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30.9.10

Little things matter when running for political office

Little, idiosyncratic things can decide why people vote the way they do, and even decide elections, especially at the local level where issues often are deemphasized in favor of personalistic kinds of criteria.

For example, a friend of mine from the past who unfortunately not long ago went on to her reward, Elizabeth Rickey, ran for the Republican State Central Committee in 1988 when we lived at the opposite ends of House District 93. These are very low turnout elections and of course both of us voted for her and I also got my building manager, who had no idea of the contest, to do the same only at my behest. In a three-way race, she won by three votes out of 356. Later, she used her position on the RSCC to question very properly David Duke’s legitimacy as a conservative Republican which was instrumental in uncovering him as a fraud.

House District 5 is having a special election to replace retired Wayne Waddell. Two Republican candidates, banker Harold Turner and lawyer Alan Seabaugh are vying to replace him. Seabaugh ran in 2007 against state Sen. Sherry Smith Cheek for her job and by dumping a lot of his own money into the contest almost knocked off the incumbent insider.

On the surface, the candidates sound the same themes and rhetoric. But temperament also matters, because one would hope their elected representatives make sound judgments. Rash statements often leave an unfavorable impression.

Which is why I never forgot about a post to a college baseball fan message board in 2002. My brother sent me a link of where he had posted 10 reasons why his alma mater, Rice University, was going to win its upcoming super-regional (best two-of-three games) with LSU. This drew a vigorous response from username “Seatiger,” which started off by calling him a “moron” in the subject line and never got better. The name associated with that handle was Alan Seabaugh. I can’t with absolute certainty say it was this candidate Alan Thomas Seabaugh but how many Alan Seabaugh’s went to LSU, as did the candidate for his two degrees?

Of course, Jonathan was right and Rice swept the series with a pair of shutouts. While it appears Seabaugh’s judgment, if I have the correct one, is not so good about analyzing college baseball, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to his political judgment. Still, the intemperate nature of that note means if I lived in that district seeing that name on the ballot would have me head in another direction.

As undesirable as lack of calm temperament is in a candidate, outright flouting the law is another. One of the three Republicans running for the Bossier School Board District 12 slot, Katherine “Kay” Padgett Byrd, had a number of signs appearing in illegal spots. There’s a lot of gamesmanship in the placing of small signs on public property – a common tactic is for them to mushroom along divided roads right before election day – but it’s discouraging when there are blatant violations long before election day in residential areas.

The Unified Development Code for Bossier Parish that includes Bossier City in Art. 8 Sec. 2 Paragraph 2I states that in residential areas the maximum square footage for a campaign sign is nine. In three residentially-zoned places I witnessed signs of hers that exceeded that, and there may have been more. One of her opponents that I talked to said he was aware of this but her campaign was doing nothing about it.

After a couple of weeks, I contacted the Byrd campaign myself. I reached the candidate who said “somebody from Bossier City” told her the larger signs were permissible. I informed her of the presence of the regulation and urged her to investigate it. While sometimes these rules aren’t obvious, we should expect someone serious enough about wanting and capable enough to run government would have the initiative to find out about them, and, even if discovering them after the fact, to follow them.

Days later, as of press time, the signs remain up. Meaning the question that District 12 voters must ask is whether they want somebody elected who deliberately breaks the law in her campaigning. Recall Luke 16:10: if she does so with small matters like this, what does that mean for the far greater matters that she would face as an elected official? At least Shreveport mayoral candidate City Councilman Bryan Wooley, prodded by judicial proceedings, realized he was not being Solomonic by dividing illegally-large signs and removed them.

29.9.10

Jindal berm bet pays off with coastal restoration help

This summer, Gov. Bobby Jindal went all in when he pursued a controversial plan to respond to the calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this spring. Yesterday, he played the winning hand.

Jindal’s plan focused on the building of sand berms to catch oil. Some have been partially completed but most of the approximately 100-mile artificial barrier islands have not been built because of delays by federal government agencies to allow the permitting process to move forward. What has been built came under emergency permits, with the money provided by the operator responsible for the spill, BP.

Critics from when the work under the temporary permit began through the permanent permit application process argued that the berms would be ineffective in catching oil, they would be too fragile to last, they would be good only as long as the leak continued, they would be environmentally destructive in their building, and they diverted funds from better uses. Logically, these kinds of arguments failed because of the inappropriate prioritization they supported, and time now has revealed these assertions in fact as equally flawed.

28.9.10

Landrieu efforts low on substance, high on propaganda

While the uninformed and partisan breathlessly cooed over Pres. Barack Obama’s signing of legislation pushed by and an initiative taken by Sen. Mary Landrieu, in reality they got all worked up over propaganda exercises with no substantive benefit to the country or to Louisiana.

