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31.12.09

Jindal continues reform agenda through budget woes

One underappreciated facet of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration has been its ability to make lemonade out of lemons and advance a reform agenda simultaneously. This trait surfaced again in Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals forced cuts because of mid-year budget deficits.

With roughly 40 percent of general fund money going into health care, the $248 million total general fund cut was going to make a significant impact on its operations as well as produce the single largest area of fiscal relief for the state Yet when the dust settled, particularly in the area of care of the indigent elderly and developmentally disabled, the Administration made exactly the best moves to induce increased efficiency into the system.

Most prominently, it has accelerated plans to close state-run development centers – in other words, publicly-owned nursing homes for the developmentally (meaning mentally and/or physically) disabled. Their operating expenses are much higher than comparable facilities in the private sector, and some of their clients could be cared for adequately in home- and community-based settings. Also, the state again has scaled back payments to the politically-powerful nursing home industry which for decades has benefitted from extra largesse that has bred wastefulness and inefficiency. This may encourage more transfers from institutional settings into alternatives at cost savings to taxpayers. Yet at the same time, the Administration preserved funding for the very home- and community-based programs that will be expected to take up the slack from the impact of these other changes.

What distinguishes these changes from those of the greater crisis of a year ago is back then alterations to produce savings largely were procedural, while this time they are more reallocation. This is a key and (given political forces) more difficult step in policy evolution but absolutely necessary if savings are to be realized. Some efficiency gains get realized through changing the way tasks are performed, but the real savings come from pulling money from less efficient uses and putting it into activities that produce the same or better outcomes for fewer dollars.

One would hope that these kinds of things would have been done absent any budget crisis on the principle that smaller government is morally better but regardless Jindal has done them in the current forced situation, instead of takings alternatives such as budget gimmickry, not introducing prioritizing into cuts, or, worst of all, raising taxes. Like other actions such as state human resources pay and personnel reform they are unglamorous whose benefits are hard to see but whose self-interested political opponents are vocal in their criticism, yet they bring large and undeniable benefits to the state as a whole. Jindal may be criticized for infrequent pursuit of the large and symbolic, but he must be commended for his ability to insert a conservative approach in the nuts-and-bolts of governing when faced with harsher fiscal times.

30.12.09

Glover's lack of response induces little confidence

Months after the incidents came to light, the only question out of many swirling around a percolating corruption probe into Shreveport’s City Hall that has yet to have been fully answered is whether “accountability” is in the lexicon of Mayor Cedric Glover. That has been answered as an emphatic “no," now buttressed by a largely useless report which is long on stating the obvious and short on accepting responsibility and making changes.

The actions taken by Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator already has netted three employee arrests and another, former supervisor of inspectors Wavey Lester, resignation under duress. Lester, a holdover from former Mayor Keith Hightower’s administration reappointed by Glover, is related to one arrested in the alleged scheme to pay contractors for shoddy, fraudulent, or nonexistent work, and also to city Councilman Calvin Lester. The investigation subsequently spread to the Queensborough Neighborhood Association which is lead by Caddo School Board member Lola May.

Most stunning was that warning signals flashed for years that something was wrong while even the most basic due diligence was being neglected. Director of the department involved, Community Development, Bonnie Moore, also an appointee held over from the Hightower regime, revealed that the program under question did not even vet the presumed “contractors” receiving money to see if they had a contractor license – a process that takes seconds on the Internet. Direct invitations to corrupt actions were issued as a result of the department only a few years ago prohibiting nepotistic transactions – and then allowing those who had been participating such as Wavey Lester’s relative to continue.

This is not the first controversy this decade with the department with Moore’s leadership. Under Hightower, a loan program went bad with seeming political favoritism playing a role in decisions made in Moore’s department. Instead of corrective action, the program simply was stopped.

And Glover since his taking the helm of the city appeared to evince the attitude that he kept the area out of mind, nothing bad could be happening there. He was taken by surprise when Prator launched the investigation months ago, once it started his underlings instead of being cooperative and proactive expressed bafflement over or even passive resistance (such as charging sheriff’s investigators hundreds of dollars for city documents related to the probe before the arrests) to it, and Glover initially defended city actions before nudging Lester to resign.

This leads to some very curious, unanswered questions that only silent Glover can resolve:


  • Why was Moore kept on, despite her record and glacial speed in discovering and trying to address problems in the department?

  • Why were even the simplest procedural changes, such as vetting the status of contractors, never implemented despite Moore’s perception of problems?

  • Why was Wavey Lester kept on, and did it have anything to do with his relations with Councilmen Lester and the contractor?

  • What role did the Fair Share program have to do with the improprieties – the program that mandates that the city identify businesses owned by the “disadvantaged,” such as the arrested contractors who are all racial minorities thereby qualifying their firms and give them assistance to make them as competitive as possible in winning city contracts?

  • Why did the city not begin an investigation itself as it was clear even years ago that some kind of problem was emerging about this program?
    Where was the city auditor Leanis Graham in studying these programs through which millions of dollars passed?

  • What is the city’s relationship with the Queensborough Neighborhood Association, with details about the money that flowed from the city to the organization and whether May’s position had anything to do with that flow of funds?

    Glover has done nothing to address any of these questions. They still need answering because leaving them unresolved both sends to signal that a coverup is in the works to hide far more extensive corruption and/or that the Glover Administration cannot reflect upon or own up to mistakes which gives the impression that it is incapable of running the city in the efficient and ethical fashion that its citizens deserve.

    Firing Moore, who has proven incapable and never would be retained had something like this come to light in the private sector, would be a first good step. Then Glover needs to be honest, even if that means heavy self-criticism, and show some leadership in addressing these concerns. Doing neither risks indicating to the citizenry he is incapable of achieving either.
  • 29.12.09

    Protest notes provide direction to challenge usurpation

    Louisiana officials have joined in calling for the Environmental Protection Agency from backing off its ideologically-driven choice to set the stage for its regulation of carbon emissions as an “endangerment.” How they are doing so may point to a strategy for defeating the power grab.

    As noted previously, a twisted interpretation of a law never intended to apply to what is in fact a nonexistent problem is going to allow the EPA eventually to issue regulations that will have a profound negative impact on the American economy – an issue pointed out in these numerous communiqués. But most galling is that the EPA in the process plans to rewrite unilaterally the law without Congressional approval. To understand why, we must first acknowledge the political nature of the “man-made global warming” issue and the political and monetary agendas of those who support it.

    The hoax largely is aided and abetted because of a mixture of ideology and money. Pres. Barack Obama and many liberal Democrats want to use the issue to acquire more power and privilege for government they think they will control. The federal and other governments dole out huge sums of money to researchers to give them incentives to fashion research that will support this agenda (the exposure of these efforts now turning them into babbling, transparent apologists). Interest groups who share this ideology shut their eyes to the lack of and contradictory evidence to their article of faith (much of the recent research now having been found manipulated to attempt to validate their faith) in order to continue to maintain their purposes and jobs. Genuine scientific inquiry is a casualty of those that assert human activity makes any significant contribution to climate change.

    Yet none of this is argued by the correspondents even as in replies to them the article of faith is reasserted. And all Louisiana legally can do is protest; it has no legislative power to make any changes to this federal concern. However, that the approach is to highlight the impact on property rights and economic freedoms may point to how to overcome the unilateral action of the executive branch, taken because Obama cannot get a reluctant Congress to put into law this policy.

    What the EPA does not want to admit (and which is why it continues to claim it is being “compelled” to act in this way by a Supreme Court decision) is that it intends to act extralegally. The very law it cites as forcing it states that endangerment means regulation essentially of any property with a significant structure on it the size or more of an acre. Unilaterally, the EPA is creating a “tailoring rule” that will increase by an order of two magnitudes the emissions standard by which a property would face regulation because it knows to follow the law as written would subject well over a million new structures to a complicated regulatory process that would be overwhelmingly politically unpopular and enormously expensive.

    The approach that these opponents of the EPA’s usurpation of legislative power appears to focus on a court challenge that initially would make the EPA follow the letter of the law, and once that happens, to sue on the basis that the interpretation of the Clean Air Act of 1971 constitutes impermissible takings under the Constitution. If this is what Gov. Bobby Jindal and others are intending by penning these protests, rather than a futile attempt at persuasion these lay the groundwork for policy that reasserts proper Constitutional authority. As such, they do Louisianans a service.

