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4.11.10

Landry win sets up political and redistricting intrigue

One of the more impressive open seat wins in the country came courtesy of Republican Rep.-elect Jeff Landry, capturing the Third House District of Louisiana previously held by defeated Senate candidate Democrat Charlie Melancon. Problematically for the state GOP, it also probably will be his last win there – but a win which may affect profoundly the state’s congressional redistricting.

The district appears to be the most likely casualty of upcoming redistricting, which kicks off next year, as in about a month results of the 2010 census almost certainly will show that Louisiana will lose a House seat. If so, the very election results that will send Landry to Washington reinforce the likelihood of him having a short stay.

As previously noted, if a district has to go, dynamics point to this one. Except for the Second which will swap a Democrat for a Republican, GOP members represent all others and got reelected. Even if they don’t have much seniority (from the Fifth, Rep. Rodney Alexander has the most starting his fifth term), they have some and especially now with Republicans becoming the House majority courtesy of about six dozen new GOP members getting elected, that seniority gets magnified as a resource. Thus, Republicans would loath to do a remapping that throws two of the reelected Republicans into a district.

And Republicans largely will control the process in Louisiana. With a Republican governor and effective GOP control of the House of Representatives, only their Senate minority would stand in the way. But this should not be a problem given another dynamic of the process, the desire to keep a majority-black Second. Constitutionally, it would be impossible not to have one such district in a state where black population will be almost 30 percent and has a concentration in New Orleans. Black legislators will seek to bulk up this district as much as possible with black voters to forestall any chance of a repeat of the unusual circumstances that put outgoing Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao into that seat the past two years. This most reasonably, on the criteria of compactness and contiguity, can be accomplished only by dismantling the Third. New Orleans-area black senators will cooperate with Republicans on this.

So this leaves Landry out in the cold. Assuming he keeps New Iberia as his residence, he likely would find his residence under redistricting in the (for now named) Seventh District of the only member of the state delegation who did not face any opponent for reelection, Rep. Charles Boustany. It’s not a contest that he would like, would draw much Republican support for, or he could win, and the same would be true regardless of which incumbent’s district in which his residence would be placed. Obviously the only non-Republican he could run against would be in the Second, but there is no geographical way to get his residence into it through any Constitutional kind of redistricting. And why do so, anyway: even if he moved to the very northeastern portion of it and hoped to get redistricted into the new Second, he still would have practically no chance of winning that presumably majority black district.

What to do, then, with a promising political career? He could step back to state legislative office, but elections for them will already have occurred and he would have to cool his heels for three years for a chance at that. But another alternative exists where he immediately could retain federal office, or at the most wait two years.

Landry could try to groom himself for taking on the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mary Landrieu in 2014. This may not be the best alternative not so much because he’ll have had so little elective office experience and have sat out two years (although that gives him plenty of time to campaign) but because probably at least one much more experienced Republican in statewide office may wish to go for the office. Incoming Lieutenant Gov. Jay Dardenne has talked of it, but with his new job he now may be aiming more towards the Governor’s Mansion after an expected Gov. Bobby Jindal second term expiration or early departure. Treasurer John Kennedy has run unsuccessfully twice for it, so he may also have shifted his focus to the Capitol’s fourth floor offices. Drawing guys like these as an opponent will make for an uphill battle for Landry.

But Landry’s best options for continuing in a federal office might be if Boustany, or the representative in the other district likely to swallow up the northwestern part of the Third, the Sixth’s Rep. Bill Cassidy, decides to go for the Senate in 2014. Redistricting could be done, and maybe a Landry residential change if needed, so that he would end up in the district of whichever one (maybe both) wants to vie for the seat. Then Landry could try for a lateral move, although no doubt other politicians with potentially better starting bases in the new district would present a challenge.

Thus, it’ll be interesting to see how redistricting gets shaped around the political ambitions of a few Republican congressmen. Unless the GOP feels like wasting their new asset and Landry accepts an abbreviated House career, some interesting machinations may be on the way.

2.11.10

Political careers wax, wane, or vanish in LA elections

As of tonight’s results in Louisiana, one political career got a permanent boost, another was thrown into question, and a third likely ended too soon.

Commentators were too quick to dismiss Republican Sen. David Vitter’s career when in July, 2007 he admitted to commission of a “serious sin” believed related to interacting with a prostitution ring. Thereafter, he essentially refused to speak of the situation and when the campaign came for his reelection he focused on issues compared to his opponents and fought back with assertions of their foibles. Dictating the terms of the campaign, he won convincingly.

