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17.4.08

Donations delineate serious 4th District candidates

Money-raising totals at this time point to clear favorites in the race to succeed Rep. Jim McCrery in Louisiana’s Fourth District – whether some candidates wish to believe it.

Of the five declared candidates who had done so in time to be required to file reports to the Federal Election Commission Mar. 31, only Caddo District Attorney Democrat Paul Carmouche had raised the vast majority – in fact, all – of his funds from contributors. The significance of this is that funds raised this way serves as a proxy of approximate support for a candidate with typically the higher the proportion of funds raised from others not using own resources, the greater the perceived quality of the candidate.

Far too many people do not understand the relationship between donations to a campaign and the likelihood of a candidate winning a contest. Donors reflect the larger public and they are like investors, putting money down on candidates they think likely to win in the hopes of having access to that person when elected. Why give to a candidate, unless you truly believe in the ideas of that candidate, if you don’t think much of his chances of winning?

Thus, the largely self-financed nature of some candidates in the contest demonstrates the public at large doesn’t think much of their chances of winning and largely ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. By contrast, those pulling in a decent amount of donations are considered higher quality and could win. By this metric, among those announced at this time, Carmouche would be the favorite.

Another error made in thinking about these dynamics is to believe spending a lot on a campaign can make you into a quality candidate; rather, quality attracts money to spend. This may disappoint some in the campaign, but spending a fair amount of money is not going to make you a winner, and not necessarily competitive or even “serious.” The latter label comes not from spending a lot of money, but having a lot of money given to you and/or a lot of people assisting in the campaign.

Using these definitions, at this point only Carmouche can be considered competitive if not serious, although the numbers indicate Republican Chris Gorman might become so unless he is swamped by the entry into the contest of local attorney Jeff Thompson, endorsed by McCrery, or by the potential interest of state Rep. Wayne Waddell whose voting record in the Louisiana Legislature in the past few years has been among the more conservative. Thompson’s endorsed status and Waddell’s record have the potential to attract some meaningful money and make them clear frontrunners if nobody can else wrest that distinction.

The next reports due in the summer should really distinguish contenders from pretenders. Unless a Republican emerges with a clear margin by then over comrades in money raised from donors, the district is vulnerable to a party switch in the form of Carmouche.

16.4.08

GOP statewide looks to benefit from disaster displacement

One of my professional colleagues recently released a paper estimating the changing dynamics of both New Orleans and the state in distribution of partisan voting. They echo a paper that readers may not have heard about (unless they listened to an interview on Eric Asher’s “Inside New Orleans” on WIST-AM) that I presented at the Southern Political Science Association annual meeting which was in New Orleans back in January.

Part of the paper dealt with the effects of term limits on the partisan composition of the Legislature resulting from the 2007 elections. I discovered that the majority of the seat gain for the Republicans (seven of 12, chambers combined) came from the imposition of term limits. That the minority party picks up seats in a term-limited environment is consistent with theory: incumbents appear to have advantages in reelection campaigns over challengers by virtue of their elective office and status, which term limits eliminate.

But appropriate to changes in the electorate, statewide I discovered the impact of displacement from the 2005 hurricane disasters had shifted to the advantage of Republicans. As the 2007 elections approached, only three parishes had nontrivial impacts still present in their electoral compositions, Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, all on the minus side (but not, as some had speculated, East Baton Rouge on the plus side).

Jefferson was almost back to normal, estimated at almost 96 percent of its July 1, 2005 population (adjusted by expected changes without intervention by the storms). But Orleans was at but half-strength, and St. Bernard was still reeling at less than a quarter. Altogether, they indicated over 290,000 had left the state, the adults of which who had been registered to vote would be expected only in small proportions to vote absentee in the fall elections..

Translated in actual expected voting, by comparing voting patterns in 2003 to 2007 it seems 61,000 fewer partisan voters from these three parishes participated in the 2007 governor’s contest, and about 4,000 more non-major party voters also had pushed buttons. (The total of around 65,000 was almost precisely the difference in total statewide turnout from 2003 to 2007 – meaning the lower proportion voting for governor in 2007 than in 2003 was almost solely attributable to the absence of displaced voters.) And of the partisans not present, over 54,000 were registered Democrats (of which around 41,000 were black) and only somewhat more than 6,000 Republicans, meaning an advantage of about 48,000 votes for GOP candidates statewide.

At the parish level, Orleans suffered the biggest losses, over 37,000 partisan votes including 60 percent of the total Democrats lost, although St Bernard endured the biggest proportional losses, losing about 60 percent of both its Democrat and Republican potential votes. To underscore the devastation in St. Bernard, it actually lost a few more total votes than all of Jefferson even though in 2005 it was estimated as one-seventh the total population of Jefferson.

The larger point here is that, for now, statewide Republican candidates are advantaged in this new environment compared to the old. The roughly 48,000 more votes relatively a GOP candidate can expect turned what would have been a razor-thin primary win into a comfortable one for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, and it would have sent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu to defeat in 1996 thereby mooting her 2002 reelection bid that would have been uncomfortably close.

