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.
Nevertheless, solidifying favorable perceptions of him to a voting majority now would work well with plenty of reinforcing material available over the next few years, as the state struggles with subpar economic conditions encouraged by ignorant policy preferences pursued by Democrat Washington D.C., for a future run. Absent a miraculous change of heart from Washington, there’s little hope for economic progress in the country (and things could get quite a bit worse) until after 2012 and there’s plenty of mischief in Louisiana’s fiscal structure (a perusal of the archives of this blog will reveal several instances, many of which Kennedy himself has echoed), so there will be lots of future opportunities for Kennedy to keep making sensible recommendations that will draw favorable attention and will strengthen a future candidacy for the Senate in 2014 or governor in 2015 (but not any longer as Kennedy going on 58 years old).
The alternative explanation if he only wants to serve happily a term or two more as Treasurer then is he likes the attention or, more bitterly as former Gov. Kathleen Blanco has put it (note that she, unlike Kennedy who has been reelected without opposition twice, is out of office and not really voluntarily so), that he’s a “grandstander.” That some of his ideas sound really good out of his mouth but with a little thought turn out to have little value, or even may become counterproductive, fuels credence with this view.
For example, Kennedy’s highest priority change he lists as lopping off 5,000 positions in state government a year for the next three years, a jobs figure derived from a third of this approximate number of vacancies annually and a year figure from after three this would put the state in line with other per capita state employee averages from other states – illuminating the underlying assumption that the “extra” jobs are there out of inefficiency’s sake. But the figures themselves are more complex than Kennedy lets on (such as if the state were to get out of the charity hospital business, which he has not yet suggested, this would wipe out much of the presumed 15,000 excess) as well as the idea lacks subtlety and could have unintended consequences. Far better is Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis’ idea of prioritizing functions and then sluicing off jobs for lower priority functions. Kennedy’s blunt approach would not fill jobs lost really needed to succeed in the high priority areas and could allow low priority areas to continue to operate at existing levels.
Even so, or even if Kennedy simply enjoys being a font of ideas and sees it as part of his job, plain and simple without the pursuit of higher office and/or attention in mind, who cares what the motive is as long as he produces (or at least echoes and amplifies from others) good ideas? In the end, why he is doing it really doesn’t matter as long as he or people like him are doing it, because raising public consciousness on alternatives to improving the state’s fiscal structure only can help achieve that goal.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:40