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16.7.09

Landrieu should not count on early Jindal departure

One presumed motive of Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s decision not to run for mayor of New Orleans is that he could succeed to the governorship of the state sooner rather than later. However, this is not a realistic scenario.

If Landrieu’s ambitions include being governor, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s exit by 2015 leaves him a decent opportunity to try for it, yet also risking the rise of other younger Democrats not seen as ossified into a do-nothing job as is Landrieu now. But if Landrieu can ascend to the office by Jindal’s early departure, this definitely keeps him at the forefront of Democrat possibilities for the governorship.

The problem with this strategy, however, is that Jindal, especially if he seeks executive branch national office, is unlikely to leave earlier than the end of his second term. There’s no way Jindal would challenge sitting Republican Sen. David Vitter next year; indeed, he has pledged campaign support. More likely would be taking a shot at Mitch’s older sister Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014, but only if it seems a 2016 bid for vice president or president would seem unreasonable.

While Jindal may run for president in 2012, for a number of reasons this is quite unlikely primarily the timing of a reelection run for governor in 2011, so the most likely situation of early exit would be accepting a vice presidential nomination in 2012. Even here, this is a longshot unless the right circumstances manifest.

Since he is thought of as potential presidential timber and because of his relatively young age, no younger presidential candidate for the GOP would want Jindal on the ticket, not only to tamp down any potential rivalry, but also because younger nominees tend to pick those who are older and more experienced in national government, especially as almost every serious GOP believed candidate have backgrounds mostly in state government.

And as of now, the national party has a vacuum of nationally-experienced candidates considered in the running for the top job, due to a leadership that turned away from conservatism and thereby brought voter approbation and thus their rejection. About the only candidate now being discussed that would seem to be senior enough in terms of national stature, age, and ideology (the wavering from conservatism that brought defeat in 2008 probably will not make economic liberal former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee a likely nominee) might be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Otherwise, Jindal’s characteristics pair poorly with other potential nominees, and keep in mind any GOP team with Jindal on it would have to win for Mitch Landrieu to get a payoff.

So if Landrieu is calculating he may benefit from a premature Jindal departure, he shouldn’t place much weighing on it, which is why the element of risk in his waiting to aspire out of his current office, which increases the chances he will become overshadowed by others, is higher than perhaps he and many others understand.

15.7.09

Lower standards may play to overbuilt technical schools

One wonders whether the driving force behind relaxed standards in Louisiana secondary education does not have something to do with trying to justify the surplus of community colleges and technical schools in the state.

Last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law a measure that would allow a third option for those wishing to graduate with high school diplomas in Louisiana. Created as a response to a stubbornly-high dropout rate from high school, the guiding philosophy was this “career” track would pump up these rates by changing the rules thereby making it easier to graduate. Rather than elevate students and changing structures to help accomplish this, such as merit pay for teachers and regular subject area testing of teachers for competence, the move makes it easier for politicians to declare victory while less becomes demanded of students in an evolving economy that relentlessly demands more conceptual skills. Even if children were, no politician was left behind on the notions behind this backwards attempt.

But it’s possible that another motive played a part in the disturbingly-easy acquiescence policy-makers had to lowering standards. The budget crunch evident in this year’s state budget highlighted spending on higher education as the constitutional and legal structure of state fiscal procedures forced it to bear disproportionately cuts made to the budget. Along with that came questions about whether the structuring of higher education in the state, from doctoral programs all the way to vocational training, could be made more efficient.

There are some disturbing questions about the conduct of higher education in Louisiana, especially in the area of community and technical colleges, where there seem to be too many of them. The state has more of these than all but five others of which all have significantly higher populations. It’s likely the greatest efficiency savings would come from closing a number of technical schools and realigning their programs. However, perhaps not coincidentally, the new diploma track would prepare students in it only to attend community colleges and technical schools.

The hopeful way to look at this would be the new law’s political backers recognize the necessity of these changes to the two-year and technical schools and in a sense are transferring their function to a lower but more efficient level. If almost every parish no longer will have a technical school, then the training task in those that will lose one can be devolved to beefed-up programs in the high schools. Then there’s the cynical, and perhaps more realistic way of viewing the alteration, that perhaps the creation of this track would act as a diversionary element to those who in the regular track would do poorly enough in high school that they otherwise could not go on to higher education now to get a form of it, artificially creating more demand – and the necessity of state dollars – for attendance in the overbuilt two-year and technical system.

Problematic here is that it is an even less efficient way of using resources. Why not simply transfer efforts from higher to secondary education through the new track and realize economies of scale instead of creating more duplication? Vocational kinds of education for first-time workers need to have just one home, higher or secondary, and if 13-year-olds are going to be rigidly segmented into different tracks that will make it difficult for the rest of their lives for the ones choosing (at an age where many have little idea of real understanding or the implications of their decision) the vocational track ever to move beyond that, there’s no reason to have such a vast network of technical schools to serve them (a smaller one can serve adults who want to change vocational careers).

Let’s hope the latter in fact was not a motive for this change which threatens to prepare a larger proportion of the student population for an economy that demands greater critical thinking abilities that the current curriculum emphasizes more. If so, it makes a bad public policy decision even worse.