    28.12.09

    Enjoy Independence Bowl; sustainability questionable

    Today the 2009 edition of the Independence Bowl occurs, in what might the end of the golden era of Shreveport’s Independence Bowl and an eventual slide into oblivion.

    At least it has a title sponsor which may allow it to last longer than the dubious previous one which defaulted on its commitment. Essentially going a couple of years without a sponsor and then with one that quickly stopped paying its money forced the entity that runs it, the Independence Bowl Foundation, to dip into reserves and led Shreveport to make a controversial and secret gift/loan to the organization to keep the game afloat.

    But the problem is these follies did not go unnoticed by college football. This game will be the last matchup between teams from the premier power conferences in the land, the Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences. This decade, they have produced six of the nine mythical national champions and every year but one put one of their teams in the national championship game.

    23.12.09

    With departure, LA Democrats can put up or shut up

    After attempts public and private to boot him out of office, it appears that the chairman of Louisiana’s Democrats Chris Whittington apparently is leaving the post on his own accord, departing with a mixed legacy.

    On the one hand, the tide of conservatism that belatedly has turned the South Republican at last hit Louisiana and caused major retrenchment of Democrats. Out of seven statewide elected offices, seven U.S. House seats, and the pair of Senators, only three of these spots are held by Democrats, one in each category, compared to the 10 when he assumed command of the party from the hapless Jim Bernhard. Democrats also during his term lost their effective majority in the state House although giving up only a little ground in the state’s Senate. One could blame the party leader for these reversals.

    On the other hand, it must be noted that perhaps the weakest state political parties, institutionally speaking, in the country are Louisiana’s, in part because of a political culture that has placed so must emphasis on candidates/personalities, and in part because of a political system whose blanket primary system for state and local offices discourages identification with and disempowers parties. And of the two major parties, because registration tides have run against them to instill further resource erosion, as an organization the Democrats are the institutionally weaker.

    22.12.09

    LA policy-makers must fight flawed EPA takeover

    Maybe the outspokenness comes from knowing he’s moving on by his own accord, but Louisiana’s Secretary of Environmental Quality Harold Leggett sent a necessary note that should wake up the uninformed and rouse the quasi-religious, and helps to back responsible policy-makers from Louisiana.

    Leggett, who is leaving his post early next year to return to the private sector, penned a letter (similar to that of leaders of two other states) to the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency objecting to its ruling that “endangerment” exists concerning emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This enables the agency to begin regulating CO2 as a “dangerous” gas and has introduced a means to do so. Leggett argues that Congress, which created the Clean Air Act of 1971 under which the EPA is claiming authority to do this and which represents the people, should be deferred to by the EPA in deciding what to do.

    This position is entirely justified because of three major problems with the EPA’s approach. First, it derives its authority to do this from a 2007 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that was tortured in its jurisprudence and arrogated to itself what it thinks Congress should have thought about what could be regulated and how. Second, it does so through its own dubious interpretation of the law, unilaterally rewriting it because to follow the letter of the law would impose absurdly high regulatory costs on virtually any property bigger than a large house. Third, the “science” on which EPA based its decision itself has been demonstrated to be faulty, flawed, manipulated, and unreliable.

    Thus, the logical conclusion is that if the EPA follows the law it will have such an absurd impact therefore reasonable minds must conclude Congress never intended the Act to regulate anything in the air and the genuine science to support the idea that man-made CO2 emissions cause a significant negative change in climate does not exist. Therefore, it would be entirely appropriate for the EPA not to act to preserve the integrity of the law and to allow Congress to provide guidance through legislation clarifying what it means to do, using actual science.

    That, however, runs against the ideological grain of the pres. Barack Obama Administration which hopes to use the issue to increase government control over the economy to empower government and its other allies. This approach also brings power and privilege to those who disregard the questionable “science” behind the idea of man-made climate change and cling to that as a matter of faith regardless of the costs to people.

    Louisiana is blessed to have two of the more active members of Congress who speak against the man-made climate change fraud, Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Steve Scalise. Hopefully, they will echo Leggett’s concerns in Washington and strive to correct the bull-headed Obama agenda by continuing to work against disastrous bills that in essence would ratify the EPA’s choice and to support others that would counteract its decisions in this regard.

    Leggett is to be applauded for publicizing an issue gone largely unnoticed by the public and this would serve as a worthy way to punctuate his service to the state.

    21.12.09

    Suggested changes needed to ethics law adjudication

    In cooperation with Louisiana’s Board of Ethics, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration has come up with some changes to ethics law adjudication that deserve legal enactment, despite what one key legislator thinks.

    The most significant change involves allowing the Board to appeal decisions. The present procedure has the Board acting as prosecutor and bringing cases to administrative law judges for adjudication, but then the Board legally must approve all decisions made by the law panel to which there is no appeal. Jindal and many on the Board both want to change this so that the Board can appeal a panel decision into the appellate court system and not just rubber-stamp everything.

    This makes sense. As the Board acts like a prosecutor as well as grand jury, as a prosecutor it should have an appeal option. This clears up the legal ambiguity that forces it currently to sign off on all decisions, even those with which it disagrees. Also, this can clarify uncertainties of the law by having a court invested with judicial power provide a single legal interpretation of ethics statutes.

    While unrelated to current desired changes, these would address another area of controversy that came in the legislation that created this system, of a higher standard of proof being needed than before for conviction. Those who favored the new, higher standard said since some of the penalties were severe it should apply, but those supporting the old, lower standard said these were civil matters under administrative law courts which should not appropriately be deciding under the higher standard. The effect of these changes would be to support the higher standard because now all cases had the possibility of going into the regular court system that deals with that burden of proof consistently.

    However, state Rep. Rick Gallot who leads the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that deals with these matters, expressed opposition to the changes, saying adding an appeals process would lengthen the process and expenses for defendants. He charged it was a case of sour grapes for the Board, which has lost some cases in front of the panels.

    What he neglected to add is that this procedure could cause him some personal ethics problems. Gallot was the beneficiary of a legal ambiguity in terms of statute of limitations because of the changes wrought by the previous reforms. It’s likely that if an appeals process of the kind envisioned existed, the First Circuit would rule in favor of the Board that Gallot still could be prosecuted for alleged violations concerning his work with a university foundation.

    But what’s one puny legislator compared to the might of the governor? If Jindal is serious about this, Gallot nor anybody else will be able to resist these welcome changes from coming to fruition during the next legislative session.

    20.12.09

    Two gals' choices help two guys' Congressional bids

    Lost in the recent Legislative shuffleboard has been that two legislators now can feel better about their political futures because of the unanticipated actions of two others.

    If anybody had predicted some kind of announcement coming from Democrat state Rep. Karen Peterson about this time it would have been that she was making herself the favorite to win the Second Congressional District by her entry into the contest. Not only does Peterson hold the second-highest position in the state House, Speaker Pro-Tem, but in 2006 she strongly had challenged then-incumbent William Jefferson, then fighting investigation for crimes in office for which he later was convicted.

    But Peterson passed on the contest in 2008 while Jefferson was indicted. It was won by present incumbent Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, largely because of the damaged candidacy of Jefferson, but with demographics favoring a Democrat and Cao’s support of a bill that would increase the cost of health care while reducing its quality souring Republicans on him, the winner of the Democrat primary in 2010 can expect election in November.

    However, that won’t be Peterson, as almost simultaneously with the announcement of Democrat state Sen. Cheryl Evans’ upcoming resignation of her seat, Peterson announced she would pursue it, had a campaign organization ready to go, and had gotten scheduled her first fundraiser for the Feb. 6 election. Evans, who is leaving to stay in the same area code with her husband whose job has them moving out of state, appears to have with Peterson done a little coordination to give Peterson a head start on capturing the seat.

    That Peterson has done so aggressively indicates that she does not have Congress in mind. It would be silly to go for the Senate seat, then to turn right back around and start campaigning for Congress (having delayed that for the Senate race for nearly two months). One could argue this isn’t something too far off from what Rep. Steve Scalise did before winning his Congressional seat – run for the state Senate in 2007, only to compete for the First District seat immediately after. Yet in Scalise’s case the seat came open only concurrently with his state victory – Gov. Bobby Jindal being elected – and also consider that Peterson is giving up her House leadership post. Unless she’s serious about staying in the Senate awhile, if she was just marking time until bagging a win for federal office it wouldn’t make much sense to give up that post.

