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29.8.08

Did Jindal's past shape GOP VP pick, his political future?

If your name is Gov. Bobby Jindal and if you are politically ambitious, there’s good news and bad news with the pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the running mate of Sen. John McCain for the presidency for the Republicans in 2008. And it’s a pick Jindal perhaps inspired McCain to make.

The bad news is that should McCain win, Jindal’s not likely to get a presidential nod from the party for a long time. Palin is only seven years older than Jindal and would become the prohibitive frontrunner to succeed McCain as long as she serves without controversy as vice president. Like Jindal, she is seen as a conservative reformer, family (wo)man, and also would be an atypical nominee (i.e. not white and/or male) that could pique interest and votes for the GOP. With at least four years on the national stage, if she wants it she would be difficult to stop.

Should McCain lose, Palin still provides additional competition for Jindal. Even though the record of defeated vice presidential candidates then assuming the presidency is almost exclusively bad – only Franklin Roosevelt 12 years after his second-fiddle bid in 1920 came back to win the presidency and it took the Depression to do it – in the past several decades almost every single vice presidential pick who was in current office when tapped later ended up making a run for the presidency, regardless of whether that ticket won. At the very least she almost is a sure thing to compete in the future provided she does not self-destruct politically, thereby reducing Jindal’s chances of success.

The good news for Jindal is, if willing, his chances have increased to be on the national ticket in four or eight years. Palin will not try the second slot again so if Jindal wins the nomination despite her momentum, he’s there on it. But if he tries and loses to Palin, unless there is a lot of acrimony in the campaign (which seems unlikely given the combination of their personalities) he would create an outstanding choice to balance the ticket with her. McCain’s choosing Palin has markedly improved his status on this account.

One wonders, in fact, whether Jindal himself inspired McCain to select her – perhaps not in a way he would have desired. Palin and Jindal do have much alike and perhaps McCain at some point vacillated between the two. But what might have gotten Palin the nod (who, if you count Jindal’s congressional experience, has less national experience although she started serving as governor of Alaska in 2007 and was mayor of Wasilla prior to that) was her reformist zeal stayed truly close to conservative principles. When the time came for Jindal to support individual income tax decreases and to oppose self-serving legislative pay increases, he hesitated and unnecessarily made himself look like a proponent of established interests and big government. By contrast, Palin never showed loyalty to big government and five years ago broke with the state’s GOP over ethics issues (although she generally has been a tax-cutter as a politician, she does occasionally go off in a populist direction such as floating a windfall tax idea on oil companies).

Or, to be more blunt, did Jindal blow it with McCain when their actions showed her to be more the conservative reformer, even a “maverick” just as McCain styles himself? Had Jindal stumped immediately for the tax cut and impressively told the Legislature no huge pay increase was coming (although that would have made it a much lower-profile issue) maybe McCain, if he was looking for someone fitting this mold, would have picked him instead?

Only McCain and a different history could answer this, and only Jindal will know whether he will think about this in years to come, pondering whether some political misjudgments on his part cost him the opportunity to send his political trajectory higher than he may end up ever achieving.

28.8.08

Tempest in teapot aggravated by ill-suited function

To comprehend why controversy has emerged concerning the LSU Board of Supervisors over its officer elections requires understanding the very controversial function the Board was given long ago. (Technically the Board ultimately oversees me and at times like these often with chagrin as not all of its members or the system as a whole will end up agreeing with me on issues.)

In its upcoming election to be chairman-elect, one candidate being backed for months by many board members is being challenged by another who apparently is favored by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. Governors appoint these members and neither member was appointed by Jindal.

This is claimed by the long-time candidate to be divisive and one of his supporters claims the entry of the other candidate and the lobbying, which he claims without verification included threats not to reappoint a member who did not vote the Administration’s way, will wreck the Board with bitterness. Further, the candidate feeling aggrieved by competition sees this as an undue interference by an administration into the workings of the Board.

Three things immediately are worth noting about these claims. First, competition for an office is a healthy thing that provides opportunities for evaluation of different policies that in all likelihood strengthens the quality of the victorious program. By nature this will produce division, but it will create better policy than if consensus is allowed to play too prominent of a rule in the process. Successions that are too orderly too often have a way of perpetuating rigidity and inflexibility.

Second, a governor and/or his staff have a right to lobby for whoever they please. If they believe one candidate as opposed to another will produce policy that better helps the state, not only should they express that preference, they would be derelict in their duty not to.

Third, the Board is independent of the governor’s office and the only way its members lose that is to surrender it themselves. Even if an administration in order to get its way threatened recalcitrant members with not reappointing them to the Board, one must question the motives of Board members for their service if reappointment is seen as such a prize. The first priority of any board member should be to the organization and who it represents, the people of Louisiana in this case. They are there first and foremost to serve, and you best serve by making the best decisions possible without letting an extraneous consideration such as reappointment get in the way. One must wonder if a member so highly values reappointment to allow it to exert leverage over his decisions that perhaps he is there for the wrong reasons – not so much to serve but to enjoy power and privilege that comes with board membership.

