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8.12.07

McCrery departure surprising but politically astute

Apparently, the frustration of a bifurcated life between career and family and an inability to pursue the agenda he wanted combined to have veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery decide against running for reelection for Louisiana’s Fourth District. The timing of the announcement of his decision, however, additionally likely included partisan factors.

It was well known that McCrery was leaving sooner rather than later, given his past sentiments about the disruption his career caused to his family not only for him but of his wife and two boys. Something which may have encouraged him to hang on was his high position in the House GOP, at present the ranking member of perhaps the most powerful committee in the body, Ways and Means.

The problem was, if not for the Democrats taking over control of the House last year, he would have been chairman of Ways and Means, and in position to write fiscal policy that emphasizes greater individual freedom, less government intrusiveness, pro-growth and greater efficiency. By contrast, Democrats have tried to push an agenda that takes more of the peoples’ earnings to favor special interests, would rather sacrifice prosperity on the altars of various causes such as the environmentalist anti-growth religion and other forms of political correctness, and thereby refuse to reform government programs to make them work better.

Unfortunately, McCrery found out very quickly few of his ideas had any realistic chance of seeing the light of day, and the political trends of next years elections offer no assurance that Republicans could take back the majority. While Democrats might follow the suicidal path of nominating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the presidency, the large number of announced retirements from the House (his being the 18th so far) by Republicans make their chances only even of retaking the House even with a Clinton nomination.

And, partisan politics may have played a role in the timing of the decision. He might have taken the chance to see if a Clinton meltdown would vault him into the chairmanship, then if not depart in 2010. But even as that would have led to two more years of decreased presence in his teenagers’ lives, a 2008 exit might also increase Republican chances of holding the district. With Clinton likely heading the Democrat ticket, that would be poison to any Democrat trying to succeed McCrery.

McCrery definitely will be missed in both the district and the state. Louisiana would be fortunate if his replacement is of such quality.

6.12.07

Shaw defeating Montgomery provides lessons for NW LA

We can draw several lessons from former state Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw’s besting of outgoing state Rep. Billy Montgomery in the Senate District 37 contest, but perhaps the most important is the sign of continued maturation of the area’s electorate.

Almost a year ago when Shaw began talking of running for the office, he knew that the perception could form among voters that, at 74 years of age, he was a bit long in the tooth to be pursuing the job, especially given a younger candidate already was in the race and a couple half his age would join. So he (and his wife) embarked upon a vigorous walking campaign that would have driven most politicians into the ground which had to dispel any thought that he wasn’t up to the job physically.

It also reaffirmed one of the truisms us political scientists have discovered concerning local campaigns: by far the most effective strategy is personal contact. While it’s very time- and energy-consuming, it’s relatively inexpensive and enormously effective. This basic tenet seemed to escape Montgomery, who had not run a campaign in 20 years and his expressions of befuddlement about why he lost confirms it.

Montgomery seemed to think that meet-and-greets and an avalanche of money (likely five times what Shaw spent, probably half a million dollars making it the most expensive campaign in state Senate history) could win it which, under typical circumstances with such a monetary disparity, might have worked. But Montgomery’s problem basically was he was a fraud in the minds of many in a district who had known little of him before the campaign.

In a sense, Montgomery represents vigorous resistance to the passing of an era when a lack of information about a legislator’s record and state political news combined with an affable nature was enough to get Louisiana legislators elected. Montgomery’s past legislative behavior that smacked of liberal populism simply did not comport to the policy preferences of perhaps the most conservative Senate district in the state. Modern technology that got information out about his record plus the visible, contrasting view Shaw energetically disseminated could not be papered over by Montgomery calling himself a Republican and spending all outdoors publicizing the stuff he claimed he had and could bring back from Baton Rouge.

It also helped that local and state Republicans took the rare step of backing one Republican over another, to alert voters of the difference (even as Montgomery had admitted he switched from Democrat out of political necessity). And other GOP opponents Jay Murrell and Barrow Peacock hammered home the same message that Montgomery was out of touch with the policy interests of his new district. But none of this publicity could have made the difference unless a majority in the district was ready for fundamental change.