    Regardless of her reasons, this development must please the likes of state Reps. Cedric Richmond and Juan LaFonta, currently the main candidates for the Democrat nominee likely to face Cao. Neither could beat Peterson had she run, so one of them, probably Richmond given the increasing favors shown him by national Democrats, now is the favorite. For which, ultimately, they have to thank Evans’ sense of family togetherness and Peterson’s lack of interest (which may be for the same reason; she also is a relative newlywed who might not prefer spending so much time in Washington).

    17.12.09

    Pelosi thanks Deity for pro-abort clause; so may Melancon

    A whole lot of stuff has to happen for Rep. Charlie Melancon to continue his political career past a little more than a year, but so far his state colleague and his Congressional mistress are keeping him in the running – if he can grasp the opportunity.

    Melancon faces a tall task to defeat incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter by poll numbers and the political tides. But he would have no chance at all if forced to vote for a career-killing health care reform bill that promises higher expenses and taxes for lower quality favored by many of his fellow Democrats, including the state’s only other Congressional member Sen. Mary Landrieu, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    At first, Melancon sided with Pelosi when in committee he refused to block consideration that would have steered federal dollars towards funding elective abortion. This enabled him to vote against the measure later with Pelosi’s blessing because enough other votes could be rounded up for it to pass. However, it later was removed to Pelosi’s chagrin, and Melancon was permitted to by her to vote also against the final product because it still had enough votes to pass.

    This defeat stuck in Pelosi’s craw, but Senate action on this account has turned more to her liking. There, Landrieu helped support a partial reversal of the anti-abortion measure which for the first time ever would create a way for providers to replace privately-earned dollars for some aspects of care with publicly-subsidized bucks and then use those other dollars to fund elective abortion. Thus, the Senate version which is teetering on passage would conflict with the passed House version.

    Pelosi, who said “Thank God” that the Senate version encourages the very un-Godlike practice of killing the unborn for any reason at all, now thinks this Senate difference can be reconciled successfully into the final product. To which House supporters of the original ban, including the lone Republican of the bunch Anh “Joseph” Cao, say only over their nay votes.

    This collision course, if a Senate version passes and Pelosi pushes it, would give Melancon a great opportunity to keep alive his Senate hopes by a vote against a conference committee product that includes the Senate language – if Pelosi undoes his leash. The slippage of votes for overall passage that would occur as a result may be too great and then Pelosi would not give permission for Melancon to defect. Then he has a choice to make: do as he has unthinkingly and meekly done for years and submit to her will, or do what’s right, help kill the bill, and not destroy any chance he has of winning the Senate seat. If it comes to that, let’s hope for the latter.

    16.12.09

    If followed through, Landrieu faces grave electoral future

    Zebras don’t change their stripes, so it’s no surprise that Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu looks to join her fellow liberals in the Senate in passing health care reform legislation that has gone from truly monstrous to just horrific with changes made to accommodate her and others.

    Of course, Landrieu is an idiot if she actually believes what she now claims to support: it will not cut costs, it will not improve the quality of care, and it will bring health care to no additional people, but it will raise taxes and create a Trojan Horse for a continued government takeover of health care (for a succinct and data-filled rendering of the flaws and hidden agenda and the lies being told to cover them up in this legislation, see the Wall Street Journal’s “The WSJ Guide to ObamaCare”). But this attitude and subsequent behavior is the hallmark of liberalism, a discredited belief system about human beings that survives only because of ignorance, deception, and active propagation of negated assertions in order to gain power and privilege, and Landrieu never wanders far from it, so her acquiescence should come as no shock.

    The question is what ramifications an eventual decision of hers to back this tissue of lies will have on her political career? It could be that she doesn’t plan on running for reelection. By 2014 she’ll be in her mid-fifties with 18 years in the Senate (and a lifetime of serving in elected offices with next to no experience in the private sector which explains much about her dismal record), her family having made a ton of money and she eligible for a fat pension. Maybe she thinks she can hand off the seat to younger brother Mitch (if he can win the New Orleans mayoralty). This certainly would explain why she would support something so thoroughly detested by the Louisiana electorate, because she doesn’t plan on facing it again.

    15.12.09

    Legislators show they really wanted "dummy diploma"

    After months of insisting otherwise, the cat finally is out of the bag, the elephant in the room has been recognized, the legislators have no clothes – whatever metaphor/cliché you choose, the fact is the real intent of state Rep. Jim Fannin and state Sen. Bob Kostelka was to create a “dummy diploma.”

    This past year, these two lead authors of legislation that would create a new diploma track for Louisiana high school graduates – only three years after another career diploma had been put in place by the state – that significantly relaxed requirements for graduation kept insisting up and down that this was not an attempt to water down standards. Besieged by adverse publicity about low graduation rates in the state, they denied this was a move to change the rules to improve the statistics without maintaining quality.

    But they finally admitted this was all gamesmanship when they opposed the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s desire to address the question of graduation requirements for the new diploma by moving to make its graduates pass the same exit exams. When a motion by allies of the legislators failed to stop moving with the item that would promulgate rules including requiring all students take the same exit exams, the legislators responded by asking for an attorney general’s opinion to try to negate the authority of BESE to require this.

    It’s questionable whether this tactic will succeed. The new laws do not prohibit BESE from doing this, but neither does it state this is to be the regime and so the fact that the laws made an exception to the existing regime may indicate BESE does not have the authority. If the losing party to the opinion disagrees, the next step to resolution would be the judicial system.

    However, unquestioned is the dumbing down agenda of Fannin and Kostelka is now laid bare for all to see. If they truly believed the changes provided as high a quality education as they said, there is no reason for them to argue that students pursuing the new diploma should take an easier set of exit exams. BESE’s majority was entirely correct in its decision to put children and the state’s economic development first instead of providing political cover for legislators who can’t stand the heat but refuse to leave the kitchen.

    And if for some reason after all the legal wrangling this decision gets overturned, the other official who would bear some culpability for the resulting dumbing down of state education standards should make amends – Gov. Bobby Jindal. He signed this unnecessary legislation into law; let’s hope without agreeing with Fannin’s and Kostelka’s reasons and thereby willing to rectify a wrong by pushing to change the law if their view gets the benefit of the legal doubt.

    14.12.09

    Conditions make Dardenne Senate run unlikely

    While some may believe politicians act in strange ways, when it comes to ambitions in seeking office they usually behave quite rationally with fairly accurate cost-benefit calculations. Because of that, do not expect Louisiana’s Sec. of State Jay Dardenne to challenge incumbent fellow Republican and Sen. David Vitter.

    Ever since Vitter’s admission of and apology for an unspecified “serious sin” believed linked to utilization of escort services almost a decade ago, Democrats and liberals and some Republicans turned off by Vitter’s brass knuckles political style have dreamed that the incident could take down a previously-invulnerable senator – despite continued evidence that Vitter remains in a good position. He continues to enjoy better approval ratings than either Dardenne or his only serious announced challenger Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon (and also better than his Democrat counterpart Sen. Mary Landrieu), and polling of matchups against Melancon or Dardenne consistently give him a double-digit lead.

    Optimists at Vitter’s demise argue that the approval ratings for both Melancon and Dardenne show a large number of people didn’t know enough about them to rate them, and thus their approval ratings can grow. They also point out that Vitter has not yet polled at least half of the intended vote (even if close); typically, an incumbent is considered safe if he can hit or exceed that mark. It is data such as these, and the fact that he polls slightly better against Melancon than does Vitter, that have caught Dardenne’s attention and gotten him to think about an exploratory committee for a Senate run.

    But this attitude of hope for a defeat of Vitter at this point largely is overblown. Landrieu did not poll above the 50 percent level until about seven months before her 2008 reelection and did not consistently stay there until about three months prior. Further, unless respondent ignorance of a candidate is very high (say 75-plus percent), typically as potential voters feel more informed about a candidate they tend to break fairly evenly, because less-informed individuals (as these tend to be) usually will divide among partisan and pseudo- or genuine ideological lines. In other words, approval of Dardenne (or Melancon), with roughly 40 percent of those queried professing they don’t know him at present, is unlikely to exceed by more than a pittance Vitter’s approval ratings (if at all) as more learn about him.

    Dardenne also has some other obstacles to overcome that make a contest at this time look less appealing. Running in a closed primary will feature more ideological and conservative voters, because it is restricted only to GOP registrants and only more politically informed and interested people participate in primaries who, in a Republican primary, are more conservative. Vitter has a natural advantage here because his voting record compared to Dardenne’s in the state Legislature was more conservative (and has continued very conservative in Congress) and among more active GOP voters they clearly see him as more conservative.

