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Blanco doesn't get it; neither will she get reelection

The reason why Gov. Kathleen Blanco will not get reelected in 2007 is she just doesn’t get it.

Blanco seems to think that the public’s low marks given for her and her reelection chances are a function of a perception of her as weak and indecisive. To her and her handlers, the solution then seems to be an image makeover. If so, that belies a lack of reflection and understanding about a singular fact: ideas have consequences.

The fact is, Blanco is a liberal politician in a state growing more politically conservative. She expresses some conservative viewpoints (such as being pro-life) but on issues of the economy and government activism she easily fits into the mold of the national Democrats, with a dash of populism thrown in. She has shown a consistent desire to raise taxes, to expand the size of government, and to resist efforts to govern efficiently rather than primarily politically.

Like most liberals, she remains captive to one or both of two fictions: either that liberalism resonates among the public (or perhaps doesn’t because of mean, illegal, subversive efforts of Republicans and conservatives that continually fool the poor saps that comprise the mass public that are so intellectually inferior to her and her kind – if this were true, wouldn’t we have passed into a dictatorship long ago instead of having the world’s greatest democracy and economy?) or that liberalism does not but that her kind needs power because the poor saps that comprise the mass public that are so intellectually inferior to her and her kind can’t be trusted to do the right thing, so it’s necessary to fool them into her “helping” them.

Obviously, that mindset is the undoing of both her and other liberals. It’s not the image or style that turns people off about Blanco’s tenure; it’s the policies, stupid. Just to name perhaps the most recent of many examples, running after the levee reform horse after the public opinion barn door has closed is a perfect example of how Blanco can’t see past her ideology and understand its inherent flaws and the need to embrace conservatism not only to become in greater touch with the peoples’ policy preferences, but to provide better governance.

Unless Blanco begins to do things like dramatic paring of fairly unneeded government functions thus causing a big drop in government spending, rescinding tax hikes and even cutting taxes more, using her power to insist on efficient operations rather than patronage and electoral spoils, etc., she will not be doing the things necessary to govern effectively in Louisiana’s time of post-disaster need, nor convince enough people who eyes have seen laid bare by the disasters her suboptimal ideological predispositions to give her another term.


Bad jurisprudence marks election suit decision

It’s not often that you get poor jurisprudence from all three parties – plaintiff, defendant, and judge – in the disposition of a lawsuit, but when you throw in a dash of judicial activism, that’s to be expected, and is what happened in the disposition of a federal lawsuit against the state to force it to hold New Orleans city elections according to the law.

U.S. District Judge and Clinton-appointee Ivan Lemelle essentially put the suit on hold, wisely to let the political process in this matter unfold, meaning he preferred to see the majoritarian branches of government work out the matter. Legislating from the bench betrays the Constitution and subverts democracy, and had Lemelle left it at that there wouldn’t be much to write about on this issue other than to applaud his use of good sense and reason.

But Lemelle also threatened that he might step in sometime in the (near, given the compressed timeline) future. This treads dangerous waters, because the only time judicial intervention ever is permissible is when a clearly articulated right is breached or law is indisputably broken, and, despite their questionably partisan motives, neither Gov. Kathleen Blanco nor Secretary of State Al Ater appear to have acted illegally. The enabling statute seems to have been followed, and a lot of interpretation would have to be inserted into the executive order to argue the delay contains any illegality.

While he remained on steadier ground when observing an equal protection violation could exist by not having elections in New Orleans when others were occurring in other Hurricane Katrina-affected parishes (and, he could have added, still others impacted as badly or worse than Orleans by Hurricane Rita), he really started going off the rails when censuring the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not turning over data about displaced persons to Ater. Neither federal no state law mandates any such requirement that the state without solicitation by the individual send information about voting and elections, using this as justification for a decision, if it comes to that, constitutes the exercise of raw political power within the judiciary and should be challenged.