Simply, enough rejected the infantile model that bringing back stuff defined the quality of representation. Rather, they prefer that government take less in the first place thereby creating better conditions for the individual to succeed, instead of tolerating increased government interference offset by throwing a few more baubles their way.

It was particularly encouraging to see in Bossier Parish that Montgomery, it being his home base, won there by such a narrow margin. More than most places, Bossier government elites have been enthralled in courting saviors, whether they be military installations, casinos, retailers, or whatever, and lavishing public monies on them, rather than making sure the people keep as much of their own money as possible that creates economic growth beyond what government can micromanage. And they have done the same old thing because the people generally have been too accepting of the old way of doing things.

Despite the protestations of those elites like Bossier Sheriff Larry Deen who had mailers going out denying Montgomery was a “good old boy,” it takes one to know one and many voters had it figured out despite such denials or diversionary tactics. It signals maturation on the part of the electorate as a whole which again denied the dream of the good old boy network that runs Bossier to get a companion senator for fellow big government advocate Robert Adley.

Perhaps this signals a turning point in the parish’s political path. Next year really has no elections of consequence, but Bossier City elections loom in 2009 with a number of current officials fitting the Montgomery profile up for reelection. Only after those contests will we know for sure whether the Shaw victory represents a temporary or sustained change in direction.

5.12.07

Politically correct N.O. Council pursues thought control

The American Civil Liberties Union usually gets it wrong, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day and it’s that time to be correct for the ACLU when it voices what oddly is almost the sole opposition to the New Orleans City Council’s Big Brother attempt to regulate thought.

The Council appears ready to dive into and beyond the trendy and constitutionally and theoretically troubling waters of “hate crimes.” As a recent bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives redefines the existing 1994 law, a hate crime is one where someone “willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person” – an expansion of the existing federal law in terms of protected categories. (The Senate is trying to sneak such language into the current defesne appropriaiton bill.)

The existing federal act itself is highly problematic for it allows government to apply stiffer punishments merely on the basis of one’s presumed thoughts. It is inherently immoral because, by making certain motivations for committing violence cause for additional punishment, it tacitly condones violence that is not “hateful.” Violence is violence regardless of motive; it is the act, not the thought behind it (the only exception being self-defense because that removes entirely the criminality of the act), that causes the injury and it is unjust to treat equal acts differently.

There are other obvious problems with the whole concept of hate crimes, constitutionally and in terms of application, such as really knowing what an attempted or actual assailant was thinking which invites abuse of government power using these statutes to persecute certain selected groups yet not others. But far worse is the Council’s desire to go way beyond existing law not just to expand the additional penalties for violent acts, but to make non-violent acts punishable under this concept as well.

The envisioned ordinance creates the crime of intimidation by use of hate symbols by their mere appearance in public places when intended as an act of intimidation. This invites tremendous government abuse and selective prosecution based upon the political whims of the day and of politicians and government officials – how can you read the minds of people to say it was with the purpose of intimidation, and what is a “hate symbol,” and how does one know it was hatred on the basis of some category that motivated the individual? With a direct act or attempted act of violence, there’s no question of symbol and the act obviously intimidates.

New Orleans’ municipal code already covers threatening someone with harm (such as Sec. 54-403 concerning disturbing the peace) so not only is this proposed law superfluous, it additionally makes “bad thoughts” a crime. And while such displays may be in bad taste, it should never be a crime simply because somebody gets offended – why should the Council fall prey to the fashion that offense, as defined solely by the offended themselves become a matter for government intervention?

In the final analysis, this politically correct proposal sets up a situation based far too much on subjectivity that criminalizes stupid thoughts. This is an exceptionally bad bill that the Council, as part of an already-overbearing city government, needs to trash immediately.

4.12.07

Can Jindal pick for top aide promote campaign agenda?

In keeping with the youthful orientation of his incoming administration, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal selected current Secretary of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Angèle Davis to serve as his commissioner of administration. Whether that will enable him to keep with his agenda of new direction in Louisiana remains to be seen.

Davis is an experienced hand in state government and in that role, having been former Gov. Mike Foster’s deputy commissioner in that role, which, most importantly among other things, is responsible for fiscal policy. The question is whether she is committed enough to policies that reshape state spending priorities and cut taxes, burdensome regulation, and bureaucracy through her budgetary suggestions to him.

