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7.10.10

Race-baiting Richmond feeling suprising heat in contest

With the contest for the Second Congressional District staying closer than almost anybody had imagined it would be at this point, both incumbent Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao and Democrat challenger state Rep. Cedric Richmond have turned up the heat as it still remains too close to call.

While a recent Public Policy Polling effort gave Richmond a 49-38 percent lead (margin of error of four percent), the PPP, which does work exclusively for Democrats, has its polls sampled and questions written and ordered in a way to favor Democrats to the tune of, historically in Louisiana at least, about 10 points when compared to independent polls. Thus, an independent poll (none have been done recently) probably would show Richmond with a narrow lead.

Cao realizes he’s on the cusp yet maybe slipping away – especially since candidate for lieutenant governor and liberal lawyer Democrat Caroline Fayard got into a runoff and therefore can excite her New Orleans base to turn out for Richmond – and launched a media initiative questioning Richmond’s ethical comportment. After all, this strategy, in a much more understated fashion, got Cao past then-indicted, now-convicted former Rep. William Jefferson in 2008.

But while being indicted is one thing, Richmond’s ethical lapses are seen by many in his district as other, trivial things. A number don’t care about his ignoring reporting requirements, law license suspension, lying about his residency for candidate qualification purposes, or bar fights. And while allegations that Richmond used his position in the state legislature to steer money to favored nonprofit recipients and commercial enterprises wouldn’t draw a yawn, in fact it would be expected as part of the mentality shared by many in the district that government is there first and foremost to provide spoils to victors as part of a broader mandate to redistribute wealth.

More interesting is Richmond’s response to Cao’s bringing this information to wider public attention. Defending himself in relation to the revelation that taxpayer dollars allocated to him for office space rental that was going to landlords that are his political supporters, Richmond claimed the rates he got from them were below market.

This nugget of information ought to perk up state auditors and Louisiana’s Board of Ethics. By charging him less than what the going rate would appear to be, and by his accepting that, it could be argued an improper influence relationship was created in that they gained influence not available to others by giving him a break on rent, a situation Richmond should have realized. This doesn’t exactly refute the ethical qualms raised about him.

Richmond also went on the attack, asserting through a spokesman that Cao’s publicizing of the information in the media was akin to “trying to take New Orleans politics back to the bad old days of Leander Perez and the White Citizens Council. Mr. Cao clearly thinks that an orchestrated whisper campaign based on racist stereotypes of African-American men will help him win votes, but those shameful race-baiting tactics have no place in today's New Orleans.”

This is a fantastically ignorant remark. If Richmond knew any history at all, he’d know that Perez and members of the WCC were white supremacists prejudiced against Asians as well. If he really thinks there would be some kind of community of interests between the Vietnamese Cao and these folks, or that Cao as a member of a community that has faced its own discrimination by race would condone appeals of the same, he is as stupid as a lot of his votes in the Louisiana Legislature have been.

As he is engaging in a post-modern race-baiting, Richmond must be feeling the heat. You know it’s going to be a bad year for Democrats when a member of the district’s majority racial group likens the campaign by a member of one of the district’s smallest ethnic groups as “racist.”

6.10.10

Legal challenge magnifies need for special session

The deficit drizzle soon may turn into a downpour which strengthens the argument for a special session within a few months of the Louisiana Legislature.

The first order of business is to deal with the results of the mandated Oct. 1 review of the past fiscal year, which for the first in years showed a deficit, of $108 million. Gov. Bobby Jindal is empowered to cut as much as three percent unilaterally from any budget unit with anything past that requiring legislative approval. Doing so on his own across the board would still leave around $28 million to be lopped off but other cost-saving measures might make up the difference.

However, what Jindal should do here is protect the two large areas of state spending that do not rely on constitutionally- or statutorily-protected funding sources, health care and higher education which already have been brutalized way out of proportion in response to previous deficit and reduced revenue forecasts. This would mean having to find even greater cost savings in order not to have legislative involvement.

But it may get almost twice as worse if another revenue source for this year’s budget gets shuffled out of contention by court order. A lawsuit has been filed arguing the Budget Stabilization Fund, from which $198 million was used to balance this fiscal year’s budget, must be refilled from excess mineral revenues this year. Those revenues were counted upon being spent on operating activities instead of going into the Fund.

While Senate lawmakers argued that a 2009 statute removed that requirement, and Jindal signed off on that assertion with his assent to this year’s operating budget, House legislators warned this could not override the Constitutional procedure. That now will be tested in court, and it would take some creative jurisprudence for the state to avoid payback this year, creating another deficit.

(Although it all may be moot, depending on the impact of the needless oil exploration moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico. The refreshment provision kicks in only after $750 million in severance, royalty, rental, and bonus money is collected. The latest forecast pegged that figure at around $1.245 billion, but the moratorium could make it much lower. Still, gas leasing activity may keep things propped up enough.)

