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12.9.07

Why does Landrieu get free pass on finance scandal?

As the media and opponents of Republican Sen. David Vitter gear up to try to damage him again politically over an incident unrelated to his Senate service, strangely silence reigns concerning Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s campaign finance activities that have everything to do with honesty and integrity in the performance of her Senate duties.

A woman has come forward claiming that Vitter was briefly her client in prostitution eight years ago, with the only a passing grade on a lie detector test, which is not even admissible in a court of law, to back her up. Vitter has in the past denied the allegation, and has not been charged with any crime. Despite intense media coverage of Vitter’s admission of a “serious sin,” which he made clear affected his personal, not political, life, the public still supports him and the latest accusation about his past moral behavior seems unlikely to change that – even as the media floats stories quoting “experts” who mistakenly insist he will be damaged politically.

Yet the media seems curiously unconcerned about the relationship between Norman Hsu, prominent Democrat fundraiser recently jailed on suspicion of fraudulent activities, and Landrieu. Evidence mounts that Hsu raised possibly stolen money to bestow illegal campaign contributions through he and his associates to, among others, Landrieu, in her case to the tune of $14,700.

One media report from outside Louisiana said Landrieu said she planned to “divest” her campaign of these donations, again reiterated by her yesterday (but nearly two weeks after she first announced of the intent to divest). But other than that, nothing more has been done to follow up important questions, such as what exactly was the relationship between Hsu and Landrieu, why has she delayed doing this, and how exactly are these donations to be “divested?”

Nor has Landrieu provided any answers herself. A review of her website shows that while Landrieu, who’s never been in the military and never really had a job outside of elective office, is quick disagree with the trained military judgment Gen. David Petraeus who commands forces in Iraq, she does not at all address the important matter of this campaign finance scandal.

If Louisiana’s media aren’t going to do their jobs and ask her about this, the least she can do is volunteer the information, to show that she has nothing to hide and to clear up any misconceptions that might arise about her relationship with Hsu and his cronies. This matter of possible corrupt political activities that has touched her campaign strikes directly at her job as Senator, and the people of Louisiana are owed by her a full explanation of it.

Pledges show Blueprint's policy impact likely small

Blueprint Louisiana made a big splash in its stumping for a reform political agenda in the state. After revelation of which fall election candidates have signed on to support it, it appears that the group itself didn’t have the credible impact for which it may have hoped.

The organization attracted some funding and got together reform-minded individuals with public opinion data to formulate an agenda for change in the state. Amid much publicity, they produced a comprehensive action plan and, for the most part, one on the mark – with a single exception, it does make for a true reform platform that will bring positive change to the state.

That one slip, however, may have cost the endorsement of the effort by gubernatorial candidate Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal. As part of its education reforms, the group touts expanding the “voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten [program limited to certain parishes] to provide access to all four-year-olds in the state. In close partnership with Head Start and the child care sector ….” (emphasis mine). Unfortunately, that is a guarantee for a waste of money the group otherwise seems to oppose.

Research shows the only beneficial present effects pre-K education has is when it is treated as if it were another grade of school, with bachelor-degreed teachers specializing in that area. By contrast, Head Start and other forms of pre-K end up having little in the way of lasting results or even in the present. (Oddly, in using information from a laudatory report of high-quality pre-K programs, the Blueprint LA people seemed to miss this distinction.) Therefore the Blueprint LA estimate to implement such a program, about $90 million, seems low, if that’s what they mean at all.

The Jindal campaign only states that Jindal wanted to focus on his own plans and not anybody else’s, but reviewing the plan and Jindal’s ideas (as they are expressed in some detail on his campaign web site, even if all have not been unveiled yet) show extremely compatible ideas, so one might wonder if Blueprint LA hadn’t whiffed on this one whether Jindal might have gone with them. Of course, being such a prohibitive favorite Jindal sees no need to tie himself to a group which will increase his room to maneuver if he wins.

