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10.5.07

Hypocrisy as Landrieu tactic alive and well

We’ve known for some time that Louisiana’s Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu will employ hypocrisy when it suits her political agenda, and she graciously has provided some more examples for us.

Landrieu was one of the very first elected Democrats to use Hurricane Katrina as a political pawn, blaming the Republican Pres. George W. Bush administration for not ensuring levees strong enough to prevent the failure of some of them – when in fact Landrieu herself used her political clout to steer money towards nonessential, dubious projects instead of for increased hurricane protections. (As we are now discovering courtesy of breaking news, politicizing natural disasters has become a standard of the Democrat playbook: witness Democrat (and chairwoman of her party’s governors’ caucus) Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius having taken Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s advice to argue a federal response to the recent tornado disaster in the state was slowed by troops and materiel used in the Iraq war, claims utterly proven false by commanders in the Kansas National Guard – kind of reminiscent of the blathering of another Democrat governor named Kathleen well all know).

The second generation of this tactic she put on display in her comments regarding bills she has introduced to give the media greater ability to prevent inquiry into their sources and selective access by some media to federal assistance in supplies and in accreditation during disasters. She claimed on the access part its necessity because “[t]he revelation that the Bush Administration turned away nearly $1 billion in foreign aid after Hurricane Katrina came to light as the result of the [Freedom of Information Act] process and demonstrates its essential function as a public check on government power and policy.”

That her legislation has nothing to do with the FOIA making her statement a syllogism of the specious kind is less important than her desire to bash Bush to score partisan political points by completing misstating the issue. Foreign governments offered $854 million in aid after the hurricane disasters. Some was lost to waste because government is the most wasteful enterprise ever invented by human beings. Some of it has yet to be accessed. The majority of it has been used by either U.S governments or nonprofit relief agencies. That it was “turned away” by the federal government did not mean a lot of it has gotten to or will get to appropriate uses, and demonstrates how Landrieu cares more about the role of government, wishing its expansion, than that resources get used to their best value.

The hypocrisy part on this issue comes in as her legislation primarily is to assist broadcasters, not the print media – a discrimination which she omits from her press release regarding the bill. The official statement is that only electronic journalism can offer immediacy necessary in the face of disaster.

But Landrieu needs to remember that she lives in the 21st century. Most print outlets now also have electronic delivery platforms by the Internet which are as immediate, if not more so, than broadcasting. So what does Landrieu have against the print media?

Perhaps it because, unlike the sound bites generated by broadcasters, print, including the Internet, conveys a much greater chance of context and analysis into the topic at hand (depending, of course, on how swift and informed and open to the truth the reporter in question is). And maybe that’s what Landrieu dislikes, because print media journalists (and even informal journalists such as me) have far greater opportunities to ignore the spin Landrieu tries to put on things. This could be a way of her allowing her to keep greater control over media dissemination of news.

Disaster preparedness, Katrina storm relief, and her legislation as discussed in this space, and this space itself, perfectly illustrate how the print media may avoid being channeled into her agenda and instead more validly and critically appraises her ideology. And if that’s the reason she is shunning print media in her legislation, it’s just one more example of her accusing others of doing something in which she eagerly engages in herself.

9.5.07

Montgomery defeat to shake up Bossier political power

It seems that the Bossier side of the Red River doesn’t need any special elections to goose political maneuvering early in the 2007 election campaigns for the state Legislature – the results of which could prove crucial in the power composition in the parish.

First out of the box some months ago in campaigning for the House District 9 seat, to be vacated by incumbent state Rep. Billy Montgomery because of term limits, was Bossier/Webster Parish Truancy Center director Richey Jackson running as a Republican. Today, another candidate will join the fray, new Republican Henry Burns, a local business owner and current Bossier Parish School Board member.

While at first these developments may appear to present an abundance of riches for the local GOP, in fact they pose a quandary. Party activists wonder whether directly or indirectly whether one or both these two would fall prey to the disease local conservatives have been battling for years – RINO Rash

RINO – “Republican in Name Only” – Rash has infected a number of Bossier Parish government positions, such as the free-spending, fee-hungry Bossier City Council and tax-advocating Bossier Parish Police Jury, where elected officials calling themselves Republicans often act much more like liberal Democrats on taxing and spending issues. The carrier of this has been Montgomery who has impeccable good-old-boy, tax-and-spend credential from his earliest days beginning two decades ago in the Legislature.

