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15.1.09

LA must continue to resist use of child as political pawn

The reprehensible saga continues where a small child is being used by its guardians for political purposes, thrusting Louisiana into the middle of the controversy.

As noted previously, the state was ordered by a federal judge to put the names of two males on a birth certificate for a child adopted by two male New Yorkers. Louisiana state law clearly states that only a married couple, defined by the Constitution as a man and woman, or a single individual may have their names listed on a birth certificate of an adopted child, as the law permits for public records purposes that the parent or parents of an adopted child by their discretion may be placed on the certificate. The judge ruled because same-sex couple adoptions could occur in New York and because of the full faith and credit clause in the U.S. Constitution both males’ names had to be placed on the document, using judicial fiat to overrule both the state Constitution and law.

The state has argued that the matter needs to be reheard, either with a full trial involving this judge (whose ruling was not in a trial setting) or passed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Naturally, the New Yorkers, who comprise a homosexual relationship, with their advocacy groups supporting them, resist this. A full trial might pressure the federal judge to revise his order, and the state Supreme Court taking up the matter surely would bring a ruling against them, citing the Louisiana Constitution.

14.1.09

Tougher times unlikely to reduce LA incarceration rate

In grappling with budget woes, Louisiana as is many states is cutting back in correctional work, but unlike others isn’t actually emptying some jails. This is congruent with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s governance philosophy and the structuring of state correctional policy, and is unlikely to change.

One might think Louisiana would be a prime candidate to reduce correctional expenses by imprisoning fewer in order to reduce overall government spending. The state has the highest per capita incarceration rate of all and the per capita expenses in the area of corrections are also above the national average, raking 17th. However, strategies to take prisoners out of incarceration if not freeing them have not been pursued.

In his midyear budget cuts, in terms of discretionary dollars, the approximately $11 million Jindal ordered out and compiled with by the Legislature in he area of corrections was only 6.2 percent of its budget, a little less than the general fund’s overall 7 percent figure. Further, the areas disproportionately cut where those that dealt with the nontraditional areas of corrections, most principally being not pursuing an expansion to a dedicated skilled nursing unit and in divesting the state of a unit dedicated to rehabilitation for dependency. Outside of these areas, most of the rest of the reductions were in staffing.

Fewer incarcerations could result without the expanded skilled nursing capacity as inmates who would have been shifted to the new unit would have freed up space for others, if demand for them is there. But something to recall is that with a population decrease of almost 60,000 from 2000 (maybe closer to zero as a result of recent revisions) as a result of the 2005 hurricane disasters, a smaller population means less space needed for incarceration. Also, Louisiana law tends to outsource state prison populations to local facilities since sheriffs legally are paid a pittance to house local prisoners but three times as much to house state prisoners so this has led to a disproportionately smaller state system than might otherwise be with slack taken up by local jails, leaving less ability to free inmates to save money at the state level. Finally, the average daily expense of a state prisoner is among the lowest in the nation at $36.09 so there’s not much margin to cut there, either.

We also must note that Jindal himself consistently has stumped for stiff penalties for crimes that presumably would favor incarceration. One of his latest initiatives concerns those committing sexual crimes, and he and the state garnered much publicity when the state’s law that permitted capital punishment of rapists of children was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court which Jindal wants reformulated to make constitutional muster. In short, methods of punishment that deliberately steer away from incarceration will not be high on Jindal’s priority list.

Those who believe incarceration is used too much that applaud financial difficulties forcing policy change to their liking should not get too optimistic about that happening in Louisiana. Even the state’s huge looming projected 2009-10 budget deficit probably will not trigger any less emphasis to incarceration in Louisiana, given the existing political dynamics.

13.1.09

Democrats must blame selves, not chairman, for losses

In many ways Louisiana never has been a progressive state but the manner in which its voters have grown typically to reject liberal Democrats provides a refreshing exception. This puzzles Democrats to the point they can’t figure what is wrong, as shown by the recent meeting of the party’s state central committee.

I’ll make it simple to understand: Republicans who are credible conservatives who run with credible conservative agendas usually win in a state as a whole and most of its electoral districts because these electorates are themselves moderate to conservative in orientation. That’s why Reps. John Fleming and Bill Cassidy, both solid conservatives who ran on conservative platforms, beat two Democrats who were at best supporters of liberal-to-moderate policies, and why state Republican Treasurer John Kennedy could not beat Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, because he lacked credibility as a conservative given his chameleon-like policy preferences of the recent past.

But to admit this, state Democrats would have to divorce themselves entirely from the liberal national part of the party and there are too many in the party that still cling to that failed ideology to allow that to happen. One such lost party leader is state Rep. Sam Jones, who has called for the head of party Chairman Chris Whittington, blaming him for Fleming’s and Cassidy’s wins.