It has not come to this because Ater now appears satisfied at the information given to him by FEMA. Translation: (1) Ater was getting beaten up in the court of public opinion and now is looking for a way to claim victory in his dubious pursuit, and (2) the threat of the judiciary ruling against the elections delay has gotten to him. He seems bent on wasting taxpayers’ money on this task that he is not required to perform. If anything, this matter ought to become the subject of a lawsuit by any Louisiana taxpayer as an equal protection violation – why was not such additional aid rendered to past voters who would be out of their parishes on election day? Is this not discrimination in voting rights?

In part, Lemelle probably was guided by some inferior reasoning by both the plaintiffs and defendant (the state). Inexplicably, the plaintiffs seem to have bought this manufactured notion that the state must notify displaced voters and argued outside of court the state had not done enough in this regard. How that line of reasoning should compel the court to force elections to be held on time is beyond me. In addition, the plaintiffs did not appear to offer substantial proof of any irregularities in the process that would make this a juridical, rather than political, matter.

For its part, the state offered an incredibly lame excuse to explain away its equal protection problem in allowing some parishes to proceed with elections while delaying them in New Orleans. It argued the law compelled Blanco to set election dates in Acadia, Jefferson, and St. Bernard Parishes, Yeah, because she didn’t issue the requisite executive order as she did in the case of New Orleans, so this argument entirely misses the point as to why parishes with small proportions of racial minorities living there prior to September were allowed to have elections set on time, while a place with a majority of racial minorities got delayed. This does, as suggested by the plaintiffs, smack of racism.

The real questions here are the matters of the state creating out of thin air an extra burden on itself (notification) and then using that as a justification to delay elections, as well as its differential impact on certain classes of citizens (racial minorities and previous absentee voters) from an equal protection standpoint. It’s not the general presumption that Blanco’s and Ater’s reasons for delaying elections weren’t “good enough.” Even if he used bad jurisprudence Lemelle blundered his way to the proper decision about letting the process play out. If Ater finds a way to miss the Apr. 29 general election deadline and/or Ater uses state money to fund his quest for notification, then a suit based on the proper objection can be filed.


Government serves best by staying out of rebuilding New Orleans

In the U.S., and even in Louisiana to a great extent, there seems to be a great sentiment to allow “democracy” to prevail in governing. Keeping that concept in mind and expanding beyond the parochial thinking and agendas currently articulated will serve the rebuilding efforts of New Orleans well.

As the focus of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shifts from cleaning up to recovery, the plans the myriad of commissions (after all, this is Louisiana and where would be without a lot of duplicative, inefficient government) dealing with the idea of how New Orleans will rebuild fall into three major camps. First, there are those that argue for highly-controlled planning by government; second are those that allow for some free-market input (such as the suggestion that anything be allowed to be rebuilt in certain areas for a year or more, see what happens, and then plan accordingly); and third are pure market solutions, letting building and use occur wherever properly zoned.

Strict planning argues that government should prevent private sector building in certain areas of the city, so not only that people stay out of potential harm’s way from future storms, but, with now somewhat of a blank slate, that the city can structure itself geographically and demographically to encourage economic growth. It argues that to let the individual make too many decisions in rebuilding would create alternating islands of activity and blight where the latter kind would prevent the former from prospering and raise the cost of services to government.

But this view ignores the central, salient fact that advocates of government planning never properly grasp, that, just as government cannot tax its way to economic prosperity, neither can it plan its way to the same end. Simply, the aggregate of individuals, separately making decisions, produce superior collective decisions than any group which attempts to do the same (F.A. Hayek’s “catallaxy”). This is because no institution is privileged to all of the information and to the valuations to individuals of the various scenarios involved.

Thus, optimally the pure market solution is the best for New Orleans’ rebuilding. Inevitably, coercive planning will produce suboptimal decisions and the city will not live up to its potential. This does not mean that government’s role must be absolutely minimalist (along the lines of Robert Nozick’s “nightwatchman” state) but rather can offer a few infrastructural incentives to encourage individuals to decide in a certain manner (such as the building of a light rail system in the hopes that development will occur around certain areas). However, this would preclude schemes such as venture capitalist operations funded by tax dollars to attract certain interests (disasters of small kinds presently unfolding in both Shreveport and Bossier City).