But considering more deeply this issue discovers a larger implication. The complaining board members believe the policy dispute leading to rival candidacies comes from questions about governance of the health care portfolio for the LSU system (which actually takes up more resources than its educative function). Louisiana famously is the only state in the union which primarily runs its indigent care system through a series of state-owned hospitals, and for over a decade these have been run by the LSU system.

Regardless of the merits of the differing views of governance issues, if this assertion is true the fact remains that this would not be an issue at all if LSU did not have this (for an educational systme) bizarre function. As health care redesign in the state continues, hopefully the “charity” system will be dismantled, or at the very least its administration transferred away from a university system so that it can concentrate on its core mission of education.

To some extent the dispute is a tempest in a teapot, encouraged more internally than externally. At the same time, it’s a dispute that really need not exist were the LSU System not saddled with providing a service only tenuously connected with its genuine purpose. Perhaps some change on this account will occur as a result of this election.

27.8.08

Landrieu, Melancon, Morial: vapidity reigns over them

Sometimes one must shake his head with incredulity at the divergence between the real world and what Democrat politicians claim things actually are. Some Louisiana political figures gave us excellent examples concerning the unreal world imagined by Democrats at their national convention.

First up was former New Orleans mayor, now head of the National Urban League, Marc Morial. He opined that comments about how the party’s almost presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama draw unfair criticism about him being too inexperienced to run the federal government, observing that relatively recent presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and current Pres. George W. Bush had no national political experience, so why should Obama with his eight years in the Illinois legislature and four in the Senate be considered so unseasoned, he argued.

One may forgive Morial the obvious denseness of this remark, as it was Morial the executive who more than any New Orleans mayor drove the city into the ground and whose relatives associates not yet convicted remain under criminal investigation while he fights a lawsuit accusing him of corrupt practices. His mentioned chief executives actually ran a government and each accomplished significant things during their six to 12 years in office. Obama has no such experience and has not one significant legislative accomplishment in any office. Even his putative Republican opponent Sen. John McCain can claim over two decades in the Senate with some significant (if not always the wisest) policy accomplishments and committee leadership, as well as executive experience in the military. Morial must never embark upon a career as a fruit salesman because he clearly doesn’t know the difference between apples and oranges.

But there’s more from this buffoon. He then chides the media for not bringing up this point (which no doubt they avoid to prevent themselves from looking stupid) and even implies the media is in some sense biased against Obama because they don’t “bring a little perspective” to the charge. If he believes this, he truly lives in a fantasy world as media perceived and displayed favoritism for Obama in the campaign has been documented time and time again.

Then almost on cue we have confirmation of, if not Obama favoritism at least sympathy towards Democrats in general or perhaps more specifically Sen. Mary Landrieu, when the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s national political reporter Bruce Alpert ineptly relays her remarks at the convention. She spoke in part about her idea with first nine, now 15, other senators to deal with dwindling energy supplies for the U.S.

Inexpertly, Alpert describes the plan as “The measure combines increased domestic drilling with more conservation and development of alternative fuels and cars powered by nongasoline products.” But this is like handing a person who knows nothing about oranges the unpeeled fruit and inviting him to bite into it by describing how the inside tastes. Alpert makes no mention that the plan only marginally increases the amount of potential drilling that could be done while imposing $84 billion in new taxes that will get passed through to consumers. To have reported it this way, either Alpert didn’t know what he was writing about or he’s in the tank for Landrieu.

Yet as ridiculous as Morial sounded, Landrieu actually does him worse when she insisted “I am not here to be a champion of the oil industry” on the basis of the plan. As it is, the organization of petroleum producers the American Petroleum Institute weeks ago released a blistering critique of the proposal that shows that if anything they consider Landrieu and her supportive colleagues are opponents of them on the issue. That she tries while engaged in a difficult reelection battle to pander to voters back in the state (a fair number in the energy industry) in this fashion defines chutzpah.

Finally, a minor case of muddled thinking infected Rep. Charlie Melancon, who offered his musings on why Obama looks like he will be pummeled by the Louisiana electorate. They included the official liberal Democrat narrative being circulated to explain an eventual Obama defeat (“racism”) and the inexperience issue, but he only obliquely stumbled onto the sole real reason, the Louisiana electorate being more conservative.

Let’s make it a little more basic and simple for Melancon since he seems to need the help. Obama was the most liberal senator in 2007 according to National Journal ratings. His new running mate Sen. Joe Biden was the third most liberal. This means there are profound policy disagreements between the majority of Louisianans and this ticket and it therefore has absolutely no chance of winning the state. Issue preferences do matter.

