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2.8.07

Veto session possibility illustrates interesting conditions

I was waiting to post looking for updates on veto session information. At this time, both chambers still are a number of votes away from cancelling the session so I can’t wait any longer.

This attempted session has come closer to succeeding than any in the past, over 30 years, for several reasons:

  • Term limits, to some extent, free legislators from what they perceive to be electoral consequences of gubernatorial retribution since they will not be running for reelection – the consequences being the governor using her people appointed directly or otherwise on the State Bond Commission to excise projects of legislators who don’t vote for not having the session
  • Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s decision not to run for reelection, making her a lame duck and unable to extend retribution for not stopping the session past the Bond Commission deliberations – in other words, legislators may call her bluff, knowing that she gets no political capital out of denying projects as a response to their not voting to stop the session.
  • Two of the measures vetoed, HB 505 and SB 45, are extremely high profile and were voted against by 0 and 1, respectively, of the 144 legislators – meaning legislators believe overrides on these will be received favorably by voters back home.

    Whether these or any other vetoes would be overridden is another matter. With a third of the House membership voting against a session may mean there’s no chance for overrides working. Then again, maybe the opposition is in being called back in and once there they would be for overrides.

    (Note, however, that the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Boston would overlap at the beginning of the session which may bring about some reluctance to attend – and attendance is needed in order to get the two-thirds majorities to override. Still, probably least likely to vote for overrides would be the attendees of the Boston conference – almost all Democrats demonstrating once again that Democrats are the party of those who think elective office is a vehicle to reap goodies regardless of the taxpayer – so override attempts may be doomed from the start.)

    Regardless of what happens, what typically has been a perfunctory exercise instead has taken on meaning this year. The conditions that produced this are worth noting for the future.
  • 1.8.07

    Veto session worthwhile to improve state education

    Given recently-released results of state standardized testing, there should be no question at all that a veto session of the Louisiana Legislature should be called for the first time ever. Whether it will happen is another matter.

    The Legislature is empowered to call itself into session to deal with gubernatorial vetoes, if more than half of the members of both chambers refuse to turn in a ballot to call off the session by a deadline, this year Aug. 2. Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed fewer than two dozen items from this regular session but she picked some controversial ones. The one with the largest monetary impact might be refusing to lop off a percentage of sales tax on utilities paid by business, who then passes this tax on to consumers.

    But the veto with perhaps the longest-term, largest impact to the state was to prevent private school tuition payments receiving a tax credit, continuing the dual-payment system where some families have to pay public school taxes even though their children do not use them and must pay private school tuition to increase their children’s chances of receiving quality instruction. No doubt a tax break on private school tuition would encourage sending children to private schools.

    And why not, given the stunning achievements of many of the schools similarly situated to private schools, charter schools, in Orleans Parish? Recent data shows many charter schools there, with often the same kind of student body as in years past when they were wholly public schools, posted extraordinary gains in student achievement on tests. While charter schools vary in some ways that they differ from public schools, two which make them like private schools are they have much greater freedom in personnel policies such as in hiring, promotions, and firings, and in pay policies such as in being able to offer merit pay.

    Where typical public schools have failed in Orleans Parish charter schools have succeeded, so one small change to the state’s education landscape that would encourage education of this superior kind, the tax exemption, one would think would be embraced by those in the education profession. Wrong: perhaps the most strident opponents of the veto session because they fear the possibility of undoing the tax exemption veto are teachers unions and their allies in the public education sector.

    Why would educators, seeing something that works, be so reflexively against it? Because the goal of teachers’ unions and their sycophants is not to provide the best education possible to students, but instead to transfer as much money as possible from the pockets of taxpayers into their pockets and those of their members. They know all too well that individual accountability measures helping charter schools improve education will impair their greedy impulses.

    Of course, since it takes two-thirds vote to override a veto even if the session gets called that’s a tough standard to meet to get Blanco’s decision reversed. But realizing these test results shows at least the attempt through approving an override session should occur, even if for this reason alone.

    31.7.07

    Politics aside, maybe Kennedy wants to be atty. gen.?

    This space is called “Between the Lines” because it seeks to go beyond headlines and the surface presentation that the media provide (whether that be as a matter of course or by design to obscure larger issues) about political news in Louisiana, to get at the real story behind it all. But cocnerning news that Democrat state Treasurer John Kennedy is now thinking of running for attorney general, that’s a gambit I have trouble figuring out.

    It’s well known that Kennedy would like to run for the Senate next year, perhaps switching parties to facilitate his chances at victory, and clearly holding a current state office and running a statewide campaign this year can only boost his chances of winning a statewide contest next year, Yet it doesn’t seem to make sense that launching such a bid as a rookie (with one year in) attorney general instead of a treasurer in his third term would be more advantageous.