Some local GOP stalwarts worry that Jackson is something of a political lightweight that might be too easily swayed by the courthouse crowd he has worked alongside who are invested in this ideology, and would abandon conservative principles under this pressure. (It also doesn’t help him that a number of north Bossier residents are mad at the parish for unfavorable zoning decisions at which his son, Parish Attorney Patrick Jackson, was in the center of the conflict. Nor will they be happy that that this election cycle that both Jacksons have given large campaign contributions to Montgomery.) But others worry that Burns, until a few months ago a lifelong Democrat and whose wife works as the legislative aide to Montgomery, also might fall susceptible to RINO Rash.

Of course, one thing that might inoculate Burns from it would be if Montgomery failed in his attempt to circumvent the spirit of term limits by trying to win the Senate District 37 seat now held by the term-limited state Sen. Max Malone. Lifelong Democrat Montgomery himself became a RINO precisely because he felt it would increase his chances to win the seat perhaps by trying to discourage other Republicans from running in what probably is the most conservative district in the Senate.

If that was his idea, it has blown up to the extent that he ought not make any plans beyond 2007. Two quality GOP candidates have entered that contest, local Republican official Jay Murrell and former state Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw. (A third, previous District 6 House candidate Barrow Peacock, also is looking at the race.) With Shaw and Murrell in the contest, Montgomery might not even make the general election runoff.

Murrell already has launched an aggressive campaign highlighting the fiscally and socially conservative views he was known for as a radio talk show host. Already his visage graces billboards and his voice intones radio commercials, indicating that he has substantial financial support. Added to the mix is his emphasis that he represents a fresh start in government, in contrast to his veteran politician competitors both of whom years ago passed the age to qualify for Social Security benefits. (Because of these things, at least one local political scientist and blogger has endorsed him.)

Relative to Montgomery, Shaw has the advantage of showing he walked the walk as an unquestioned conservative in his eight years in the House, elected from a district comprised by this new one (by contrast, Montgomery’s current district overlaps only 9 percent in population terms this one). However, relative to Murrell his age and his status as a past legislator may work against him with an electorate becoming increasingly hostile this election cycle to anybody smacking of incumbency.

Montgomery’s problems may get worse. Rumors persist that a non-Republican also will enter the fray. If so, Democrats who might otherwise have voted for Montgomery as the least of the three offenders to their partisanship may gravitate to this kind of candidate (if credible), while Murrell and Shaw would lose few votes.

While for now election of either Burns or Jackson would be unpredictable relative to existing patterns of political power in Bossier, the old order currently running things there would lose were Shaw to defeat Montgomery, and especially if Murrell did. While Malone has a different idea of government’s purpose than does this crowd, Murrell likely much more actively would try to promote that agenda than has Malone. Thus, look for the old guard and it publicity agents to pull out all the stops to defeat any conservative Republican running in Bossier Parish.

8.5.07

Despite data, Gannett media deny tax cutting sentiments

Louisiana Gannett media missed the story entirely – it’s not that people are satisfied with their level of income taxation as the Legislature looks at making changes there, but that anti-tax sentiment is growing statewide despite events that reduced taxes for many that lead a majority of Louisianans to wanting income tax cuts now.

The Gannett article addresses the results of a recent survey put out by the Louisiana State University Public Policy Research Lab where citizens were asked about their levels of satisfaction with different kinds of taxes – income, sales, and property – and compared them to results of similar queries in years past. To give some historical background:

  • Income tax rates have declined for many over the past four years – except for those who pay the majority of income taxes, which have gone up substantially
  • State sales tax rates have gone down, courtesy of the same changes that increased income taxes for those already paying the majority
  • Property tax rates are set by local governments so there is variability here, but, generally, they have stayed the same absolutely and declined relatively over this time period because the vast majority of governing authorities over these rates allowed these to roll down after reassessment increased the total value of the property able to be taxes
  • Also worth noting is that, despite the fact that Louisiana’s property tax rates are among the lowest in the country (because of the highest homestead exemption in the country which allows seven-eighths of all households to escape direct property taxation), its state and local burden in total are among upper third of states (a fact which apparently survey director Kirby Goidel did not know when he mistakenly said “Most people realize this is a relatively low-tax state”)

    So you might suspect that, at present, there might be relative satisfaction with income tax rates with lower rates now, sales taxes wouldn’t provoke much controversy, and the most people would be pleased with their property taxes. Over recent years, one might think there would be increased satisfaction over all three, because for most income tax rates have gone down, sales taxes have gone down, and property taxes have held steady but relatively speaking also have declined.

