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19.4.07

Boasso switch unlikely to derail coming GOP victory

On the eve of qualifying for the 1995 governor’s contest, wealthy businessman and then state Sen. Mike Foster switched from the Democrat to Republican Parties, and less than three months later he was elected. A few months earlier and in reverse, wealthy businessman and state Sen. Walter Boasso looks set to do the same. But he is unlikely to produce the same victorious result.

The dynamics between the two contests differ in a few significant ways. First, Foster, even that late in the game, switched in an environment of a largely fragmented electorate, where opinion polls showed no real front-runner and a good quarter of the electorate still undecided. Recent polls have showed in this year Rep. Bobby Jindal already has a huge following with not many undecided.

Second, Foster’s move was to capture conservatives who did not see one they could trust in the race. He had impeccable social conservative credentials and talked a good game regarding fiscal conservatism, making the move credible. In a sense, it seemed like, as in the case of many southern Democrats to this day making the same switch, he was coming home leaving a party that had deserted him. Such a move by Boasso will not be seen the same way; few liberals are going to be comfortable with him as he has compiled a mostly-conservative voting record in the Senate.

Third, Foster was able to make the general election runoff and eventually win because of fragmentation in his opponents’ support. Crucially, now state Sen. Cleo Fields ended up attracting the vast majority of black votes which was enough to put him into the runoff and thus provided Foster with the most easily beatable candidate of the bunch. Without Fields, third-place finisher now Sen. Mary Landrieu probably not only would have finished first, but then had at least an even-money chance of beating Foster in the runoff.

To put it another way, the largely unknown Foster bested much better known candidates because he could go after voters they could only with difficulty while they had to fight among themselves and divided up others. If anything, Boasso is moving from more prosperous territory (anti-Democrat voters) to sparser fields. Fewer Republicans will vote for him now and, although the total Democrat vote cast may rise as he carries some otherwise Democrat defectors back into the party’s voting camp, it’s not enough to make him competitive against Jindal, the only well-known candidate and with fantastically-high approval ratings, who already has such a lock on the GOP base.

His biggest problem is the presence of Foster Campbell. Being the only “true” Democrat in the race, Campbell can expect a quarter of the vote right of the top from blacks, with few going to Boasso. Assuming Jindal is kept from winning outright, this means Campbell will have to get almost no non-black votes, and Boasso will have to pick up almost every white vote not committed to Republicans, to make a runoff with Jindal. (This remains true even if Metairie businessman John Georges enters the race, for he would take votes only from Jindal, but not enough to keep the congressman out of a runoff.)

This almost is impossible. Had Gov. Kathleen Blanco stayed in the race, Boasso would have had an easier time of it because she would have sucked most black support from Campbell but she would have been considered anathema by many white Democrats. This white electorate would have written off Campbell and looked elsewhere for someone like Boasso. But some of these same whites now will give Campbell a chance because he does not carry Blanco’s baggage and can be regarded as a serious candidate because of solid black support. Thus, these white Democrats no longer would consider Boasso an “anti-Blanco” alternative because they have found one in Campbell (and white liberals never would have thought that of Boasso in any event). And now with blacks heading to Campbell’s column, Boasso’s chances of making the runoff even as a Democrat are actually less than if Blanco were in it and Boasso remained loyal.

Still, they probably are better than if he stayed in the GOP, without Blanco to kick around as a device to make him look better. If the switch happens, it may make the overall Democrat vote look better than otherwise, but it’s hardly more likely to net them a win later this year.

18.4.07

Bill to strip pensions to deter lawbreakers desirable

One bill that didn’t make it into law last year that deserved better was state Sen. Art Lentini’s SB 60 (along with SB 59 although the former was pulled and repackaged as SB 669), which would have denied state pensions to employees convicted of a serious crime. With several allegations and convictions of such crimes among Louisiana public officials this year, the Legislature would be wise to revisit the issue.

There were three main objections to SB 60 last year, which passed committee but was defeated on the Senate floor. One was that families would be punished as well as the miscreant, which prompted some to ask that an “innocent spouse” provision be put into place that would exempt dependents and allow them to receive the pension benefits. However, this could lead to chicanery to avoid the penalty in the form of marriages of convenience. As well, it is unlikely that many minor children would have been affected given that pensions must be drawn later in life.

In addition, we must remember human nature and the theory as to why penalties are escalated on crime – they are to deter. Opponents forget that even human beings that do immoral, calculated things use a process of rationality to decide whether to do it. Thus, any disincentive like this (which can be reinforced by periodic reminders from hiring to retiring assuming, of course, they care about spouse and children) inevitably will reduce the aggregate amount of bad behavior among state employees.