Regrettably for the group, this means somewhat of a slide to irrelevancy since Jindal will attract at least half the voters on Oct. 20 – and it also struck out with two other major contenders, but for the simple reason that neither are genuine reformers. Democrat state Sen. Walter Boasso does have some reform credentials, but in his refusal to put health care quality and taxpayer resources ahead of special interests in regards to his continued support of the state’s underperforming hospital-centric indigent care system negates other more salutary issue preferences of his. And Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is not a reformer, period, preferring the old ways of the state doing business that got it into trouble in the first place.

Among these three, they will collect about 90 percent of the vote in the governor’s race, meaning only about 10 percent of the total electorate will vote for candidate’s who endorse officially the Blueprint LA agenda – not the most ringing endorsement of the group’s effectiveness. However, the group did better in collecting pledges from legislative candidates. While many, including incumbents who will win reelection, did not sign up, many previous legislators and newcomers did.

However, even here the fidelity of these promises has to be questioned. For one example of several, concerning the indigent health care spending issue, a number of signers voted for SCR 76 last legislative session which endorsed spending a wastefully-large sum of money on a new charity hospital in New Orleans – a direct contradiction to the group’s platform. By way of illustration – John Alario and Billy Montgomery (voters favoring SCR 76), are you kidding to ever think these good old boys honestly support a reform agenda?

Either these legislators wanting to continue their careers suddenly have seen the light, or they are manipulating the group to get its assistance during their campaigns, rendering support of its reform agenda hollow. Hopefully, the group will continue past the election and publicize any “backsliders” that do get elected.

This is not to say that the group’s efforts have been in vain for any effort to focus on needed changes in the state is good. But with major gubernatorial candidates ignoring it and many legislative candidates apparently paying it lip service for political gain with no serious intent to carry out the entirety of its package, whether its own impact on policy in the state is more than minor is questionable.

11.9.07

Jindal annoys paper by refusing to facilitate its agenda

Interestingly, that it is miffed at Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal’s unambitious debate plans tells us much more about the politics of the Baton Rouge Advocate than it does about Jindal.

The Advocate’s editorialists complain how Jindal has committed to appear at only two statewide debate forums, spewing forth with, as it turns out, a whole lot of bogus reasons why Jindal should attend more. (And it’s selective outrage as well – other candidates could have participated in them but some chose not to as well when they heard Jindal was not committing, so why reserve opprobrium to just Jindal?)

For one thing, how many debates is enough, if apparently (now) three isn’t? In the last presidential cycle, that's as many between the major party candidates, and if there is a general election runoff to this governor’s race, there probably will be just as many, if not more. How many were there in 2003? Honestly, I don’t remember exactly, but I think just four.

10.9.07

Windfall not only thing needed to right Bossier City

This summer we’ve seen more uncomfortable examples highlighting the poor choices Bossier City elected officials have made in recent years – and perhaps a rare second chance at redemption in the offing.

The city’s elected officials must have been the only ones surprised when the sales tax take from the Louisiana Boardwalk has run below expectations because, for over a decade, its mayoral administrations and city councils have clung to the absurd notion that pumping citizens’ dollars into venture capital opportunities is how to bring about economic growth. “Build it and they will come” has been the “Field of Dreams” motto that, in its two high profile instances, cost the city in past dollars $77.5 million.

Much of that went into what today is known as the CenturyTel Center. It was supposed to set off an economic development boon in southern Bossier City (where it was widely protested by those residents). A decade on exactly two businesses (one since closed) and no residential developments have popped up near it and it regularly loses the city money (but its parking lots provide a great place for public safety personnel to practice their driving skills).

The rest was poured, literally, into a parking garage at the Boardwalk for a private developer who easily could have built this with its own resources (and $15 million more was spent on other infrastructure elements for the Boardwalk, but I’ve been giving the city the benefit of the doubt on the necessity of its paying for this on that). Doing the math, making very generous assumptions that the Boardwalk because of the garage is the only Bossier City retailer adding new business and not cannibalizing others (evidence of which rings very hollow) and comparing changes in sales tax take citywide over the past several years, the Boardwalk is hardly increasing city sales tax revenues past the rate of inflation. In other words, it might take a century to “pay off” the garage “investment.”