Because his opponents relentlessly tried to remind voters of the admission and to build a case connecting other actions of his to make Vitter appear untrustworthy and generally immoral and failed spectacularly in the minds of voters, his margin of victory especially means Vitter now has become inoculated from these charges. Louisiana Democrats must be particularly galled that the result has removed this presumed issue from the field of play (unless Vitter propagates a future scandal) for 2016 or beyond if Vitter wants to continue serving as senator. This job he has locked down for life, barring some ethical slipup.

The defeat of newcomer to running for office Caroline Fayard for lieutenant governor probably means that her meteoric rise has passed its apogee. Running against an experienced politician, Sec. of State Jay Dardenne whose past centrist record aggravated some conservatives and probably led some to pass on this race, she had the opportunity to present herself as a blank slate for a do-little office that has no issue content during an election where anti-Washington/big government sentiment could spill over against an opponent like Dardenne, and had poured in maximal resources (perhaps with illegalities committed by state Democrats’ PAC in reporting) in an all-or-nothing effort that came up short.

This creates a problem for her going forward, because after this campaign, she no longer can claim to be a political outsider. Further, she is unlikely to get such an ideal candidate in an ideal environment that got her as close as a very liberal Democrat can get to winning statewide office. And should she run for any other statewide office, issues will be more important and, unless she executes a total sea change in her attitudes in a way that seems genuine to voters, she is on the wrong side of those issues for the majority of the public and will be distrusted if she persists in trying to pass herself off as more less liberal as her previous political activity suggests. In short, she probably never will have such a strong opportunity to win that kind of office and the brief phenomenon of her political popularity may be over.

Fayard might have political life left in her even if this was her best shot, but one incumbent who certainly does not despite good conditions is Anh “Joseph” Cao who did about all he could to hold onto his seat in Congressional District 2 that is 66 percent Democrat and 61 percent black registration. His faced an uneven black Democrat opponent, got plenty of money to deploy, performed great constituent service in his two years in office, and made some votes unusual for a Republican but which could put him in good stead with a district of its demographics. Even the rainy weather in the district, which folklore insists is an advantage for Republicans outside of rural areas, may have helped.

It’s possible that Cao may have a shot at the state-level seat for which he tried in 2007 but he may well exit electoral politics entirely. That’s a loss for those who value integrity in politics.

If not transformative, Jindal strategy still beneficial

While the strength of political columnist John Maginnis’ efforts typically comes from his reporting of insider news about Louisiana politics, sometimes he makes a keen, trenchant observation at a deeper level of analysis. He gives us such a gem that deserves further exploration concerning Gov. Bobby Jindal’s governing philosophy.

As Jindal’s statements, backed by his actions for the most part demonstrate, he is a conservative reformer in a state where the two often go hand-in-hand but seldom are genuinely pursued. Decades ago, “reform” meant getting corruption out of state politics, but recently it has come to mean additionally removing populist tendencies from state governance to focus more on service and efficiency than seeing it as a font of pork and employment opportunities. This has dovetailed with conservatism’s emphasis on smaller government and allowing people to keep more of their own resources.

As such, Jindal has been the first and only true conservative to govern Louisiana. The other two elected and one converted GOP governors of the post-Reconstruction era, Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, and Mike Foster, presided over large expansions of Louisiana government and stumped for tax increases. Jindal neither has increased taxes (and not even any significant fees, reversing himself the one time it was tried) nor has he been at the helm of a large expansion of state spending (technically, state spending has gone down while he’s been in office but that was an artifact of disaster recovery money coming in from the federal government.) Jindal also can point to his support of income tax cuts, promises that he will not raise taxes, a state government continuing to decline in size both in terms of dollars spent and personnel employed, and a willingness to cut unneeded spending of state dollars on such things as earmarks.

But when we look closer at his record, all sorts of conditions begin popping up. He did indeed stump for income tax cuts (as well as speed up some smaller business tax cuts) and signed them into law – after remaining silent on the issue much of the time as they wended their way through the Legislature and then finally hopping on board. Maybe state spending now is going down under his watch – but that’s largely conditioned by broad national economic forces that is punishing the state’s revenue picture and, adjusting for recovery dollar effects, the budget would have crept upwards, although at a slower level than his predecessors but upwards nonetheless, without this overwhelming exogenous imperative. He did initiate efforts to reduce employment in state government – but state money applies to only about half of the classified service in the state with rest largely out of his control. He did veto hundreds of legislators’ line items steering money to local and nongovernment concerns – although some others have been allowed to continue and Jindal allows his own forms of corporate welfare that hand out substantial dollars.