Democrat-turned Republican Foster was not known as a smaller-government advocate, and the fact she had a high profile job in the Democrat administration of current Gov. Kathleen Blanco with Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu as her nominal boss indicates she is flexible enough to please masters of varying political persuasions. In addition, she has good experience for a Republican governor where there haven’t been too many in such positions of responsibility, which is needed.

Yet this also leads one to wonder whether she will bend to good-old-boy legislators who want to keep a bloated, inefficient state government more suited to their political agendas. Especially to put up with lot of them in the incoming state Senate, she will have to be a firm believer in the platform for change Jindal espoused throughout his campaign to stand up to their attempts to sabotage it. We just don’t know at this point how successful she can be in that which will require deep belief in that platform that publicly in her past work she has not displayed.

Still, it is something that this is not a wholly recycled appointment from the past. Jindal promised fresh faces for a new start, and as far as experienced individuals in state government go, she’s not too stale.

3.12.07

Kennedy, not Landrieu, best positioned to win in 2008

As the 2008 Senate race in Louisiana seems to be off and running, initial indications are that Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a serious challenge from Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy and to think her odds at this point of reelection are better than even ignores political reality.

Kennedy’s declaration of candidacy allows him to start raising money to catch Landrieu, even as he has tried to spend generically from his Treasurer’s campaign account to build support. (State law prohibits transfer of campaign money from state to federal contests and vice-versa.) It seems to have worked, so far: Kennedy commissioned a poll from one of the premier national pollsters to find he led Landrieu 45-38 percent. It’s early, but an incumbent with those numbers is not in good shape.

But Kennedy’s initial matchup probably won’t feature Landrieu. With the switch from the blanket to closed primary system for federal elections, he’ll likely have competition for the GOP nomination, perhaps from Sec. of State Jay Dardenne although Dardenne’s recent injuries and projected extended recovery time might have him reconsider – that and Kennedy has a lot of momentum going for himself. Still, it is unlikely that he would go unchallenged.

For the GOP primary, Kennedy will have to satisfactorily answer a couple of concerns. First, when he ran for the Senate in 2004, he went off on a bizarrely liberal direction on several issues; he will have to give convincing explanations concerning these departures from conservative orthodoxy. Second, recent financial problems at the state’s insurer of which he as Treasurer sits as one of several board members will draw questions about his (among the many others) inattentiveness to the matter; Kennedy will have to demonstrate a mixture of contriteness and extenuating circumstances to allay concerns.

If he can accomplish these things to win the nomination, he then is in an excellent position to draw a very flattering comparison to Landrieu. For example, as Treasurer, Kennedy got behind popular programs such as unclaimed funds reimbursement, and he became known as a fiscal watchdog ready to challenge spending priorities at odds with what was good for the state.

For eight years four years prior to Kennedy’s initial election to the job, that office was held by none other that Landrieu, who did … absolutely nothing and, worse, let the good times roll without dissent as the state plunged into debt. (Kennedy worked for former Gov. Buddy Roemer during the first part of her reign in that position who encouraged some of this, but at least he can claim he was bound to do what his boss wanted in terms of policy why Landrieu was completely free to do as she liked.)

Also, Landrieu has required quite a reputation for supporting spending in nonsensical ways, earning national condemnation with some of her choices potentially contributing to New Orleans having been less prepared to stave off something like the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, even as Kennedy must explain some of his past liberal positions, Landrieu “out-liberals” Kennedy by a longshot on a variety of issues that will not make her popular among Louisiana voters if these are publicized to show she is more a friend of Washington Democrats than to the state.

Finally, electoral dynamics will work against her, one past, one future. In about a month I’ll be presenting some research at a professional meeting (more about that in the future) with part of it demonstrating that, by actual votes cast, Democrats lost a net 48,000 or so voters statewide for 2007 as a result of Katrina. Considering that in 1996 Landrieu barely (as best we can tell despite widespread allegations of fraud) defeated a state senator who is now in political obscurity and in 2002 by not many more votes even as an incumbent beat a weak holder of a now-abolished statewide office, Kennedy is clearly the toughest challenger she has yet to meet – in a less-favorable election environment than ever.

