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14.4.07

Breaux's right choice to defer race made for wrong reason

In the final analysis, Maryland resident John Breaux’s decision not to pursue the state’s governor’s office in 2007 was right for Louisiana Democrats, right for Louisiana … and for the wrong reasons.

Breaux and his allies in one voice said this decision was a product of the contest becoming one as much about his eligibility to run as it was about issue confronting the state. These remarks show that, right up to the end, Breaux and these people still had absolute no understanding about what the real issues are.

Because they never would have said such things if they truly understood that perhaps the major issue confronting the state in this election was whether Louisiana law should be subverted, twisted, contorted, and bent out of shape to continue to protect the political fortunes of those most responsible for the policies that have dragged down Louisiana for so long. The major issue of the election was whether Louisiana would sell it soul to try to stop reformist impulses from reversing the state’s slide.

This fundamental and uncomplicated thought largely eludes the Breauxs of the world, and all of the liberal, populist, good-old-boy hangers-on who he has represented all of his political career. In their political world, which reflects reality as a shadow reflects an object, they see themselves as the good whose right it is to control government to prevent people of evil intent from holding power – defined by them as those who have the talent to gather and create any wealth, business who by their definition exploits people, moral crusaders who believe government service is a privilege and sacrifice made and not a chance to accumulate wealth and power, and those other special interests who are not their friends and allies.

Thus, they are left incredulous when a fuss is made over their attempts to violate the integrity of the polity, because they see this violation as necessary and good to “save Louisiana.” It is why they cannot see their acts not only as not the most important issue in such a campaign, but as an issue at all. They call it the “politics of personal destruction” when in fact this is issue is best described as the “politics of constitutional integrity.”

Breaux now refuses to reenter the scene, which is a blessing for Democrats whose other candidates for other offices would have faced voters’ wrath for their association with him. As far as “saving Louisiana,” that will best happen if those who think like him on this account who still hold elective office in the state are escorted involuntarily from their positions of power by the end of the year.

13.4.07

Foti signals Breaux political trouble lies ahead in bid

While there never was any legal weight behind any potential opinion that Democrat Louisiana Atty. Gen. Charles Foti could issue regarding whether ex-Senator, Maryland resident Democrat John Breaux could run for Louisiana governor, the political import is significant.

By opting not to issue an opinion, which concerns whether Breaux meets the five-year citizenship requirement to run for the office, Foti signals to Breaux and fellow state Democrats that their case for getting Breaux eligible rests on very shaky legal ground – in part because Foti and Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero are political allies from way back, and Foti must have sensed that Calogero did not perceive anything but difficulty in a Breaux candidacy prevailing on judicial grounds which surely would make its way to the highest court.

That doesn’t mean that the Court deciding in favor of a Breaux candidacy couldn’t happen – courts can decide anything, especially in Louisiana – but that the legal contortions responsible would be so transparent that politically it would work against Breaux. The last thing Breaux needs is for it to appear special interests are trying to rig procedures in his favor, as many already see him as a symbol of a good-old-boy political system in the state that is not above playing loose and fast with rules when it suits them. That’s not a good way to win votes in a climate already looking hostile to these kind of old-school politicians this election year.

Foti didn’t opine against because he wants to leave Breaux the option to decide for himself and, given his ego, Breaux well may brush aside this warning. Foti also hedged enough in his nondecision to try to give ammunition to allow Breaux not just to try to run, but even to try to skip the necessity of waiting until trying to run to determine his eligibility through a declaratory judgment (which at least one real constitutional law expert has said he cannot do). Putning also relieves Foti of facing flak for being a poltiical hack concerning his own reelection bid this fall.

But state Democrats shouldn’t put themselves through such histrionics if they are serious about winning the contest, and with this cue should start to look for a less-risky, gubernatorial candidate to rally around.

12.4.07

Blanco road plan reply shows continued fealty to politics

No longer may she be running for reelection, but that change in status hasn’t appeared to make Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco any smarter or less political when it comes to formulating good policy.

Louisiana has a $14 billion backlog in state road needs, for which independent state Rep. Joel Robideaux and Republican state Sen. Mike Michot have a great idea: divert sales taxes on vehicles to roads work in proportion to where the sales occur. Their plan would pump in about $300 million more a year into eating away that backlog (which currently gets only $100 million a year towards it; any remaining funding comes out of capital outlay debt).

Currently, that $300 million or so goes into the state’s general fund and is spent on anything. At the current rate of inflation, the general fund this year would remain about the same in level taking this stream of money away from it. Note also that estimates of a budget surplus are now above $3.2 billion, so the diverted amount is less than one-tenth of that.

11.4.07

Strength of faith communities affects public policy

As the Diocese of Shreveport seeks new leadership, it would do well to put itself on a path to emulate what its neighbor to the south has done – as the repercussions here extend to non-Catholics as well.

