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6.12.08

Cao's stunning win shows maturity of Second District

One would have thought that Anh “Joseph” Cao had as good a chance as anyone to turn the majority-black Louisiana Second Congressional District into a Republican seat, at least for two years. He has a rag-to-riches background, faced an indicted incumbent the evidence concerning which was particularly toxic, and had the good fortune for the election to occur in the optimal electoral environment that would attract disproportionately his supporters compared to those of his opponent’s, Democrat incumbent Rep. Bill Jefferson.

But early voting totals seemed to dispel the notion of an upset, combined with the insistence by a large portion of the district’s black voters that comprise 62 percent of the total electorate that when it comes to voting, the absolute necessary condition for any candidate to be eligible to receive a vote is that he is black. For Cao to have any chance of winning, he had to draw disproportionately from Republicans, mainly whites. Early voting indicators showed that wasn’t going to happen. As these results tipped off an overall low turnout, this would have helped Cao only if whites had disproportionately shown up then (signaling the same was likely to occur on Saturday). Instead, the ratio of white-black-other-race turnout was pretty close to the district’s overall ratio.

And yet, Cao pulled off the biggest upset of the 2008 election campaign. I’ll need more time to scan the precincts to give a definitive answer, but two things seemed obvious. First, turnout for the election was just 70 percent of the Democrat/independent-only primary total on Nov. 4 – now about 50,000 Republicans would get a say and looked to ahev turned out disproportionately. Second, while some of the super-black-majority precincts in Orleans (95 percent-plus black registration) had decent turnouts of 20 percent, other turnouts were microscopic – heavily Jefferson, but less than 5 percent. Even a 10 percent turnout in these might have been enough to win Jefferson the election.

Just a couple of days ago, rhetoric such as this was emanating from Jefferson supporters:

“They're trying to disenfranchise us, trying to convince us that it's a wasted vote to go on Saturday and pull the lever for a man who we know is ours,” said the Rev. Samuel Butler, who organized the news conference [Thursday supporting Jefferson]. He didn't elaborate on how he believes Republicans are trying to accomplish [that].

“This district means a lot to us because it was really created ... for the blacks to have representation,” said the Rev. Zebedee Bridges, a longtime Jefferson ally. “I'm hoping that the people in that district don't sit down and let someone walk in and take our rights away from us. You really can't visualize how much this means to us. This is history.”

Such ignorance reflects poorly on the leadership, if any, that these ministers demonstrate. Butler needs to explain how the election of Cao would “disenfranchise” him, blacks, or anybody else. How would the election of Cao in any way show compromising of the right to vote? Bridges desperately needs a history lesson: the district was designed to have black interests represented, not blacks – demonstrated by the fact that the longest-serving holders of the district were husband-and-wife white politicians Hale and Lindy Boggs. And he needs to explain the obviously racist sentiment that somehow failure to elect a black to the office would “take our rights away from us.” Does he mean whites like the Boggs in office did that? Or in Tennessee, does he imply that white Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen discriminates against black constituents in his majority-black district?

One would have thought America was past this with the election of multi-racial president-elect Barack Obama. These people may not be, but the voters of the Second District showed they were.

4.12.08

Democrat mistakes appear set to cost them more seats

One reason why Louisiana Democrats are becoming an endangered species in the state is they would rather shoot the messenger than comprehend the message. The party’s reaction that led to Rep. Don Cazayoux’s failed reelection bid only demonstrates this and may explain why they are about to let another congressional seat slip from its grasp..

There is a standard Democrat playbook to try to win these seats in the South where solid white conservative majorities exist: get white candidates who can sound conservative on social issues, and take the black vote for granted. As compared to a candidate, black or white, who always unabashedly will vote liberal, this kind of candidate can be relied upon by the party leadership to do so much of the time and has much improved chances of winning since casual voters will be fooled into thinking he is more conservative.

But for this to work, black Democrats have to cooperate. In all, with this kind of candidate they still will get a majority of what they want in policy terms. However, it discriminates against black candidates who find it more difficult to hide their liberalism because, as long as party officials think the district is competitive or there is no other alternative, they will prefer the white candidate. The problem Cazayoux encountered was state Rep. Michael Jackson tired of this condition of servitude in the party, and when narrowly defeated by Cazayoux in the nomination for the special election, struck out on his own as an independent in the regular election.