This could be altered, amending the Constitution so that the refreshment doesn’t occur in a year in which the Fund gets tapped, but this would require the enabling legislation to put it on the ballot and before the fiscal year is up. That means an April election for amendment approval which means a special session is the only alternative given the timing.

But why not? There’s already good reason to have a special session in order to change the straitjacketed way in which revenues are allocated for spending, requiring statutory and constitutional solutions prior to the end of the fiscal year in June. So now there’s one more imperative to schedule a session no later than the beginning of next year to cue up April statewide votes and hopefully passage of them.

5.10.10

No need for Jindal to give, Dardenne to get, endorsement

It’s simple as to why Gov. Bobby Jindal feels no real need to endorse Sec. of State Jay Dardenne in the special election for Louisiana lieutenant governor: Dardenne doesn’t need the help, and Jindal doesn’t need the potential headache.

As Dardenne is a Republican like Jindal, one might think an endorsement might slip quite naturally from Jindal’s mouth since his opponent is Democrat Caroline Fayard. However, this forgets a political axiom that an elected official shouldn’t endorse somebody unless it helps both the endorser and endorsee politically, a lesson Jindal seems to have learned with his continued silence on the U.S. Senate race to be decided with this contest.

With incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter running far ahead of challenger Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon, Vitter doesn’t need the help and Jindal prefers not to associate himself additionally to Vitter as a result of Vitter’s admission of a “serious sin” believed by many as an alleged use of prostitution services years ago. The dynamic on Dardenne’s side is the same here: this is a race he will win easily.

Some people looking at the primary results appear impressed that the newcomer Fayard was able to do so well while the established politician Dardenne didn’t do better. As a commentary on the chances of each in the general election, where some think it might be close, this ignores a few salient points, beginning with the fact that Republican candidates took home 65 percent of the vote in the primary. Given Fayard’s history of financial support of (apparently even in her teens, writing huge campaign contribution checks for) liberal Democrats and her and her family’s close connections to national Democrats, all Dardenne must do is remind voters of this and most voters who went Republican (despite a few with ulterior motives regarding Dardenne) in the primary will pull the lever for Dardenne.

Also, Fayard’s showing appeared more impressive than it really was because of the dynamic in this fall contests at all levels that boosts the chances of “outsiders” to politics. Note how well these people did in this contest: in declining order, 24 percent, 19 percent (although he had run before), 8 percent (although he was an elected official nearly 30 years ago), and 3 percent, or a stunning 54 percent of the vote. As for those currently in office (elected or party), they drew 28 percent, 8 percent, 7 percent, and 4 percent. This vein runs deeply and Fayard ended it up tapping it best not because of any real quality as a candidate, but because she by far outspent the other “outsiders” and best introduced herself to voters looking for a new name.

This might help her out but any assistance this gives her will be more than cancelled by the fact that the Nov. 2 electorate will differ significantly from that of Oct. 2 because the enthusiasm of Republicans and independents voting for the likes of Vitter and GOP House candidates disproportionately will draw them to the polls compared to dispirited Democrats. These voters, typically less interested in politics as indicated by their staying home on Oct. 2 but especially keyed in on partisanship in a year politically toxic almost everywhere for Democrats, will see the “R” next to Dardenne’s name compared to the “D” next to Fayard’s and press his button. Had one of the “outsiders” with an “R” like Sammy Kershaw made it past the primary, then Dardenne would be trouble. Instead, he got the perfect runoff candidate to contrast himself with.

Thus, it would not be surprising for Dardenne to pick up at least 60 percent of the vote, and Jindal knows this. But Dardenne also is Republican whose past votes have revealed an agenda more to the center than the right, and Jindal knows he must preserve his conservative credentials that an endorsement of Dardenne could tarnish. So he gains little by an endorsement. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising either if Jindal doesn’t deliver one in this race.

4.10.10

Payment debate instructs on confusion over govt role

What we must understand about government is that it is a necessary evil, and the debate over Louisiana payments to fallen and disabled servicemen provides instruction on how its inherent nature perverts even the best of intentions.

Former Pres. James Madison pointed out that if men were like angels, then no government would be necessary. But given our fallen natures, we are not and thus we contract to government our God-given right of autonomy in exchange for certain things to protect us from ourselves that allow us to maximize our life prospects. But the mistake that often gets made in the process, codified in liberalism, is that what benefits directed to us through government intervention, at the expense of the autonomy of others, are themselves rights even as we fail to understand they are not God-given, but government-given.

In 2007, the state generously decided to award to families of members of the Louisiana National Guard killed in wartime duty $250,000, and to those permanently disabled $100,000. Unfortunately, the program among some has generated envy since it has paid only for casualties since its inception. Others want it extended all the way back to when the hostilities in essence began, Sep. 11, 2001, to award families and affected Guardsman who suffered as far back as then. State officials, recognizing the state is short on money, said they would try to allocate the roughly $8 million to accomplish this.

