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8.11.07

Tucker likely and best choice for LA House speaker

Recently I wrote of the leadership battle brewing in the Louisiana Senate. Republicans cannot realistically hope to bag that position despite incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal being Republican because of the relatively large gap between parties in incoming Senate strength.

But even if the GOP does not take the Louisiana House, bet on state Rep. Jim Tucker taking the Speaker’s position. Enough seats are up for grabs so that either party could be in the majority come January, but using the metric I developed to measure partisanship of districts (that is, without an incumbent running Democrats win if their registered voters outnumber Republicans’ 8:3, and vice-versa), I would predict a 55-50 effective Democrat majority (there are likely to be two independents elected, one each leaning to the major parties).

Despite the Democrat lead, this indicates the leader of the Republican caucus Tucker is in the best position to take the gavel. With Republican Jindal as governor and the fact that a few Democrat newcomers lean to the moderate side and will want to increase their influence by siding with the governor’s party, Tucker can expect a few crossover votes with otherwise close if not perfect party loyalty from Republicans in a chamber leadership vote.

Only if the Democrats do really well in the House elections might this scenario fail to manifest, with the favorite to assume the top job being state Rep. Don Cazayoux. Either way, look for the majority of committee chairmanships to go to Democrats unless Republicans get a majority but if not, still a substantial minority of those top panel positions will go to Republicans.

Even as he talks publicly of not intervening in legislative leadership contests, the stakes are too high for Jindal to remain completely out of these determinations. He has struck a theme of bipartisanship, so behind the scenes Jindal forces likely would signal approval of a GOP-lead House with a slight majority of Democrat chairmen, and a Democrat-led Senate with the same balance of committee heads. Tucker would constitute a great choice to assist Jindal and for the state and it seems unlikely Jindal would sit out a contest where Tucker's election would be in doubt.

That will create an interesting but not unprecedented situation. Under GOP Gov. Mike Foster’s second term split control of the Legislature’s leadership existed with Democrat Charlie DeWitt as Speaker and Republican John Hainkel as President (who as a Democrat has been Speaker years earlier). Reversed, it’s a formula that well could appear again.

7.11.07

Eliminating July election saves money, increases input

Sec. of State Jay Dardenne has the right idea in wanting to eliminate the July election date for Louisiana local governments. Cost savings relatively would be small but the greater impact would come from increased participation and representative government.

Currently, R.S. 18:402 allows for four election dates, March/April, July, October, and November (and in Orleans Parish, a fifth in February). Until last year there was an additional one in January, but that was done away with and the logic justifying that still applies.

Dardenne noted to a legislative panel that the most recent July election got less than 5 percent of the state’s registered voters out (although statistics show it actually was almost 6 percent), and occurred in fewer than half of the state’s parishes. If lower than usual, that is not atypical: in the past several, figures (going backwards were) 10.6, 11.7, 9.5, 11.1, 8.9, 10.8, 11.2, and 11.2 percent, or anywhere from three to four times lower than the typical fall election dates’. Each costs the state a minimum of around a half million dollars a shot.

Dardenne’s point is that the money can be saved by scheduling such an election, almost always for tax issues, either three months early or later. Opponents as in the case of the January elimination have squawked that fewer election dates creates less democracy, but is curtailing options that make a difference of three months really that critical of a reduction of choice? Further, if an emergency situation comes up where the need for money truly cannot wait, the law provides a relatively easy process to have a special election, with concurrence of two-thirds of the State Bond Commission.

But it’s the actual motivation for trying to keep the date, not this publicly-articulated one, which stirs opposition to its abolishment – local governments often use this date, as they did the January one, to try to get tax renewals and new taxes passed. Typically since the tax is dedicated to a certain constituency – such as government employee salaries – that constituency will vote in heavy numbers positively for the tax while only a small portion of those much larger numbers who get no direct benefit from the measure but who are only slightly negatively impacted will turn out.

Governing authorities hope the high turnout rate of the smaller constituency that gets direct benefits will more than offset the very low turnout of the much larger mostly unaffected populace which as a whole may well vote against the item. Having to put such things on a ballot shared with state or other local elections that will get many times more people to the polls probably increases their chances of losing, or at least will require greater efforts at justification and more compelling persuasion to get them passed.