Actually, Whittington did an extraordinary job to encourage candidates that were as competitive as they were in districts held for 20 years and more by Republicans. Perhaps the only Democrat with the past credentials that could have won in Fleming’s Fourth District was ex-First District Attorney Paul Carmouche. In Cassidy’s Sixth District, short-timer Don Cazayoux (courtesy of a special election to the House) did as good a job as any to cloak his liberalism in moderate clothing. And there was nothing Whittington could do about nine-term Democrat incumbent Bill Jefferson in the Second District, whose alleged malfeasance didn’t deter enough Democrats from giving him the nomination but did turn off enough black voters to hand the win to new Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao.

Instead, Jones seemed to blame Whittington for allowing the postponement of the Fourth’s general election because of natural disasters, which took away the one-time advantage of having Pres.-elect Barack Obama on the top of the ticket – a lawsuit effort which would have failed miserably and tardily in any event. He also blames Whittington for not forcing out of the contest for the Sixth state Rep. Michael Jackson who has run as a Democrat but took the route of an independent for this election, bypassing the general election and possibly siphoning off enough votes from Cazayoux to allow Cassidy to win.

However, what Jones and those who believe as he does can’t seem to understand is they sowed their own seeds of destruction regarding Jackson’s defection. When it comes to elections outside of majority-black districts in Louisiana, black Democrat politicians are second-class citizens in their own party. The white leadership in every informal way discourages them from running for non-majority-black districts because blacks appeal to a more-liberal constituency that cannot possibly provide a victory in a general election. Only when there’s no other white alternative candidate does the party support a black candidate in these situations (such as Don Cravins, Jr. running in the Seventh District; his reward for stepping up when no white candidate would against incumbent and reelected Rep. Charles Boustany was a job on Capitol Hill). Jackson knew this, through his experience running against Cazayoux, and figured he had a better shot going it without the party. (Maybe that job should have been made available to him instead of Cravins as an inducement not to run.)

Other complaints about how Democrat organizations should have done a better job of turnout also misunderstand the fundamental contradictions inherent within Louisiana’s Democrats. That attitude assumes that there electorate was naturally majority Democrat, which it simply is not in Louisiana. Just because a majority in the rest of the nation was taken in by the empty suit the party nominated for the presidency doesn’t mean Louisiana voters are that careless (Obama got 39 percent of the state’s vote).

Louisiana once was a state where liberalism and populism thrived. But given the flawed nature of those beliefs, bitter experience stemming from the misguided policies emanating from that ideology now has convinced a majority of Louisianans that if they have a genuine conservative running against someone who is not, that conservative is the best choice. If state Democrats persist in believing the fiction that is liberalism, they will not win most federal and statewide elections as long as Republicans bring forth real conservatives to run against them, no matter who is party chairman. The fault lies not in the execution, but in the very essence of the party and its beliefs.

12.1.09

Arguments discounting ethics improvement lack merit

The small in number but loudly enthusiastic critics of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ethics reform agenda enacted in large part into law last year received another blow when, on behalf of his efforts, Jindal received more plaudits from professionals in the field of ethics. It underscores yet again that this criticism tends to come more from political agendas than based on any objective analysis.

When the 2008 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature adopted these sweeping changes, they were not the “gold standard” that Jindal proclaimed, but they did make substantial improvement. This has been recognized on more than one occasion. The Center for Public Integrity, which investigates financial disclosure laws, said they took Louisiana’s score from 43 to 99 out of 100. The Better Government Association computed that the state rose from almost the bottom to the top five states in its ranking of strength of states’ laws relating to transparency, ethics, and accountability in government. And now the Ethisphere Institute, an organization that desires to create and advance best practices in business ethics, ranked Jindal eighth in 2008 for his positive contribution to advancing their cause.

But if you listened to a small group of self-appointed arbiters outside of these groups, none of this seems to matter as they base fantastic assertions that ignore that the laws are indisputably tougher on that enforcement is lacking. the most hyperbolic of the bunch recently proclaimed, “There is no ethics reform, period. End of sentence …. It angers me for people to even think that there is. There is no enforcement.”

This is a neat rhetorical sidestep because Jindal has little control over that aspect of it, other than appointing members to the state’s Board of Ethics. Yet critics accuse him of weakening enforcement because of changes made to the board’s responsibilities which in reality strengthened enforcement. As noted elsewhere, a Jindal-led reform that removed juridical aspects from a board with political appointees and placed them into the hands of professionals heavily insulated from politics constitutes best practices accepted and used in several states.

(As part of this critique is the perverse notion that, because of this change all but one previous Board member resigned because without as much power the job just didn’t seem to be much fun to them any more thus delaying enforcement actions by months, by this delay enforcement was weakened. This neither was intended by Jindal nor was he responsible for this situation, as that lay in the hands of the quitters themselves.)