14.7.09

Corps decision should discourage unneeded reservoir

The Army Corps of Engineers, reviled by some in New Orleans, may have many in Washington Parish feeling quite the opposite about it with its recent decision to deny a permit for the commencement of the building of a manmade reservoir there.

As noted previously, this project emulates others around the state that not only serve as glorious wastes of taxpayer dollars but also enable the shuttling of these to special interests. The worst example, at it got completed, is Poverty Point near Monroe where tens of millions of dollars were spent to create a lake that supposedly would bring a big touristic economic boom to the area. Instead, all it did was flood a bunch of land and make some political insiders wealthy – and apparently not totally legally.

Led by state Sen. Ben Nevers, a similar stunt is being attempted in Washington Parish, but area residents are resisting. A pliant Washington Parish Reservoir Commission, of whom all but one of its members were appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003 for 10-year terms, tried to push through the necessary permits with the ACE. But in part because of resident objections, the federal agency turned down the request. Unfortunately, the Commission plans on trying again by addressing one ACE complaint that the request did not fit the intent of the project.

This probably was as a result of the Commission at first insisting the project was needed for drinking water supply – even though surveys show an abundance in the existing aquifer – and then changing it to a nebulous excuse of supplying water for industrialization that has yet to occur, if it ever will. If the Poverty Point experience is any guide, building a lake does not mean they will come for tourism, industry, or anything else and it seems there would have to be a rapid, unpredicted buildup in industrial uses for more groundwater to be a necessity in the area.

Fortunately, present Gov. Bobby Jindal seems much less enamored with these kinds of uses of limited financial resources when tens of billions of dollars worth of needs in the areas of roads and other more vital projects exist. He should make clear that he will cast a line item veto on any funds that sneak their way into the capital outlay budget for this purpose, and, if he is governor after Jul. 1, 2013, will not reappoint any Commission member who approves of a resubmission of this idea to the Corps or to pursue any reservoir plan. These kinds of declarations should be more than enough to terminate any such plans unless the Commission has enough rogue members willing to bet their political careers on Jindal not being there in slightly less than four years.

Especially under tight budget constraints for the next couple of years, the last thing the state needs to do is fund unnecessary, zero-priority projects that transfer taxpayer wealth to the hands of a few while neglecting far more pressing concerns.

13.7.09

On Medicaid, LA may end up casualty of ideological war

Pres. Barack Obama cut his political eyeteeth in the shadowy world of community organizing where many are influenced by New Left radicalism of the 1960s. Louisiana may soon run afoul of Obama’s grand strategy to acquire and consolidate power and privilege.

Last week, the state’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals Alan Levine went to Washington to plead for some reasonable adjustment to the formula that calculates the state’s match for Medicaid payments. It is computed on levels of income over a three-year period and thus rises as does that indicator. Presumably, a wealthier population has a greater ability to pay for its services. After three straight years of massive federal spending in the $150 billion range for recovery-related efforts in the state, Levine argued that this artificially inflated the numbers for Louisiana which means it would disproportionately pay more in the immediate future.

No doubt the federal aid provided a boost to Louisiana’s tax coffers of which some could have been saved to counteract a higher rate. But in all fairness, the state overall still would be negatively affected fiscally by this induced condition if the matching percentage rises as scheduled. And Congress, controlled by Democrats, did provide relief in other areas in the past in terms of waiving matching requirements for recovery dollars beginning with Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and, to a lesser extent as the dollars figure grew smaller, to current Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

However, the present situation may turn out differently. Democrat Obama now controls the federal bureaucracy that would waive the requirement, and his party still reigns over Congress. And with Jindal at the helm of Louisiana, he is viewed by them not only as an irritant for reasons such as this spring he successfully defied their plan to transform unemployment benefits from insurance to an entitlement, but also because he could be an electoral threat to Obama in 2012 and/or a long-term threat to the party’s ability to stay in power.

If Obama follows the playbook he has referenced throughout his short presidency, expect the federal government to deny a waiver, and for him to instruct Congress not to intervene. He would be following one of the rules for radicals postulated by New Left icon Saul Alinsky, as elucidated in a strategy known as “orchestrate a crisis.”

In a nutshell, the idea is to take a presumed tenet or ideology of a governing system and associate policy failure with it to discredit the ideas behind that system. An example at the federal level has been Obama economic policy that features massive increases in government spending and borrowing to cover it with the stated goal of improving economic performance. The learned and informed know well that a transfer of assets from more- productive private sector uses by expanding the money supply and disproportionately moving those funds into the less-productive government sector will serve to weaken, not strengthen the economy in the immediate future, and produce a double whammy with a higher debt burden in the more distant future. Yet Obama pursues this on the double hope that somehow, despite decades of refutation, that Keynesian economics actually is reflected in the real world or the crisis will deepen making radical calls for redistribution of power and wealth more palatable to voters.

