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9.8.07

Jindal's specific comments reinforce radical reform image

Rep. Bobby Jindal slowly but surely has been giving details about what he would do as Louisiana governor, and as he does it’s becoming clear that had Jindal been governor during the last legislative session things would have gone very differently, and would continue to do so during his term.

Perhaps the two highest-profile pieces of legislation that failed in the waning days of the session dealt with substantially increased financial disclosure by public officials and dedicating revenues from transportation-related uses to building and maintenance of transportation projects. The first lost because legislators wanted to make a show of reform but didn’t really want it, while the second would have made legislators unable to fund things like about 1,200 new state jobs in a state which has shrunk in population and in giving pay raises to vacant positions.

Enjoying high positive name recognition and commanding leads in polls, Jindal has had the luxury (much to the chagrin of all other candidates) of not having to say much specifically about his platform – following the old rule of if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. But in an electoral environment screaming for change, candidates must provide examples of radical change they wish to pursue to stay at the crest of this wave and to empower themselves with a perceived mandate if winning the office.

8.8.07

Report reiterates Dems take hit on LA statewide elections

The latest report from the Louisiana Recovery Authority gives an idea of the magnitude of displacement of Louisiana citizens from the 2005 hurricane disasters – and, from an electoral perspective, the information contained doesn’t bring a lot of cheer if you are a politician with a last name like Landrieu.

This report does it best to come up with, among other things, a net migration total out of affected parishes and gives a good idea how many left the state. It shows really only three parishes had substantial out-migrations (in terms of proportion of population) from the 2005-06 period: Orleans estimated at 246,390, St. Bernard at 50,000, and Jefferson at 84,697. But if we want to know the electoral impact of this, we need to figure out how many left the state, and what are their partisan affiliations.

The report does give a rough guide to how many left the state from each parish as it tracked how many left the 18-parish area of study. However, it did not attempt specifically to find out whether those who left that area also left the state; i.e., an estimated 6,000 evacuees ended up in Caddo Parish. Still, for each parish it does give an estimate and for Orleans and St. Bernard does give some idea what proportion left the state.

It notes that 31 percent of total out-migrants from Orleans ended up in several large non-Louisiana counties and 23 percent in one of East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, or St. Tammany Parishes. Let’s assume half of the remaining 46 percent went out of state as well as the report notes federal government organized evacuations common from Orleans often went out of state.

For St. Bernard, only 9 percent identifiably went out of state while the “other” category comprised 36 percent. Since as is noted most St. Bernard evacuations were self-planned, let’s assumed only a third of that figure went out of state. Jefferson’s figures by destination were not released but let’s make the assumption for it that one-fourth total left the state.

Thus, for our purposes, the numbers that left the state from Orleans are 133,051, for St Bernard 10,500, and for Jefferson 21,174. Taking voting registration figures at the beginning of 2006 and assuming (probably understating the actual Democrat losses given poorer people were slightly more likely to have fled) people left their parishes in proportion to the partisan distribution, we can figure out numbers of black Democrats, white Democrats, and Republicans who have left (and will assume other races and other party voters are lost equally by the parties).

In Orleans, unadjusted for registration (because we are using total population figures), there would be 69,485 lost black Democrats. Adjusting for registration (only 55 percent of blacks were according to 2005 population figures), this means 38,328. For white Democrats and all Republicans (67.5 percent registered), the figures are 12,124 and 10,777. Using the same kind of procedure for St. Bernard and Jefferson, their figures are, respectively, 358, 3,482 and 1,457, and 1,543, 3,507, and 3,757. (Let’s also assume any other parish’s out-of-state migrants wash evenly between the major parties).

So, it all adds up to a net Democrat voter loss of 43,351. A final adjustment, which is that historically in governor’s races we can expect that, of those that don’t show up at the polls, roughly 2 percent of them have voted absentee and 40 percent of them wouldn’t have voted anyway, estimates that 25,143 fewer Democrat votes relative to Republican ones can be expected using these numbers (assuming party defectors from their registrations wash out). Since we are talking about 2006 data, the figure probably has gone down slightly, but also keep in mind that the estimates make assumptions that probably understate the Democrat losses.

Depending on your contest, such as if you’re Sen. Mary Landrieu or Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, this could be from 3.5 to 3.7 percent of your total vote disappearing relative to what you could have gotten. And given that Landrieu won her last contest by about 44,000 votes, and Landrieu won his without a runoff by about 77,000, this reality will have to be factored into theirs and all other statewide candidates’ calculations for the next several years.

7.8.07

Canning July elections sensible but will face resistance

A couple of sessions ago the Louisiana Legislature did the right thing in getting rid of (on the second try after a veto by Gov. Kathleen Blanco) the January state/local election date. Before his wreck, Sec. of State Jay Dardenne suggested the same treatment for the July date, and the reasons for that are much the same as compelled elimination of the January date.

These dates are established to allow local governments to bring forth ballot propositions, almost always dealing with tax matters. To conduct an election it costs the state money, at least $500,000 a pop, and local governments also must contribute, so consolidating elections around another date would save taxpayer dollars. Three other slots, March/April, October, and November, are available (a fourth, February, if you live in Orleans Parish) and there are few situations where a government would need money so quickly that it couldn’t wait at most a half-year for an election.

But what if something of an emergency nature did come up? Well, R.S. 18:402(F)(7) already accounts for that, allowing a local government to call an election with two-thirds concurrence of the State Bond Commission. Further, July elections historically have abysmal turnouts, never higher than 11 percent this millennium with the most recent barely half of that, making them even less-cost effective.

