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27.12.07

Powell departure adds uncertainty to state, U.S. races

Maybe we should have seen it coming when, in the aftermath of Rep. Jim McCrery’s announcement that he would not run for reelection, that buzz did not immediately form around state Rep. Mike Powell to run for the Republican nomination for that seat. Perhaps Powell himself cautioned supporters not to endorse him enthusiastically for the spot, as might be gathered by his unexpected resignation from the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Three reasons present themselves as to why Powell might do this in spite of his having as secure a seat as any in the House, after having just been reelected with no opposition this fall. One could be some lingering ethics problem, as some asserted rather unconvincingly with little proof months ago – to date, the state’s Ethics Board has not seen fit to see anything wrong with Powell’s activities. A second would be that Powell was preparing to run for the open federal seat, but that makes no sense since Powell would not have to give up his state seat to run for it. However, given a choice between time spent on legislative duties and campaigning for the U.S. position, Powell could go for the latter but it would not really solve the dilemma of making time for his family even if he could get a great full-time salary out of it – just ask McCrery who is opting not to run because it’s the family time that matters to him.

In the final analysis, it does all comes down to family with Powell. He has seven children with most hitting their teen years now or shortly, and it is a lot of mouths to feed and attention to be given. You don’t get paid as a full-time employee serving in the legislature (base salary is $1,400 a month) but, perhaps worse, you spend a lot of time in Baton Rouge and even at home on legislative business that also detracts from family life. As unfortunate as it might be that Powell is giving up public service, it’s to his credit that he puts first what really is important.

Giving up his current spot for family certainly also means he will not contend for the 4th District job, and makes that a much more wide-open contest. If Republicans cannot entice Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to run, not only does it leave an uncertain Republican nominee, it strengthens the position of the only Democrat who has a shot at taking the seat, former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower as the top two Republican candidates for it will be out. The national party likely is to involve itself more heavily in the process now to get the best possible candidate.

Locally, two names immediately leap to mind to replace Powell in a district that heavily favors Republicans. The favorite would be current Shreveport City Council member Michael Long, but he may be hesitant to run precisely for the same reasons of family that sidelined both McCrery and Powell from their respective offices. Another contender would be two-time election loser, against Powell in 2003 and for the state Senate seat incorporating the district months ago, Barrow Peacock. His problem is that he spent over $300,000 in his recent losing effort, a good chunk of it his own funds, and many Republicans were annoyed that he refused to support the eventual winner of the state Senate seat B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, a conservative Republican of long standing, against recent GOP convert liberal state Rep. Billy Montgomery. If Long doesn’t run and Peacock does, look for a concerted GOP effort to find another candidate.

Regardless of what happens now, it must be noted that Powell’s departure is a blow to those who value good legislative service, and he will be missed.

How much clearer, and bolder, can Jindal agenda be?

So, is anybody dense enough still not to understand what Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said he was going to try to achieve as governor, after a recent interview? To summarize:

  • No tax increases, considering Louisiana’s budget has almost doubled in size in six years even as the state’s population has declined (backing out recovery expenses still indicates a 40 percent increase with an almost 10 percent population decline)
  • Ethics reform which will focus on stricter reporting requirements for both legislators and lobbyists, dramatic curtailment of legislators being able to get contracts from the state or work as “consultants” otherwise, and better funding to accomplish these things on top of existing laws
  • Economic development that begins with cutting business taxes and hopefully ends in reduction of income taxes for both businesses and individuals, and emphasizing work force training.

    A great start, but one never should be afraid to climb those golden stairs which is argued by the editorialists at the Alexandria Town Talk, definitely the outlet with the surest grasp of superior public policy of any media in the entire state. It recommends taking all money that constitutionally must be used to pay items such as underfunded roads and accrued liability for state retirees, construction (presumably for state, not legislator needs i.e. no more reservoirs), and coastal restoration – and debt reduction can be added to the list, too.

    With monies of a recurring nature, it suggests tax cuts, a wise choice that will stimulate the economy that will create higher revenues for the future and will solve the practical political problem of avoiding breaching the state’s spending ceiling (current surplus estimates would require two-thirds legislative majorities to spend past a certain level which could bog down any good spending plan). Better still, it advises then a planned reduction in the size of government of 10 percent, more than justified by the higher number of state employees proportionate to the population than most states.

