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9.2.08

LA primaries keep McCain rolling, Dems up in the air

The results of the Democrat primary in Louisiana yielded no surprise, but a mild upset almost emerged on the Republican side.

Sen. Barack Obama pulled in numbers pretty close to what I predicted a few days back and he will very likely then win the majority of popularly-elected delegates when the party state central committee meets May 3. But given that Sen. Hillary Clinton will get the nod of almost all of the “superdelegates,” at best Obama will win a narrow majority of the state’s delegates. This means overall at this juncture Clinton was the real winner, since the dynamics of future primaries plus the large advantage she will hold in superdelegates when the dust settles means Obama needed to put as much space as possible as he could between him and her and he got little.

For Republicans, the expectation was that the suspension of his campaign by former Gov. Mitt Romney would discourage enough people from voting for him that it could allow Sen. John McCain to claim the 50 percent plus one vote needed to ensure that elected Republican delegates become pledges to him, about half of the total to be decided next weekend. Instead, support in north Louisiana for former Gov. Mike Huckabee thrust him into the position of potentially eclipsing the absolute majority statewide needed to capture these delegates.

All night as votes were counted, Huckabee cruised in the upper forty percent of the vote, However, since several candidates unlike Romney had withdrawn rather than suspended their campaigns, their votes were thrown out of the calculations to compute a winner, with those candidates getting about 2 percent of the overall vote. Thus, Huckabee’s effective overall percentage need to get the delegates was only about 49 percent.

In the end, Romney’s decision not to withdraw may have led to Huckabee’s inability to crest over the magic mark. Assuming those voters would not have voted or of those who did at least half voted for Huckabee, the 6 percent Romney did pick up was enough to deny him. And a vote for many for Romney could have bee purely intentional, even knowing effectively he was out of the race – a show of defiance against McCain for lacking too many core conservative beliefs, against Huckabee for his desire to tax and spend, and against Rep. Ron Paul (who Romey still outdistanced) for his inability to understand optimal foreign policy. Thus, the actual distribution of delegates will be decided next Satruday.

So in the end, the Republican version had little meaning bearing on a McCain progression to the nomination, while the Democrat exercise helped keep the competition going between Clinton and Obama without any substantial advantage to either side.

7.2.08

NW LA state seat up for grabs, for U.S. seat developing

The fun started when U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery announced his retirement at the end of 2008 but what really set things in motion was when then-state Rep. Mike Powell not only passed on this race, but also on his own seat. The resulting chaos points to 2008 being an interesting year for political watchers in northwest Louisiana.

Powell had long been considered one of the front runners for the Fourth District slot and his state post was as secure as could be, witnessed by only him qualifying for it last September. But by the end of the year he had resigned it and begged out completely, citing the need to feed the various mouths of his large family.

This has perturbed some who wondered why Powell simply didn’t run for reelection, arguing that the need to concentrate on a full-time career wasn’t one that appears suddenly, which would not have required the special election this Saturday for his seat. Regardless whether Powell is in office he has built a substantial political organization in east Shreveport and the efficiency for it to elect preferred candidates is maximized by controlling the timing of the election to replace him.

That candidate may be former city councilman Republican Thomas Carmody who many of Powell’s supporters backed in his two successful runs for the Council finishing his service there in 2006. That candidate probably is not Republican Barrow Peacock, who ran against Powell in 2003 and who just finished up a try for the state senate seat in this district.

Success in this election is crucial for Peacock, now making his third attempt for the state legislature in slightly more than four years. When somebody makes a couple of spirited if unsuccessful attempts for office, he’s often seen as persistent and eager to serve. But strike out three times and for subsequent attempts he’s often viewed as a crank who won’t give up even as the people’s verdict is clear.

While Peacock almost doubled his proportion of the vote in 2007 over 2003, the fact is he missed the general election runoff both times running campaigns that were a mile wide and an inch deep – leading one to wonder whether he has a license to print money as his largely self-financed, expensive campaigns both times have revealed not much support from the activist base of the Republican Party. And he did himself no favors last fall with this group by refusing to back publicly genuine conservative Republican B.L. “Buddy” Shaw in the Senate runoff against ex-Democrat state Rep. Billy Montgomery (especially as it is Montgomery donated to Carmody's campaign).

Peacock will benefit from his recent joust as the name recognition garnered from it will carry over into this contest barely three months removed from the last. But the dynamics differ dramatically in this special election held concurrently with presidential preference primaries because the lower turnout will make activists disproportionately more important – and they probably will favor Carmody.