    The only possibility for Dardenne to overcome this would be to spend a lot of money that he doesn’t have. He would have to spend much just to convince Republican primary voters of a conservatism ranking with Vitter’s – but Vitter, with at least $3.9 million available has plenty by which to poke holes in Dardenne’s record. And (with all due respect to my colleague and friend’s assessment), Vitter has little vulnerability with GOP voters whose primary interest is social issues relative to Dardenne because of their past records and Vitter’s contrition. As Louisiana Family Forum Director Gene Mills, whose organization has been a leader in social issue-oriented politics in the state, noted, “Jay has been a fine secretary of state, but he hasn't been as conservative as Sen. Vitter.” He simply is not the candidate to rally social conservatives disaffected with Vitter, which are not many in the first place.

    At this point, Dardenne does not begin to approach the financial wherewithal to begin this difficult task. Since state law prohibits use of this state campaign account for federal office (and vice versa), he must start from scratch raising funds anew. And with only about $272,000 in his state account at the end of 2008, if a 2010 Senate nomination challenge ended in defeat, he would have to turn right around and ask for more to hold onto his current office in 2011, so a 2010 run would hamper his money-raising a year later. He also has left it pretty late to ramp up efforts, with the primary only nine months away against a strong opponent, increasing his level of difficulty. Plus, he can’t expect help from many traditional Republican donors who will view his candidacy as something divisive that only could detract from Vitter’s chances against Melancon.

    Thus, the exploratory committee idea reveals two things. First, if he finds he can raise money quickly, this may be a signal that, despite the contrary evidence noted above, that there is real sentiment for a Dardenne candidacy that has a decent chance of winning. If not, and second, he can just continue this effort into a more-realistic run against Landrieu in 2014. Therefore, he has little to lose by initiating this effort.

    But that’s not the case with an actual attempt. Unless his fundraising experience in the near future is at distinct odds with the evidence above, he will realize his chances are few at knocking off Vitter, potential costs are great, and rationality will kick in with a passing on entering the contest. Barring some unexpected negative aspect about Vitter manifesting in the next few months, Dardenne likely will stay on the sidelines and wait for a more propitious set of circumstances to pursue his political ambitions.

    13.12.09

    Landrieu so far refuses to back hollow words with action

    Sen. Mary Landrieu has changed her tune somewhat on her “Louisiana Purchase” provision in current Senate legislation that would increase the cost of health care and decrease its quality, but if she’s seriously committed to finding additional money for the state’s Medicaid program she needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

    Louisiana’s Medicaid reimbursement rate is scheduled to increase dramatically with fiscal year 2011 because of an artifact in the law does not account for the effects of a large amount of federal government spending for disaster relief. Partially to offset that, Democrat Landrieu got a provision tucked into the bill in question that would shovel in 2011 an additional $112-230 million to the state. But Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is trying to get either standing alone or combined with others an amendment to strip that provision from the bill.

    At first Landrieu crowed about swinging the deal and then became defensive about removing the provision. Her mood has swung again; now she claims she would “relish” defending the provision if the Coburn measure makes it to the floor. But if she is sincere about the entire fix to demonstrate her words don’t ring hollow, she needs to prove it by actions.

    This would entail her not to oppose from being debated Coburn’s amendment or its attachment to anybody else’s. Then we would get a chance to hear her full eloquence, including the chance to answer why she has not to this point introduced separate legislation, or to include in a supplemental appropriation the provision. (She already missed one chance.) She also must do one or both of those two things. If she sincerely believes in the righteousness of her request, she will not attach it to this bill that has uncertain chances of passing and the goodness of it being washed away by all the controversy surrounding the entire bad bill in which it resides currently. To fail to do so, risking failure of its passage when she can make a convincing argument for it to pass on its own, signifies she is not serious about the matter.

    Landrieu has a long history of talking stuff up for political consumption, and then either not following through or doing the opposite of what she said (such as the appointment vote for Miguel Estrada to the appellate bench). Given that, Landrieu needs to take these actions – allowing Coburn’s amendment to the floor and introducing separate legislation for the fix or put it in a supplemental – to prove that, for once, her actions actually back her soothing palaver designed to impress the folks back home.

    10.12.09

    LA moving in right direction with pay plan proposal

    Louisiana’s State Civil Service Commission couldn’t quite take the heat, but set the stage for a truly revolutionary and welcome change to personnel pay policy that will create better state government service at reduced costs.

    The SCSC approved almost unanimously (the only non-gubernatorial-appointed member abstaining) to create a tiered system of pay increases that occur only when certain benchmark levels of performance are achieved in annual reviews of classified service employees. This is in contrast to the present system that allows only for an all-or-nothing four percent increase for any employee, as almost every single one has been given in the past, who receives a review scoring in one of the top three of five categories.

    The advantages of the new system are legion: efficiency will be encouraged as slack performers will receive less than better ones, encouraging the former to exit and the latter to stay in state employment, and money might actually be saved along with this improved performance. Critics claim it will allow too much subjectivity and discretion in the hands of supervisors, but the same amount of discretion already exists under the present system.

    However, the several parades of whining state employees (probably the ones who would end up getting lower evaluations under the proposed system and/or don’t work to their full potential knowing it’s not necessary to get the full pay raise under the current regime) that appeared at various times over the past few months in front of the SCSC apparently got to it to partially. The original plan would have allowed agencies to give up to three, four, or six percent raises, respectively, for the middle, next-highest, and highest evaluation categories; the proposal that passed made those levels mandatory unless the Commission approved an exception.

    This has lead Gov. Bobby Jindal, who must approve all changes in pay plans forwarded by the Commission, to state he will refuse to approve it and return it for inclusion of the original idea. Since Jindal appoints six-sevenths of the Commission, if the current crop of commissioners wants to retain their jobs (and assuming Jindal wins, as is likely at this point, a second term in office), they will have little choice to comply. Jindal (as well as proponents in the Legislature) believes the flexibility excised from the proposal is important for the whole to work best. If left to a case-by-case basis, agencies may be reluctant having to go through the process to give lesser amounts, and would mean the Division of Administration would be less able to steer strategically resources to agencies on the basis of priority.

    Perhaps as a compensatory measure, the Commission also stated it was going to tackle an even bigger problem that if not resolved largely would moot any of the proposed change: the skewed results of evaluations that assign almost all employees into the top three categories (and almost half in the top two). It is inconceivable that the state of Louisiana could acquire such a monopoly on high-performing individuals: clearly, gamesmanship to get as many employees as possible flat four percent raises on virtually an annual basis has been in play. The Commission also wisely committed to training of supervisors in their evaluating to make sure they were as objective and fair as possible.

    While the plan presently going to Jindal is good, the change he stumps for will make it even better. Combine this with previously-passed rules about force reduction procedures, and anticipated legislative changes in retirement rules from defined-benefit to mandatory defined-contribution for new entrants (see here for the problems that await for a defined-benefit system) and the beginning of the 2010-11 fiscal year will mark the most exciting time for quality improvement in the history of the state’s civil service.

    These kinds of matters to the larger public aren’t exciting and flashy as other policy measures, but they promise noticeable performance improvements to citizens and savings to taxpayers. The SCSC and the department it oversees have been on the right track this year and let’s hope this continues going forward.

    9.12.09

    Landrieu practices shell game, puts Vitter in tough spot

    As bad as current Democrat-desired health care legislation may be in terms of higher costs and worse outcomes, it might end up positively toxic for Louisiana’s senators who are having to deal with it.

    Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself casting a vote concerning abortion that may come back to haunt her. While Landrieu always has supported the concept of legal abortion for convenience, she never had supported federal government money going to insurers that would cover elective abortions … until yesterday when she voted to reject an amendment that would not permit any insurance plan getting taxpayer dollars to offer abortion coverage, replicating language in the House version. The motion failed 54-45.

    The rationale Democrats use as a pretense to say this won’t encourage or aid in private insurers in paying for abortions of convenience is that the bill as currently written would not allow federal dollars directly to be used to reimburse for the killings. This is sophistry at best, disingenuous at its immoral worst. As amendment author Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson noted, the separation of funds in the bill an accounting gimmick. “The reality is federal funds would help buy coverage that includes abortion,” he said.