Jackson did so because he felt slighted by regular power brokers in the party. He had good reason to feel so. Comparing donors to the special election campaigns, a flood of money from Democrat-supporting interest groups and a who’s-who of prominent white Democrats in the state gave to Cazayoux, while Jackson got little in the way of these PAC contributions, from individuals most money came from blacks, and of whites more (although still a fraction of Cazayoux’s total receipts) actually came from Republicans. And while the party in terms of giving remained neutral until after Cazayoux secured the nomination (and then it threw everything it had to him), it is incredibly hard to believe that it was coincidental that the traditional big donors to the party’s candidates would not almost exclusively line up behind Cazayoux if there wasn’t some tacit, perhaps even unspoken, directive from party leaders to support Cazayoux because he better fit the playbook.

There was a good case that the party could have supported Jackson over Cazayoux as a winner in the regular election. Especially with then-Sen. Barack Obama on the ticket as the presidential candidate to stimulate black turnout and the regular election scheduled to coincide with this election, Jackson would have had 30 percent of the vote secured immediately. The district probably had enough white liberals that Jackson could have won under these conditions. The problem was Cazayoux was the more electable candidate for the special election which if won could bring advantages of incumbency to the regular election and deny them to a Republican.

So, Jackson was told to stay in his place and this caused him to bolt. It is particularly humorous to witness the naïveté and/or disingenuousness of Democrat officials to “blame” Jackson for Cazayoux’s loss and to call him a “sellout.” This is because Louisiana Democrats long ago sold out the party’s black voters in its attempt to appear to be something that it isn’t to chase more numerous white votes. Jackson was not the reason Democrats lost the seat, it was the party itself from the internal contradictions of its strategy.

(And it may not even be fair to “blame” Jackson for this defeat. As previously noted, the relatively higher turnout among blacks on Nov. 4 really benefitted Cazayoux more than Jackson. Take away the good luck of the “Obama effect” and the bad luck of the “Jackson effect” and Cazayoux’s reelection was a tossup.)

Saturday, it may happen again, this time without a black politician to take the blame. Former First District Attorney Paul Carmouche, the Democrat nominee, is running the same playbook as did Cazayoux against Republican nominee Dr. John Fleming. Already signs seem to point to Fleming winning, but an additional one confirms the trend: in early voting, in Caddo Parish where whites only slightly outnumber blacks, whites turned out in 3.5 times greater numbers than blacks, and in Bossier Parish where whites outnumber blacks 6:1 the ratio in early voting is over double that (these parishes hold over half of the district’s voters and almost all of the its black citizens). This would indicate not a lot of enthusiasm among blacks for a Carmouche candidacy, and would be the death knell for any chance Carmouche has of winning.

Simply, the white, long-time politician Carmouche seems to be failing to energize the majority bloc of blacks in the Democrat base. The Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves for putting up a candidate they thought could fit a cookie-cutter winning mold instead of a candidate who will address what so many of their constituents want. It failed them in the Sixth District, and it may well fail them in the Fourth.

3.12.08

Signs point to Republican retention of LA Fourth District

With the reelection of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss yesterday, only one probable competitive federal contest remains to complete election cycle 2008, in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District (while by no means impossible, Rep. Bill Jefferson is not likely to lose in the state’s Second District). Chambliss’ win gives clues as to the winner between Republican physician/businessman John Fleming and Democrat former First District Attorney Paul Carmouche.

Fleming has run as a solid conservative from the start in this conservative district, while Carmouche has tried to do the same despite his party label that won president-elect Barack Obama all of 39 percent of the vote in the district. Citing his prosecutorial background and constantly articulating social conservative views, Carmouche has bent over backwards to argue he can work for a liberal taskmaster such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who dropped in during the campaign to help him raise money) yet somehow reflect conservative values in his representation.

It is the preferred strategy by non-incumbent Southern Democrats, trying to appear conservative on a few issues to “inoculate” themselves against charges that they largely will serve liberal interests. But it’s wearing thin, as results across the South showed in November, and in December now (the election pushed back here because of Hurricane Gustav-induced difficulties) odds are it will come a-cropper on Carmouche.

Two dynamics are at work here, both because this is an election outside the normal election day: that disproportionately better-informed voters will show up at the polls, and that there is no one at the top of the ballot which with Obama in November served to give an extra boost to Democrats. Reviewing the first consideration, more casual voters are less likely to vote this time out than in November, and these voters are typically less informed and therefore less likely to grasp the contradictions of the Carmouche candidacy.