There’s no good reason why these kinds of propositions should be shunted to low-stimulus election dates that unnecessarily spend taxpayer dollars. And even with wiping away the July date there still will be the spring date which have turnout rates similar to those of the summer date. Cost savings alone justify this elimination; the benefits to increasing citizen input on these matters are lagniappe.

6.11.07

Reform and GOP candidates prospering in NW LA

Reformism and Republican conservatism were the watchwords of the 2007 Louisiana elections, and each side of the Red River gave us a dose of one or the other.

On the Caddo side, a set of predictable races surprisingly made the Senate District 38 race the most interesting. Incumbent Republican Sherri Smith Cheek has one of the most liberal/populist voting records of Senate Republicans, and even in the entire Senate, but with her campaign coffers awash in funds from special interests, particularly the health care industry where she has fought to keep state priorities away from more efficient, individual- and community-based care in favor of more wasteful spending favoring institutionalized care, it was not expected that an unknown Republican reformer, attorney Alan Seabaugh, would give her much competition.

But despite being outspent about three to one, Seabaugh, who relentlessly placed himself as a genuine conservative, reform-minded alternative to her, nearly knocked off Cheek whose total expenditures approached the $200,000 level. He came within 300 votes of her in Caddo Parish but only got 40 percent of the vote in the smaller-populated DeSoto Parish part of the district.

This should serve as a shot across the bow to entice Cheek to alter her voting record in a more conservative direction. Up against a more experienced, higher-quality candidate she well may have lost, and the outcome should encourage tougher competition against her in 2011 if she does not change.

As interesting was the role Republican Party identification played on the Bossier side of the river. Of course, the vast majority of candidates in the parish now avoid the Democrat label; electoral prospects have gotten so bad for them that longtime Democrat stalwart Wanda Bennett didn’t even sign up for the Police Jury District 3 under the party label for which she had labored for decades, choosing to run as no party (a tactic pioneered on the Jury by District 10 member Jerome Darby). It worked, for she defeated a Republican.

Maybe Coroner Rita Yanez Horton should have followed that lead. The incumbent ran as a Democrat against newcomer John Chandler and was blown out. Democrat District 5 juror Henry Mitchell might have benefited as well, getting upended by a Republican, Barry Butler. Outside of state Sen. Robert Adley’s brushing off a college-aged longshot and longtime member Winfred Johnston getting reelected, the Republicans triumphed up against Democrats.

But perhaps the most significant demonstration of the power of the GOP label came in a contest of two Republicans the House District 9 tilt between School Board member Henry Burns and education official Richey Jackson. Despite Burns having switched from the Democrats only months before, the parish GOP endorsed Burns, who ended up winning by less than 100 votes. Although a party endorsement doesn’t mean much in Louisiana, in a race that close, it probably made the difference.

The intriguing collision of reformism and Republican conservatism impends appropriately (the district split between the two parishes with a slight numerical edge to Caddo) with the upcoming general election runoff for Senate District 37 between state Rep. Billy Montgomery and former state Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw. Montgomery, with a historically solid liberal voting record in the House from Bossier but who a year ago switched to the GOP, by the numbers would be an underdog to the impeccably conservative Shaw from Caddo.

Shaw, at 74 actually a few years older than Montgomery, surprised some by the vigor of his campaign to finish a few percentage points behind Montgomery, whose big problem is that most of the voters for the other two Republican candidates cast votes that way because they wanted conservative reformers in power so he is unlikely to get many of their votes, although he will pick up many of the lone liberal Democrat from the primary. Also, Shaw has a larger geographical base from which to draw.

But Montgomery might slip in if both the reform and conservative bases in the district, perhaps the most conservative/reformist district in the state, do not enjoy the same amount of energy as in the primary. Without Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal to excite them to turn out to vote for candidates like him, or Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom voluntarily removed from the ballot to annoy them to vote against candidates like him, Shaw’s campaign will have to work harder to ensure those conservatives and/or reformers will want to come out to the polls again where for many ballots the only other race on it will be the Attorney General’s contest.