While people still trickle back to the affected areas, and thereby disproportionately would be adding Democrats to the vote columns, sooner rather than later this will stop. Whether this becomes a major component to the ascendancy of the Republican Party as the state’s majority party will depend on how well the GOP does other things to win elections consistently.

15.4.08

Democrat fortunes shaky in LA for November contests

Despite some overly-cheery conjecturing by the pollster, a poll for a private group that tacked on a few questions about upcoming political contests provided some guarded, bad, and terrible news for Democrats likely subject to Louisiana statewide votes in November.

The Southern Media Opinion and Research poll taken about two weeks ago gave most hope to Sen. Mary Landrieu, running for reelection against heavyweight Republican challenger state Treas. John Kennedy. She led him 50-38 percent, any number below 50 percent meaning, because if an incumbent more than six months out from an election cannot draw at least that, she would be in serious trouble.

As it is, she’s only in mild trouble. With so few people tuned into the contest at this point with almost no advertising concerning it, some respondents will give an incumbent’s name simply out of familiarity, and some undecided voters, not really knowing about the competitor but leaning against the incumbent, will end up breaking against her later. Thus, her support is overstated at this point and if it drifts downwards even a little, she becomes unlikely to repeat in office. Stating “It means the voters obviously have a very high regard for her as their U.S. senator,” and “She is going to be tough to beat because she is so well-thought of,” as does the pollster shows little real understanding of what these head-to-head numbers actually mean

But that’s a better situation that Sen. Hillary Clinton faces in winning the state as a presidential candidate. She polled down 49-42 percent to Republican Sen. John McCain, apparent GOP nominee. Apparently, the only one surprised by this is the pollster, who marvels, “I don't know that she would carry Louisiana, but McCain would certainly have to come in here and campaign to win it. It's certainly not a cinch.”

In reality, Clinton has little chance of winning. She always will draw respectable numbers in Louisiana – recall that her husband won the state twice – because there are yellow-dog Clintonites who would vote for anything associated with the 42nd president. But she does not have his political skills or has had his good policy luck or the audacity to take credit for good GOP policy initiatives that got him to fool enough non-liberals to win here. Expect a bare modicum of campaigning regardless of who gets nominated; she would probably end up at least seven points down if she wins the nomination.

The 16 percent gap to McCain for Sen. Barack Obama, however, got the pollster to stop blowing Democrat sunshine up our skirts and instead got him musing about voter intentions – without actually making any enlightening observations. Noting that while a little more than a quarter of whites said they’d support Clinton against McCain while just over a seventh would support Obama in that matchup, he concluded, “Race is obviously entering into the extremely poor numbers he's receiving from white voters.”

I’d hate to see what this surveyor would term as not obvious, for racial attitudes probably play just a small part in that difference (additional questions that could determine some of these things seemed not to have been asked). It’s not “race,” but the facts that Obama thinks people of faith don’t worship God but “cling” to belief, that until very recently his wife never had any pride in her country America, and that by continued patronage and active participation in a church by him and his entire family he endorses the ideas behind the ranting of a minister who calls on God to condemn America and who tells his congregation about how evil America run by whites is, including how they foisted genocide by inventing AIDS and got paid back by 9/11. The problem for the white Louisiana electorate is not that Obama is black, it’s that Obama has Obama’s belief system, as much as he tries to obscure it, which is profoundly out of step with its own.

The best summary of this poll is that, if you’re a Democrat who spends most of your time outside of Louisiana, your chances of winning a statewide election are at best fair, and at worst none.

14.4.08

Another day, additional wackiness from LA Legislature

The Louisiana Legislature – more specifically, the House’s Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee – gave us a good example of the craziness that the legislative process can produce Monday.

The Committee spent over an hour debating HB 407 which started as a bill to prohibit the use of cell phones for drivers of public/commercial transportation. Gradually it got whittled down by allowing all hands-free devices (for example, modules in ears that could be turned on or off by the flick of a finger) and attempted exemptions. Eventually, it foundered over the question of Councils on Agings’ van drivers using cell phones and whether mandating the law would put an intolerable financial burden on them (despite the fact that Blackberry-capable headsets sell for under $50).

Then it spent less time and seemed to forget all of this when it passed HB 822 which would forbid cell phone use unless in the hands-free mode or in “emergency” situations. While this bill has great intentions, it likely overreaches on both grounds of necessity and in enforcement.

While it’s true some people drive much more idiotically when holding up and talking on a cell phone – driving well below speed limits, making rude lane changes and merges, etc. – others don’t inconvenience other drivers. And while statistics in committee were trotted out to show cell phone usage was associated with a couple of thousand accidents in each of the past coupled of years and even a few fatalities, there was no demonstration that they caused those accidents.

