, whose candidacy would be a huge, probably poor gamble, both in terms of even qualifying and in his ability to best Boasso but particularly Jindal.

    Breaux candidate talk unrealistic; ploy to nudge Blanco out

    The problem with a John Breaux candidacy for Louisiana governor is not so much in the legal requirement, but in the political risk that would take for state Democrats.

    State Democrat leaders have recognized that Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s is a wounded candidacy unlikely to bring victory against at least two quality Republican challengers, Rep. Bobby Jindal and state Sen. Walter Boasso. At the same time, because of the strength of these opponents, if another quality Democrat is to enter, not enough of the electorate would remain to prevent a Boasso-Jindal runoff. Thus, only the “new” Democrat could remain in the race. This means Blanco would have to leave the contest.

    While there is another alternative for the party at this point, new official Democrat entrant Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is viewed as more of an impediment by the leaders than anything else. His currently one-note campaign whose refrain argues for elimination of income taxes in favor of a six percent oil processing tax does not have a lot of fiscal credibility, so these people would prefer that former senator Breaux be the Blanco alternative.

    But here’s where the risk comes in. If Blanco somehow is convinced to leave it, for the next five months the GOP can take all sorts of shots at Breaux, and then only when he qualifies to run in August need they pull their ace out of objecting to the qualification of his candidacy which almost certainly violates the citizenship requirement of the Louisiana Constitution. (The argumentation used to try to justify Breaux’s state citizenship would make Dame Helen Mirren a citizen of Louisiana – and she can’t even be a U.S. citizen because she has a title of nobility.) Even in Louisiana it’s almost certain he would not be allowed to qualify.

    Still, even if the chances were better than even that Breaux could qualify, the fact that there would be a non-trivial chance that by sometime in September that the courts could rule he could not, makes this a risk that Democrats and Breaux cannot afford to take – the party then being left bereft of any candidate except Campbell, who cannot win, not much more of a month out from the election at the most, and maybe much closer to it than that, leaving no viable electoral contingency plan.

    It’s just not a risk state Democrats can take. Any Breaux candidacy is dead in the water, so any further mention of it must be viewed as an effort to get Blanco out in favor of another candidate, not to get Breaux in the contest.

    19.3.07

    Road Home roadblock product of inept Blanco's ideas

    Score another instance of the ineptitude of the Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration when it discovered, despite having been briefed months ago about these matters, it inadvertently administered the Road Home Program in violation of federal rules. Why it did so is instructive.

    Essentially, the program controls disbursement of funds to homeowners rebuilding, allowing money out in stages. Under federal regulations this creates a “rehabilitation” or “rebuilding” program subject to a whole new layer of time-consuming rules to follow. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said for it to be a much less regulated “compensation” program at the very least grantees would have to have a choice to receive the money in lump sum form immediately.

    Administration officials worried this might allow unwise expenditures unrelated to rebuilding, or unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of the situation. Neither is a real concern. As long as the program attaches a covenant to receipt with a requirement that the money be used for rebuilding and that the owner will keep the property for a year, the first concern is unwarranted. The second can be dealt with by allowing disbursement only under the condition that a contract be signed by a program-approved contractor, with that approval process being made simple by allowing only licensed contractors into it.

    Proper analysis reveals the real reason why the program was set up to put money into escrow and to release it only slowly, and that harkens back to a basic part of Blanco’s philosophy about government: that government is there to take care of people because they (except for the few wise folk like Blanco and your local state legislators) are incapable of making even the most basic decisions about their lives. This is why Blanco in her entire political career has desired bigger, more powerful government as she thinks she and her ilk know better how to run people’s lives than they do.

    Even if this were not its real motive, HUD’s directive has had the effect of empowering Louisianans in this unfortunate situation. And thus the whole episode demonstrates not just more fumbling by the Blanco Administration, but reveals its liberal/populist mindset under which it operates which over the decades has done and continues to do more harm to this state than it deserves.