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18.10.07

This election, look at records, not just candidate rhetoric

During the campaign season for state and local offices, you are going to hear a lot of rhetoric both verbal and written coming from various candidates. There’s no truth-in-advertising stricture regarding these ads, so it’s interesting to discover what information some candidates aren’t going to volunteer.

One action that trips up some incumbents is signing onto the Blueprint Louisiana agenda. This reform organization has almost all good ideas that would promote economic development and run government more efficiently. Yet several area incumbents who indicated they supported the agenda in fact even as recently as this past legislative session acted in ways directly contradicting what they now say they support.

For example, part of the agenda is to move the state away from a charity hospital system as the cornerstone of indigent care and pursue more sensible strategies to get matching federal funds. Yet signers Senate incumbents Democrat Robert Adley, Republican Sherri Smith Cheek, and House incumbent Republican Billy Montgomery cast votes that would do exactly the opposite.

In the 2007 regular session Adley and Montgomery voted in favor of SCR 76 which authorized the building of a wastefully-large new charity hospital in New Orleans that serves as an attempt to keep the lower-performing, less-efficient present system (Cheek was absent for that vote). And in 2005 they and Cheek voted for HB 887 to increase taxes on hospitals that would have ended up (despite protestations to the contrary by supporters) being passed on to consumers that was an attempt to chase federal dollars on the backs of consumers. (This increase quietly was repealed before it ever took effect.)

There’s also a lot of omission going on in advertising. For example, Cheek is quick to argue she voted in ways to repeal the “Stelly” tax swap but neglects to mention how she wanted to foist the “sick” tax on Louisiana health consumers.

Or there’s quite a bit of side-stepping issues. An Adley commercial has proponents of ethics reform touting him as fair and honest. Of course, Adley doesn’t tell the public that he and Sen. Pres. Don Hines were the two most responsible politicians for killing ethics reform last session. Despite overwhelming majorities in both chambers approving reform that included local officials, Adley and Hines refused in conference committee to keep this broader scope of the bill which put the bill in a posture to get it defeated.

And there’s a lot of credit-taking going on that really isn’t deserved, such as Montgomery’s ads endlessly harping on the “stuff” he claims to have brought to his House district while avoiding almost anything having to do with his voting record (chock full of acts this very conservative district would disdain.) Besides the obvious fact that anybody running against him now could have done (and in one case, former Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, did do) the same – or perhaps even better – such emphasis reflects a political philosophy underlying why Louisiana, and particularly north Louisiana, is economically underdeveloped compared to the rest of the country: state government is deemed to be there to take wealth from those it thinks ought not to have it for purposes that either it should not be involved in or should be left to local governments, and then it distributes wealth primarily in a way to magnify the political fortunes of elected officials and the special interests that support them.

Finally, using a newcomer as an example, we see instances of creative license in defining terms. Republican Richey Jackson, running for the state House, asserts in campaign paraphernalia that he is a “life-long resident of Bossier Parish.” Apparently, Jackson feels he can define himself as such even though he bought a home in Bienville Parish in 1998, claimed it as his homestead in 2003 and 2004, voted 12 times in Bienville between 2000 and 2004, and only in 2006 began voting in Bossier again.

Lesson: even though there’s often a paucity of information about these kinds of local contests and so it will take more searching to get information, it can be done. All information in this column came from public records and news and opinion accounts over the Internet. If prospective voters inform themselves about candidates in all contests as they never have before, they’ll make better decisions than ever before in these upcoming Louisiana state and local elections.

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On a somewhat regular basis I am making some media appearance somewhere and normally I wouldn't mention it. But because of the new media nature of this one, because you the reader have taken the trouble to go to this blog thereby demonstrating at elast some interest in new media, for this one I'll give warning.

Saturday night I will be hooked up to the live feed from Shreveport's KTBS and conduct an online chat from their live broadcast stream over the Internet. It should start around when polls close and can be accessed through their site above (they don't yet have the URL set up). So if you aren't privileged enough to be one of my students or to attend and address I'm giving and want to have some amusement while the results roll in, click and go.

17.10.07

Democrats doing whatever it takes to prevent meltdown

If Louisiana Democrats put up such a desultory showing this Saturday as many foresee, it would be hard to blame the efforts of their operatives in Orleans Parish for this as in some cases they have gone the extra(legal) mile to get Democrats into voting booths.

Democrats have fretted that the hurricane disasters of 2005 disproportionately reduced Democrat registration relative to Republicans, and that a lack of statewide candidates attractive to blacks will hurt the party’s chances in these elections. But in Orleans, local candidates and contests may ameliorate at least the concern of lower turnout due to lack of enthusiasm.