Jindal also appears to pick up blame for something he didn’t even initiate, the change in standard for burden of proof for prosecution of ethics charges. This only affects the lesser civil infractions (the major criminal cases remain unaffected), mirrors what many other states do and remains a lower burden of proof than in a few states. Jindal seemingly gets faulted because he didn’t fight hard enough to stop this or doesn’t now advocate reversing it, even as the standard is quite reasonable and Jindal did boost spending on ethics administration that may demand more resources to be able to prosecute to the higher standard.

There’s also another argumentative trick used by these critics related to this tactic, the judging of the standards to the ideal and because the new ones don’t reach it therefore they are worthless. While policy should aim to be the best, it makes absolutely no sense that ethics changes that took the state from the shoddy to the silver standard would be considered worthless just because they didn’t reach the uranium standard. You cannot be a credible or objective observer to admit anything other than the changes did create higher standards in a number of areas, as recognized by these national groups that specialize in the study of this area of policy, and to discount these new standards as meaningless or worse because they are not perfect is a sign of intellectual laziness, ignorance, or dishonesty in analysis.

The indisputable fact is that Jindal spurred institution of higher ethical standards, so far has put his money where his mouth is by increasing funding of the enterprise (and hopefully will continue to do so), and, if anything, has improved the quality of enforcement by his other changes. It’s not a perfect system, but to argue it is no better than what existed and/or is inconsequential tells us those making such arguments in doing so prefer to promote political agendas and to eschew analytical credibility in the process.

11.1.09

Budget woes used by opponents of Jindal priorities

While cruising through Baton Rouge on the latter part of Friday on my way to the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, I guess I should have stopped by the Capitol because I still could have caught the last part of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget’s marathon session to approve of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recommended cuts to the state’s current year budget. This was required given the size of the proposed reductions after mandatory revenue forecasts revealed a deficit, and with it the chance for Jindal opponents to take shots at him and his priorities.

One novel tactic comes over the very definition of what is a “cut” in spending. Republican State Sen. Robert Adley, who lost power in the Senate as a result of Jindal’s election, in claims echoed by Jindal’s most prominent media critic on the left the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Mark Ballard, that since much of the reduction involve monies not spent at as high a rate as anticipated that these are not reducing spending. In arguing that the only real “cuts” mostly are coming by reducing benefits to Medicaid recipients and some social service programs with few actual layoffs in government, the implication is most of the Jindal Administration’s efforts are illusory and targeted against the disadvantaged.

But Adley has been in state government and Ballard writing about it long enough to know better. If appropriations are legally passed into the form of a budget, which is nothing more than a tool to implement a spending plan, that money is there to be spent and the only way to legally prevent that from happening is to cut the budget which will reduce that spending. Is Adley suggesting that, had revenues not fallen, this money that Jindal cut would not have been spent, and in that event would he have led the charge, for example, to freeze the thousands of open positions in government Jindal proposed as a cost-savings measure? If you can’t establish that, then what Jindal has done is cut spending and to suggest otherwise speaks more to a desire to score political points than any substantive contribution to the debate.

While it is important for legislative input into this kind of matter and some legitimate searching for information and answers was performed by committee members, it appears a lot of what went on was the pursuit of agendas in other areas. Democrat state Sen. Francis Thompson, along with others that are indicted for an alleged activity related to the state spending millions of dollars on building reservoirs that he arranged, has obsessed over improving land around those man-made lakes, and in the midst of this budgetary crisis his remarks indicated that he was, well, obsessed over golf courses in his district being affected. Some just can’t let go of the idea that a primary purpose of government is to redistribute wealth.

Others can’t let go of past defeats. Democrat state Sen. Sharon Broome, the body’s second-ranked leader, stated she was being contacted by people concerned about high salaries being paid in the executive branch. She seemed to pay much closer attention to those kinds of calls as opposed to the ones she was getting six months ago when she voted herself a hefty pay raise that it took a Jindal veto to stop.

Democrat state Rep. Karen Peterson proclaimed the state’s limited scholarship/voucher program was being unfairly spared the removal of funds present because of lower-than-expected usage, thundering she would not act to reduce other services if this were the case. Peterson, who carries water for government schools that see this program as forcing them to work harder and become less inefficient, when the time came did exactly what she said she wouldn’t, proving her rhetoric more than hollow.

She and the others had little choice. They had to accept the package as a whole or not at all, and a rejection would have forced a special session in a matter of days where real chaos could occur. Nobody wanted that extra aggravation and preferred the devil they knew in Jindal’s plan, so the panel approved without objection.

All of these opponents fear Jindal’s ability by use of this situation to remake state government into something other than the instrument of redistribution that brings them power and privilege. So far they are losing, but with a budget promising to be smaller next year to complicate matters, the battle is far from over.