Rebuilding New Orleans presents a unique opportunity. The most rapid economic development and most dynamic rebuilding will come not by heavy government involvement in its decision-making, but by precisely the opposite. The new New Orleans could become a showcase for how not to involve government by the creation of a catallactic order. Ironically, a “favorable” confluence of events – widespread destruction of the old order, available federal dollars, desperation for optimal solutions – has put the city and state on the cusp of something truly (and, in some ways sadly given the obvious nature of the solution) revolutionary.

Those involved in this enterprise in government must resist calls for all but the most minimal government participation in land-use choices. If individuals choose in some areas to rebuild and few others do, presently they will see their decisions as sub-optimal and will abandon the area. Local government can hasten that by reminding them of the risk and that, given the area’s sparse population, they should not expect much in the way of services. If worst comes to worst, New Orleans simply could de-annex those areas.

Together, others will decide through the democracy of the marketplace rather than by artificial, less-informed decisions of government, how the reborn New Orleans will look. Government planning will not reconstruct New Orleans well; it just needs to create the conditions by which they can make these choices, then to stay out of the way.


Bossier Parish's best government in northwest Louisiana

Despite sitting on a pile of money, despite having made bad economic development decisions, despite alternative ways of dealing with the problem of using gambling revenues besides jacking up fees on Bossier City residents, its City Council voted to do precisely that for 2006.

Irony abounded in it all. You had a Republican mayor, Lo Walker, recommending this course of action and almost all Republicans on the council – David Montgomery, Tim Larkin, and Scott Irwin – going along with taking more money out of the peoples’ pockets (more predictably Democrats Don Williams and James Rogers would). Yet two of the less likely individuals to be the ones to vote against it, independent Jeff Darby (perhaps because his constituents, who have a higher percentage of lower-income indivudals among them, would get hardest hit) and Republican David Jones (less likely because of his consistent pro-big government spending record), did not vote for it. But two voices for sanity were not enough to carry the day.

But along with this money grab, in a bizarre effort to show that the city somehow was fiscally responsible, the Council also decided not to fund 14 new hires, many in public safety. So it comes back to this, still again: the city will give away parking garages worth over $21 million with little or fiscal no return from it, yet won’t pony up $485,000 for these positions which would improve public safety. (And, don’t forget, the $56.5 million CenturyTel Center lost a little less than that amount this year.)

Still, whatever follies have been committed by Bossier City are overshadowed by those occurring next door. So maybe Bossier City spent $78 million on “economic development” schemes which return basically nothing and haven’t produced any development, but at least it wasn’t twice that amount, didn’t add onto a mountain of debt to do so, and, on the aggregate, probably won’t lose much money.

This dishonorable situation of course goes to Shreveport’s Mayor Keith Hightower and the Democrats on its City Council in their decisions to build a convention center and (in this instance totally on their own) a publicly-owned hotel to go along with it. And although Bossier City’s budget over the past several years has shown mild growth past the rate of inflation, Shreveport’s rate of increase has left it in the dust.

As work begins on Shreveport’s 2006 budget, it looks to weigh in at $339 million – a 134 percent increase since Hightower took office while the Consumer Price Index rose just 22 percent over the same period. Unless you own certain meter-reading companies, owe money for revitalized real estate, or are middlemen in waste-handling deals, it’s impossible to argue that in the past seven years that the city has provided a double-and-a-third more services to you and/or performed these services that much better. But, it is going to make Shreveport residents and consumers pay for it anyway.

Perhaps Bossier City should have saved its $78 million to reduce its absconding of people’s money. But this is nothing compared to Shreveport with almost a billion dollars in debt and a backlog of infrastructural improvements in the hundreds of millions. Even if Bossier City just jacked up sewerage rates by a third, Shreveport is readying to finally jack up its water rates by about 50 percent, on top of its mountain of debt and infrastructure needs.