However, expect resistance from local governments. They bank on low turnouts to help pass taxing measures which typically redistribute taxpayers’ funds from a large pool to a small group. They anticipate that among the group that will receive the money (employees from salary increases, contracting interests for construction, organizations that get dedicated funds, etc.) very high turnout in favor will be enough to outpace scattered opposition from the low proportion of the general public that will vote because usually these measures stand alone or have just a few grouped together, with no high-stimulus matters or electoral contests also on the ballot to encourage turnout.

Given its extra cost and the small effort it would take local governments to plan ahead, there’s no logical justification to keep the July date. Yet if Dardenne and/or others push this, look for local governments to find all sorts of political considerations to oppose this very sensible idea.

6.8.07

Making LA elections ideological best serves GOP

Some months ago I presented a paper that showed Louisiana Republicans had a decent chance to take over the state House in this fall elections, but I cautioned that this potential only would be realized if the party could find good candidates that campaigned adequately. Some recent media comments underscore the validity of these points seven months later, only a little more than two months before the primary elections.

Director of a political action committee formed to bring about this exact result, John Diez noted the party was being hampered by a lack of “bench” – Republicans in lower-level offices that would have the ability to step up and compete effectively in districts amenable to Republican candidates. The main reason behind this is Republican strength in the electorate has lagged translation into offices at all levels, but the reasons for this lag are what really explain the overall difficulty and presents the solution to it.

First, the electoral nonpartisan blanket primary system has retarded GOP growth because it failed to penalize voters who insisted on calling themselves Democrats who typically voted for Republican candidates. Any psychological advantage can be crucial in electoral politics, and by not preventing people who usually want to vote for Republican candidates from registering as Democrats hampers the party as it increases slightly predisposition to vote Democrat. To some degree this will be solved by the coming of closed primaries starting next year for federal offices, when those who mostly vote Republican now will find they cannot choose Republican candidates unless they register as Republicans, breaking the last bonds of loyalty they may feel to Democrat candidates at all levels.

Second, Louisiana has an immature political culture in the sense that its political discourse and evaluation of ideas and candidates is too personalistic and not ideological enough. Compared to other states, evaluation of candidates overweighs on who is the person running and underweighs on the issue preferences expressed by those candidates. This creates the potential for candidates to display a persona designed to obscure ideological leanings that are incongruent with the public policy wishes of a majority in their districts.

In Louisiana, this often is done by advertising how much “stuff” the candidate pledges to cart back from Baton Rouge, failing to inform voters that about anybody can do that and it is “stuff” bought by money wrested from the people in the first place. Or, as long-time practitioner of this tactic state Rep. Charlie DeWitt noted, constituencies that call themselves conservative also embrace and even demand the considerable benefits they receive from government “investment.”

The key to both strengthening the bench and to mature the electorate is the same: make Louisiana elections more ideological in nature. Simply, relative to both fact and logic, intellectually conservatism beats liberalism hands down. What the Louisiana GOP has to do is to help cultivate candidates who are conservatives that can express sufficiently to the electorate this fundamental ideological difference between themselves and their Democrat opponents. And by emphasizing ideology, it will attract as candidates those turned off from electoral politics in the state who to date have seen elective service as little more than a bidding war for who can deliver the most “stuff.”

In short, the GOP maximizes its ability to win seats this fall by making as ideological as possible this election and in skillfully communicating this to an electorate inexperienced in thinking in these terms. The trend change and history are on Republicans’ side, but their own actions could hinder or help things along.

5.8.07

Whatever the reason, Hill reporting will be missed

I may never write a column about a journalist’s retirement again, but the point of this space is to try to get behind the headlines and in this instance I think I can offer something here to readers about a man who has had a not insignificant impact on Louisiana politics – and one who some have come to vilify – for now the chief capital correspondent of Louisiana Gannett News Service, John Hill.

Until perhaps the last decade, for reporting on Louisiana government and expressing some opinion about it, for the previous 20 or so years prior if you didn’t live south of I-12 in Louisiana John probably would have been almost your only source of information and commentary. As such, he fulfilled this need in the world of Louisiana politics for many. As part of that job, John has interviewed me on many occasions but I am fortunate enough to know him outside the two sides of an interview and can offer some additional insight into his career (perhaps other than what he’s about to tell the world over the next couple of weeks.)

John’s a great writer and in some matters he did an outstanding job of distilling complex details of stories into good, readable news copy. I’m not sure he would agree with me on this, but I think his best job was on trial coverage, especially the Prisoner #03128-095 case that landed the four-term ex-governor in jail. That was an extremely complex case but John had a knack of boiling it down into understandable prose for the typical reader.

As John has written before, perhaps his work there and subsequent conversations with and stories about Edwin Edwards may make Edwards the most identifiably-linked political person to John when all is said and done. You have to know that they make somewhat of an odd couple because John’s not been happy about political corruption in the state and Edwards has been perhaps its most proficient practitioner.

But the fact is that John is, at the end of the day, a man of the left in the political world who, as he said, “grew up in the generation hoping to make a difference. And I've always felt like we should be the citizens' representatives when we're sitting in a meeting room or covering a press conference.” In his later years, in my opinion, in his reporting one read a frustration that a different attitude than his about the purposes of government, and of the media, was taking hold in the state, and it did affect what he wrote and wrote about.

It may have been fueled by a vocal set of opponents who, through talk radio and the Internet as their reaches proliferated making available more information about Louisiana politics than provided by just John and the few traditional media outlets that had dominated state political discourse for so long, became very critical about John’s reporting. To some, he represented everything wrong with Louisiana media and its relationship to state government; unfortunately, a few in their zeal to criticize got more to attacking the messenger than in concentrating on the contents and kinds of stories published under his byline.

So, for a rather varied set of reasons, John’s contributions to Louisiana politics will be missed.