    Instead, the results show a public with perceptions at odds with reality in the past few years. Respondents seemed most dissatisfied with property taxes, the proportion of them fitting that category climbing by almost half over levels a couple of years ago. A similar increase was observed concerning thoughts on sales taxes. And while not as substantial, despite the fact most of them had gotten an income tax cut in recent years, the proportion of those who say taxes are too high also has risen over those years, while the proportion of those who say the level is “about right” has decreased -- something the Gannett article left out. (Note: the copy of the full report LSU put out on the Internet was damaged and rendered unreadable, so I had to go back through previous years reports to learn this.)

    The article glossed over this information, but emphasized that the highest approval for current use of the state surplus is for expenditures rather than tax cuts. Added to that the information that a bit more than half the state seems all right with income tax levels, and you would think there is not an “anti-tax” sentiment in the state, as the article would have one believe. Not at all: a majority want income taxes lowered, even though most of them are paying less now than four years ago. Add to this the growing frustration with the levels of all kinds of taxes and, as the summary report does point out but the article does not, that “Louisianans are increasingly inclined to say that state taxes are too high and need to be reduced.”

    This leaves us with a tale of two stories. Gannett media would have us believe that the state’s residents are happy enough with the income tax as it is and therefore want to see spending of the surplus. The survey’s data, however, show a state increasingly hostile towards current levels of taxation and receptive to lowering income taxes, which would argue for lowering income taxes and thus, in the short run of this fiscal year, not to spend parts of the surplus on new items.

    These disparate views of different parts of the data are reconciled in two ways. For one, it is facile to suggest cutting income taxes and extra spending are mutually exclusive, as the article implies. In all likelihood, majorities in the state are looking for a bit of both.

    Also, when considering that the 57 percent who said income taxes were “about right” is much less than the 80 percent or so of households who got an income tax cut (and about three percent don’t pay any at all), or that the lowest half of Louisiana income taxpayers pay only 6 percent of total income tax collections (with an average tax burden of only about $130 per filer), the unasked question is why relatively so few people think income tax levels are “about right.” Thus, these low-to-nonexistent-income taxpayers may think their own levels of income taxation are “right,” but also believe the other, upper half of income tax payers who foot 94 percent of total collection should have their taxes cut in order to stimulate Louisiana’s ailing economy, consistent with the public’s increasing pessimism regarding the state’s economy as noted in the survey.

    More to the point, with the income tax burden disproportionately placed on so many, it’s no accident that the income tax would seem most satisfactory of the three kinds in a popular referendum, and therefore that the general anti-tax sentiments would be expressed more overtly in feelings about the two kinds of taxes more broadly distributed. This is the real story which the article tries to shunt to the side – anti-tax sentiment is growing and therefore recent tax cuts may not be enough not just for the public, but for good public policy as well. What data can be interpreted as ratifying an agenda of not cutting income taxes and increasing spending just as conclusively provides evidence that the public approves of exactly the opposite, this is a sentiment growing over time, and that legislators need to respond to it now while they have an optimal chance.

    And, from a political perspective, it should be noted that it is highly probable that not many of the half who pay six percent of income taxes vote while the vast majority of the other half that pays 94 percent of them do – something for state legislators pondering these cuts to think about in this reelection year.
  • 7.5.07

    Time running out for more efficient LA health care delivery

    Once again, Louisiana is letting special-interest-driven politics put it into position to lose opportunities and to create waste and inefficiency with taxpayers’ dollars, this time over the specific issue of a veterans’ hospital site in New Orleans.

    Ever since the Medical Center of Louisiana New Orleans (“Big Charity”) got substantially damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, plans have circulated to rebuild it near the Central Business District in tandem with a new Veterans Administration hospital, where certain non-medical facilities would be shared reducing both building and operating expenses.