However, lest Bossier City residents feel too much better by this “grass-isn’t-greener” comparison, here’s one that will bring them back to earth: not only is Bossier Parish not taking more from its citizens, in 2006 it will give out salary raises and actually cut its budget by 24 percent! Of course, most of this is as a result of dramatically lower capital expenditures since major projects such as the parish courthouse addition and new jail will be finished and it will forgo budgeting with the approximately $2 million it could expect from the state. While this would delay some projects it would create little inconvenience and, if the state does come through with the usual funds, these projects could be tackled immediately. Most importantly, there are no fee hikes involved here.

It’s refreshing to see at least one area government that doesn’t go out building monuments to itself in the mistaken belief that government, not the private sector, creates economic development, or, as in the case of Caddo Parish, would rather refuse changing its spending priorities in order to squeeze more from the taxpayers (in this case, for juvenile justice operations). For these reasons, just as in 2004, Bossier Parish’s government is 2005’s best area government.


Landrieu aside, Democrats deny Louisiana restoration funds

Louisiana’s Christmas stocking arrived just half-full when the U.S. Senate played Scrooge because of 7,000 square miles of desolate wasteland permanently inhabited almost exclusively by insects the lack of development of which causes gas prices to go higher.

In order to get relief for the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Senate was forced to kowtow to the whims of mostly Democrats and remove language that would permit oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Drilling would cause no real environmental problems and could reduce somewhat America’s need to import energy.

Sen. Mary Landrieu appropriately stepped up to the plate with three other Democrats to buck he party leadership on this, but two Republican defectors doomed chances of cloture of a filibuster to stop the relief provision with the ANWR provision. After some caucusing, as they typically have done even in the majority Republicans blinked and removed the item to gain passage.

But that also meant they had to remove $6 billion of revenues that would have gone to Louisiana that would have come from ANWR exploration to fight coastal erosion. This demonstrates the lack of seriousness that Democrats have concerning the environment – they’d rather delay efforts to environmentally improve millions of square miles with thousands of inhabitants than to allow environmentally-safe activities on a small patch of unpopulated land in the middle of nowhere.

To understand such bizarre behavior, we must note that Democrats really do not care about the environment (although neither is it indicated by supporting the prohibiting ANWR activities) but use it only as a stalking horse for anti-free enterprise sentiments. By arguing with next to no real proof that man’s economic activities meaningfully despoil the environment, they seek to halt or have government regulate highly those activities. It’s a way to diminish the liberating power of markets, the greatest guarantors of human rights and progress, and instead to try to capture that power to use to control the lives of others.

As Louisiana’s coastlines recede, its citizens need to remember this during elections about candidates who call themselves Democrats, that it is Democrats’ pursuit of an obnoxious liberalism which is preventing the stopping of this erosion – but also that this is one facet of their destructive ideology that Landrieu does not appear to share.


Ater keeps proving he's not serious about timely elections

Secretary of State Al Ater has given Louisiana yet another demonstration that he remains unserious about trying to follow the letter and spirit of the law in performing his electoral duties.

Having made largely spurious excuses for not holding New Orleans city elections on time, he’s now falling back on an old one, blaming the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not providing enough information about displaced electors. Ater now wants to file a lawsuit against the federal government to get the information.

But what federal law has been violated here? Such an action would be totally frivolous and masks Ater’s real reason, his insistence that a holdup to having the elections is an inability to contact displaced voters. By continuing to assert this is an issue, he can continue to try to justify putting off the election as long as possible. Since he is rumored to be the next head of the state’s Democrats, Ater possibly wants to delay elections as long as possible because Democrats disproportionately fled New Orleans and the longer elections are put off, the more of them can trickle back in (of those who do return) to the benefit of future Democrat candidates.

By dogmatically sticking to this position, Ater demonstrates that he doesn’t even know how to perform his own job. Nothing in the Louisiana Constitution or its statutes mandates that he must contact voters out of their parishes of residences. RS 18:401.2 clearly says all the state is obligated to do is to notify voters of changed polling places by placing notice at the previous polling place. RS 18:1308A(2)(c) says the secretary of state “shall take all actions reasonably necessary to allow persons residing outside the continental boundaries … to vote … during a period of declared emergency,” but obviously does not make what Ater is contemplating required. RS 18:1306 goes into great detail about how to prepare and deliver early/absentee ballots, but does not mandate that they be solicited as Ater plans.