Another was that prosecution might become more difficult, as guilty defendants in this position would have less incentive to plea since there is more at stake to be lost. But if prosecutors do their homework this shouldn’t be an issue and if they don’t, they can go for a lesser charge. Finally, there is the constitutional issue of whether this would represent an unconstitutional taking of property (money vested into the pension system), but if the law allowed rebate with interest to the guilty of personal contributions, that should not be a problem.

Lentini has said he may try again this year although he sees his opportunities as limited as this would be a general purpose bill which are restricted to five in number this odd-numbered-year session (although if he is on the ball he still has a couple of days to pre-file an unlimited number of general purpose bills). If not him, somebody else should for a positive contribution to ethics laws not only to ensure greater confidence in honesty among elected officials, but among any state employees.

17.4.07

Revise Louisiana law to protect better all schools

As it stands, Louisiana RS 14:95.2 may place university campuses, or any school, in the state in the same jeopardy as suffered by Virginia Tech University yesterday.

This law allows for a campus to be designated “firearm free,” meaning that only state police personnel, security guards, students taking classes using firearms, or students who leave those firearms located in dorm rooms or vehicles may possess them on campus grounds. Further, since concealed weapons face additional restrictions, the presence of them to defend oneself is even less likely in such a zone. This describes a situation similar to that which VTU operated under (which obviously did nothing to deter the shooter).

And that cannot be a consideration absent from the sick mind of those like the VTU suspect. If in their twisted logic they want to exact “revenge” or whatever their crazed motive is for so grossly violating moral and juridical laws, they know that their chances are extremely high of imposing their revolting wishes in an environment that has nobody able to defend himself against his firepower.

It’s what has happened in Louisiana already, in the McDonogh High shooting in New Orleans in 2003. Despite plenty of metal detecting and armed security guard capacity, in an apparent retaliation event, four non-students, two armed, shot into a gymnasium. None of that security stopped or deterred the shooters.

Obviously, a secondary school is different from a university – minors should not have access in public buildings to guns outside of JROTC, period – but the faculty members and other employees themselves were prohibited under law (expect with the principal’s permission) to carry firearms. From the criminals’ perspective, avoiding (in the McDonough case) four armed guards is not a difficult thing. But walking into a gym where at your first shot some adult who is carrying may drop you a second later creates an entirely new level of disincentive to even think about doing something so reprehensible.

The tragedy in Virginia is compounded by the fact that last year its General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have allowed anybody with a concealed weapons carry permit to exercise that right on campuses. Who knows if any of the threatened students in the classroom building would have had a weapon in those circumstances – but even a sicko like the shooter might have had second thoughts about his insane actions if he knew somebody could be packing instead of being assured he could make the environment into his own personal shooting gallery.

Louisiana would increase school security of all kinds if it were this legislative session to pass a law similar to that rejected in Virginia last year – allow any adults with concealed carry permits legal authority to have their weapons on their persons on school property.

16.4.07

With Breaux out, Dems may play defense against Jindal

So now what for Louisiana Democrats? With Maryland resident John Breaux wisely out of the running for governor after having accomplished the party’s objective of pushing out unpopular Gov. Kathleen Blanco, only two such declared candidates, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Rev. Raymond Brown, at this point remain, and the latter, a member of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, thereby only can be regarded as a crank.

While more serious, Campbell’s candidacy also has limited upside. He keeps hitting just one note, and a rather unconvincing one at that about how Big Oil can fund Louisiana government without anyone else having to break a sweat. Even if he can raise the $3 million he says he can, it won’t make any difference. With Rep. Bobby Jindal having already over $5 million in the bank, with businessman John Georges promising to get into the race with almost as many of his own bucks, and state Sen. Walter Boasso willing to throw in a couple million of his own, there’s not enough money out there to counteract these funds that could make Campbell a serious threat.

Other Democrat benchwarmers have their own problems. In order of their chances of winning from marginal to none, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu will face the same dynamic that defeated him in the New Orleans mayor’s race last year, being associated with his sister Sen. Mary Landrieu and the uneasiness people have in giving that family too much political power. Former Congressman Chris John didn’t show much and was soundly defeated in the 2004 Senate race. A year earlier, former Atty. Gen. Richard Ieyoub showed even less in his defeat for governor. While they might have the best chance of winning, Rep. Charlie Melancon and Treasurer John Kennedy can’t because they won’t.