These follies really hit home considering the city just set out to borrow $100 million for various projects, $66 million of which have been on the drawing board in the city’s long-term capital budgeting plans. Assuming a generously-low 5 percent interest rate and 30 year life, the total cost of that $66 million – which the citizens’ money blown by the city on the arena and garage would more than have covered – would be about $127.5 million.

Just think of the possibilities frittered away by Bossier City politicians. These projects could have been finished quicker, maybe even by now, paid in cash, saving $61.5 million – plus having available the excess and years of interest accumulated as it all grew waiting for the right moment, and freeing future revenues from where all the money came from originally blown on these baubles, gaming. Just imagine the tax-cutting and fee reduction that the city could have accomplished, making Bossier City a progressive, business-friendly city that would have set off an economic expansion that permanently could have eliminated its dependence of economically-ailing Shreveport and the federal government.

Yet, believe it or not, despite these mistakes, Bossier City may be getting an incredible second chance – not just to make up for politicians’ recent blunderings, but “second” in the sense that it was a gift from the federal government that initially really got the city going decades ago – locating Barksdale Air Force Base next to it.

The $34 million not accounted for above is set aside to go towards a new Air Force installation, its Cyber Command, with its promises of hundreds, even thousands, of jobs, many high-paying – if Barksdale can land it. This represents lightning hitting the area twice in terms of federal government largesse.

If it happens, and the announcement could come as early as this week, we only can hope that Bossier City’s leaders acquire wisdom that, to this point, they’ve been shown unlikely to have. Waiting every 75 years or so for a major federal installation to show up and building facilities for retailers and entertainment acts and sports teams in the interim is not a very viable strategy for economic development. The sooner they realize these windfalls first belong in the pockets of Bossier City citizens rather than going to pay for signs on structures with their names on them, the quicker Bossier City will rise out of Shreveport’s shadow and become the economic and civic lodestar for Louisiana.

9.9.07

GOP set to make LA gains, but missed bigger ones

Republicans should be cautiously optimistic about their state elective office chances in this fall’s elections given the list of qualifiers for those positions that was completed of Thursday.

Things are really looking up for the GOP at the statewide executive level. (Recent) Republican Treasurer John Kennedy was reelected unopposed and only token opposition surfaced against Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. With Rep. Bobby Jindal running away with the governor’s race, the GOP looks almost certain to lock up a majority of the executive offices for the first time since Reconstruction.

Worse for Democrats, the chances of Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom and Attorney General Charles Foti are even at best, given the controversial terms and ethics and legal charges against the former and the latter’s penchant for whipping up publicity about cases that his office cannot guide to convictions. Only Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu among Democrats can be considered a favorite going into his contest, but his chances of losing are not trivial given the quality of his Republican opponents. At this point, chances are the Republicans can take five of the seven slots.

In the Senate, by the end of qualifying, Democrats had 17 secure seats and Republicans 8 (this includes contests where the only competition to one or more of a major party’s candidates is not from the other major party). This already represents a pickup of a seat for the Democrats (know because the term-limited incumbent will be replaced by someone from the other party running unopposed). In the House, Democrats secured 38 seats, the Republicans 29 and the lone present (GOP-leaning) independent reelected without opposition, a net change of zero (one seat flipped for each party).

These numbers point out the greater difficulty the GOP will have in trying to win the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. Already down a seat, they’ll likely get it back in the 1st and have their best chances of picking up seats in the 31st and 32nd, but may lose the 25th so they may come out only up one behind their current situation, 25-14.

Their chances in the House are much brighter. Seats they have a good chance to take are the 15th, 39th, 98th, and 103rd which would move them to within 7 of a working majority; no GOP seats look as ripe to change as these do potentially but there are several other competitive seats from both parties that, if the Republicans manage to take about three-quarters of those in addition to these, will bring them the majority.

This disparity at the statewide vs. legislative level points out that the Republicans still are a little short of bench strength. It may seem hard to believe now, but just two decades ago few Republicans were elected to any state or local offices and so while with just seven statewide offices there’s a sufficient pool of quality candidates, when considering the 144 legislative seats, the relative lack of experienced candidates at the local level plus the relative lack of organization of the Republican party apparatus (the Democrats are also but this penalizes them much less with many more experienced candidates at the local level) detracts from what looks to be a very good election year for the party.