Both the 95th and 98th House districts, nominally majority black, became vulnerable to Democrats from storm displacement. Despite the current 95th seat-holder term-limited state Rep. Alex Heaton having switched to the GOP, the 98th probably is more competitive in a partisan sense. Still, the threat of a Republican takeover of both is something that will ensure enthusiastic turnout among Democrats, especially blacks.

Additionally, the unexpected opening up of an at-large New Orleans City Council spot also has got many fired up. When former member black Democrat Oliver Thomas resigned after a guilty plea to influence peddling, there was some concern because this is the so-called “black” seat of the two at-large positions (an informal custom is that a white hold one and a black the other). Democrats have fielded competitive white and black candidates for this seat, but the desire of some to keep this seat “black” also will spur turnout for Democrats that could translate into help for legislative or even statewide candidates.

But perhaps the biggest boost came from the parish Registrar of Voters, Sandra Wilson. Months ago, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne made a special effort to remove voters registered in other states from Louisiana rolls. But the final call was left in the hands of the parish registrars, who went around making extra effort to give people on the list for those to be dropped the chance to demonstrate Louisiana residency.

Parishes around Orleans, with much smaller totals than its 6,857 names, trimmed theirs by about 2 percent. By contrast, Orleans kept less than 2 percent – a situation described in an understated way as “The reduction in New Orleans is startling when compared with how the same type of voter lists were handled by other parishes.” Seems that Wilson enlisted the help of volunteers to go through the list, and a person was not removed from the rolls who could prove their Louisiana residency by providing “information by mail, fax or in person that would offer proof that they were living in New Orleans and intended to remain or else that they had canceled their registrations in other states” – in other words, not a the highest burden of proof.

So will we see a huge cache of absentee ballots swarm into Orleans with many from people who had been on this list? Don’t put it past Democrats who know otherwise their days in power in Louisiana are growing more finite in number as each days passes.

16.10.07

Motives differ for not admitting Jindal's upcoming win

I’ll give New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill a hand over his latest column – both in the sense of his being the first old media political observer to have enough guts and/or common sense to state the obvious, and in the sense to assist him in answering his question in the column about this upcoming Saturday’s governor’s election – answers that may not make everybody happy.

Gill asked a very simple question – if two independent polls showed Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal with about half the vote, his opponents combined having about a quarter of the vote, and the other quarter undecided, why are no pollsters and pundits stating the obvious: it looks very likely that Jindal will win outright. About the best he could get from them was that Jindal “could win.”

I understand why the pollsters/political scientists might be cautious. We academicians know that political behavior still has many mysteries to us, and, as social scientists, we don’t like to pronounce things with certainty until they are demonstrated with an extraordinarily high degree of confidence. Nobody likes to make a definitive statement not being sure the situation really is definitive because if it does turn out the other way, one’s credibility as a scholar and researcher is damaged.

15.10.07

Likely higher black vote for Jindal to give him outright win

At 30 percent of the total electorate, blacks comprise one of the largest minority voting blocs of any state in the Union. If Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal wins the governor’s election outright this Saturday, it well may be in part to his expansion in votes relative to his previous attempt from the black community. And a significant increase in that vote is likely to happen.

Two independent polls put Jindal at about 20 percent of blacks who are registered and say they intend to vote this weekend. Since this marks an approximate doubling of his estimated total from the 2003 campaign, some have questioned it. To understand the validity of the doubts, let me relate some pieces of inside information from my days working on polls.

First, polls tend to reflect a little “bandwagon” effect – the favorite tends to run a little higher in polls than the actual vote because some people with minimal information about the contest, but who plan on acquiring more before the actual vote, will say the frontrunner. However, when it is a nonincumbent involved in a race such as this, the effect tends to be small. So Jindal might be picking up a couple of percentage points this way from blacks, and everybody, polled.

Second, blacks tend to indicate in larger proportions that they are undecided than whites. This is because they are more likely to say they intend to vote, then don’t do it. Assuming a majority of blacks who vote cast them against Jindal, the more of them that abstain, the better off Jindal is electorally.

Third, if a black respondent says he will vote for a Republican, he usually means it. Since fewer than 10 percent typically register as Republicans and given the pressure members of the black community are under by their “leaders” to vote the Democrat party line, for a black respondent to indicate preference for a Republican candidate means there has been some thought put into it and to make such a psychological break means this is a pretty solid commitment.

(Something pollsters have noted is if the race of the phone interviewer is detectable, blacks to a small degree give different answers to perceived white interviewers than to perceived black interviewers which can inflate totals of candidates that are believed to be “favored” by “whites.” However, pollsters generally negate this tendency by assigning black and/or female callers to black registrants to the degree that is possible, and this probably was done by both the polling operations.)