The same tactic can be applied to Louisiana. By refusing the waiver, within Louisiana a crisis can be created as the state would be obligated to spend hundreds of millions more of its own money, replicating the tough budget decisions experienced this past budget cycle. These conditions Democrats hope will cause blame to be attached to Jindal and his ideas and thereby erode his chances for future national success, and perhaps even cost him reelection as governor. At the very least, they may wish that Jindal backs off from health care reform plans that, contrary to what Obama is trying to pull on the national level, place less emphasis on government. A decision on whether to grant a waiver may come down to an insistence that Jindal abandon such plans.

Either or both scenarios of Jindal giving up trying to pursue polices that ultimately would demonstrate the bankruptcy of the ideas underpinning Obama and his supporters or his political demise so that he cannot pursue them any longer, by threatening or bringing about the creation of a crisis, would satisfy the left. Surely Jindal realizes what’s on the way and must do his best to make it politically difficult for the left to achieve this outcome. He can try by having his administration talk up the matter, particularly noting that other states are in such a position so it is not an isolated problem, and to bring up the disaster relief repayment waivers of the past. If he can adequately show, in terms based on the principle of fairness, the punitive and partisan nature that a refusal of a waiver or of a change in the law implicates, Obama and the leftists that run Congress may see the political price as too high to block any change.

This decision will have major implications for the state for years to come. Let us hope Louisiana can avoid being trampled by the left’s unquenchable thirst for power and privilege.

12.7.09

Good, bad, and ugly of NW LA legislators, 2009

Previously, this space featured commentary about the this regular session’s most valuable northwest Louisiana legislator, state Sen. Buddy Shaw, as well as its biggest clown, state Sen. Robert Adley. But there are still some awards to give for the recently-completed session for the other good, bad, and ugly from the area’s delegation.

Best Legislation to Become Law: Unlike last year when Shaw had perhaps the best piece of legislation in the state when it cut taxes for the vast majority of taxpayers, little stood out from the northwest Louisiana delegation. Of it all, the best was state Rep. Jane Smith’s HB 559 with gives special breaks for veterans, particularly those disabled in their service, in operating businesses.

Worst Legislation Introduced: HB 705; see discussion below.

Most Disingenuous Legislator: In a competitive field where some feel you have to really make an effort to lie often and grandiosely just to be typical, one particular state senator’s level of brazenness put those accomplished legislators even statewide to shame. Lydia Jackson, not only in discussing her SB 335 but in the sheer gall it took to introduce it, made lying look as easy as breathing air. The bill reversed a tax deduction that began on Jan. 1, 2009, on which some people had already made financial decisions such as charitable donations based upon the break by the time the session started, and on which others already had paid estimated taxes based on it during the session.

Yet Jackson kept dissembling that it was not a tax increase at all when all she had to do was look at a calendar to see that wasn’t true. It also took a lot of nerve for her to introduce such a measure when ran counter to two sections of the Constitution that disallowed the Senate from introducing tax increases and in implementing retroactive laws. Such behavior on her part should serve as a warning that nobody, especially voters, can trust anything she says and that she is willing to subvert the truth for political purposes beyond what even some of the most shameless politicians are willing to do. That she refuses to be contrite or apologize for all of this speaks volumes about her character.

Most Ignorant Legislator: State Rep. Barbara Norton became more famous than just for her propensity to have subject-verb disagreements in her speech. Her HB 705 would have forced all but the smallest employers to pay women the same wages as men for jobs that required the same “skill, effort, education, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions,” regardless of many other mitigating factors where large differences often are reported between the sexes (such as women’s propensity to take more time off, work less, and change jobs more frequently). The basis of this, she claimed, was that women made only 65 cents to the dollar compared to men; therefore, the difference had to be attributed solely to discrimination and hence need for the law.

But that figure was discredited long ago as it looks at all people in all jobs. When looking at men and women in the same jobs factoring in all the variables, the gap disappears (98 cents on the dollar). This has been known for decades, yet in her testimony about the bill Norton seemed blissfully unaware of this and of the mountain of research showing the “comparable worth” concept on which her bill was based not only addressed an imaginary problem whose only impact would be to drive business costs and create litigation, but in the process would reduce men’s and even women’s salary levels and employment chances. She needs a serious education in matters about which she clearly knows little.

And if this weren’t bad enough, for lagniappe at the session’s end she introduced a resolution to commend her godson one Chris Dooley AKA “Hurricane Chris” for a song of his that had charted – one whose lyrics were laced with profanity and demeaning to women, leading one to wonder if she even has any common sense (At least the cacophony that comprises the piece that actually got played for the entire House had its lyrics sanitized.) Mercifully, the House let the resolution die.

Most Disappointing Legislator: Elected from one of the most conservative/reformist districts in the House, state Rep. Thomas Carmody’s voting record has not reflected those sentiments. On the voting record scale at my Louisiana Legislature Log where 100 is a perfect conservative/reformist score, last year he scored a 45 and this year a 55. That 50 average is well below his Republican Party’s average over the two years of just over 70, a record in contrast to his years on Shreveport’s City Council and to his campaign rhetoric. Former candidate Barrow Peacock may be calling supporters even as you read this for a 2011 run as Carmody is starting to leave himself very vulnerable with a record like this.

If these things weren’t enough to bring cheer or amusement to you, or turn your stomach, fear not, it’ll start all over again in about nine months.