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14.10.10

Invalid Richmond remarks suggests lack of confidence

When a Democrat-leaning poll gave challenger Democrat state Rep. Cedric Richmond a double-digit lead over incumbent Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, an initial reaction to the news that national Democrats were cancelling advertising buys for Richmond might have been to think it was because of confidence in Richmond’s chances. But such a judgment may be too hasty.

As previously noted, given the track record of that polling organization, the contest probably is much tighter with Richmond holding a narrow lead. Further, endorsements by some leading black Democrats of Cao now call into question whether national Democrats see Richmond as too risky of an investment, causing the pullout.

The latest to give the nod to Cao, Richmond’s vanquished major opponent in the Democrat primary, state Rep. Juan LaFonta, vaguely echoed Richmond’s ethical difficulties – rules violation, loss of law license, arrest, alleged steering of state money to favored organizations – that electronic media and Cao have publicized in recent weeks. It bears noting that the men also have been rivals for power besides with this office in the Legislature, such as over the leadership and direction of the Legislative Black Caucus, and that, should Cao win, LaFonta could be calculating Cao would be easier to defeat in the coming years should he wish to try again.

But Richmond’s reaction to LaFonta’s endorsement appeared to be that of an unconfident candidate. He claimed Cao and LaFonta had been working together from the start, “sharing supporters, advisors, and consultants,” and that LaFonta “has never supported the president [Barack Obama].”

Neither charge can be backed by evidence. Looking at LaFonta’s voting record in the state House, it couldn’t be any more similar to Obama’s preferences, and LaFonta has defended Obama’s policies many times, such as on health care. Further, a review of both Cao’s and LaFonta’s campaign expenditures for over the past year shows, except for using the same office supplier and airline, no entities received any funds from both candidates. Finally (and having to eyeball hundreds of these means I may have missed something), there appear to be not a single common donor to the men’s campaigns in that year leading up to the primary election.

The non-factual content and air of desperation leaking from Richmond’s reaction can indicate he’s worried about the impact of LaFonta’s statement. This means, despite all odds, Cao continues to have a significant chance to hang onto his seat.

13.10.10

Which devil: known Dardenne, empty vessel Fayard?

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor Caroline Fayard is going to spend a lot of her’s, her family’s, and other people’s money to try to prove that aphorism incorrect.

Attorney Fayard ran a close second to Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne in the primary, taking advantage of $300,000 loaned to herself and a similar amount raised through connections to her father, attorney Calvin Fayard, Jr., a prominent Democrat fundraiser and activist. (Fayard herself apparently has given large sums of money since her teens to Democrat candidates for various offices – must be nice to have that much scratch when so young to throw away on liberal politicians – and what comes around, goes around now for her.) Much appears to come from traditional Democrat supporters around the New Orleans/Capital area, with some sprinkled in from outside likely connected to a fundraiser headlined by former Pres. Bill Clinton, and from one prominent conservative (Donald Boysinger) and at least one apparently illegal contribution (one Erin Shaw who put down a New Orleans address gave $1,800 over the $5,000 maximum for a single election for state major office on 9/11/10).

Such huge sums for a newcomer to elective office can make you competitive only if conditions are right to take your blank slate and make it appear how you want it to for different people – much as Pres. Barack Obama (one of the beneficiaries of her donations) did in his campaign for the White House – and they have been there for Fayard, with one major exception that this is an incredibly bad electoral environment in which for a Democrat to run. In this anti-Washington year, some of it spills over to a nakedly ambitious state politician like Dardenne. Also, the job which she seeks is the most ideologically issue-less statewide elected office, making it more difficult to connect the dots between those she associates with politically if she’s trying to build a particular image to overcome all the negativity about her political fellow-travelers.

Which she has been trying to do. Going on the radio talk show of a huge Dardenne critic, Moon Griffon, Fayard tried to position herself as opponent of Obama’s signature health care legislation and tax increases to deal with the state’s budget deficit, and as a supporter of drastic downsizing of state government. These stated positions seem very much the opposite of the kinds of people with which she has associated with and supported politically – and also have absolutely nothing to do with the lieutenant governor’s position. By contrast, Dardenne has focused his campaign on issues dealing with what the position actually does.