So when a black elected official says some people want to be associated with a winner, he’s right – but that represents a pretty small percentage of those blacks saying they plan to vote for Jindal and who then don’t. And when a black minister who has run for statewide office before indicates that many black community leaders automatically reject Jindal because of his partisan and/or ideological status, it shows why there is doubt Jindal will do much better than in 2003 among black voters – because they are missing the relative surge in Jindal’s support in the community either because they are denying it to themselves, or because some blacks are, to put it delicately, not being honest with them about their vote intention because they think it would upset these leaders to hear they intend to vote for Jindal.

Some doubters point out that even black Republican candidates have not run well statewide among blacks – for example, Lynn Swann got only an estimated 13 percent of the black vote in his run for Pennsylvania governor. But that’s about where the polls had him before the election, and he ended up with 40 percent of the total vote. So if polls tend to be accurate on black intended votes for Republicans (for reasons stated above), we can be very confident in Jindal’s receiving at least 15 percent, maybe even 20 percent, of the black vote – a significant increase from 2003.

Which leaves a final question – why? One obvious, although perhaps not exclusive, explanation presents itself. Jindal is running against, in terms of major candidates, a Democrat white, moderately conservative businessman, an independent white, moderately conservative businessman, and a Democrat white rural liberal populist from north Louisiana who is underfinanced and has no reputation at all for working with and making special initiatives to target the black community in Louisiana. None of these characteristics especially appeal to black voters and so, in that case, why not go with the candidate who is a racial minority even if he is a Republican?

With a field displaying these dyanmics, given the inevitability surrounding Jindal’s coming victory, and that almost no intra-party competition will occur in any legislative district that has a significant black vote, black turnout probably will be down helping Jindal to run in the black community competitively with his opposition, meaning he is likely to win outright.

14.10.07

Key to conservative agenda success lies in LA Senate

While the chances of Louisiana Republicans to take a majority of seats in the House are less than even and almost nonexistent in the Senate, can the party end up governing Louisiana? Or, more generally, can a conservative majority take control of the state?

By now, it is almost certain that Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal will win a four-year residence in the Governor’s Mansion, and better than even he’ll accomplish that without a general election runoff. It’s also almost certain that the Republicans will make some gains in the House and minimal gains in the Senate. Still, they probably will end up a few seats short in the House, and would have about 40 percent of the seats in the Senate. So, on paper, at least the Legislature will remain in Democrat hands.

But consider the assertion of co-chairman of the Legislative Republican Caucus Jim Tucker, that his faction is taking the House “philosophically.” Term limits are doing what they theoretically should – bringing the aggregate of legislators closer to the views of the median voter which in this state have been more to the right than those of officials. Even Democrat Caucus Chairman Eric LaFleur admits his party intentionally fielded more moderate, even conservative, candidates.

This creates a situation potentially akin to that in 1980, when conservative Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan won the White House. Even though he faced a House firmly controlled by Democrats, enough of them were conservative on taxing and spending issues that he got through some monumental legislation of a conservative kind, such as large tax cuts. A Gov. Jindal likely has the same ability to use the powers, both formal and informal, of his office to appeal to these more conservative Democrats to enact much of his conservative, reform agenda.

However, the comparison breaks down when viewing the Senate. Reagan actually had a Republican majority to work with there, while Jindal might be down about 7 seats of 39. Nonetheless, with enough more moderate Democrat senators, Jindal might have a chance to fashion majorities there as well.

If this is what would have to transpire for Jindal to succeed, reviewing the last three years worth of scores on the ideology/reform index used in my Louisiana Legislature Log reveals Jindal might have a rough go of it. The index is scaled so that a score of 0 represents a perfect liberal/populist voting record, while 100 represents a perfect conservative/reformist voting record.

In 2005, the Senate was 6 points more liberal/populist with the gap between the typical Democrat and Republican was 21. In 2006, the Senate overall was slightly more liberal/populist but the difference between party averages narrowed to 14. In 2007, the gap opened considerably to 47 even as the Senate scored slightly more conservative/reformist than the House.

So unless the GOP does better than anticipated in the Senate and/or more conservative Democrat senators get elected, the Senate could turn into the graveyard of reform for Jindal. This is because the set of fairly extremist senators now present for Democrats would be unlikely to support many conservative initiatives. Further complicating matters is how many liberal Republican senators may get elected – for example, liberal Sherri Smith Cheek looks likely to be reelected, and with the term-limitation of perhaps the most conservative Sen. Max Malone it’s possible that liberal current state Rep. Billy Montgomery could replace him.

This means that the focus of attention over the next five weeks really should not be so much on the House, but the Senate, to see if ideas sponsored by the GOP will make much headway in Louisiana over the next four years.