This record has induced some buyers’ remorse among some conservatives who supported Jindal, presumably because they believed that Jindal would come in and produce a combination of aggressive tax cutting, reduction in state spending and overall size of government without trying to bribe companies to locate in the state, and decisive halting of pork barrel practices. Having in sum total only incompletely, and by some appearances less than enthusiastically, pursued these goals, Jindal to some comes across disappointingly or, to the particularly stubborn among them, as disingenuous.

In conceptualizing this kaleidoscopic record, Maginnis, in a discussion of more specific and recent matters, hits upon a perceptive summary of it: “whether he'll be known as a transformative governor, an incremental reformer – which is not bad – or just another can kicker.” In reviewing the kinds of changes he has succeeded in and has striven for, which of these categories best describes him becomes clear.

About the first thing Jindal went after upon getting into office was ethics reform. It was good, solid change for the better both in defining ethical practices and in their enforcementbut it could have gone further and been better. Jindal also has tried to eke better performance out of the state’s classified civil service and its higher and elementary and secondary education systems, for which the returns are not yet in. More tinkering, largely successfully, to produce better service delivery spending less money has come in the areas of workforce development and health care, featuring themes of scaling back direct government involvement. General overall reductions in state spending also have come at the margins.

Across the broad spectrum of Jindal’s initiatives, a theme emerges: Jindal prefers to downsize government, thus making it lives within its means and opening the possibility of reducing its bite on the citizenry, by having entities outside of government do something where they can do it better, and where that is not possible to try to make government work better, with occasional outright elimination of certain, relatively low-impact, functions. So far it has turned out to be a cautious, but effective strategy.

We can speculate endlessly why Jindal seems to prefer this mode of governance. He’s always been interested in policy implementation, he’s uncomfortable with big battles and grand gestures, it’s the least risky strategy to position himself for future national office, extant political forces prevent anything but this strategy, any or all of these and even other motivations may explain how he governs. Regardless, we must recognize that it does signal a significant departure from Louisiana government’s economically liberal, populist past.

Perhaps while Jindal’s campaigning and governing rhetoric leads one to believe he’ll be a transformative governor, he is certainly an incremental reformer who quietly and with a minimum of drama that, as it continues to accumulate, has produced a significant change in the state’s governing philosophy. And should he keep it up, that’s not bad.

1.11.10

Politics must take back seat to deal with budget reform

Eyebrows of political watchers rose when they caught on to the link that had popped up a week earlier on the front page of Louisiana’s Division of Administration web site, which broadly addressed budgetary concerns but also threw cold water on some of Treasurer John Kennedy’s suggestions for cutting the state’s budget.

For months, Kennedy has been stumping for this set of ideas which he says would save over $2 billion annually compared to the present for the state within three years, gestated from his service on the Commission on Streamlining Government. Some are good, such as establishing larger spans of control where possible in state government, or change state law to nonemergency emergency room visits by those on Medicaid.

But others, some of which already were noted long before the state’s executive branch addressed them, are already being implemented, will do far less than Kennedy advertises, or fail to accurately address the actual situation. For example, the idea to placing greater emphasis on enforcing true necessity for Medicaid hospitalization already is racking up savings, the recommended LaHIPP program implementation cannot possibly reach the savings levels Kennedy asserts, and the tactic to eliminate 5,000 positions as they come open each year, given the distribution of where vacancies occur, would cause some critical shortages in some areas and would tend to impact disproportionately lower-level jobs that would end up working at cross-purposes with the genuine need to reduce span of control.

Kennedy seemed nonplussed at the emergence of this document and disinclined to defend thoughtfully the policy recipes of the ones critiqued by the DOA. He is going to meet with Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater this week to discuss his list. Rainwater’s comments showed a slight annoyance at the publicity Kennedy’s plan has received, in no small part because Kennedy actively has plumped for the plan all across the state through interviews and speaking engagements, with Rainwater claiming he never bothered to coordinate with DOA on the ideas.

No doubt politics explains some of the pique for both parties. On some of the good ideas from the list, the DOA and its boss Gov. Bobby Jindal have been slow to act or to make the wider public aware they have been implemented while Kennedy grabs credit for them. For his part, Kennedy appears to have overstated the value of his package, possibly to score political points as he runs neck-and-neck with Sec. of State Jay Dardenne (and maybe Jindal) as the most progressively ambitious politician in the state; regardless of the merits of the ideas, one gets the sense that Kennedy is as interested in raising his political profile for a future bid for higher office as he is in trying to save the state some money.

That a summit needs calling at all illustrates the perils of multiple, independent executives in a state. In trying to deal with budget difficulties in the short run and to bring about more efficient government in the long run, getting both Jindal and Kennedy on the same page will provide for more energy in accomplishing these objectives with less wasted on trying to claim political credit.