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Blueprint must go beyond echoing, embrace publicizing

As it did four years ago, Blueprint Louisiana has released a list of recommended public policy for the state to pursue over the next few years. However, should it wish to exercise influence in favor of these, it has to go beyond echoing advocacy.

The group came together in advance of the 2007 state elections with the goal of creating an agenda to which candidates for office could commit, thereby giving them a kind of seal of approval from prominent members of communities statewide. A number of candidates sought the imprimatur by pledging to follow the agenda, names dutifully noted by the group through publicity measures largely based upon its website.

However, Gov. Bobby Jindal and most other statewide candidates did not sign on, even as Jindal’s stated policy preferences of those of some others were pretty close to the group’s. Whether he and others who seemed pretty compatible with it did not because they felt they didn’t need such assistance to win their races and/or they did not want to tie themselves to the group and its agenda in an inflexible way, this snubbing subsequently revealed a flaw in the group’s execution.

For, if the group intended to increase candidate accountability to voters, it had to establish a means by which to elicit this. At the time, some very questionable names signed on, veteran elected officials with little past record of or reason to think they would be in the future supporting the Blueprint-backed initiatives. Some got elected, yet Blueprint made little effort to hold the feet of those that did to the fire. It dutifully reported a few votes in the Legislature here and there and a few names of those legislators it said had signed the pledge and in effect reneged with that vote, but that was all. These “accountability reports” barely drew any mention in the media.

Given its roster of supporters, Blueprint’s real advantage does not come in its choice of agenda. For example, reviewing its 2011 agenda, every item on it save one (actually recycled, and now a non-starter) has been brought to the public’s attention, sometimes years ago, by just two sources (although not exclusively so): this space and by state Treasurer John Kennedy. There’s nothing original to it, and thus little is to be gained for the agenda if the group serves only as an echo chamber for others’ ideas.

But where the group really can make a difference is in publicizing accountability. Treasurer Kennedy and I have the wherewithal to formulate ideas, but we don’t have the resources to mount extensive campaigns to inform the public about the fidelity of policy-makers who claimed commitment to them. Its supporters have the resources of personal influence and connections and the ability to raise money to pay for this kind of publicity.

Ideally, as the 2011 campaign season unfolds, in districts where incumbents run who signed onto the 2007 Blueprint agenda the organization will runs ads praising or criticizing them for their votes for or against its agenda. Also, perhaps the group can find an effective way to publicize key votes by signers from legislative sessions between elections going forward.

If Blueprint Louisiana wants to be an effective and relevant voice in the service of policy reform in the state, it must commit to move beyond issue recognition to extend its efforts in publicizing policy-maker behavior. Action, rather than talk, can prove to be the group’s real strength and contribution to the public policy debate.

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