The convention is only halfway over, providing more opportunities for Louisiana Democrats to top these examples of absolute vapidity.

26.8.08

Local govts make last desperate effort to milk consumers

One reliable way to find out political motives – especially when somebody is claiming they are doing something for reasons other than this – is to follow the money. And when money is involved, you can be sure the citizenry is getting the short end of a deal.

This basic principle explains why the Louisiana Municipal Association and the Police Jury Association of Louisiana are suing to try to prevent changes in how cable provision is achieved in the state. The new law allows any operator to acquire a statewide cable franchise valid anywhere in the state, while apportioning out monies received from the franchisee to continue to go to the local area at the same 5 percent maximum rate of the deal.

What’s to object about this: local governments still can get the same maximum of the revenue? And current providers, almost all cable companies, don’t have any real objection to the deal. What’s got the local governments upset is that they no longer will be able to restrict entry into their marketplaces and use that leverage to pass through stealth fees to consumers.

The past law did not mandate local governments in awarding a franchise to accept offers as good or even better than what an existing franchisee had. Further, by deliberately limiting competition, it could set things up so the sole franchiser could claim certain costs that then could be levied on behalf of the government and shoot these right into its coffers, shaped around market-interfering requirements imposed. Now these governments have no leverage to force these things out of a single franchisee and consumers and cannot block competition that will cause sweetheart revenue pass-throughs courtesy of a monopoly provider to disappear.

It’s not about contractual fidelity as these organizations claim. It’s really all about an obscured means for local governments to milk money out of its citizenry that uses these services. Hopefully the judiciary will see through this and/or decide, since the state ultimately controls all actions of local governments, that shifting contracts to the state level is consistent with the jurisprudence defining state and local government relations. For which consumers in Louisiana would be grateful.

25.8.08

Jefferson almost certainly upcoming primary loser

Quite a salient question is whether Rep. Bill Jefferson on Sep. 6 will make the Democrat primary runoff for his current position. Things would get quite interesting if he did, but chances are that he won’t despite his opinion to the contrary.

Certainly a poll commissioned by opponent Troy Carter’s campaign, on top of a previous poll that showed Jefferson battling with other at the 12 percent mark, casts doubt on Jefferson’s ability to continue into another term. In it, Jefferson’s not even cruising near the top; it says he languishes in the single digits of support. At the same time, it bears recalling that Jefferson was considered embattled in his last election as rumored indictments swirled around him yet pulled out the win.

But conditions have changed in two years. Rumor has turned into fact, along with accompanying indictments of other politically-connected Jefferson family members. His caused the stripping of any positions of influence from him within Congress. As important although not generally recognized as such, the change from the blanket primary to closed primaries also will not work to his advantage.

Before Hurricane Katrina, with the winner of the district by the numbers almost certainly having to be a black Democrat, Orleans parish political organizations in the black community were the main jousters in this competition. Leading the Progressive Democrats, Jefferson could at worst compete with anybody easily for this office and other organizations knew it and did not seriously compete for it.

But the storm weakened all of these organizations and Jefferson’s suffered an additional blow with his legal troubles. However, with the advent of the closed primary, other organizations for this office were able to re-coup (yes, bad pun for those of you who know something about New Orleans black democrat politics) some of their strength because their powers became more concentrated. That is, relative now to a primary where Republicans cannot compete, these organizations no longer have to account for the vagaries of GOP voters in an election, and also a fair chunk of the white vote has disappeared as well, leading to the same favorable outcome for these groups.

But the Progressive Democrats will have a much harder time controlling parts of the electorate because of the blows to Jefferson’s reputation. That much was clear when, gunning for the state Senate, his daughter former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock got trounced by one of her less-prominent colleagues, now state Sen. Cheryl Gray.

The impact of the closed primary also has an effect separate from interaction with changes in relative power of political groups as it increases the non-black proportion of the electorate. Under the blanket primary system, blacks would have had about 62 percent of the electorate; under the closed primary system they have 55.7 percent of it.

This consideration redounds to the advantage of former reporter Helena Moreno, who is the only non-black candidate in the contest, and thereby to the disadvantage of Jefferson. Even if she picked up only half of this vote, it puts her in an excellent position for the runoff.

The primary form actually helps Jefferson in that the Jefferson Parish proportion of the population drops about five percent to just over a quarter, reducing the advantage of any Jefferson-based candidate. But there is one in the contest, Jefferson Parish councilor Byron Lee, backed by perhaps the leading parish figure Sheriff Newell Normand, creating another threat to muscle Jefferson out of a runoff.