Shaw’s campaign amazingly spent only about $50,000 to Montgomery’s nearly $300,000 in 2007. Only by continuing his outstanding grass-roots effort will Shaw demonstrate even the heavily-moneyed good-old-boys cannot keep Montgomery propped up in office against the reform tide surging across Louisiana.

5.11.07

Democrats to blame for impeding LA recovery dollars

More than two years past, liberal elites continue trying to impose a template on the “after Katrina” story that simply does not match reality, if a Washington Post editorial is taken to be indicative.

The newspaper essentially blames Republican Pres. George W. Bush for foot-dragging on providing recovery dollars for Louisiana, citing as a recent example the Road Home shortfall. In doing so, it ignores a few facts.

First, progress was slow because Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco couldn’t get her act together. By the beginning of 2006 plenty of federal recovery bucks were waiting to be used. Instead, because first she supported an entirely unrealistic $250 billion level, then because she pinned her hopes on the flawed “Baker plan,” the cumbersome Road Home program didn’t get up and running until the second half of 2006 and has been plagued by inefficiency since. In the meantime, GO Zone lending and granting had been authorized providing potentially large infusions for commercial applications of which many have taken advantage.

Second, the reason the Road Home shortfall exists is because of deliberate actions by Blanco’s administration. The federal government set down one set of rules about who would qualify for what money if federal dollars were going to it, yet the Blanco Administration disregarded them and without permission vastly expanded the program. This put Washington over a barrel: either cough up additional money or be made to look unfair and have eligible people under the proper rules not receive promised funding. For political purposes, Blanco tricked the federal government and the American taxpayer out of billions.

Finally, it’s difficult to blame Bush for perceived funding shortages in the past year because of his reduced leverage over a Democrat-led Congress. Not one bill specifically designed to address the Road Home gap or any additional funding has even been allowed to come to the floor by the Democrats. It smacks of intellectual dishonesty to give Democrats a pass on this when they’ve been the ones who have refused to date to give additional funds, and instead to try to fob that off on the White House.

The editorial essentially wishes Republican incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal luck in getting the recovery going but entirely misidentified the problem. It’s not Bush impeding things, it’s the past mistakes of Blanco as well as a culture of dependency and a too-prevalent belief that government exists to acquire and transfer wealth rather than facilitate its creation. But understanding the true causes of a slow recovery would violate the “blame Bush and/or GOP” script.

4.11.07

Tale of two New Orleans highlights reformers task

It can’t really be a tale of two cities in physical terms because they’re in the same city. But it might as well be in terms of attitude, and the wide gulf that separates two illustrate the challenge that Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal and other reformers will face statewide over the next four years.

Recently in New Orleans Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot premiered on an outdoor stage in an area largely unreconstructed over two years after flood water pooled in it. There, former residents and others were heard to likening the “waiting” in the play to that which they say they have faced in their experiences with government, that they wait on government to provide for them in order to get things rebuilt. In the meantime, little gets done.

Meanwhile, only a short distance down the road, some people didn’t wait on others. The largely Vietnamese community radiating around the Michoud Blvd. and Chef Menteur Highway intersection not long after having their homes flooded got together didn’t wait on anybody to start rebuilding. As much of the rest of New Orleans east residents complained about not having things done for them, these people got to work, helped themselves, and now the Village de l’Est area is almost completely rebuilt.

Where Louisiana needs to be is adopting the mindset of those that didn’t wait, not where it is which is too many people waiting because they wanted somebody else to do it for them, and then blame others for it not getting done. It’s the difference between a dependency inculcated by a governing philosophy that posits big government as the solution for everything and government as the tool by which resources are distributed, and the independence that comes from getting government out as much as possible out of people’s lives, a government that does not take too much from people to disable their sense of independence and to encourage dependency.

Louisiana’s historical problem, why the state underachieves so much, has been big government that either saps people of initiative, interferes too much to allow them to exercise it, or both. Reformers like the Republican Jindal articulate the different vision but those who benefit from aggressive use of government as a means of resource distribution will fight them strenuously. It will take much effort by them to cause the cultural paradigm shift that is necessary for Louisiana to improve its quality of life in any way, and they need to be prepared to fight to do it.