    Now, all together, this sounds like a real plan for prosperity.
  • 26.12.07

    Standardized tests make for honest success indicator

    This summer, a Louisiana professor’s experience with whining students was part of a provocative, and welcome, piece in the Wall Street Journal about the culture of entitlement that has developed among youth. If not by every student and their parents in the state, it should be read at least by those in Bossier Parish.

    The article noted that American-born college students’ attitudes about being graded served as a microcosm of an attitude that everybody was “special,” that they all were “entitled” to rewards such as good grades because they “worked hard.” By contrast, when Asian students did not earn A’s, they didn’t ask to get bumped up to a grade for which they had no merited, but instead asked how they could improve their performances.

    With that in mind, I wouldn’t suspect that any of the complaining parents and students who confronted the Bossier Parish School Board this summer came from an Asian immigrant family – first, some who complained they should graduate high school because they passed their classes even though they failed the state’s required Graduate Exit Exam, then others, who had disqualified themselves from parish school’s honor programs because they had not scored at a sufficient level on the state’s iLEAP exam.

    What gets the parents’ dander up is their children do well enough in the classroom, only to fail to measure up on the standardized exams. Then somehow it becomes the fault of the exam itself, or the state or parish’s policy of having the exam score inflexibly as part of the overall assessment of the child, rather than it being the simplest explanation of all – the child didn’t do what was sufficient to merit the reward.

    In both the graduation and honors cases, there is a presumption that the children merit the rewards because they do well enough in the classroom. But the truth is that exams likely are far more reliable indicators of the child’s true learning than the grades.

    An anecdote: my wife graduated from Parkway with a 4.0 GPA, tied for valedictorian with one of her best friends. Her other best friend, the salutatorian, was a couple of tenths of points behind, and the next student was another tenth or so behind her. Almost 20 years later, last year my nephew graduated from Airline. Almost 20 in his class had a 3.9 or better, and the average GPA was close to a 3.0.

    Have students become so much more brilliant and/or their teachers so much better in the interim to achieve so much higher GPAs? I think not, if you look at the Airline 2004 and 2005 GEE scores (representing that class), in the top two categories, only 27, 32, 28, and 14 percent of Airline rising juniors and seniors scored in them for English, math, science, and social studies, respectively. The dirty secret of GPAs in high school is that they have become inflated, not just in Bossier Parish, but statewide (and far more wildly in some schools where students get ‘A’ grades for poor quality work) because many teachers are reluctant to give lower grades because, with TOPS awards for college hanging in the balance, they don’t want to deprive students of these and/or don’t want to put up with the hassle from above and below for giving more honest assessments. And it trickles down to lower grade levels as well.

    Of course, there’s also the oldest fall-back excuse in the book that somebody “doesn’t test well.” Never mind that in the larger real work world tests of one kind or another are always being sprung on you so if you aren’t ready for them in school you won’t go far out of it, but in the smaller academic world my experience has been the students who make this claim, that aspect aside, almost always turn out to be fairly weak students.

    Probably Bossier Parish schools could tweak their program a little bit, like allowing students to be in an honors track in one area but not another (as did the schools I attended growing up), but one of their officials hit the nail right on the head when she said if more children were allowed to take honors classes, then there would not be a lot of academic role models in the classroom for other students. You don’t give rewards only because of hard work; you distribute them when the goal is reached regardless of the amount of work. Reasonable standards are there not to deny deserving students, but to motivate all of them.

    Which means the state should continue to prevent graduation of those who cannot pass the GEE and the district should continue to deny honors classes to those who do not excel on the iLEAP subject exams. Perhaps if there were less time complaining and more time studying there might not be any problem.

    24.12.07

    McCrery retirement puts spotlight on replacements

    With U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery’s announcement that he will not seek reelection to Louisiana’s 4th District, two favorites immediately emerge, not least because of the new closed primary system that will favor conservative Republicans and a particular kind of Democrat.