Other candidates could pose a threat. State Rep. Cedric Richmond has picked up key endorsements from politicians and the area’s Alliance for Good Government. New Orleans City Councilman James Carter recently got elected and has a fresh electoral base on which to draw. Former councilor Troy Carter ran in 2006 and appears by polling to have the broadest appeal. (Former New Orleans official Kenya Smith appears to have no real chance to make the runoff.)

But these others also have their warts, which is why Jefferson has reason for optimism. Richmond’s political base remains decimated from the storm and he faces censure over professional conduct. James Carter may suffer backlash seeking higher office less than two years after winning his current one. Troy Carter appears to be the most popular second choice but whether he can do better than third in first-choice ballots remains unanswered. Even Lee seems by polling to be underperforming in Jefferson, and Moreno must demonstrate she can make the transition from media star to political glad-hander to solidify a majority of the white vote.

So if sufficient fractures remain in the electorate, Jefferson could sneak into a runoff. The real key is how the roughly three-eighths undecided vote fragments. At this point in a contest with an incumbent running such a high number shows considerable dissatisfaction with the incumbent. However, it’s one thing for Jefferson not to be competitive with these voters; it’s another thing they’ll vote for another candidate in that its takes an additional step to get them, or enough of them, into another candidate’s column.

Simply, one or more of the challengers have to prove they can be an adequate replacement for Jefferson. If this does not happen, many either will roll off entirely on the contest, or they’ll vote for Jefferson anticipating a “do-over” when he is convicted and almost certainly removed from office with a (hopefully) fresh slate of candidates. The proper way to conceive the undecided non-Republicans at this point is not that they can’t make up their minds about which challenger to choose, it’s whether any of them are worth choosing.

If at least one can make a semi-compelling case for their candidacies, Jefferson is finished, and chances seem good that will happen. But if not, Jefferson has a non-trivial chance of gaining a runoff, and then the dynamics of the race could get unpredictable depending upon who his opponent would be.

24.8.08

Jindal orders create better government, culture shift

It took the media almost three weeks to catch on, but Gov. Bobby Jindal has dropped the other shoe regarding funding of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Months ago, and with some criticism later in the process, Jindal added much more transparency in what requests for state money would be legitimate in his eyes. Now, he will force recipients to be much more accountable in their expenditures of the funds.

Believe it or not, until Jindal became governor, tens of millions of dollars every year of state taxpayer money was being sent to organizations that had to reveal nothing about themselves and who could spend the money practically for any reason. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco at the very end of her term did request a little information about the recipients, but exercised virtually no enforcement on the quality of the requests.

First, Jindal informed the Legislature that he would veto projects that failed to meet certain criteria, implicitly daring it to reverse any offending items coming his way, and enforced those criteria in a fairly even-handed way. Now, he has strengthened the process by making more formal the distribution process in a way that forces more accountability in the use of state dollars.

Not only did he specify, in one executive order, stringent standards in reporting the nature of the expenditures, but he required that in most cases the state issue the money only as reimbursement after such reporting and proof of expenditure for that purpose. Further, in another executive order he mandated the releasing of funds would occur as part of a contractual agreement that requires repayment to the state if the organization does not use the money for the purposes intended in a process to be monitored by the Division of Administration prior to any agency responsible for disbursing funds actually doing so.

This has brought howls of protest from legislators used to stuffing a pet concern into the budget with no real oversight of it. This is because the combination of these orders likely will reduce dramatically the numbers of NGOs seeking such funds. Many will opt out of forwarding requests to legislators because they are unwilling to provide the information required by the order, or do not want to be put at risk for paying back funds not used exactly for the purpose outlined, or both. Without such largesse to slice out of the taxpayer to send back to their districts built-in constituencies, the recipients, to perpetuate a legislator’s stay in office will evaporate which in the final analysis will force lawmakers to be more attentive to policy concerns of voters.

So rattled by this was state Sen. Mike Michot that he apparently forgot what the Louisiana Constitution and the Revised Statutes had to say on the roles of the Legislature and executive branch in dealing with appropriations. “I don't think the executive branch has authority to say how and when funding is distributed,” he yammered, forgetting that Art. VII Sec. 10(D)(1) states “money shall be drawn from the state treasury only pursuant to an appropriation made in accordance with law,” and R.S. 39:57.1 which states the Commissioner of Administration, part of the governor’s office in the executive branch, “may review and approve the initial allocation of expenditures for each appropriation for a fiscal year.” However, if he wishes to make the matter perfectly clear, Michot is free to sponsor a bill that explicitly prohibits approval of the Commissioner before disbursing funds; I’ll bet that would be popular with his constituents, good government groups, etc.

Jindal’s new standards (which will exist until rescinded by a governor or overruled by legislation) not only improve government performance and accountability, but also fundamentally alter the nature of the Louisiana political environment as politics becomes less determined by the personalities of officeholders and more shaped by people’s issue preferences. The benefits of these to the body politic cannot be overstated.