Enforcement will be a nightmare, particularly with the exemptions put in. Only inattentive drivers to the presence of police (what is law enforcement going to do, pull up beside a driver holding an animated discussion and flash the lights in the middle of heavy traffic?) will get caught, and the smart ones of them will immediately dial their doctor’s office and claim that was their call.

(Adding to the festivities was committee chairwoman Nita Hutter’s usually pleasant, but sometimes stern, reminders to members about just how to properly conduct business – all but four members of the committee are freshmen – as well as some of the stumbling as a result of that, such as with Dorothy Sue Hill – wife of term-limited ex-Rep. Herman Hill who defeated another ex-senator trying to get back his old House seat last fall – who would refer to the cost estimates produced by the Legislative Fiscal Office as “physical” notes.)
This bill serves as a typical example of some products that come from the Legislature – addressing an issue that really isn’t much of a problem with a solution uncertain really to work. We’ll just have to see if protection of personal autonomy and concerns over enforcement or regulation of obnoxious, perhaps even slightly dangerous behavior takes precedence as the bill moves on – applying even to Council on Aging van drivers.

13.4.08

Cuts for future purposes, not present pork, advisable

Interestingly political angles and motivations concerning Louisiana’s operating budget now being debated may result in much farther-reaching policy changes than originally appeared to be coming from Gov. Bobby Jindal this year.

Last week on Inside New Orleans with Eric Asher I remarked how it seemed the state’s media hardly were addressing an obvious disconnection within the operating budget proposed by Jindal: increased spending, with a big relative boost in some questionable areas, even as his administration predicted huge budget deficits over the nest few years. I had argued for shifting priorities, particularly out of a $307.1 million boost for an incentive fund to draw large employers to the state and $60 million additional going to nursing homes even though the system already is too heavily biased towards institutions for efficient use of existing dollars.

Lo and behold, even as I spoke, news was becoming public about the House sending along a request, due that day, to state agencies about how they would handle a five percent cut in revenues in anticipation of looming budget deficits. Further, in the Senate more vocal criticism was being expressed about the use of the money for the recruiting megafund.

Referring to the latter, the debate sharpened when Jindal proposed as part of an overhaul of the capital outlay process that no new projects be funded this year. One proposed use of some or all of this additional money scheduled for the megafund would be on capital projects, and Jindal appeared to partially relent by allowing that if the fund did not spend itself away by Oct. 1, some of that funding would head in that direction.

That would be a mistake. In light of looming deficits, this money needs to be sequestered into the Budget Stabilization Fund to provide a cushion for future revenue loss and/or a tax cut that would eventually recoup the loss. Even though the House seems agreeable on this approach, it’s going a step further by looking for ways to reduce spending.

That task is made more complicated in that it is unclear exactly from where the cuts could emanate. Many agencies would be protected in part of in full because their sources of funds which minimally or not all use general fund revenues – for example, all the revenues for the Department of Insurance come from fees, statutory dedications, and grants. But the two largest recipients of discretionary funds outside of the Executive Department (almost all of which revenues are federal pass-through dollars for disaster recovery) are health care, where about half of its funding is of that nature, and higher education, where almost all of it is.

As a result, Louisiana State University system president John Lombardi cried foul at this request, noting the disproportionate impact that request could have, making dire predictions. There was a bit of truth to his protestations, but such cuts would not be nearly as drastic as he asserted. For example, my employer LSUS until last year was only funded at about 80 percent of the recommended level and then brought up to 100 percent. A five percent cut still would leave us well up on where we were two years ago.

Cuts that could be coming to health care, however, may not be a bad thing if they are connected to changes in the way indigent care is provided. Moving from an institutional-based to an individual-based system promises long-term savings, especially since disaster displacement has cut down disproportionately the number of indigent, yet Jindal’s budget increases health care expenditures by a nearly a quarter. (The Administration argues this is to continue services at present levels, and that it takes the place of nonrecurring monies used for essentially recurring expenses by the previous administration.)

And cuts in higher education may cause a light bulb to go on in the Administration’s head as they could provide a reprogramming opportunity in the future for shifting education resources towards two-year degrees and technical training. Jindal and the schools offering these things have been most insistent that real growth in graduates must occur here for economic development to proceed.

Besides the obvious laudatory aspects of the desire to reduce spending in anticipation of future deficits, this jockeying may represent a power play. It may have been initially the Legislature used the five percent reduction as a way to siphon money out of the megafund. Yet the basic idea of less spending to forestall deficits is sound regardless. Reductions in spending might pave the way to reform of indigent health care spending and reprogramming of education spending towards workforce training which might entice the Jindal Administration to join the attempt. Allowing raiding of the megafund for capital projects might be the way for Jindal to get that item passed.

But the danger here is in not banking the money for the future. If Jindal and legislative leaders allow such shifts to become an opportunity for a porkfest, nothing useful has been accomplished. Keeping in mind those looming shortfalls (or, in the optimistic case, building revenues to trigger tax cuts to spur economic growth) when paring government by this strategy cannot take a back seat to any other motivation.