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6.9.07

BESE hopefuls offer chance to improve LA schools

Interestingly, the same day the interim state superintendent of schools said state schools needed change was the last day of qualifying for the fall Board of Elementary and Secondary Education elections.

All eight spots are up for the board, which hired the blunt-talking and on-target Paul Pastorek. He essentially said that major initiatives would have to take place to prevent the lack of progress of improvement in education from taking root.

Fortunately, in four districts candidates stepped up that would challenge the teacher-union-centric orthodoxy that has held Louisiana schools back for so long. These candidates, Republicans in Districts 4, 5, 7, and 8, appear ready to offer innovative ideas such as increased school choice to pull the state school out of their quagmire of underachievement.

Ideas such as these that stress competition to increase the performance level of school personnel, as well as that of students, and which stress trying to bring students up to a certain standard rather than settle for a mediocre achievement level for all are what is needed to create this positive change. Hopefully, voters will realize the same and put a majority with these ideas on BESE for the next term.

5.9.07

Incorrect application of law creates problems for disabled

While those with physical disability have enough problems to face, one they shouldn’t have to is abuse of laws designed to assist them. Unfortunately, either by design or accident, a recent incident illustrates the problem starkly.

Bossier City’s Louisiana Boardwalk (essentially an outdoor shopping mall) prohibits pets, which legally does not exclude service animals. However, a woman brought a dog onto the property and into establishments, claiming the dog was a service animal to detect potential oncoming asthma attacks (and her mother’s arthritis attacks). The dog, who had been her pet for many years, had received “training” at a local pet store she reported, although she carried no documentation. The Boardwalk asked that she not bring the dog onto the property

And that was the correct decision. Under Louisiana’s R.S. 21:52:

A. Any blind person, visually handicapped person, deaf person, hearing impaired person, or otherwise physically disabled person who is accompanied by a properly controlled dog which such person has been taught to use as a guide or for service at a qualified dog guide or service school is entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, and shall be entitled to take such dog into such conveyances and places, subject only to the accommodations and limitations applicable to all persons not so accompanied, provided that the dog shall not occupy a seat in any public conveyance ….

C. The provisions of Subsections A and B of this Section shall be inapplicable unless the person, as described in Subsections A and B of this Section, accompanied by a guide or service dog, shall furnish evidence as to the training of the dog, which evidence shall be obtained from the training agency or school by which the dog has been trained.

Assuming for the moment the woman even would qualify as being “physically disabled” for asthma under federal law, the fact is she and the dog were not trained by a qualified school (training which takes weeks utilizing specially bred dogs who are trained prior to the school for two years – see the list here – and dogs in training, as the woman claimed this one still was, are to be in public only with their trainers) and that she failed to carry any documentation (typically it’s as simple as an agency-issued identification card) gave the Boardwalk the legal right to exclude the dog. But apparently the episode scared Boardwalk officials into submission, and by its statements appears unlikely to interpret correctly the law in the future.

Such a response will create problems for the truly disabled who have a right to have service animals. Without the rigorous training necessary, these dogs will prove a nuisance and become conflated with genuine service dogs, casting negative aspersions onto the disabled using them, making access to the rights guaranteed under them more difficult than ever.

This woman may have been misled about or acted out of ignorance of the law, but regardless the incident by diluting the intent behind increasing accessibility for the disabled, may lead to more limitations of it.

4.9.07

Jindal's hamonious notes overwhelm Campbell's one note

If Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell wonders why his campaign for governor has drawn such little support, he needs to look at one of the toys of his youth.

When amusements for youth were fairly low-tech, one of the more sophisticated pieces was the wind-up doll that, when pulling a string or like device, it would spout a few words and maybe even waddle around or move in some other way. Today’s poster child for a Louisiana politician version of it would be Campbell: wind him up, pull the string, and he starts chattering about, and only about, his idea to tax oil processing in the state while getting rid of income taxes and having something left over to spend on other things.

There are two massive problems with this kind of campaign. One is that to call this plan half-baked would be to treat it charitably. The potential shortcomings with it are legion:

  • It likely is not constitutional to tax the owners of the oil but the processors – state business who would bear the brunt of the increase and force the tax increase onto Louisiana consumers
  • It would require nearly impossible majorities to enact, two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature and a majority of the electorate as it would need Constitutional amending – votes Campbell is unlikely to strongarm out of the Legislature and cajole from the public (which will be especially skeptical that, after this has been achieved, that the Legislature would cut taxes)
  • In the meantime while all this is happening, any plans to build new refineries or to expand capacity of existing ones in Louisiana will be cancelled and this business will go to other states, and oil companies will alter their processing strategies to cut significantly oil moving through Louisiana, costing big sales, property, and income tax revenues to the state.

    The second is that Campbell really has no campaign beyond this one measure. Check the campaign website (whose numbers on his plan don’t add up in any event) – there’s nothing else on the issues there but the plan (at least when this column was written). So what do voters really know about what Campbell would do as governor?