For example, despite the fact that pro-abortion forces such as Pelosi have rallied to the aide of Carmouche, he says he’s pro-life and implies he’d vote that way on legislation addressing that in Congress. But more informed voters doubt that he would. One thing that Obama is likely to do is relaxing the current presidential order that funds not be given to international groups that advocate and perform abortions, so the next budget passed by Congress could include that kind of funding. So Carmouche really is going to stand up to Pelosi (who was rebuked by American bishops for suggesting the Catholic theology really did not ban abortion, while some church leaders including Pope Benedict XVI have suggested Catholic politicians should not take communion if they voted to support abortion) on this, or would he try to have it both ways?

Carmouche has stated, on occasions such as this, he would act independently and still have influence in a liberal party. But either he is being dishonest or ignorant with this attitude. On tougher issues where there will be defections, perhaps from the 45 or so (hard to tell how many exactly are left given recent election results) “blue dog” Democrats currently in the House (Carmouche wants to join the caucus if he wins), a lot of pressure will be put on him to vote liberal. And on others, he will have no influence at all because (if he and Jefferson win) there will be 257 Democrats in the House, meaning even discarding the fiscally moderate blue dogs Pelosi has around 210 sure votes. A few absent members and GOP defectors on each vote, and Pelosi can ignore the blue dogs and Carmouche. So he will often be there for her against the will of his district, and often when he is not he will have no influence anyway. This is something better-informed voters understand and therefore conservatives among them will be hesitant to support him.

Concerning the other consideration, the Georgia election shows that while Chambliss’ vote total dropped off about 600,000 from November to December, his Democrat opponent’s dropped about 800,000 (although Chambliss’ figures may be slightly understated because he probably picked up some portion of those who voted for the Libertarian candidate in November although the majority of those voters probably stayed home in December). The same dynamic will be at work Saturday in Louisiana.

The only independent survey of the contest assumed 72 percent turnout among registered voters and that 27 percent of the electorate would be blacks (which the survey showed favored Carmouche by 85 to 9 percent), which deduced Fleming would win by two percent. Both of those turnout figures are optimistic; overall turnout may reach two-thirds of that number and black turnout was only 28 percent of the total electorate in the October primary where there were both local and statewide contests on the ballot with especially intense local contests in Caddo Parish where well over half of the district’s blacks live.

After Democrats won the White House in 1992 and retained control of Congress, a Georgia runoff for the Senate that captured a seat from the Democrats was the very first signal of the approaching Republican onslaught of 1994. Should Fleming retain the seat for the GOP, it could be the initial sign of a Republican comeback in 2010.

2.12.08

Jindal plan offers most possible, best health care fix

Battle lines continue to be drawn over Louisiana’s reform for its indigent care. Four separate ideas currently circulate, but only one will work both in political terms and in achievement of quality care done more efficiently. But the political side of the equation already has ruled out one alternative, and threatens this other one as well.

Essentially, the state’s fee-for-service Medicaid system that encourages providers, often government itself, to bill away with little regard for cost containment or efficiency, continues to devour more and more resources. The state faces the central problem of having to pay for nearly a third of these costs which, except for elementary and secondary education as a whole, is the single largest programmatic expenditure of the state. Reform promises to control these costs without deterioration, if not actual improvement, of service provision.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals Alan Levine has come up with a plan that would take the indigent and allow their placement into various insurance pools run by the private sector, which would negotiate rates with providers. It is hoped that, in the long run, this would introduce efficiencies into the system that would allow for more coverage at the same or reduced cost. Theoretically, it could allow for higher reimbursement rates than now exist to encourage more providers into the Medicaid system and to discourage essentially unnecessary expenditures that currently must be paid for either because of lack of coordination or because providers want to increase their revenues.

This is a plan similar to that Levine introduced when he served as head of Florida’s health care, and the initial returns on that are encouraging. The main problem seems to be raising awareness of the indigent about the program and their options, but despite higher per person administrative costs (because only 10 percent of the indigent population has been allowed to participate), at least for now its expenditures are running below budgeted levels (outcome changes have yet to be assessed).

But this idea has its detractors. The Louisiana State Medical Society has proposed a system where the poor are given vouchers to purchase medical care, where Jindal’s system would interpose an intermediary. While this proposal might have trouble holding costs down unless providers are fully subjected to market forces, it probably would lower administrative costs without an intermediary. However, practically speaking this would be a nonstarter in Louisiana as it completely cuts out government and too many politicians simply don’t want to do that.

Another suggestion from other sources has been to adopt a system such as in North Carolina replicated to some extent in Louisiana’s CommunityCARE program, where government tries to coordinate care itself. The problem with this model, however, is that doesn’t do a particularly good job of cost containment (as one might expect without market forces prevailing) nor makes a great deal of progress on improving outcomes (Levine concedes it might be a good model for rural areas where little private-sector competition would exist).