The ceremony involved the Small Jobs Business Act, which will end up creating jobs – but only in government. As has been reviewed in this space, the new law creates small business incentives that few of them can access and which last almost no time, in exchange for giving government greater control over lending to small business that will end up lowering lending standards and raising default rates paid for by taxpayers.

As Republicans pointed out, if Democrats Obama and Landrieu really meant to help small business, they would support preventing tax increases on almost half of all small business profit set to trigger at the end of the year. Instead, Landrieu, despite being chairwoman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, has expressed opposition to this and with the rest of Congress plans to hightail it out of town soon without making any effort to stop the tax increase from going into effect. After all, as Democrats have choked off any meaningful economic recovery with promises of greater debts, taxation, and regulation in the future, what’s a few more casualties among small business to them generally, or to Landrieu specifically?

Perhaps Congress will convene before its end after Democrats take a beating in midterm elections with a growing probability that they will control neither chamber of the next Congress and actually deal with the looming tax hike. But time already will have run out on them concerning the budget, which by law they should have completed by Oct. 1. Instead, it looks like a punt by the Democrat leadership on this as well, fearing to reveal a budget that produces more recessionary economic performance in exchange for empowering government.

Which makes Landrieu’s refusing to allow the nomination of a new head to the Office of Management and Budget, vacant after the abrupt departure of its former head who was one of the architects of the economic slowdown, until the Obama Administration moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is lifted nothing more than a publicity stunt. There’s no expediency required on this matter so long as Democrats dawdle on the budget as a whole.

Further, it’s an empty threat. By taking this recess instead of working on the budget and eliminating the tax hike, this invites Obama to make a recess appointment that would allow his nominee to stay on the job until the end of next year (if he even lasts that long, given the downward trajectory of the Obama Administration). Obama shows no signs of wavering from his meritless, ideologically-driven path to suppress drilling so if the matter is important to him, he’ll just bypass the Senate.

So, properly understood, Landrieu’s efforts to pass useless, if not actually harmful, legislation while ignoring the real problem of the upcoming tax hike, and in making a symbolic gesture that will change nothing in the actual production of an on-time and sensible budget or in removing job-killing moratorium, are short on substance and long on propaganda.

27.9.10

TEA Party impact likely muted in upcoming state races

So with some state and a slew of local elections coming Louisiana’s way at the end of this week, how will the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party phenomenon play itself out in these contests? The short answer is, not very distinguishably from traditional political dynamics.

Because a plurality of Americans sympathize with the economic conservatism goals of the movement, it is tempting to view it as less-structured but traditional mass-based political party that shapes the party’s leadership, responds to its appeals, and uses cues like party labels to make voting decisions. But it’s not; instead, it is an almost-totally decentralized regime rather than a formal organization whose very leaderless nature creates fluidity in deployment of mainly volunteer-based resources. In other words, it’s a number of like-minded people whose primary response to political stimuli is based not upon acquisition of power in order govern, but instead to evaluate candidates on the basis of issue preferences and to vote accordingly.

As such, preferences of economic conservatism such as reduced government spending and regulation with the commensurate reduction in its power over people’s lives, smaller deficit spending, holding the line on if not rolling back taxation and, overall, the sense that government has become too intrusive in dealing with people’s property rights drives their decision-making, not whether supporting a certain candidate maximizes their chances at governing and thereby increases their chances of receiving rewards bestowed by government. Understanding this is the key to realizing why it will not be a distinctive force in Lousiana’s state and local elections.

In order for the movement to coalesce, sharp ideological conflict had to illuminate the differences in issue preferences between the movement joiners and the power structure in government. That happened with the election of Democrat Pres. Barack Obama and an increased Democrat congressional majority. Obama ran a brilliant campaign designed to obscure his real agenda and to prompt himself to be viewed as an empty vessel into which voters could pour their best intentions and optimism about what they hoped he would do. But the hard leftism of his actual beliefs and their consequences quickly became apparent after he took power, aided by a Congress that now could legislate without consequence lacking any more a Republican president that could rein in its excesses.

In a matter of months and since, national Democrats’ agenda has become entirely exposed as fundamentally at odds with the beliefs of a majority of Americans. The swing to the extreme left sensitized and activated those who would join the TEA Party phenomenon and its energetic opposition to big government emanating from Washington, DC.

However, in Louisiana, few similar situations have manifested themselves. At the state level, at stake Saturday is perhaps the least ideological office and the one that has the least to do with government involvement in people’s lives, the lieutenant governor’s. There’s a contest for the obscure Public Service Commission and a number of judicial contests which by their nature tend to turn far more on personality than on issues. The kind of spark that activated the phenomenon for national office candidates barely exists in this environment.