Almost two years ago, when Pope Benedict XVI ascended to leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, I speculated that he would be the kind of pope that would bring good things to the Church. Apparently, he hit a homer with his appointment of the Rev. Ronald Herzog as bishop of the Diocese of Alexandria, according to one of the underappreciated jewels of the Catholic press, crisis magazine.

In its first-of-a-kind survey of all 176 U.S. dioceses, Alexandria was ranked the fourth most “vibrant.” The study measured this concept according to 2005 data of relative numbers of active priests, number of vocations to the priesthood and number of adults received into the church; the higher the growth rates, the higher the ranking. (And it seems the Diocese of Shreveport is surrounded by higher achievers: the Diocese of Little Rock ranked 13th overall, the Diocese of Tyler was top-ranked in the greatest increase in active priests, and the Diocese of Jackson ranked seventh in most adults received into the Church. Benedict has a chance to keep the momentum going in the Diocese of Lake Charles as well, still waiting an appointment; it ranked ninth in the greatest increase in priests.)

Most importantly, the authors argued that it was a bishop’s pastoral leadership that matters in the attainment of higher rankings. Shreveport currently has an opening to lead the diocese, with Benedict expected to make a decision next year, so the capacity to bring about greater health of the diocese will be much dependent upon the decision he makes.

And, according to the authors, there is some room for concern. They compared statistics from 1995 to find the biggest positive and negative changers over the past decade. For Shreveport, the good news was in 1995 it ranked 11th. The bad news was it fell to 88th over the past ten years, the tenth steepest drop in America.

This situation should merit the attention not only of area Catholics, but all people of faith regardless of their affiliations. By religiosity, the fastest growing category of adults in America does not favor a particular religious sect, but is that of atheists and agnostics. This continues to have consequences for government, politics, and policy.

Faith communities that grow increase the chances of translating moral concerns into policy, for as more people embrace the word of God and more strongly, this will be reflected in what governments do. It’s a fashionable, but entirely untrue, canard that government cannot legislate morality, because unavoidably moral values are part and parcel of public policy. For example, every society prohibits murder because it is considered immoral behavior.

Rather, the real issue is whose morality will government legislate? Today, believers and non-believers are more starkly in opposition than ever before, by indications of support of political parties. Exit polls from 2006 indicated that in terms of candidates voted for, even in an anti-Republican year, that Republicans held a 12 percent advantage over Democrats among voters who attended church regularly, but Democrats led better than two-to-one among those who never attended church, with the latter fueled by the 15 percent of the population who said they had no religious affiliation who preferred the Democrats by better than a three-to-one margin. (Among all Protestants and Catholics, almost 80 percent of the sample, the GOP held a small edge which magnified among whites only.)

Simply, stronger faith communities mean government policy will more likely favor turning into policy the moral values people of those communities cherish. It’s not to say that all those who profess a faith truly practice it, or that even those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of God cannot be moral nor support moral values associated with religion. The implication is a strong diocese in Shreveport not only has a big impact on the spiritual lives of area Catholics, but indirectly also may affect public policy as well.

10.4.07

LA local governments need to pursue true cable reform

While it’s good to see that more and more Louisiana municipalities are revolting against exclusive cable television franchise agreements, local governments must beware of the Trojan Horse language being pushed on them by the Louisiana Municipal Association.

Last regular legislative session, HB 699 nearly got an agreement in place that would allow non-punitively a variety of providers into cable provision. It didn’t because author state Rep. Billy Montgomery didn’t have the political heft to outgun opposition that got Gov. Kathleen Blanco to veto the bill – opposition in large part led by the LMA.

Yet now the LMA claims it is encouraging passage of resolutions by local franchising authorities to open up cable competition. At best, this is a half-truth: the LMA wants to have passed state legislation that will continue to divert the benefits of competition to government instead of letting them go to the people.

Attached to their model ordinance is an appendix of what the LMA would like to see as the model franchise agreement, around which state law would be shaped. In it, while it says it opens up competition, it really doesn’t. This is because it is not the exclusivity in agreements that presently stifles competition, but instead it is conditions the LMA would like to see reconfirmed that in effect would discourage competition.

For one, the LMA language continues to support the ability of local authorities to use pass-through charges in setting cable rates. These are fees local government tacks on that has nothing to do with cable provision but instead are used as backdoor revenue-raisers for local government. For another, the LMA model also, in arguing that competitors must come to agreeing to the substantially same language in existing contracts, foists build-out on new entrants – the idea that providers must be forced to provide service even where it is economically unfeasible to do so.

The vetoed bill would have allowed new providers to avoid both these competition-killing requirements, because the franchise granted would have been at the state level which would not necessarily have included build-out mandates or the ability to slip pass-through charges into agreements. This is why the LMA’s language, which disallows the state’s ability to award franchises, would do nothing to encourage competition and thus lower rates: if such costly, unneeded measures continue to be required, this will be a tremendous disincentive to any competition, and, given the huge start-up costs, would not make an attempt to enter these markets generally cost-effective.