    True enough, as the federal government would be subsidizing coverage which will be required by the new law adjusted by community rates it also will require. Without that infusion, the insurer may not be able to afford to offer and pay for elective abortion. Thus, “private” funds get released for that that otherwise would have to be used for other purposes now to be subsidized with federal money. It’s a shell game, a point Landrieu has yet to address despite an indication she would explain the matter.

    Meanwhile, something Landrieu inspired, a special provision in the bill that would steer $100 to $300 million to the state to supplement Medicaid expenses in 2011, is causing consternation for Republican Sen. David Vitter. Her “Louisiana Purchase” provision has been criticized as a form of bribery for her vote to allow debate on the entire motion to succeed, which would allow her then to vote against a final product that would pass regardless since the motion to proceed required three-fifth of the seated Senate while passage requires only a majority of those present, thus again saving political face to the unknowledgeable.

    Republican Sen. Tom Coburn wishes to strike that language, and Republican Sen. John McCain has discussed taking that measure and others and proposing an amendment wiping out them all. This leaves Vitter in a quandary because he could be forced to vote to remove a measure which would help the state and, worse for his reelection prospects, be used against him as an indicator that he is insensitive to the state’s needs.

    To defuse this, Vitter should file his own separate legislation – which Landrieu refuses to do – to implement the Medicaid “fix” (an artifact of the formula determining how much federal money goes to the state beginning in 2010-11 produces a significant drop in the federal share because it does not differentiate the impact of federal spending for disaster recovery of previous years). Then he can demonstrate he supports the fix and vote for wiping it out of the health care bill if the McCain amendment comes to fruition, explaining his vote on the basis of the other undesirable things needed to go.

    Thus, Vitter probably can tap dance around this will little if any political damage. By contrast, Landrieu has to hope time and no additional controversy concerning this bill and her votes surrounding it dull the memory of voters if she seeks another term in five years.

    8.12.09

    Landrieu mayor run gambles career on uncertain outcome

    It looks as if Lt. Gov. Mitch “Ahab” Landrieu formally will pick up pursuit of his great white whale known as the mayoralty of New Orleans when qualifying for the office begins tomorrow, despite a previous vow not to – even though chances are again he will find disappointment.

    As noted in this space some time ago, the normal dynamics of the contest do not favor white candidate Landrieu because, if we toss the clever literary allusions, in reality a better aquatic mammalian description of New Orleans would be as a black whale. When voter registration totals show blacks about doubling up on whites, even if Landrieu could match his roughly 20 percent black support in the 2006 mayoral runoff in a similar contest against a black candidate, assuming black turnout runs only slightly behind white turnout he still would lose.

    The simple fact of life in large majority-black cities in Louisiana, if not in the entire south or nation, is that for the highest office in the city, is that relatively few black voters defect from a quality black candidate against a white candidate in a runoff. It was proven in New Orleans in 2006 when the very politically-damaged current Mayor Ray Nagin defeated Landrieu, and when later that year Cedric Glover won the top job in Shreveport. In the former case, the runoff brought disproportionately more voters to Nagin who had not previously voted in the primary to extend his primary lead to victory; in the latter, Glover did the same to overcome a deficit from the primary in a city where black registration was not much more than white.

    But even to get to a hypothetical black/white candidate runoff might be a stretch for Landrieu this time. In 2006, he bested other white candidates who were competitive but newcomers to politics. This time, he looks certain to face the biggest spender he’ll ever encounter, former gubernatorial candidate John Georges, and repeater from the 2006 contest Rob Couhig who probably will capture a large majority of the small (12 percent or so) Republican vote. Facing experienced and proven vote-getters and with Georges’ deep self-financed pockets magnifies the primary consequence of Landrieu’s late start after his previous discounting of running this time: his relative lack of funds. At the beginning of this year, he had only about $100,000 in his lieutenant governor’s account (which he can use) for a race where in 2006 he spent $3.6 million.

    Landrieu may be counting upon the fact that the field to this point has not attracted a slew of bigger names to make up for his being behind in the money chase and that reputation alone, as evidenced in some independent polling that put him out front among hypothetical candidates, can close the gap. It’s true that the field of white candidates probably is more illustrious than those who are black, but the racial voting dynamics are such that this does not matter that much, history shows. Nagin himself was a late entry, almost afterthought when he first ran in 2002, and certainly did not run from a position of strength in 2006. As long as a quality black candidate exists – and there appears to be at least one in the unflashy state Sen. Edwin Murray – the dynamic will deliver enough votes for any such person to defeat Landrieu in a runoff.

    This attempt comes with considerable political risk. A victory could position Landrieu well to make a run at the governorship in 2015, but not only does entering the contest now essentially eliminate any run he (unlikely) had in mind for 2011, a loss would again cast a pall over any attempt he may make for that higher office in the future. It would cement his reputation as a candidate who can win only the small or relatively insignificant offices because of his name, but who does not have the ability beyond that to capture a significant policy-making prize. His entrance here could place definitively a cap demarcating the upper limit of his political career – no higher than the Capitol Annex Building, not up to the fourth floor of the Capitol itself. Four months out from the election, it seems a risk at best uncertain to pay off.

    7.12.09

    Scorned media fail to provide helpful news analysis

    While the manufactured media story related in my most recent post dealt with the non-issue of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal not heaping enough encouragement on Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu for a measure he likes in a bill he hates, the latest non-story about the episode focuses on a somewhat different angle, that Jindal has not protected enough Landrieu’s honor.

    I guess I need to go through all of this again, since some slow news reporters and/or editors can’t find out enough real news about which to write: Landrieu has faced criticism that she had sold a vote that could have stopped consideration of a disastrous health care reform measure in the Senate for the chance to have as part of that bill a passage that would shovel anywhere from $100 to $300 million to fund Louisiana’s Medicaid program in 2011. Part of this criticism came from conservative media commentators, including calling her a “prostitute” for her willingness to trade a vote for political favors. Jindal said he would not criticize any delegation member and left it at that. He also said that while he disagreed with the bill, he would be thankful for whatever any delegation member could do to help with Medicaid funding, echoing a previous statement where he said criticism of her on this was unfair.

    (Meanwhile, the sun rose in the east and the grass is still green ….)

    But the angle the Associated Press’ Melinda Deslatte pursues in a “news analysis” (translation: an editorial by a reporter about the things she covers termed this way to try to square the circle that reporters for the sake of objectivity should not reveal their own views about them) is that Jindal didn’t go far enough by “refusing to denounce the prostitute slur against the senator …. is it too much to expect him to push for more dignity in the political discourse and to rebuke those who resort to gender-demeaning slurs?” She answers, “Apparently so,” and in leaving it at that – despite the fact she should well know the real reason why Jindal might not do Landrieu any great favors on this account because she reported on it.

    During Jindal’s campaigns for governor, Democrats have used such tactics as darkening his face in campaign ads (juvenilely thinking that it would turn off potential voters who didn’t think he was “white” enough) and cherry-picking his words to assert that the Catholic Jindal was anti-Protestant or a religious weirdo. And did fellow Catholic Landrieu ever issue a statement “to denounce the racist and religious slurs against the candidate?” Or did Deslatte ever write a “news analysis” that chided Landrieu and/or other state elected Democrats for not doing so?

    Those answers would be, “apparently not.” The story to the objective observer is that Landrieu, who if she was serious about the Medicaid bailout money would attach it to a noncontroversial bill or in the regular appropriation bill for that area of government, is not going to get more than a tepid defense from Jindal for criticism of her action that would make him swallow a poison policy pill because out of partisanship she never did anything to defend him from denigrating attacks – and even then he said she should not be criticized in contrast to her total silence.

    But that violates Deslatte’s template that Jindal is a semi-hypocritical meanie, stoked by the fact that he has preyed upon the most potent insecurity rampant in the media – being made irrelevant by being ignored. Deslatte moans about how “Repeated efforts to get Jindal or his spokesman to answer a direct question about the prostitution comments got no response. Asked a half dozen times if the governor believes those comments were appropriate, Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin never provided a direct answer. He didn't respond to a request to speak to the governor about the issue.” To repeat, there’s no fury like the media scorned by refusal to cooperate with its agenda – especially when the agenda is to make the object not talking look bad.

    So we get her waste of paper, ink, and electrons. And more of using it to line bird cages while we turn our attention elsewhere – as newspaper circulation figures show – to find genuinely informative, sophisticated analysis about politics.