But since she brought it up, perhaps she should clarify publicly whether she would vote for or donate to Obama again given her articulated issue preferences in that Obama obviously likes his legislation and advocates tax increases with no sign he wishes to reduce the size of government with its record-breaking spending, and whether she agrees with these things. Otherwise without this explanation, silence on this contradiction adds to a disturbing pattern of creative license involving politics on her part, not just with questions about how a teenager/college student can afford and wants to give substantial donations of money to liberal candidates.

In the end, voters will have to decide whether they want to go with Dardenne, with a long record of liberal and conservative issue preferences and is the devil they know, or with the devil they don’t know in Fayard, who in trying to be all things to all people, leading to wondering whether she can be trusted in any way.

12.10.10

Mayoral continuity, Council change likely in Shreveport

The initial round of Shreveport city elections produced little that would indicate that the agenda coming out of its government would differ significantly from that of the past many years.

Most relevant of shaping this agenda, the mayor’s race, came up trumps for Mayor Cedric Glover. Corralling only about a third of the vote four years ago and running second after the general election, this time the Democrat finished well ahead of his rivals although five points away from avoiding a runoff. If this was a referendum on a term that included much criticism for lack of transparency and secretiveness with perhaps the signal credit his administration can draw is replicating a decrease in crime happening in almost every large American city, then enough of the electorate liked what they saw.

Current City Councilman Bryan Wooley positioned himself in the runoff with just over a third of the vote. This never was in doubt despite a local TV station a few days before the election breathlessly announcing poll results from what was deemed a credible source that showed the Republican slipping below independent Caddo Commissioner David Cox, who ended up with a pittance of the actual vote. With Shreveport’s GOP establishment solidly behind Wooley and being well-funded, the sparsely-funded Cox without much of a campaign organization was a longshot from the start, leading to rumors he actually was a Glover plant.

Wooley’s only real hope in the election was to consolidate all of the more conservative vote and hope anti-Glover feelings among blacks and white liberals split their vote up so decisively that he could win without a general election runoff. That didn’t happen and now his chances to win are slim at best. With a majority black electorate and Glover’s ability to get out the vote in runoffs (which propelled him to victory in 2006 even trailing after the general election), only a major blunder by Glover can cost him reelection.

Even the providential fortune of the runoff being on Nov. 2 with an eager Republican electorate and disinterested Democrats that will lead to huge Democrat losses nationally, this mostly has been cancelled out from helping Wooley because of the spirited effort lieutenant governor candidate Democrat Caroline Fayard is making. Having racked up almost 85 percent of her votes from the state’s major metropolitan areas of Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Caddo (leading it with almost a third of the vote), while she cannot win without a major blunder by her opponent Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, she was encouraged by national Democrats to run precisely to stimulate minority turnout. While their real payoff would happen in the Second Congressional District, to a lesser degree the impact will be felt in Shreveport and basically ending Wooley’s hopes.

Her well- and largely self/insider-funded campaign also may spell trouble for the white surviving candidate in the most intriguing of city council races, District B where former Democrat operative Jeff Everson faces off against attorney Sheva Sims who rode Glover’s big turnout increase in the 2006 runoff to within six votes of knocking off the white Democrat incumbent. While the black Democrat trailed Everson, he’ll have difficulty picking up much of the trailing candidates’ votes and may not even get more of the new vote coming in.

District A’s results left us with a matchup between an old political force and, well, an older political legend. Rose Wilson McCulloch, daughter of black political pioneer Hersey Wilson, led black political pioneer and octogenarian Dr. C.O. Simpkins in the general election, Democrats both. While Simpkins’ legendary civil rights status probably will keep McCulloch from making insinuations about his fitness for the job, her elected presence in the district and campaign organization of long-standing probably can leverage her to victory in the runoff.

The voters of District D once again showed their obstreperous nature of disdaining more establishmentarian candidates (in 2006 they sent the rookie Wooley to Government Plaza despite the presence of a past councilman and present commissioner in that contest) by giving independent Philip Templeton a small lead going into the runoff against Republican Michael Corbin, despite Corbin raising twice as much money as him with a good chunk of it from commercial interests. This gives Democrat interests a chance to steal surreptitiously a long-time GOP seat as the likes of former Mayor Keith Hightower back Templeton. One might think that the supporters of the vanquished Republican in the race, Deanna Candler, would tip the balance in favor of Corbin, but she was critical of him during the campaign. Anything less than her support might lose the seat for the party.

11.10.10

Study shows need for shedding schools, TOPS reform

As debate churns over upcoming budget cuts in Louisiana, a new study simultaneously leaves the state’s higher education spending less able to be defended and increases impetus for its reform.