If Louisiana municipalities like Shreveport and other franchise authorities want to get serious about enabling lower rates for their citizens, they need to disavow any support of the LMA language and instead support the old HB 699 language.

9.4.07

Reservoirs as economic development all wet, wasteful

Yesterday’s posting looked at the absurdity of claims the state needs more man-made reservoirs for water supply. The other main justification backers of these plans cite for their utility is building lakes is economic development – a fallacious claim if there ever was one.

In a way, it is true – as long as you are one of a handful of people intimately involved in the project, such as state Rep. Francis Thompson, his brother consultant Michael Thompson, and the engineering firm connected to the Thompsons, Denmon Engineering. All together, they have made roughly $7 million off of contracts and real estate sales.

While they have gotten the gold mine by Francis Thompson’s ability to muscle through legislation and funding for the Poverty Point Reservoir, the rest of the state has gotten the shaft. “Economic development” often is the rallying cry when somebody proposes spending public money on any capital item (which is not confined just to the state level of government), but that shoe never fits. Real economic development occurs when government sticks to funding transportation and utilities infrastructure but not much else, because the idea is to have government provide people with the means by which to engage in productive enterprise, not have government do it itself.

Creating a hole in the ground, filling it with water, and selling the land around it brings next to no economic activity, and certainly none that begins to justify the tens of millions of dollars each reservoir would cost. Note the crazy economic development theory behind this: if that’s all that it takes to develop the state economically, then flood the whole state. By Thompson’s logic, flooding brought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita was an economic development boon.

Tragically, this stupidity is shared by more incumbent legislators than just Thompson, indicated by the number of reservoir proposals floating around the state Legislature. It’s an example of pork-barreling and logrolling at its finest – get your fellow legislators to help pump huge taxpayer-funded construction dollars into an area for an unneeded lake and benefit a few people in the process, you do the same for them, and this buys reelection support for everybody involved. Meanwhile, the state is out hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone for real economic development purposes such as working on the $14 billion roads backlog.

Thus it is a red herring to say that the state capital outlay appropriations process is a check on this wanton behavior – logrolling eliminates that. And the same applies for the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers must approve of any such project – it does so on the basis on environmental concerns, not on judging the policy merit of the idea.

The best checks are the new ones imposed by the state’s Department of Transportation and Development which state future projects must be in areas that rely on one of three major underground water systems — the Sparta, Chicot and Southeast Louisiana (also known as Southern Hills) aquifers. Further, a reservoir can’t be built unless supporters can show it would fill a water-supply need. These need to be strengthened.

And, in a sense, they should be retroactively applied. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her successor should commit to vetoing out of the budget any money going to any proposal that does not meet these criteria; present projects in the pipeline can be reevaluated to see if they pass muster. Only in this way can Louisiana avoid another costly mistake like the Poverty Point Reservoir that serves only to line the pockets of a few and contributes to keeping Louisiana the poorest state in the Union.

8.4.07

Data show Nevers' water policy would serve LA poorly

It is axiomatic that Louisiana has underachieved both for its citizens and in freeing its citizens to accomplish on their own because too often its politicians decide on the basis of their personal political fortunes rather than making good choices for the entire state and its people. A recent report reconfirms this awful tendency.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Louisiana Water Science Center is preparing to issue recently-collected data about the status of water resources available in the state. They show most of the state’s aquifer and surface water capacity is adequate for immediate and short-run future needs. Additionally, if the need for more water came about, another USGS geologist stated that Louisiana has many untapped above-ground natural sources not yet being utilized.

But that’s not the conclusion Denmon Engineering seems to draw from the situation. This firm stands to profit from being at the forefront of building reservoirs across the state, as it has done already. It claims there won’t be enough water around in some locations without the reservoirs, despite what government scientists argue.

One such project Denmon is backing a controversial reservoir in Washington Parish – which the unpublished data show is now drawing less water from the Southern Hills aquifer than before. One of the authors of this idea is Democrat state Sen. Ben Nevers, who naturally disputes the scientific data on the question of future capacity.

Nevers is no stranger to having state money pumped into a project that duplicates and creates redundancy. In 2005, he and others managed to get a rural medicine residency program started at Bogalusa Medical Center. That replicates the already-existing program at W.O. Moss Regional in Lake Charles.

His political style perfectly illustrates why he and too many others who practice it have put this state into such trouble. Instead of sending money where real needs exist, fake ones are created in order to give politicians the chance to steer money to “fix” false problems, buying enough support to win reelection.

Too much money already has gone into the reservoir-building frenzy; money, for example that could have been spent on a $14 billion roads improvement backlog that would do far more for economic development (the other reason reservoir backers cite for their building) that chasing away private property owners, reconfiguring some land, and directing water into it at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Hopefully, the release of this data will help put a halt to this manifestation of a public policy philosophy that has served the state so ill.