    The federal government has long wanted to move forward on the project. But the cooperation necessary from Louisiana had been disrupted by the state’s inability to decide how a new Big Charity would fit into the larger, overall picture of indigent health care in the state. The federal government strongly has urged the state to abandon its two-tiered, money-goes-to-the-institution system (the only state in the Union that has such a system) and instead head in the direction all other states, richer and poorer, are going to a money-follows-the-person regime, given the greater efficiency and higher outcomes the state likely is to realize as a result.

    Since such a move would remove power and privilege from key politicians, other officials, and some health care institutions, the state has resisted and the size of the new Big Charity has become a pawn in this larger battle. The most recent, aggressive move by the state to block real reform is to sponsor a report that argues the new Big Charity should be about twice the size that advocates of genuine redesign envision. The larger the new hospital is, the less expensive the current faltering system around which the state wants redesign to be seems compared to the necessary reconfiguration proposed by the federal government and supported by various other politicians and health care advocates.

    No doubt this has irked the federal government, its patience already thin by an unnecessary protracted struggle, so last week it lowered the boon on the state by announcing it actively had been shopping around for alternative sites that would not pair up the new Big Charity with the new veterans’ facility. This led the state and city to scramble madly to prevent their agreement’s scuttling, as removing the synergy would push up the building costs tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars and would make a larger facility even less efficient in operations.

    In October of last year the state, somewhat late, finally coughed up its redesign plan which did not substantively change delivery of indigent health care in the state. Had it removed vested interests from the equation and accepted real reform, probably by now the shovels already would be turning dirt for building the new hospitals with Louisiana’s part maybe half of the cost of the large facility it now tries to foist on taxpayers, with the promise of better health care provided more efficiently in the not-distant future, at great savings eventually to taxpayers.

    Instead, the obstinacy of state leaders continues unabated, and even this latest prodding by the federal government may not get it to changes its counterproductive approach – just so typical of Louisiana government in action.

    6.5.07

    LA Dems confirm they can live with Boasso but not Jindal

    Two Louisiana Democrats, from different parts, even factions, of the party both recently delivered the same confirmation of the party’s statewide election strategy – prevent at all costs the election of Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal as governor this fall.

    Gov. Kathleen Blanco, when asked what will become of the $3 million or so in her campaign coffers now that she will not run for another term, didn’t have any specific answer. Blanco can use it for any non-personal, legal purpose as long as she remains in office. What many in a similar situation have done is refunded a portion to contributors, who then may turn around and give to other candidates, or can directly and indirectly give to other candidates.

    Translation: Blanco doesn’t like Democrat candidate Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, or doesn’t like his chances of winning, or both, and she is not going allow any assistance to filter its way to candidate and Republican-in-Democrat-clothing state Sen. Walter Boasso. It’s an admission that Campbell cannot win, and that state Democrats need to cut their losses by pinning their hopes that Boasso, who can self-finance his campaign to a degree, can win – but that a loyalist Democrat like Blanco was not going to directly assist him in any way.

    It’s a similar message as that sent by the party’s Chairman Chris Whittington, who conceded the party’s main strategy would be to attack Jindal. Again, it shows the state party has little faith that Campbell can win, that no major contender from their side is going to enter, and that Boasso is the lesser of two evils. If they truly accepted Boasso, they would come to his aid, and if they really thought Campbell could win, they would put big money behind him.

    Translation: as predicted, the Democrats’ main concern, no doubt goaded by the national party, is to do anything to stop Jindal, which is why if they can’t get a genuine Democrat with a chance of winning to run, their only choice is to launch a ferocious attack on Jindal which will feature absurd charges, illogical accusations, and gross distortions that hopefully will poison the state’s politics enough to allow a relative unsullied Boasso to beat Jindal.

    It’s not likely to work, because Jindal is by now a seasoned campaigner with plenty of campaign resources and does a good job of contrasting the superiority of his core conservative, reformist beliefs with the inferiority inherent to that of power-hungry liberalism and populism. But Democrats will not lay down without a fight because their loss of power, while good for the state, obviously they don’t desire, and that’s why a torrent of mud with little discussion of constructive policy will be dumped by Democrats by summertime.