Carmody by the end of his career was known as the most fiscally conservative member of Shreveport’s City Council and won convincingly two terms, but his exposure is limited in the Bossier Parish part of the district where about 15 percent of its registered voters live and a month is a short period of time to raise enough money to remind voters who you are. Still, unless there’s an unusually high turnout, Carmody should win.

While Saturday will settle that race, the fate of McCrery’s job now really lies in the hands of one individual. With Powell out, one prohibitive favorite has emerged who either preordains the matter by his announcement that he’s in, or leaves a wide-open field with his deferral.

If Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator wants the job, it’s his. Prator has been the most popular politician in the region given his almost-uncontested elections for the office and good reputation in discharging its duties. The only reason Prator might pass would be winning would remove his status as the closest thing the parish has to a chief executive in order to become one of the lowliest of 435 legislators. Having been a chief executive for over a decade in a small pond, being a (relatively) small fish in a bigger pond may not seem too attractive.

But heavy pressure is being brought to bear on him to make this transition by local Republicans because he’ll guarantee the party retains the seat. If he doesn’t run, all bets are off as to who could triumph, and possible victors would include Democrat former mayor of Shreveport Keith Hightower, likely the only of his party that could win. Prator will have to decide soon because if he does opt out, Republican candidates who are waiting on him (although one has started regardless) need to get campaigning as soon as possible to counter a likely Hightower bid.

6.2.08

Especially for Dems, LA primaries have relevancy

Many in the political class nationwide snickered when Louisiana placed the imperatives of Mardi Gras ahead of bumping up its presidential preference primaries four days as did almost half of American states and territories. Many predicted the irrelevancy of the primary. But given delegate results to date, unexpectedly the state will get plenty of attention over the next few days and already the increased importance of the event is rippling through the state’s political environment.

Where the state really will matter is on the Democrat side. Sen. Barack Obama will visit New Orleans tomorrow although Sen. Hillary Clinton at this point plans not visits. The latter may indicate that her campaign will write off the state courtesy of the dynamic in play starting with the South Carolina primary: black democrats overwhelmingly choose Obama, even as whites in large but lesser proportions choose Clinton. At present, of the state Democrat electorate 45 percent are black but it must be realized that a significant chunk of white Democrats regularly do not vote for Democrats and will not want to participate in Saturday’s primary, giving Obama the edge.

Still, complicated apportionment rules for Democrats don’t mean that Obama will come out ahead in Louisiana, even if in the delegates selected by popular vote. For one, only 37 of the 66 delegates will come from the popular vote, and Democrat rules are that these must be apportioned by congressional district with any candidate (or uncommitted slate) getting at least 15 percent of the vote to receive a delegate (other rules apply in no one does, but that won’t happen). Districts have delegates available on the basis of party performance in the 2007 elections where higher-supporting districts get more delegates.

Applying a rule of thumb that all black and 75 percent of white Democrats vote with 90 percent of blacks for Obama and 80 percent of whites for Clinton, the former would win 21 and the latter 16 delegates. Statewide, Obama would pick up 57 percent of the vote which also would give him the edge with the delegates to be selected at the state central committee meeting May 3 – 19 up for grabs and if the proportion is followed, Obama may get 11 of them giving him an 8 delegate overall edge.

But Clinton still could “tie” the state because of the 10 additional “super-delegates” to be selected at the meeting, only one, Rep. William Jefferson, may lean Obama’s way. And since Obama has to overcome an overall national deficit of delegates with Clinton, if she can hold his delegate haul from Louisiana near parity with hers, it’s practically speaking a win for her.

The GOP side is simpler to calculate but potentially even messier since apportionment of delegates actually will be made the weekend after the vote (unless one candidate gets at least half of the vote which is highly unlikely) at a convention of delegates picked last month. The dynamic also is different, with Sen. John McCain having a much bigger lead over his closest rival former Gov. Mitt Romney.

In the delegate election in January, an uncommitted slate won 86 of the 105 spots. Generally speaking, the policy preferences of that slate’s members indicated they would lean to Romney. But McCain supporters have been pressuring these uncommitted members to publicly acknowledge support of McCain to try to build an aura of inevitability around their candidate.

The state can expect little in the way of overt campaigning from the Republican side because the delegates have been selected and no one thinks extra effort will produce an absolute majority for a candidate on Saturday. Thus, the real relevancy of the primaries here will come on the Democrat side where anything but a big Obama win means Louisiana will have served as part of a firewall for Clinton as she heads towards a nomination much more laborious than she hoped or planned.