    Even Campbell apparently doesn’t know. Illustrative was at a parade sponsored by unions he attended, where he was waylaid by somebody with a question about his support for the state’s compulsory motorcycle helmet law. Campbell said he didn’t know, in contrast to the prohibitive favorite Bobby Jindal whose promise of repeal was much more to the liking of the questioner.

    As qualifying for the contest begins, a serious gubernatorial candidate has got to know these things and to provide a rationale for why he supports what he does. Jindal does, with answers to the public’s liking, and this is why at present he is wiping the floor with the likes of Campbell.
  • 3.9.07

    Principled response accepts Vitter, condemns Craig

    Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho is forced to resign after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, downgraded from a sex solicitation charge. Fellow GOP Sen. David Vitter from Louisiana apologizes for a past serious “sin” yet enjoyed both public and politicians’ support. The different situations tell us something about politics, politicians, and political attitudes, and to call different responses to each a “double standard” demonstrates an inability to think logically and clearly about these incidents.

    Vitter, after it he was warned his phone number would show up on a list released by a woman charged with running a female prostitution ring, before its release issued a statement in years past he had committed this serious sin. He has neither specified it nor been charged with any crime in any matter. Craig months ago engaged in suspicious behavior indicative of sex solicitation of another man, but pled guilty to a lesser charge, even as rumors have circulated for years that he engaged in homosexual acts.

    First, Republicans were more likely to rally around Vitter because he was immediately forthright about what was coming, as soon as there was a possibility of it being on the public record in a way designed to hurt him and his political allies and supporters. This brought him credit from both politicians and the public, taking his painful medicine without excuse or delay. In addition, supporters knew that while for the foreseeable future in open seat Senate contests in Louisiana a Republican will be favored, Democrats can win (and a Democrat likely would serve in the interim), so putting pressure on Vitter to resign would entail a risk that the seat could swing to a Democrat and/or liberal.

    2.9.07

    Candidate sites have little impact on LA campaigning

    The World Wide Web has come a long way, but it’s not going to come close to changing the nature of political campaigning, especially in Louisiana.

    Myself and a handful of others were the first to conduct research into the use of the Web in campaigning about a decade ago, and what we discovered then largely holds true today: for most political interaction, the Web remains a one-way street where a candidate makes information (largely controlled by him) available and solicits some benefit (like a donation or offer to assist) from the attentive public. Or, as I phrased it in those days, the Web was a “virtual billboard.”

    In the late 1990s, many expected that the potential interactive nature of the Internet could revolutionize campaigning, extending the reach of nontraditional candidates and encouraging the public to become more involved in campaigns and thus elections. That mostly has been unrealized because the fact remains that technology in and unto itself cannot change human political attitudes. As things transpired, the interactivity of the Internet has proven useful for candidates as an organizing tool, but only marginally has facilitated recruitment, and really has had no impact at all on activating the citizenry.

    This is because campaigns, for most individuals, are something to which they feel they have to pay only spotty attention. The Internet becomes a usable tool here only if there is a prior need to be met, such as a desire for information. Just because it may be easier to provide something doesn’t mean it will be accessed. For example, few nonvoters become voters, or intended voters get swayed to a particular candidate, because of the presence of campaign websites. This is because these people inherently have little interest in politics and when they seek information, they usually get it in the most effortless ways because they value the information so lowly, such as by asking somebody, seeing TV ads, and the like, rather than taking effort in finding and pounding into a keyboard a URL.

    The newest phenomenon in campaign websites, incorporation of social networking, represents a third generation (first, stale billboards; second, refreshment through frequent updates of text, audio, video, and blogging) of site content and use and probably has the most potential to differentiate the sites from traditional campaigning activities – if the candidates really work at it. This is because the nature of those tools is the interactivity that can lend to personalization. That is, if a candidate actually writes back to those individuals signing up on the site, and often, it creates an effective form of personal contact that can activate those individuals to spread the candidate’s gospel to those largely-inattentive people mentioned above.

    In Louisiana, this particularly can be important because the nature of the state’s politics is more personalistic and less party- or ideology-driven. But note that this requires the candidates to actually do this, to make a commitment to frequent communications with those individuals. Typically, that’s a tall order given the demands of campaigning that increases exponentially as the office becomes more important. By far, the surest way to win votes in this state is not to wait for voters to come into contact with you by pulling up your site, but by initiating contact with them through traditional means of advertising and electioneering.

    So the impact of the Web then is it has become a required element to a campaign, a necessary condition of sorts to ensure potential voters always have access to information of various kinds. (Indeed, the prevailing conception now for higher offices is that you are not a serious candidate without a professional-appearing site). But as far as being a sufficient condition to win a campaign, it’s safe to say that no website veer has won or lost a campaign, and that will remain true form quite a long time.