    There appear to be many reasons why, if the Senate is his ultimate goal, that an attempted lateral move like this has more disadvantages than advantages:

  • Kennedy would have no meaningful competition in a run for another term as treasurer. With over $2 million in campaign coffers, he could spend a good portion of this money in a campaign designed to blend easily into a Senate campaign, rather than have to parcel it out designed primarily to secure another statewide office.
  • A run for attorney general would be no cakewalk, by contrast. While politically wounded, the Democrat apparatus and good-old-boys in the state still would rally around incumbent Atty. Gen. Charles Foti – not just given his incumbency, but that Kennedy has been too reform-minded for their liking. Additionally, other challengers remain particularly a strong one from Republican attorney Royal Alexander. Kennedy could win, but it would not be easy and he very well could lose – a potential loss not the kind of impression he wants to have hanging over him as he immediately would turn around and begin a Senate run.
  • His current spot has provided a great platform for Kennedy to become the leading voice of reform from Louisiana’s executive branch. Frankly, the attorney general does little that captures headlines (unless, as has happened to Foti, he launches an ill-advised investigation which backfired politically) so if it’s publicity Kennedy would find helpful, even a successful outcome to the lateral move would be less likely to provide it.
  • It’s possible that other interests that could be helpful to his future campaigning are encouraging this move in conjunction with the party switch, because they think he could be the best Republican candidate against Foti, or, for their own reasons, they’d rather see him launch a Senate bid from this office than the treasury. However, again compared to where he is there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of potential upside here.

    Considering all of this, there seems just one reason why Kennedy would go in this direction – maybe he (who has a law degree) simply wants to be attorney general. If so, it would make little sense to take all sorts of electoral risks to get there, especially if he possibly could abandon it after a year. Even with a Senate attempt on his mind, perhaps he would see the attorney general job as one, should he fail next year, as the most desirable consolation prize. Appropriate to Occam’s Razor, it could be that simple.
  • 30.7.07

    NW LA delegation provides good, bad, ugly 2007 work

    Northwest Louisiana got a comprehensive taste of the good, bad, and the ugly from its delegation in the 2007 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature. Let’s review these:

    THE GOOD: Rep. Mike Powell’s HB 113 turned out the best of a thin lineup of superior legislation coming from the delegation. This new law creates the crime of organized retail theft and will make it easier to prosecute and thus deter a crime, one where petty thieves are organized to sell to a fence, that has been growing rapidly.

    THE BAD: It’s curious to find someone who tried hard to get passed good bills like SB 313, which would give tax exemptions to those buying vehicles converted for handicapped use, and SB 365, which would have brought some semblance of order to the capital outlay budgeting process, yet who at the same time whiffed so badly on other bills to the detriment of Louisiana, as did Sen. Robert Adley.

    29.7.07

    NAACP protests distract from pursuing real solutions

    Further demonstrating its irrelevancy to any serious discussion of public policy, the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People protested for a second time in Baton Rouge that the promotional tests for fourth and eighth graders in Louisiana were “unlawful” and “unconstitutional.” This distractive rhetoric in part explains why black children disproportionately do poorly on these exams and serves as an impediment to improving the education of all children.

    It’s a sign that a protester strives to prick at emotion rather than make a good-faith effort to solve a problem when words like “unlawful” and “unconstitutional” are tossed about without any sensible explanation of them to the matter at hand or even any connection to reality as in this instance. There’s nothing unlawful or unconstitutional about taking a test to demonstrate enough learning has occurred in order to proceed to the next level of mastery; nothing legally or constitutionally prohibits this. Indeed, the tests serve as an accountability measure to show how good of a job both students and schools are doing.

    Although it does not have the audacity to explicitly clarify this, what the NAACP really objects to in terms of the tests is that disproportionately black children do poorly on them so many who “pass” their coursework cannot pass the exams. Thus, the protest is a thinly veiled assertion that somehow the tests are unfair, one potential explanation for gap in curriculum passage but test failure.

    But if the exams are at fault, then we ought to see similar situations among all students. But non-black students are less likely to pass the classes and fail the tests, so it’s not a problem of instrumentation or the testing process. Rather, the other possible explanation for the gap, lack of rigor and quality in instruction in some schools, must be valid.

    As it is, the majority of black students in Louisiana are taught in majority black schools whose staffs typically are plurality if not majority black in terms of both teachers and administrators. Apparently, this is where the problem lies so the NAACP needs to be criticizing in the main the very people it claims to represent.

    Rather than blame some inanimate concept like testing, the NAACP needs to stop shooting the messenger and instead address the underlying cause. Only higher expectations of students, increased intellectual and pedagogical capacity of teachers, and expanded rigor will make for better educated students; they won’t become better by offhandedly declaring a measurement of their abilities is invalid and patting them on the back as they fulfill lower standards. State education officials are right to continue to employ testing to help continue improvement in Louisiana’s education; the NAACP’s actions prevent it this realization.