    Republican McCrery’s deferral almost a year before the primaries no doubt was made to boost Republican chances at holding the seat, because it will give fellow Republicans plenty of chance to organize to take on potentially a formidable Democrat who has been plotting for years to take a stab at this office. It’s not Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who ran against McCrery when the last vacancy occurred but who has just limped through a quixotic, resource-exhausting campaign for governor and who would have to give up his current office to do so. Nor would it be any black candidate, in a district that is about a quarter white Democrat, a quarter black Democrat, and a quarter Republican – if one particular Democrat does enter the contest.

    Because he’s the only white Democrat who in recent years has proven he can draw together enough white and black Democrat votes to win a major office, former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower would box out any competitor black or white. And McCrery’s decision not to wait to retire puts Hightower in a weaker position. Memories are still fresh about how Hightower foisted hundreds of millions of dollars of debt on Shreveport to build a big-money-losing convention center and hotel, even as water and sewerage rates soar because this money wasn’t used to repair basic infrastructure. Such reminiscences may have dulled by 2010 and the public monuments in question may end up losing less money, and Hightower has that much less time to raise money and to campaign.

    Whether intended, the timing also assists the favorite to win the Republican nomination, state Rep. Mike Powell. A potential competitor could be attorney and former mayoral candidate Jerry Jones, but being only a year removed from his expensive losing effort would make it difficult for him to catch up to Powell, whose state legislative jobs enables him to have been continuously visible in the 13 parishes that comprise the district (and most prominently in Caddo and Bossier where half the district’s registrants reside) and, not having any competition since 2003, could quickly tap into fresh supplies of funds. The only Republican that has Powell’s ability in this regard is Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, but it’s unlikely Prator would trade being the closest thing the parish has to a chief executive to which he could get himself reelected to for life for being a low-level member of a legislative body, even if it is Congress.

    Other suggested candidates have much more daunting odds. On the Democrat side, candidates from the 2006 election Patti Cox and the Rev. Artis Cash have no chance with any major Democrat running. One major Democrat who could win the nomination would be state Sen. Lydia Jackson, given that the balance between white and black Demcorats in the district is about even. But surely she realizes outside of a miracle she has no chance of winning the general election. The same applies to Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover. Recently defeated state Rep. Taylor Townsend needs to understand he's not going to win this seat with Hightower in the race, especially since he could not even beat a political newcomer for the state Senate a month ago.

    On the GOP side, there are a few names who have announced explorations of potential candidacies, but all face distinct organizational and fundraising problems compared to Powell and Prator. The only one who might have a chance against those two, state Sen. Robert Adley, just switched to the party and is disliked by too many party activists who disproportionately would turn out for this kind of contest for him to be able to win the nomination.

    Expect announcements to begin in early 2008, and probably Hightower’s and Powell’s names to head the field.

    23.12.07

    House picks should calm GOP, regional, reform concerns

    As noted in the last posting, Republican reformers and north Louisiana legislators seemed perturbed that the new Louisiana Senate committee leader lineup lacked their legislators. Their complaints might have been oversold, and when viewing House leadership selections, that should bring reassurance to these worriers.

    Of the 16 House committees, half are lead by GOP affiliates and another by a Republican-leaning independent, a minor overrepresentation of Republicans. North Louisiana also got about its share of panel chiefs with four, or 25 percent where north Louisiana’s population is about 27 percent of the state’s.

    One significant appointment of expected incoming Republican Speaker Jim Tucker was that of Democrat Rick Gallot, who is black, to lead House and Governmental Affairs. This committee will be in charge of redistricting and fuels speculation that the new 2012 district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives will end up creating five majority-Republican-voting districts and one plurality-black (Democrat) district, ending what now is the 3rd District held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon. Population changes will force the state to lose a seat which almost assuredly would be the 2nd (majority black now) or 3rd, and a combination of Republicans and blacks in each chamber constitute a majority. With state Sen. Bob Kostelka in charge of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee, if this is the plan it is one step closer to reality.

    So when combining the results of the chambers’ leadership selections, reformers and/or Republicans and anybody concerned about regional representation ought not be very disappointed at how things appear they will turn out.