    6.12.09

    Non-story tantrum indicative of media insecurties

    “There are no slow news days, just slow news reporters,” my old collegiate adviser in my journalism days counseled. To that aphorism one can add, “Never argue with somebody who buys ink by the barrel,” and these explain the strange non-story that recently appeared in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

    It expounded upon the situation that Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu was nonplussed because Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal was defending her vigorously enough against criticism that she had sold a vote that could have stopped consideration of a disastrous health care reform measure in the Senate for the chance to have as part of that bill a passage that would shovel anywhere from $100 to $300 million to fund Louisiana’s Medicaid program in 2011. Meanwhile, the sun rose in the east and the grass is still green.

    That part of this criticism came from conservative media commentators including calling her a “prostitute” for her willingness to trade a vote for political favors seemed to upset some but not really Landrieu, who said she was over not receiving more explicit support on the matter from Jindal. For his part, he said he would not criticize any delegation member and left it at that. He also said that while he disagreed with the bill, he would be thankful for whatever any delegation member could do to help with Medicaid funding, echoing a previous statement where he said criticism of her on this was unfair.

    So why is this news? Because the Advocate wants there to be more to it, out of pique at Jindal. This is obvious from the snide passage that Jindal “last held a news conference Nov. 4 in Baton Rouge and has not returned more than a dozen calls from reporters the past two weeks.” Translation: Jindal’s staff has been ignoring the Advocate’s reporters on this matter. Understand that more than anything else the media wish to be thought of as relevant and important, so to brush them aside like that is the greatest denigration that can be perceived by the media.

    So, the little fit being thrown by the Advocate as a result that it can’t get Jindal to say anything else that would actually justify the story and make Jindal look bad and/or a cad is this story, which masquerades to some degree as a straight news story but instead directly editorializes, “Jindal initially publicly defended Landrieu, D-La., but that changed after conservative heavyweights began bashing her for money she got for Louisiana before voting on the controversial health-care bill.” Translation: Jindal’s a bad guy because after rude guys he likes got involved, he wouldn’t protect poor little Mary.

    To say this conclusion is inventive is realistic. To say that it has any relation to the truth is fantasy. Jindal repeated what he had said before, so how does he suddenly become “changed” in actions? Since they couldn’t get Jindal to act the way they wanted, it became an exercise in manufacturing a story to make it seem he acted that way.

    Let this be a lesson to all observers of the media: scorn them and they go off the rails playing out revenge scenarios. Which leads to the ironic conclusion that this will cause the irrelevance they desperately seek to avoid, not because policy-makers won’t give them what they crave, but because consumers – as is happening throughout the newspaper industry – will stop paying attention to them precisely because of a surplus of playing out their insecurities in public such as this self-indulgent piffle.

    3.12.09

    Landrieu wants debate only when it helps her politically

    In Sen. Mary Landrieu’s world, democratic debate is desirable only when it serves her interests, her reaction to the health care reform bill currently being considered in the Senate shows.

    Recently, Democrat Landrieu caught a lot of flak for being the decisive vote for allowing the Senate to bring up for consideration the bill which will increase costs associated with health care while decreasing the quality of its provision as it attempts to usher in a government-run system. Landrieu got heat because, besides reminding that the vote was not on passage and just for consideration, she also had inserted a provision that would bring the state anywhere from $100-300 million to its Medicaid system for 2011. The state then, and in succeeding years, would have to pay vastly more for this program because the formula assigning payment proportions did not take into account injections of huge sums of federal dollars (for hurricane disaster recovery purposes) that boosted average state incomes.

    But when it comes to debate over the merits of the entire country paying for that fix on Louisiana’s behalf, she appears dead set against kind of discussion. For years the taxpayers’ best friend in Congress has been Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, and he is trying to get an amendment that would remove that provision. Democrat leaders seem ready to fight that amendment from coming to the floor for debate.

    If interested in the value of debate, confident in her request, and willing to respect the integrity of the institution, one would think Landrieu would welcome the opportunity to expound upon the merit of that provision. Instead, one of her hacks called it “political stunt” and that Coburn “has made a habit of grandstanding against Louisiana.” That may refer to Coburn’s questioning of the pace and use of recovery dollars in the past.

    Of course, that neglects that Coburn tried to steer additional money to the state, specifically to repair the I-10 bridges over the Rigolettes, by chopping out unnecessary pork elsewhere – a fight on which Landrieu was AWOL. The current provision, another form of pork, Landrieu unabashedly has stumped for as a thinly disguised reason for her to allow the bill to be considered. Her ultimate goal is to actually vote against the entire measure so she can say she opposed this monstrously bad bill, yet for it have enough votes to pass it with this provision to claim credit also for this extra largesse.

    But this strategy is too crass to admit, which is why she desperately wants to avoid debate. She then would have to explain why she does not seek a legislative solution in a separate bill, or as part of the regular appropriations bill for Medicaid through the federal department of Health and Human Services, for this formula change that otherwise would disproportionately impact the state. If this measure is so necessary, as Coburn wishes to contest, why can’t it stand alone, or in an appropriations bill? Is Landrieu that incapable and that ineffective as a senator to be unable to justify the fix on its own merits?

    Probably, which is why she wants to short-circuit any hashing out of the issue. This contempt that she shows towards free expression tells us all we need to know about her true feelings about the value of policy discussion – if it benefits her political interests, debate away, but shut up if you oppose her especially when she cannot defend herself.

    2.12.09

    Regardless of motive, Kennedy idea publicizing valuable

    Louisiana’s Treasurer John Kennedy has been the chief window-opener on the state’s Commission on Streamlining Government, which will wrap up its work shortly, letting in some fresh air as ideas crackle from him like electric sparks from a Van de Graaff generator. His enthusiastic approach has led to much speculation about his motives.

    One is that this is in search of higher office. Churning out suggestions, many of which are well-received popularly, in the context of his past history as a political chameleon would hint at somebody looking to create a brand impression that would serve useful in a campaign, finally creating a definitive image that would put to rest his flirtation with the left and give him unimpeachable fiscal conservative credentials.

    Yet if this a motive for outspokenness, Kennedy does not talk like somebody in any hurry to complete the process and to use the completed persona soon. He says he is not running for U.S. Senate next year nor for governor in 2011, the only two offices which would be considered enough of a promotion to forsake a safe Treasurer’s seat that he does say he will run for again that year.

    1.12.09

    Shedding buildings only way to stop Bossier catastrophe

    It’s agreed that Bossier City’s elected officials have squandered a bounty that could have made it a very publicly safe, low-tax haven that would have produced an impressive economic growth machine. Now that they have put the city into a bind, appropriate to ongoing 2010 budget deliberations we must ask, what should they do to get it out?

    To answer this, it’s instructive to review what they should not do. To begin, no competent solution can be derived unless all concerned recognize that the city has not a revenue problem, but a spending problem. As noted previously, Bossier City’s property tax rate is set at a level comparable to other cities of similar size in Louisiana so there’s no need to jack that up. Even had rates been rolled forward to compensate for past reassessments, the extra revenue would only have compensated for about a third of the shortfall that emerged during the 2009 budget year.

    Four years ago, city politicians pulled off a shell game in compensating for deficits in areas that had nothing to do with water and sewerage by increasing those fees. Earlier this year, they floated the idea of another increase, this time one that would actually have to do with water and sewerage to help pay for upgrades in the system, but public backlash shot that down. This deficit appears set to continue, in part caused by the last increase because officials stupidly ignored basic economics and didn’t realize per user usage would decrease because it now was more expensive per unit. Worse, the city charter mandates after two years in a row of losses that a schedule be produced presumably eliminating the deficit which could allow the money-hungry Council to raise rates again, independently of the budget crisis.

    30.11.09

    Bill sponsoring gap shows Melancon's inability to lead

    In another attempt to find something to write about during what may be considered a “slow” news period, the New Orleans Times-Picayune hit upon comparing during this session of Congress that the challenger to Republican Sen. David Vitter, Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon, has introduced only six pieces of legislation, two symbolic only, while Vitter has put his name on 73. That’s not as interesting as is the reaction by the Melancon camp seeking to take the seat in 2010 in trying to spin this.

    Melancon operatives sniff that their boss is good behind the scenes in trying to make legislation that is more “Louisiana friendly.” By contrast, they claim that Vitter does no more than “grandstanding” in proposing so much legislation few pieces of which ever make it into law.