And out there at the federal level is the plan proposed by president-elect Barack Obama that largely could moot the entire argument. Obama would force everybody to be insured with the government either forcing employers to provide it or herding everybody into a government-run plan. The indigent would automatically be enrolled and so federal parameters could supersede any state directives.

At an out-of-session informational meeting of the House yesterday, state Rep. Herbert Dixon wondered why act now when it appeared this Obama plan was on the way. He got sidestepped a bit on the answer from Levine, who said there were consistencies between the Obama plan and Jindal’s. But there is a major difference, that where Obama’s would force everybody into a plan heavily managed by the government that would mandate reimbursements and that the non-indigent pay for the indigent premiums through government directly or indirectly (passing through employers), Jindal’s would set aside a fixed amount of dollars to be managed by the private sector that could much more easily adapt to specific conditions and use dollars more efficiently. Thus Obama’s plan, which would require a massive increase in spending, may only marginally increase coverage of the indigent while Jindal’s would do a far superior job of coverage and of introducing efficiency into the system.

However, the basic idea behind Jindal’s plan, removing government as much as possible from the enterprise, haunts Democrats and liberals like a vampire ready to suck the life out of their favorite institution, government. They want government involved as much as possible because it increases the power of elected officials and facilitates redistribution of wealth. So it is in their interests to stall as much as possible in the hopes that an Obama Administration would veto a move to remove government as much as possible from health care, just as it is in the interest of Jindal (and the state as a whole) to move quickly under the present administration that would look far more favorably on a private sector orientation to reform.

Whether that will happen is anybody’s guess, given time constraints. Obama forces formally take control of government in less than 50 days, but for weeks after his inauguration holdovers and careerists in the federal government will still be making decisions. Jindal has to get his plan to Washington as soon as possible to ensure that forces ideologically opposed to his solution won’t control the situation. Especially key to this is the present administration probably much more likely to forgo the state having to pay back the federal government for past overcharges, in order to facilitate this kind of reform. If not in time, the plan will be vetoed and for at least another year Louisiana will have to operate under the old inefficient, inferior-outcome system that will eat up more money that could have been used for other purposes with the prospect of potentially worse to come.

Given what is now possible, Jindal’s best shot at substantive reform is to try to get Levine’s ideas through. If that fails, Louisiana should prepare to hunker down to face a system that, if squeezed for funds because of budget deficits elsewhere, will expand on its history of underperformance and inefficiency.

1.12.08

Bossier City squandering endangers its financial health

There seems to be trouble brewing in paradise, better known to elected officials and political insiders there as Bossier City, as a couple of their own seem to be straying off the reservation. If only it could be that over the thunderous din arising from politicians’ incessant patting themselves on their own backs that more of these voices asking for a reality check could be heard – and one which voters might be well advised to assist.

Over the past month, Bossier City got presented with another quantum growth in the size of city government. Commonly known is that long before it became fashionable courtesy of the president-elect to preach of “investing” in government, Bossier City has practiced it -- $56.5 million on an arena that historically loses operating funds, not even considering opportunity and indirect costs; $21 million for a parking garage for private developers that will not be paid off in added tax receipts for decades, if ever; and the latest, $35 million to a cyberspace startup with little chance much of the government spinoff business on which it was breathlessly predicated ever will come this way.

Less well known is that in its operating expenses the city has been profligate. From 1998 through 2007, spending in its three major areas outside of debt have mushroomed – public safety being the largest area with the most growth of over 88 percent, general government up nearly 60 percent, and culture and recreation nearly 225 percent (over all of these three which make up over 90 percent of recurring non-debt related expenditures the increase is 89 percent). This has been reflected by the number of employees added by the city over that time, rising by nearly a quarter, with dozens more added to the payroll this year and 16 more asked for next year.

To add insult to injury, spending recently has begun to outstrip revenues, forcing the city to dip into its reserves. For the general fund, which is where the majority of tax collections go, its projected cushion would be only $4 million, down 70 percent in just three years. This got the attention of Democrat Councilman Don “Bubba” Williams and independent Councilman Jerome Darby, who wondered about the prudence of the latest budget which has increased general fund spending almost 14 percent in just the past two years.

One could argue that the cost of living could account for some of this increase. But the producer price index increased only a little under 39 percent during these 10 years, meaning Bossier City spending increased at a rate over twice as fast. And even giving a pass on increased public safety spending, the fact remains other spending increased at about the same high rate.

