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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.