Notice how suddenly this all became an issue of “fairness.” By creating this extra benefit, the state created a set of beneficiaries which had the effect of allowing others to claim failure to give them the same was a kind of discrimination, confusing the concepts of “benefit” and “right.” Further, this appropriation of what is a “right” for some has mutated into the belief that the state is obligated to supply the resources to allow them to engage in expensive personal growth exercises, such as when one plaintiff says she needs the money to travel the world to attend ceremonies honoring her son and as a “way for us to get through the grieving process.”

Where does it end, this presumed mandatory largesse from government, funded by the confiscation of people’s property? What about the dead and maimed from the Gulf War? And farther back? And shouldn’t police and fire personnel killed in the performance of their duties merit the same amount of aid as a direct appropriation from government? Or what about others who have faced misfortune who didn’t even volunteer to be put into a position of danger? Just within the past two days around Baton Rouge, a stray bullet killed a teenager, a sheriff’s son was victimized in a drive-by shooting, and people gathered to honor the life of a girl also killed by senseless violence. What are these families owed (by government, not by the crimes’ perpetrators), by this logic?

And how about those whose life prospects, through no fault of their own, were radically diminished from their potential from birth? How about a woman like this, should she be given money because of her government-sponsored, legally-caused disability? Or should I get funds to help my “grieving process” when my wife, born with a mutated gene that has robbed her of most of her muscles and forces her to breathe through a machine, finishes her lifespan far shorter than that of the typical person without muscular dystrophy?

There’s a lot of sadness and misfortune in the world and to perceive government as the provider of the resources to compensate for it misunderstands the purpose of government, and places an illegitimate claim on its citizens that turns what should be a gift into an obligation. But that attitude is what happens when we forget what the real nature and purpose of government is and when we allow certain politicians to exploit that or to encourage an inappropriate idea about what government is all about.

3.10.10

Dardenne on ballot, Richmond off ballot big winners

Sec. of State Jay Dardenne continued his political career upwards by drawing the perfect runoff candidate for the lieutenant governor’s job, but perhaps at the sacrifice of any chance that Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao had of keeping his job.

The Republican Dardenne led the field in the special election with almost a third of the statewide vote, while political newcomer Democrat Caroline Fayard managed second place with a little under a quarter, edging out entertainer and former candidate Republican Sammy Kershaw. The remainder were in single digits for an office that sparked more intrigue than usual because of widespread belief that current Gov. Bobby Jindal might find himself on the national GOP ticket in 2012, where a win would create a vacancy for the lieutenant governor to move up.

Of course, whoever wins this election must also win next year’s regular election but the Nov. 2 victor certainly would have a leg up in that effort. And that is almost certainly to be Dardenne, who showed the broadest base of support and whose only vulnerability was from the right. Had conservative forces coalesced around a single candidate, with Kershaw clearly being the strongest, he would have finished second to that candidate and the runoff would have been a tossup as Dardenne, whose politics are more to the center than the right, would have attracted voters from the left.

But with perhaps the most liberal candidate opposing him in the runoff, the field his clear for Dardenne to pick up most of the conservative vote now left without a real conservative in the contest. Some who dislike Dardenne and/or who like Jindal may be tempted to vote for Fayard, in order to keep Dardenne out of a position where he could ascend to the governorship and/or to discourage Jindal from being selected as a vice presidential candidate and leaving the state in the hands of (if she were to win in 2011) a liberal Democrat. But this thinking is unrealistic and self-defeating for true conservatives: better to suffer a moderate than liberal as governor and if national Republicans think Jindal is a key to recapturing the White House in 2012, Jindal will cooperate even if it means leaving a liberal in charge after his departure. So, Dardenne is the overwhelming favorite next month.

Still, even in defeat the Orleanian Fayard’s candidacy will serve a useful purpose for Democrats, which was why national Democrats and Orleans Parish Democrats were eager to bring about her candidacy. With lackluster school board races (because the Orleans Parish School District hardly controls any schools any more) and a Public Service Commission contest that would be settled after yesterday, an area liberal candidate willing to spread lost of campaign resources around the black community could help push their challenger to Republican Cao state Rep. Cedric Richmond into office.

Cao has done a good job with constituent relations and national tides are such that what looked to be hopeless a year ago has turned into a winnable contest for him. The key to his win last time was depressed black Democrat turnout (due to lack of enthusiasm over their indicted incumbent) and given the coming catastrophic losses legislative Democrats have earned themselves nationally, that reality might cause the same phenomenon from which Cao could benefit in a month. But with Fayard’s candidacy continuing its life to stimulate black turnout (almost a third of her vote came from Orleans Parish, while only around 10,000 of her votes statewide, less than 15 percent, did not come from the three large plurality black parishes in the state, Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Caddo), this may have ended Cao’s chance for reelection.