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4.7.08

Independence Day, 2008

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Friday, Jul. 4 being Independence Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

3.7.08

Flawed arguments show LA legislators still don't get it

By remarks made after Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed a doubling of Louisiana legislators’ salaries to full-time pay, at least a pair of state lawmakers shows they still don’t get it, lending clues as to why legislators as a whole were so incredibly myopic on this issue.

Facing constituents, House Speaker Jim Tucker, widely viewed as the driving force behind the effort to boost annual pay for a position defined in the Constitution as part-time to a level higher than the annual median family income in the state, and state Rep. Jeff Arnold defended their actions to vote for it through a mishmash of curious if suspect supportive arguments, sob stories, and actual dissembling.

Tucker argued that such a large raise was needed because the Legislature needs people from all walks of life. He cited a story about how educators, attorneys, professionals, and those in medicine turned him down as he solicited candidates for last year legislative races, allegedly proving higher pay as needed.

2.7.08

Contradictions catching up to Cazayoux Congress career

Rep. Don Cazayoux, he who rode an “I’m a Democrat but don’t really vote like one” mantra to a narrow special election win for his current job, is finding he can’t dance fast enough to obscure the contradictions inherent in that strategy.

As his state legislative record indicated, Cazayoux is a conventional liberal who tries to cast a conservative vote here and there to make his conservative district think he isn’t. In a low-stimulus special election last month, it was enough to win. But as we approach the more-followed regular election season with qualifying for it just a couple of weeks away, attention is being brought to what he says and what he does come a-cropper.

Republican groups and sympathizers are running ads and messages pointing out how the Democrats who run Congress in the House are using procedural votes to defeat Republican attempts to consider commonsensical means by which to increase U.S. energy independence and to bring down high gasoline prices. Cazayoux is voting with Democrats to prevent these measures, which include increasing ability to extract oil from U.S. resources, from coming to votes amended to legislation.

Like always, Cazayoux tries to have it both ways. Despite these votes he claims he really is for things like increased domestic drilling capacity as evidenced by a recent vote, but that is misleading if one doesn’t understand how business gets conducted by the House Democrat majority. Essentially, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets a vote count on legislation that matters to her. As long as she can get a majority (preferably 218) on a matter, she then allows for enough Democrats to vote against their leadership so that it does not endanger the party’s victory on the issue. Cazayoux had permission to vote that way because she had the votes to spare on S. Con. Res. 70 – barely.

Otherwise, he toes her line like the obedient lapdog to liberalism that he is. He follows the standard party line that “drilling is not a short-term solution,” (which is not entirely accurate) knowing full well that a long-term solution is needed as well but would rather put his eggs in the basket of all sorts of impossible alternative solutions (except, of course, the one alternative that has any realistic chance of providing in the intermediate term, nuclear power). This is the tactic of liberals to create an energy crunch and then blame it not on their own intransigence in matters of supply sacrificed on the altar of misguided environmentalism, but on the free market economy as a backdoor means by which to bring greater government control over the people’s resources.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it is by choice, because it’s the result of the vote that counts. And the fact is, despite all his words denying it Cazayoux’s actions show he is more interested in voting for a liberal agenda critically out of step with his district, Louisiana, and the country, than he is in doing what’s correct.

Even having been in office less than two months, astute political observers knew he could not hide such votes for long and now opponents are exploiting the internal contradiction. While this fell flat during the special election campaign because it was a vote Cazayoux wouldn’t have to make, the charge that Cazayoux’s first vote if reelected would be to install the ultra-liberal Pelosi as Speaker will ring very true in this fall’s campaign, and Cazayoux is busy verifying that statement with his current voting behavior. It will not amuse a majority in the 6th District. No matter how many symbolic votes Cazayoux casts, as long as he casts his lot with Congressional Democrats, he supports a self-defeating energy policy for America.

1.7.08

On line items, Jindal shows consistency and resolve

Lost in all the hoopla about Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of the legislative pay raise, an issue on which he made contradictory promises, appeared to take the side of 76 legislators instead of 2.8 million voters, then reversed himself to veto, was in contrast the unswervingly decisive way in which he handled certain line items tucked into HB 1287, the supplemental appropriations bill concerning which his veto decisions were announced along with that of the failed raise. On Apr. 30, he set out standards by which many of these items would be judged. Two months later, judgment day came for some of them based on those criteria.

Several items he excised arguing there were alternative ways using existing pools of money to fund them. Some others (with Republican Livingston Parish state Rep. Rogers Pope and state Sen. Dale Erdey bearing the brunt) he axed because they were purely local government concerns and should get funding from that source. Most of the others, dealing with nongovernmental organizations, in his mind failed at least one of his four-part test outlined previously: the item (1) must have statewide or substantial regional impact, (2) must have been presented/openly discussed during the legislative session, (3) must be a state agency priority, and (4) must have the proper disclosure form published online prior to consideration for funding (consistent with information provided in the House disclosure form).

A couple of items appeared out of nowhere without any disclosure. The Gulf South Research Institute, a private contractual firm based in New Orleans for decades, got its $300,000 stricken, and a $750,000 gift that would be passed along by an LSU unit to the private firm TransGenRx met the same fate (maybe it was included to make up for the nearly $400,000 it has spent on lobbying in the in past three years).

Jindal also saw something he didn’t like in a request to pay off the Maritime Institute for Emergency Monitoring and Response, requested by Republican Sen. Mike Michot to the tune of $396,500. Maybe it was because it was for a conference that already had been held and thus presumably paid for, or that it also had prominent Democrats participating, or that the end product from the conference was just too narrow in scope.