Local contests, for municipalities and school boards, promise more potential for issues mainly pocketbook in nature to be relevant and for conflict between competing visions of how much latitude people should have in making decisions about what they earn and spend, but this often will be muted. Besides a sharp contrast in economic and property issues, the other precondition for TEA Party influence would be for its identifiers to make up a significant portion of the electorate in a jurisdiction. But because as we get to smaller and smaller jurisdictions, heterogeneity within them begins to disappear to create situations where TEA Party influence either is insignificant to the process or whose attitudes already are shared by a dominant majority of the electorate.

For example, in Shreveport the distribution of issue preferences among the public means, given the large Democratic registration and majority black registrants among the city’s voters, TEA Party sympathies are unlikely to determine who will win the mayor’s race. This dynamic increases in validity when considering some city council contests with similar demographics. However, there are others where influence might be wielded, where Republicans are expected to win.

Even so, the impact likely is to be slight. As the level of contest gets lower, economic issues in particular and ideology in general becomes diluted by more personalistic kinds of factors in making voting decisions. Organizational resources besides volunteer activism also become magnified in importance and traditional party or candidate organizations look much more like the overall TEA Party model at this level, negating any advantage that might convey.

In summation, for TEA Party influence to shape election contests, there must be clear ideological differences on economic issues and on amount of government power among candidates for that kind of office and the TEA Party adherents themselves must represent a critical mass within the jurisdiction without being part of a larger, overall dominant political culture in it. These are the case in federal elections in Louisiana, and are why Republicans are going to win every federal office in this election cycle with the probable exception of the Second Congressional District precisely because that district’s characteristics make it difficult to achieve the critical mass standard.

However, these conditions are present in almost no state contests and not often in local races on this ballot. This does not mean that TEA Party sympathies cannot substantially shape these kinds of elections – 2013 city elections in Bossier City, after many years of the city’s poor prioritization of spending led it to a 2009 budget meltdown, should produce a great test case – but that this time out in the main it should not be expected.

26.9.10

Lucky local govts need long-term thinking on largesse

While the consumption decisions of individual recipients of Haynesville Shale largesse might be described as any or all of intriguing, humorous, or boorish – dining out habits going from hot wings and light beer to shrimp cocktail and Budini malbec, driving choices from economy cars to souped-up pickups and boat-like luxury cars, lots more gold chains – it becomes more alarming when governments start approaching Beverly Hillbillies territory.

Such increasingly seems to be the case with school districts blessed with this bonus in places such as Red River, DeSoto, and Bienville parishes. Salaries have rocketed upwards as has sales tax receipts, with some leasing activity thrown in, to enrich these governments. For contrast, rookie teachers in DeSoto make more than a 20-year tenured professor in higher education.

Some jurisdictions have bumped these salaries with regular bonuses, while actually have permanently written them into salary schedules. There are worse things on which to spend, with the classic example being the drunken sailor behavior of Bossier City for the past decade-and-a-half that led to an ugly day of reckoning. But who knows how long this extra revenue will last? And with there being little relationship between teacher quality and pay (although this may change if the state moves to a realistic and effective evaluation system), it’s questionable whether these schemes best serve taxpayers.

Unfortunately, it best serves school board members. Happy teachers with padded pay stubs and their families tend to vote for incumbents. This same Santa Claus dynamic also discourages a potentially much better long-term strategy, suspending portions of sales taxes and giving smaller increases, in order to encourage economic development. Because boards are concerned parochially only with education, they have no incentive to look towards the greater economic benefit of the area and its citizens which in the long run would boost tax revenues. Even if all other geographically coterminous and enveloped local governments also suspended part of their sales taxes, likely school boards would not follow because they see their constituencies as educators, then children, with the people dragging the rear.

So, the next best thing would be to create a special fund into which the relative excess of revenues should flow. Salary supplements can be reduced with that not apportioned out put into these funds. Over the next couple of decades, if the shale activity lasts that long, a tidy sum can be accumulated and the interest earnings off of it can be there for supplements when activity does slow, or if it continues can be used for other education purposes. This will prevent trying to squeeze more tax revenues out of the public and might make the public more amenable to continuing funding any existing property tax levies; without such funds, more astute members of the citizenry might call for and succeed in getting the levies expired by a negative public vote since, they can successfully argue, shale money could make up the difference.

It’s what Bossier City should have done with its gambling windfall, but failed to do so. Let’s hope that not just school districts but all local governments so blessed have greater wisdom going forward on this matter.