Defenders of the status quo, much like their brethren in Washington whose free-spending ways cost them Congress, Councilmen Republicans David Jones and Tim Larkin argue that because the “city is growing” such increased expenditures are needed. If so, they need to check the city’s own internal figures which show the population increased only about 6 percent in the 10 years from 1998 inclusive. This means per capita major item spending has increased almost 80 percent in that period, and employees per capita have increased 18 percent. Simply, spending (and hiring) is growing far beyond what a population increase could explain.

The other major defense of this spendaholicism is that it’s a revenue problem, not a spending problem. City Finance Director Joe Buffington keeps saying if property tax millages weren’t consistently rolled back, there would be millions in extra revenue available.

However, Buffington doesn’t bother to admit that city revenues from property taxes have increased dramatically in these ten years, almost 56 percent, because the total value of assessed property in city boundaries (mostly because of improvements to property and some from a rising real estate market) went up 75 percent. The sad fact is, despite this impressive escalation, spending rose even faster (for their part, sales taxes doubled plus five percent). Perhaps to increase revenue Buffington should pay more attention to a property tax collection rate that once was close to 100 percent which has gone below 95 percent during his tenure, costing the city about a half a million dollars a year.

The voracious appetite of Bossier City government bothers not Republican Mayor Lo Walker and the GOP majority on the Council. When queried about the city’s deteriorating financial condition and his budget, Walker blithely answered if people didn’t like it, they could vote its supporters out of office this spring (in other words, it was like he held up perhaps on both hands his index, middle, and ring fingers together, and said, “read between the lines,” by which he definitely would not mean this column). Let's hope enough members of the Council at least will alter the budget that they will soon consider before it comes to that.

If not, the dual arrogance and imbecility most Bossier City’s elected officials have on this issue in fact should elevate Walker’s observation to the level of an imperative. Booting these spendthrifts out of office maybe the only way both the sustained squandering of the city’s tax dollars and of its potential can be halted.

30.11.08

Jindal now targeted by national mainstream media

Wonder why the media have been looking at Republican presidential contenders for three years, 11 months from now, and paying quite a bit of attention to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal? The push on to make him the frontrunner way in advance has more to do with the left’s agenda than covering a good horse race.

Ever since Jindal succumbed to the electoral politics bug, liberals have recognized the danger he presents to their agenda. Jindal does not apologize for his conservatism but neither does he come off as much of an ideologue; he articulates it well both at a philosophical level but also in terms that demonstrate its superiority to the typical citizen; and, worst of all from the liberal perspective, his life to date explodes the myths of racism and upper-class warfare that liberals desperately want to con Americans into thinking, particularly when it comes to conservatives and Republicans.

The only missing ingredient that could make Jindal a virulent political force against liberalism, now with its most complete control over policy-making at the federal level in history, is a sustained record of success in governance. A candidate with this quality not only would win a decision in 2012 over president-elect Barack Obama, given that Obama appears at this point not be to wavering from his stated agenda, but would score a Reaganesque knockout of Democrats and liberals.

Smart liberals know two things, that if they really do try to implement their agenda they are going to make quite a mess of things principally economically, and that they cannot allow conservative candidates with credibility who effectively communicate the flaws and internal contradictions of liberalism contrasted to conservatism to emerge to point out the problems the undiluted Obama agenda is sure to bring. As things go sour on many fronts, they have to be able to distort and to distract to deflect the public from making this realization.

If Jindal can establish a good governing record to go along with superior communication, liberals lose. They can’t do much about the communication aspect, but they can try to frame Jindal’s record. And this is where the media, who will provide many willing, if not eager, allies, can come into play.

By focusing on Jindal now, they want to be there every step of the way to control the public’s image of him. This is a longer-term version of the tactic utilized against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the wake of her vice presidential nomination, where because of the compressed nature of the campaign quicker hits with less time for rebuttal from forces outside of the media made her easier prey. With Jindal, they want to be able to spot episodes that potentially can be exploitable to damage Jindal’s credibility, and only through constant monitoring can this be maximized.

History shows that the presumed “frontrunners” in presidential nomination contests often fare poorly, precisely because there is so much attention paid to them that any warts discovered can be emphasized time and time again to fatigue potential supporters. Worse for Jindal, that he is an ethnic minority member and conservative invites, if history is any guide, even more media scrutiny and criticism (such as that paid to another potential GOP presidential candidate of the future, former Ohio Sec. of State Ken Blackwell).

So let’s recognize this mainstream media attention for what it is for many: the opening salvo of a national campaign that hopes to neutralize Jindal as a force to be reckoned with in 2012. Whether he will be able to resist that will depend in part on his political skills, and some may be fortune simply beyond his control. Regardless, the battle is commenced.