Sometimes it might have been too little. The Livingston Council on Aging, on Republican state Rep. Tom McVea’s request, asked for $10,000 out of a budget approaching $2 million; Jindal may have thought the request to fund one small program for an agency, especially when funded elsewhere in the budget, with that much just was not a compelling state need. Or, it might have been too much with too much dependence. According to the forms, the $500,000 requested by the Louisiana Center Against Poverty, requested by Democrat state Sen. Francis Thompson, and the $1 million by Democrat state Rep. Karen Peterson for the Dryades YMCA seemed to comprise the entire agency budgets and, while listing specific programs, vaguely talked about how they would reduce poverty. They earned vetoes.

(But neither did Jindal appear to have overt animosity against certain legislators. Other programs sponsored by Thompson and Peterson that weren’t too different than the ones he vetoed passed his muster. Whether his administration was keen on some of the principals and their backers of the organizations with vetoed requests is another matter.)

Finally, some vetoed items seemed to suffer from incomplete or contradictory information. The Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association asked for $12,000 for a playground but with no sponsor or financial information, and met the same veto fate as the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network for $500,000 with the same problems (Jindal also suggested that it look for funds from the designated governmental tourism agency for the area, the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau to which he allowed $14,810,000.) The Red River Film Society also had incomplete information and its $500,000 request was $100,000 more than it had on its disclosure form.

Jindal may have dithered before supporting the repeal of the Stelly Plan income tax hike. He may have repeatedly said he would not veto the pay raise, and then did. But on the matter of line item appropriations, he has been absolutely consistent. With his vetting of the general appropriations bill ongoing, he has shown that some legislators and the interests they represent should be nervous.

30.6.08

Jindal, others win with pay raise veto while others lose

In a defining moment in his early executive political career, Gov. Bobby Jindal showed that he got it when he vetoed SB 672 that would have given a huge pay raise to legislators to some of the higher levels in the nation. Who won and lost as a result?

Big winners: The original handful of legislators not only who opposed the raise but then refused to take it. They come out with their integrity intact and tremendous moral authority to offer themselves as true servants of the people, eschewing privilege at the people’s expense. They were able to stick to principle and will be seen as heroes, giving their careers a boost.

Winners: Jindal. Yes, he may have in the future on some occasions rough times with the Legislature since he appeared to allow many of them to endanger their own political careers by permitting them to go the record as being for a raise and they will smart over that. But public opinion solidly on his side as a result of this veto will buttress his power to get his agenda through. It allows him to keep a campaign promise to oppose raises he called “excessive” and demonstrates he understands that as governor it also is his power and responsibility to prevent undesirable policy to be made when he can. Jindal’s news conference, in justifying his veto and retraction of his vow not to interfere in legislative affairs thereby signaling he intended not to veto it, showed he understands these points and has the political maturity and wherewithal to make the right decision, even when difficult.

Ethics Board resignations likely to bring improvement

In the past week, most of the members of the Louisiana Ethics Board have resigned. This is no accident, and it is a positive, healthy development for enforcement of government officials’ ethical practices in the state.

This year, three major changes, for the most part without qualification beneficial, have occurred concerning ethics administration in the state. First, board members must comply with ethics standards of increased rigor, which, while onerous, vitally assure the public that those who bring ethics charges against others themselves appear to be above reproach. Second, the board’s adjudication power was spliced off, thereby removing it from the hands of political appointees into a professional system of trained bureaucrats which is considered best practice in other states. Third (and perhaps the only change that may not be for the better if the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program does not get the increased resources needed to pursue this; so far it has been), the standard of proof has been strengthened for bringing a case before administrative law judges which again aligns the state more in the direction of others.

To put it another way, the costs perceived for serving by existing board members have gone up and the benefits in their minds of serving have gone down. They now must take on the burden of extra reporting on financial information, and simultaneously they have lost the ability to visit punishment on officials and their discretion has been lowered in their ability to bring cases in any event. More bluntly, the position is less fun to them because they have lost political power and it requires more revelation of their personal lives.

Resignation explanations have not addressed this, of course, because none want to admit that an attraction of the job was the exercise of power. One member, a political opponent of Gov. Bobby Jindal who as chief executive appoints a majority on the board, attempted to deflect attention away from the obvious by implying that Jindal somehow was making life rough on the Board because it hit his 2007 gubernatorial campaign with a fine. But the absolute vacuity of that opinion is evident when considering Jindal immediately admitted fault (in fact, correcting the error on its own which made the matter open-and-shut) and tried as quickly as possible to take its punishment and move on. It makes no sense that Jindal would waste resources to bully and badger members to resign in retaliation when he had far bigger fish to fry over three legislative sessions, so this assertion by its weakness in fact verifies the idea that this is a cover story to deflect attention from the reality that the resignations are a result of serving on the board becoming less suited to its former members’ political needs.

That’s fine because nobody is forced to serve, and that they are happening now right as most of the changes to ethics administration are getting ready to come into effect is because those resigning may have hoped the Legislature in its recently-concluded regular session might have altered some of these things – another sign that resigning occurred because board service no longer fits their individual objectives. And it’s positive for the state, because the members that will filter onto the board over the coming months hopefully will have a different attitude. With much less allure of power from board service, with the increased handicap of reporting requirements, new members won’t be there so much so that they can exercise power, but so that they can serve the public in an important but potentially less-aggrandizing way than their predecessors did.

While unfortunate that decisions will be delayed as a result of the many resignations, in the long run new members will see their jobs in a way more compatible to the goals of the reformed Board, and this cannot harm the quality of ethics administration in Louisiana.