5.2.08

Expect rocky start between Jindal Administration, media

“Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel” is an aphorism attributed to someone who actually did buy his ink by the barrel, Benjamin Franklin – and one that perhaps Gov. Bobby Jindal will test, but with good reason.

Jeremy Alford – who’s an independent journalist who therefore has to contract out his stories without a set paycheck to rely upon – put into print frustration that other journalists no doubt have felt concerning Jindal and his administration’s tight control of information it will release about the inner workings of his governing. No doubt exacerbating Alford’s distress is by not being on some corporate payroll, he has less of a margin for error in what he can deliver and thereby becomes more dependent on getting information for stories. Without it, it’s harder for him to do the job the way he thinks it should be done.

Whether Jindal’s infant administration will end up being more closed-lipped about stuff than any others – we all too quickly have forgotten how reluctant the Kathleen Blanco Administration was to release documents about her handling of the hurricane disasters (never completely, and with, from her political perspective, good reason not to) – chances are even if it isn’t you will hear more grumbling out of the media about Jindal’s than those of past governors. But the reasons why really rest with the media itself.

4.2.08

Landrieu defends wasteful spending to defend her seat

Sen. Mary Landrieu is not going to go away without a struggle, as she indicated with her defense of “earmarks” in the face of a growing public revulsion about them. These are specific spending requests placed into appropriations bills during the committee phase of investigation, often by members on the special committees assigned to look at all appropriations bills, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Democrat Landrieu currently serves on the Senate’s and already is in hot water about a series of earmarks for funding schools nationwide (including in Louisiana in the first year) with a reading program mainly geared towards Washington, D.C. schools. Officials there claimed they didn’t really want the program and the timing of the earmark relative to campaign fundraisers staged for Landrieu have led many to charge Landrieu with exchanging her support for campaign donations (which followed on the heels of yet another incident of questionable fundraising.)

More generally, Landrieu argues for earmarks – using rhetoric stunningly myopic. For one, Landrieu seems to think the $17 billion currently set aside for these “is made to sound like a huge amount of money.” That’s only because it is a huge amount of money, as well as spent for the wrong reasons. It’s funny how Landrieu has whined on several occasions over far smaller sums of money, such as when the state and federal government were jockeying over whether the state should pay $800 million in matching funds for hurricane recovery (the federal government by now having pumped in perhaps 100 times that figure). To math teachers, a number’s value is its number and larger numbers are always larger than smaller ones. To Landrieu, it seems numbers and their relative placements are defined only by politics.

Myopia also extends to her philosophical defense of the practice. Along the lines of the argument that “worthy” projects may be stalled for years that earmarks promote, she said “There are actually some good ideas that don't come out of the federal bureaucracy.” Perhaps, but that does not then necessarily mean that an overtly political process is the only or even best way to create a priority list given that process creates tremendous incentives to place more priority on a legislator’s political career than on any objective criteria. While some argue that this process helps “good” projects along, they conveniently forget to admit that it equally elevates “bad” projects that otherwise never should see any funding.

An excellent example in the case of Landrieu concerns the occasions she used her political muscle to influence money to be spent for other dubious purposes that could have gone to flood protection prior to the 2005 hurricane disasters (on one, interfering with the evaluation process that qualified a marginal project). Generally speaking, Citizens Against Government Waste named her “Porker of the Month” for Sept., 2003 and gave her a special award for profligacy in 2006. Part of the latter spending another group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, has criticized her for what appears to be one of the biggest boondoggles floating around the federal government, replacing a lock on New Orleans’ Industrial Canal when little in the way of cost-effectiveness can justify spending nearly $800 million.

When it’s said that earmarks serve a need and are just a fraction of the budget, it’s like saying you should pardon a drug dealer caught selling only small amounts of controlled substances who says she did it to help supply a need and thus is less guilty than a greedy dealer of large quantities. Size and intent contingencies doesn’t make it right or good public policy. Of course, Landrieu doesn’t understand this because she is blinded by her belief that government is not there just to provide basic protection from uncontrollable misfortune or evil and otherwise not interfere in people’s lives, but rather that it’s there to redistribute resources to rectify presumed “unfairness” – and part of that redistribution to her is in using it to maintain her place in elective office.

It’s just one more reason why Landrieu’s time in the Senate need not be extended past the end of this year.