    Note the forensic sidestep being attempted here, as the staffers try to equate the quality of legislation with its chances of passage. This perverts the true definition of “quality” which is simply the degree to which the legislation helps the country. How popular legislation may be among members of a particular Congress has nothing to do with how good it is – as this 111th Congress has shown dramatically with useless spending that expanded the deficit by about a fifth in one fell swoop, stealth state-controlled universal health insurance for “poor children” (in some cases up to 25 years in age and whose families make nearly six-figure annual salaries), and other less publicized mistakes.

    A review of Vitter’s legislation, even just that mentioned in the story, reveals some very good ideas such as preserving the most vulnerable members of society from being killed for convenience, foreign assistance incentives to reduce illegal immigration, and preventing government funding going to a community organizing group facing multiple felony charges. That majorities in Congress lack the wisdom to pass these kinds of measures speaks not their quality but rather the inability or unwillingness of that majority to understand the superiority of such policies and to empathize with the American people.

    And while this small amount of legislative bill success that a Melancon handler classifies as something that “produces nothing for his constituents,” at least give Vitter credit that in being stymied he is not actually working against the best interests of his constituents as has Melancon by his support indirectly (through votes allowing liberal Democrats to control the House) and directly (by voting for such idiocy as the budget-busting spending bill early in the year that, at best, has done nothing to improve the country’s economic performance) of measures harmful to the country.

    But, argue the Melancon hacks, their boss promotes changes to other bills to help his constituents. Yet when pressed to come up with some examples, most cited by them Melancon ended up voting against in the final bill. So how is that any different from their argument that Vitter’s work not making it into law is “ineffective” if both are on the losing side of votes, and how does this make Melancon any more “effective?” By making his Democrat superiors’ bills he doesn’t like only mildly damaging instead of very damaging? If he believes that, why is he supporting a party that causes so much damage?

    Actually, doing things out of the limelight does seem to be Melancon’s style which helps his avoid publicity of more unsavory things he’s done to the taxpayers. For example, in the name of “research” with other members of Congress Melancon took a junket that spanned three continents, 20,000 miles and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money that culminated in viewing telescopes and sending postcards from the South Pole. And this supposed investigation into man-made climate change (effects of climate change he could have observed just as easily driving for two hours in any direction in his district) itself was based upon what has become revealed to be questionable, if not outright fraudulent, science that he consistently has defended.

    All of these attempts by Melancon apologists try to deflect observation of the essential truth: Melancon has more sympathy with the liberal agenda than not, and he will go along and get along with it by opposing where he can’t slow down his masters’ preferred items but, like the faithful lap dog that he is, always supporting them when they need his vote. If nothing else, that Vitter takes strong principled positions promoting beneficial legislation in contrast to Melancon’s cravenness should tell voters all they need to know about who would be better to lead for Louisiana’s interests in the Senate.

    29.11.09

    Fulfilling requests digitally thrift idea worth pursuing

    It may have cost the state $13,000, but at least it can learn what needs to be done to ensure greater efficiency particularly needed in these times of budgetary stress.

    The state’s First Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it was not good enough to fulfill a public records request just to place documents available for public inspection on the Internet, and awarded the plaintiff $13,000 in attorney’s fees because the Public Service Commission did not produce public records in a timely fashion. Part of the reason for the delay was the PSC’s contention, since the records in question already were viewable via the Internet, that it had fulfilled the request.

    However, the plaintiff wanted paper copies, and the law backed him up. R.S. 44:32 states “it shall be the duty of the custodian of such public records to provide copies to persons so requesting,” even as fees may be charged. Thus, while those kinds of documents can be put out on the Internet, they still have to be provided in paper form on request.

    Servicing these requests can take much employee time and some physical resources. It would be much more efficient for each agency that serves as a custodian of public records to place as many records as possible online, create simple web processes by which to access them, and be allowed to fulfill requests this way. For those who claim they do not have access to the Internet, each agency could set up terminals and printers to allow these requestors to come to the agency to get access.

    Of course, this would require a change in statute to permit record provision without the state having to hand over a fee-for-service hard copy except those done at the proposed workstation and whichever records for whatever reason cannot be put online. The Legislature also would have to commit to a program of putting all possible state records online and funding the establishment of the workstations.

    While this would pass along printer and paper costs to requestors (they already absorb most search costs because of the specificity required in a request), these are relatively small, not even necessary if the downloaded records are used from digital media, and certainly are dwarfed by the costs to taxpayers to fund government to do it, subsidizing a small number of requestors. In fact, they may end up being cheaper for many requestors since the state typically charges much higher fees than it actually costs in terms of printing. These changes need pursuing during the next regular session.

    26.11.09

    Thanksgiving Day, 2009

    This column publishes usually 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 or New Year's 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 Thursday, Nov. 26 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

    25.11.09

    Liberal protest misdiagnosis sign of their own weakness

    Selective outrage never is becoming, but it becomes more obnoxious still when it becomes selective selective outrage. An unsigned commentary from New Orleans’ Gambit magazine illustrates the point precisely.

    The Gambit folks apparently became perturbed when, locally, in the wake of Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao’s vote to pass a ruinously bad House health care measure received some rude remarks from people disappointed in that, and, nationally, that at a rally attended by 10,000 or so to protest the bill in Washington D.C. headlined by leading Republicans, a sign appeared equating a photo of a concentration camp with the bill. To them, it seemed to signify a recent growing incivility in political discourse.

    But, in reality, the piece tells us more about the fallaciousness and insecurities of its writers. The entire diatribe focused on this presumed speech coming from alleged supporters of the Republican Party and by implication from the right of the ideological spectrum. And to bolster its attempt to define this speech into its being uncivil, the writers mention that two groups called upon Republican leaders to condemn it as such. Recognize this tactic serves a broader political agenda to accomplish the proverbial passing of a camel through the eye of a needle, to try to delegitimize principled conservatism by a shotgun marriage of it with these other sentiments by the drawing of condemnation of groups allegedly representing the objects of these slurs.

    This attempt unravels when first investigating the groups. One, the Anti-Defamation League, famously preaches from the left and long has a history of selective outrage: speech from the right it finds offensive draws immediate ire; but unquestionably hateful speech from places with which left sympathizes draws mild rebukes if any at all. The other, the Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, describes itself as an organization for “progressive” (read: very liberal) people and swears absolutely fealty to the health care reform wreck supported by Democrats. That they are the ones condemning remarks isn’t so much any validation that these remarks are objectionable as it is revelation of their own partisan political biases. Naturally, the editorial mentions none of this.

    Note also that the writers are building a thesis by selectively taking unrepresentative evidence and attempting to impute it to the whole. Maybe, out of the thousand or more signs at the rally, were there a couple others of the same ilk that got the writers into a huff. And the submitted comments about Cao that so vexed these crusaders are unlikely to represent more than a similar proportion of the entire universe of those objecting to Cao’s vote. Yet they try to pass off these as some larger indicator of widespread “hatred” that has created this “ugly season.”

    This cavalier reading makes one wonder where these nimrods have been for the past decade. If you want to see real vituperative hate in political discourse, you need look no further than dozens of wacko leftist blogger and forum sites where the venom has been flowing freely ever since former Pres. Bill Clinton got caught with his fly unzipped. This should not be surprising, as liberalism as a whole lacks intellectual and empirical verification as a political ideology, so it must rely on willful ignorance of history and fact with these replaced by emotive anti-intellectual appeal. Yet this seems to escape the slumbering authors, perhaps because they revel in the same self-deception and/or inability to think for themselves.

    Being an ideology bereft any intellectual coherence and substance, liberalism’s proponents long ago took and made mainstream arguments into directions featuring ad hominem, straw man, and dissembling qualities. Not unlike what Gambit’s editorialists try to do when they imply negative qualities to the right when it has been the left’s province for so long. Liberals have for so long have created the conditions and lived in an “ugly season” that when seeing a flicker of it on the right they cannot break from the playbook which results in the usual incorrect, self-serving interpretation.

    24.11.09

    Reform, reorganization best ways to gain large savings

    In what promises to be a slow news week, the Baton Rouge Advocate ran a story about something in state government that was not anything new, but nevertheless interesting and worthwhile in the complicated public policy debate about force levels and classification of state government workers.