And this analysis does not factor in perhaps the biggest negative that could happen to her in Louisiana – if Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democrat presidential nominee. That seems likely and Kennedy and anybody else running in the general election will relentlessly use very opportunity to tie Landrieu in with Clinton who would lose the state by a bigger margin than Democrats did in 2004, dragging down Landrieu and other Democrats on state ballots.

At this point, if there’s anybody that could be considered a favorite in this contest, it would have to be Kennedy, not Landrieu.

2.12.07

Playoffs for major college football beneficial to LA

LSU’s backing into a shot at the college football national championship, at the expense of a more deserving team, might appeal to some, but if as a college football fan you want a true champion to emerge annually and if as a Louisianan you want the state’s three bowl games to bring in bigger economic boosts, only a playoff system would work to achieve both.

The way the top division of college football chooses it national championship, unlike any other sport including all other divisions of college football, is not by a playoff system. Instead, subjective criteria prone to biases and limited information determine that only two teams can play for the championship, instead of head-to-head matchups on the field leading to the final game.

The reason why this happens is that bowl games that pit teams in postseason games having no playoff implications, especially the largest – the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls – want to retain their high-profile status. The higher the profile, the more money the organization running the game receives and, from a community standpoint, the more tax revenues from fans traveling to see their teams play.

But the problems presented by this arrangement in picking a true champion are legion. Besides the obvious subjectivity, luck has way too much to do with determining the outcome. Taking the team that was more deserving on ability than LSU, Oklahoma, the only reason OU got its second loss (equaling LSU’s total) was its starting quarterback, rated the best in the nation, got injured early in a game against Texas Tech who has the nation’s most prolific passing offense. It took his backup awhile to get going, during which Tech was able to exhaust OU’s defense and rack up a lot of points. When OU’s offense got back on track in the second half, it was too late, and the game was put away by Tech with about 30 seconds left by a touchdown.

The way the playoff system works in lower divisions, the top 16 teams are picked or qualify by conference championship wins for playoffs. Under that system, that loss might drop OU’s seeding, but they could still win it all on the field instead of being left out with no chance. Bad luck in one game can be overcome by sustained excellence throughout the season and one unlucky incident doesn’t have to end a team’s chances with other potentially fortunate teams that avoided game-changing injuries to star players (or blown referee calls or whatever misfortune) being the beneficiaries.

And such a system would create economic benefits as well. Consider that LSU will take on Ohio State in New Orleans and may be favored because it is, essentially a home game – the same dynamic that allowed them to take a share of the 2004 national championship. While that may be twice lucky for LSU, it’s not so great for the New Orleans and state economies, because so many fans will not be staying in or consuming things around New Orleans, or as much, denying collection of potential revenues from out-of-state fans.

A playoff system could meld traditional bowl games into it. Currently, there are 31 such games plus the national championship game. Eliminate the latter and allow one of the major big four games to host it every four years. In two of the other three years, it would host a semifinal game, and in the other year, host a quarterfinal game. Then three of the next prominent bowl games – probably the Cotton, Outback, Gator, and Capital One – would host the other quarterfinal games, with one of them every four years hosting a first-round game. Finally, of the remaining bowls, about half would host the remaining first-round games every other year, and the other half would invite whoever did not make the playoffs for a one-off game as they do now. (Other issues such as scheduling, seeding etc. would not be difficult to work out.)

This would be an economic boost in particular to the lower-level bowls such as Louisiana’s Independence and New Orleans Bowls. Currently, bowls like this often must depend upon regional tie-ins to attract crowds. But as part of a playoff system at least every other year, interest would be heightened in these games, probably not only drawing bigger crowds but many more traveling fans to boost their cities’ and states’ economies. The largest games probably won’t see any changes in attendance or from where fans come, but would benefit because they could lower their payouts since teams getting that far already will have picked up a couple of paychecks and they won’t have to use these to induce the highest-quality teams to accept their invitations.

Louisiana’s five school presidents with teams in the top division need to lobby their governing National Collegiate Athletic Association to makes these changes – even LSU’s. While that school may have disproportionately advantaged by the current system, in the long run for fans and the state with three bowl games (only much larger California, Texas, and Florida have as many or more), a playoff system brings more benefits.