The American Institutes for Research published a look at the amount of money states lost on students who dropped out of college in their first year, combining all kinds of state support. In the period 2003-08, nationally $6.2 billion was spent on dropouts. Distressingly, despite being one of the lowest states in terms of proportion of college students and only about the middle in terms of population, Louisiana ranked 11th highest in amount of money spent on them, making it one of the highest states in per capita terms for money lost on educating dropouts. State money going to public colleges over this period lost was $213.4 million; when including state money and federal money passed through to all institutions of higher education it was $267.3 million.

These data only complement what we know about spending on higher education in Louisiana: too many institutions chase too few students, with relatively low (if any) admission standards sending students into environments in which they won’t succeed, and the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students aggravating the problem by encouraging some people who shouldn’t be at a baccalaureate institution, or even in college at all, to attend courtesy of the taxpayer where the money shelled out for these dropouts gets wasted.
Of course, some reforms have occurred recently to mitigate conditions present during the period of the report, such as accountability standards for schools, a gradual rise in admission standards, and a shift to increasing admissions at two-year and technical facilities. Still, this leaves two major areas of inefficiencies that remain to be addressed.

10.10.10

Guilty legislators complain about products of their sins

Maybe it’s a peculiar disease that strikes those who spend too much time in Huey Long’s monument to himself that explains why if you keep a legislator in the state capitol long enough, he turns into a stark, raving hypocrite.

Two of the most seriously afflicted, state Sens. Robert Adley and John Alario, recently whined and moaned about how Louisiana will continue to face budgetary difficulties. Within the past two years, several rounds of budget cutting (including the formal budget process of this year) have occurred with at least another to follow barring miraculous appearance of revenues.

Implying there was a lot of stupidity along the way, Alario said the “dumbest” thing done was to set up temporary taxes to deal debt borrowed for operating expenses. Adley lamented that several opportunities were missed to restructure things. Never mind, of course, that through some of this time Adley and especially Alario have headed money committees in the Legislature and through leadership in those positions could have taken fiscal policy in the body in a different direction.

Also conveniently forgotten by them is they are two of the biggest pigs at the money trough trying to redirect state taxpayer funds to their districts. As examples, just recently, Adley bleated about how it was so unfair that Gov. Bobby Jindal struck out with his line item veto state tax dollars going to buy local police cars, among other things, in his district, while, a few years ago, Alario steered through the Legislature measures to treat preferentially a failing golf course in his district that was part of a state subsidy then costing state taxpayers million every year. If they were serious about state spending, they would not behave like this.

Both also have been culpable in squandering the huge disaster-recovery surpluses since 2005. When in 2007 this dynamic produced a huge surplus, instead of keeping state government at that downsized level, they helped lead the charge to restore thousands of jobs, increase spending on health care without necessary reforms for efficiency’s sake, threw money at elementary and secondary education without accountability that also would have increased efficiency, and larded up capital spending (with plenty of local projects for them, of course). And, historically, both also betray their spend-first mentality by referring to revenue increases into state governments below current rates as a “cut” in spending.

More examples of their thirst to spend other peoples’ money first: Adley also was eager to put the state on the hook for hundreds of millions of more dollars of spending when he criticized Jindal’s refusal to accept certain grant funds from the federal government precisely because it would have created an additional state commitment Jindal thought best to avoid. Using a different method by which to express his lack of seriousness in spending restraint, Alario authored the bill that ended up restricting the amount of money that could be put into the Budget Stabilization Fund, forcing money past four percent of revenues to be spent. And many such more instances exist, but you get the picture.

Even their presumed solutions to deal with the problem lack credibility. Alario suggests cutting the state work force, despite his tenures as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee or as House Speaker where over two decades he did nothing to cut the state’s bloated bureaucracy which gives it one of the highest state employees per capita figures in the country. Adley says to consolidate graduate programs in higher education to produce immediate savings, blissfully unaware that, given constraints in personnel practices, presumably any faculty member let go would still be paid for a year and the programs are required to stay in existence until there are no longer any students already admitted into their programs, producing almost no immediate savings.

It’s public servants like this that got the state into fiscal trouble in the first place. Having them now complain about how things got this way, when they and their ilk are the ones who caused this situation and appear to take no responsibility for their actions nor seem willing to change their ways, makes people knowledgeable about Louisiana politics want to reach for an air sick bag.