    Those perusing the latest available (2007-08) annual report of the Department of State Civil Service will have noted that force levels overall did not change too much in the fiscal year 2004-2008 periods, but that a decrease of around 5,000 in the classified ranks was offset by a more than 5,000 increase in the unclassified service. Classified employees, after a six month probationary period, acquire job protections that vastly constrain agency abilities to discipline or to make workforce adjustments that would result in lower salaries for them, and which make it very difficult in an extended process to discharge them.

    However, the article focuses on the unclassified workforce – those whose personnel matters are outside the hiring, disciplining, and firing regulations of the DSCS and are left up to the agencies that employ them. It notes this increase in the unclassified service and ponders about its implications. Unfortunately, the piece does not adequately capture the complexity of this argument, a necessary prerequisite as Louisiana looks to reduce its personnel costs by making its government more efficient as large budget deficits loom.

    Regrettably, the article leaves the impression that the vast majority of the roughly one-third of the state’s full-time equivalent workforce in the unclassified service are presumed less “controllable” as objects of state spending policy and are at-will, if not political, appointees. However, it is decidedly not the case that more than a fraction of the unclassified service is comprised of positions whose existences, compensations, and hiring and firing positions are left mainly in the hands of elected officials and/or policy-makers.

    Most of the unclassified service has performance pay plans in place – and often plans tying actual performance more closely to pay adjustments than presently in the classified service. For example, in higher education where the majority of these unclassified employees work, campuses years ago were directed to construct performance plans that assign numerical scores to various and mostly objective indicators, along with a few subjective ones, from which pay raises are calculated. In fact, campuses themselves determine whether raises are made and how, and with the fiscal situation such as it has been for the state for the past quarter-century these have been far and few between.

    Contrast this with the procedure in the classified system, where the more-subjective evaluation process produces a five-tiered system where the same raise, until this year given annually, is given to anybody in the three higher tiers or well over 95 percent of the classified force. This may change, as the State Civil Service Commission in a couple of weeks will decide whether to change the present classified evaluation system to one that is actually closer to that often used in evaluating members of the unclassified service.

    Also, in the instances of anyone who entered or laterally moved into the higher education system in a tenure-track position, these take on characteristics of the classified service. After, in essence, a much longer probationary period (usually six years; some actually come in with tenure and thus have no probationary period), they acquire protections similar to those in the classified service.

    Finally, the reason why the proportion of about a third of the state’s employees are unclassified is because of two quirks tolerated in Louisiana, a higher education system that could use some more rationalization in organization and a charity hospital system run by a higher education system. The state’s head count (as opposed to FTE) number for the end of fiscal year 2009 shows almost half of the state’s employees are in higher education. (Some of this is overstated because, for example, part of that count will be students on work-study, adjunct instructors teaching a single course, etc.). But, given the large number of campuses (90) and five boards that oversee postsecondary education that may not do a lot to prevent inefficiency, ongoing cost-cutting deliberations may produce some retrenchment in almost all unclassified positions from this area.

    Note as well that because higher education (the Louisiana State University System, specifically) has authority over the charity hospital system, the vast bulk of its employees are categorized here and are unclassified. Were the state do the sensible thing and get out of the hospital business except for a facility or two used for medical training (if even any are necessary), these jobs, most unclassified, would disappear from state rolls.

    And if DSCS did look into the data to explain the changes in both areas of employment, it probably would find most of the downsizing in classified employee numbers has come from the aftereffects of the 2005 hurricane disasters, and subsequent reductions stressed by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, partly out of budgetary concerns and partly out of ideology, and by other officials with power in this area (most notably Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain), while the increase in unclassified employee tallies has come from the large amount of money pumped into higher education for several years until last year and unabated escalation of Medicaid costs and usage that have pumped up demand in the charity hospital system. It’s likely not as mysterious a development as DSCS officials seem to think.

    Thus, the perception that the proportion is recklessly growing of the Louisiana state government workforce created and supervised at the whim of officials, and the allied thought that cost-cutting measures here would reap significant rewards, is unwarranted. Many more savings will emerge through mundane technocratic kinds of reorganization and reform of the present classified pay regime than by a scrubbing of unclassified positions where people are hired and fired at will.

    23.11.09

    Wise higher ed suggestions need serious consideration

    Sensible ideas continue to come from Louisiana’s Postsecondary Education Review Commission regarding realigning resources, but especially in this policy area real progressive change only will occur with proper implementation.

    The latest recommendations, joining others some of which can be implemented by the state’ Board of Regents but most of which only can be dealt with by the Legislature, would result in the discontinuation of some academic programs, perhaps especially in graduate studies, with an emphasis on completion rates, quality, and workforce needs to sort those that continue from those that shouldn’t. In addition, it recommended equal funding per faculty member for associates degree programs (those offered at baccalaureate universities typically are higher because of higher faculty salaries) and the elimination of “excess” hours in programs (currently defined as any baccalaureate program offering more than 120 hours except where accreditation requires more).

    These recommendations remain consistent with previous ones suggested if not adopted. For example, PERC has asked for higher admission standards and consolidation of schools in some instances. That was brought up again particularly in reference to Southern University – New Orleans which has averaged about 10 percent completers (finishing a degree in six years) over the past couple of years. Adding the reduction of programs could strip a school like SUNO to the point where it has no real reason to exist as a separate institution.

    This may be the only way to move the state towards consolidations and even closure or downgrading of campuses from four-year to two-year, as politics has played a major role in keeping this from happening. While the Southern University System may complain that the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 have had lingering effects on its ability to deliver education, that calamity’s intervention made for the ideal opportunity to put consolidation into effect. With the University of New Orleans also hurting from that disaster (as one of its coping moves, looking to downgrade significantly its athletics programs despite their history of reasonable success), it would have made perfect sense long ago to combine forces by folding the small SUNO into the larger UNO and divest of the SUNO infrastructure.

    However, as a commission member pointed out, the state cannot arbitrarily lop off any low completer program or consolidate it elsewhere. One example from my past: years ago, Louisiana State University Shreveport offered a Bachelors of Arts in Social Sciences – Public Administration. From anywhere from five to 10 students were enrolled in it at any time. It was certainly needed – there are thousands of government employees (not counting teachers and university professors) in the Shreveport metropolitan area in managerial positions – but it received little support in terms of connecting it to government (although at the time LSUS spent almost nothing on these kinds of efforts, so it wasn’t being discriminated against). But it cost nothing to have. Its major coursework was taught by faculty members whose courses were used in other majors as well, and the only extra and modest administrative demands it made were added to the duties of one faculty member (me).

    Eventually, it was discontinued as part of a round a dozen years ago ridding low completer programs. However, not a single cent was saved by doing so, and under different circumstances it would have had great potential. It is considerations such as these that will have to be weighed by any round (yet again) of low completer removals.

    One option not present in the past, also suggested by a commission member, is the use of online delivery as a method of consolidation. For example, Illinois has a quasi-separate administrative unit within the University of Illinois system called the Illinois Virtual Campus which essentially allows any student at any state public university to take a course online offered at any state public university and have it count as potentially fulfilling a degree requirement at their home school. This model could be adapted to Louisiana where instruction of duplicative specialty programs could housed in one institution administratively and then delivered through distance means.

    Further, increased use of online instructional resources can create specialization and efficiency. As an example, it is now possible at LSUS to fulfill all major area requirements for a B.A. in Social Sciences – Political Science through online coursework, and the same holds true for a Bachelors of General Studies, except for the capstone course, if the area of concentration chosen is in political science. This presently can attract students who complete associates degrees at community colleges across the state, who then virtually without leaving their areas can transfer and complete a four-year degree.

    Yet this can be expanded in the context of realigning resources. As an example, smaller schools who either do not offer political science beyond the introductory level or general studies as a major could import LSUS political science courses, or those schools if they have these majors if low completer in nature could shed them from being taught on their campuses yet their students still could complete those degrees with use of the imported courses. Obviously this would create controversy because it could mean certain faculty members in certain disciplines at certain schools would be made redundant, but if the state is serious about efficiency, it’s going to be headed in that direction. (And the transformation would take some time – if tenured, faculty members essentially would have to leave their jobs before such realignment could happen in a cost effective way.)

    To date, even as PERC is asked to come up with $146 million in savings prior to the end of February, most of the real savings are long-term in nature such as with the above. Regardless of these not being short-term items, ideas such as these promise substantial savings through more efficient alignment of resources, and PERC wisely needs to keep heading and recommending in this direction. Then it will be up to the Regents and Legislature to put aside politics to adopt them and into implement them with care.