Surely Ater also knows that the U.S. Department of Justice is not going to consider any lack of information sent out to displaced voters as a voting rights violation. After all, Louisiana never has sent out any information before to voters outside their parishes for absentee/early voting and it never has been considered a violation, so this argument also lacks credibility.

Hopefully, Attorney General Charles Foti (even if connected by marriage to powerful Democrats the Landrieus) will not waste the taxpayers’ dollars with this naked attempt to obstruct elections. As well, hopefully Ater will realize that the people aren’t buying this stuff and that he drops it (or maybe decisions in any of the three lawsuits filed against him for his obstructionism may force this). If not for Louisianans, at least for the federal government’s sake; even an ex-Secretary of State, ex-jailbird realizes that the only voting rights denial the federal government will perceive is Ater’s thwarting the integrity of elections by thumbing his nose at the concept of following election law.

Ater continues finding weak excuses to delay elections

It’s better, but still not good enough: Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater still refuses to schedule New Orleans within the city charter’s specified time, citing a list of excuses as to why he thinks it’s so difficult. Let’s see if we can’t help him out.

Ater has three main complaints, (1) notification of voters about changes, (2) logistical difficulty in getting personnel to work the polls complying with the law and (3) assumed difficulties in getting U.S. Department of Justice pre-clearance (needed because of Louisiana’s inclusion in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which says that certain electoral changes need federal review). None are that big of a problem, or at least as big as Ater seems to make them out to be.

Louisiana’s election code is remarkably robust when it comes to dealing with exceptional circumstances. First, R.S. 18:401.2 allows for the relocation by the Secretary of any polling place under an executive order such as that granted already by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. This would make it easy for Ater to take New Orleans’ roughly 450 precincts and put them into a much smaller amount to recognize actual population and staffing realities. Along with that would be reductions in machines (which he can easily get on loan) and personnel given RS 18:425.1 and the cooperation of the Orleans Parish Election Board.

How few? RS 18:425 is helpful here; again, with the assistance of local officials it could be as few as three commissioners, with one in charge. So, what could be done is to consolidate to perhaps one-third the normal amount of location, and then require only 1,326 commissioners (considerably less than Ater’s articulated 2,000), one-third of which would be commissioners-in-charge. In a couple of months, this might mean 1,000 commissioners must be found not yet present and qualified.

But the law gives considerable leeway to the appointment of such commissioners. All you really have to do is be an adult and a resident of the parish according to RS 18:426, and go through training. That means you must be eligible to vote in that parish, and in Louisiana the time period on that (courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court rulings) is 30 days. There are at least a thousand state workers living in the parish, even if they just got there who would qualify, who all could be given a day off for registration in Orleans (if not already so registered) and for commissioner training, and then paid to work on election day, or even given another if there is a general election (in addition to their commissioner pay; think there’d be a problem in getting qualified volunteers for that sweet deal?)

(This of course will cost more money, but it’s worth it to maintain the integrity of the process. Note also that Ater has suggested getting the Legislature to waive the law about parish residency to import commissioners from other parishes, which would save the money and should face no difficulty in being done, especially through a special session.)

This is the main issue; the other two being minor to nonexistent. Ater creates a fictional impasse when he talks about voter notification of changes; RS 18:401.2 says all that must be done is notification at the old precinct location and as an additional specification voters may be informed through electronic media. These things will take almost no time and money; there’s no legal obligation to do anything further.

Ater also throws up a smokescreen when he talks about the federal role. His concerns about registrants-by-mail being unable to vote and location changes will not be challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice as voting rights infringements because it will recognize the emergency nature of the situation (that is, there is no intent to discriminate nor evidence that it would occur). It also will see as appropriate the notification as required by law. In fact, DOJ no doubt will make maximal efforts to protect the integrity of the process as well as voting rights, meaning the 60 days Ater mused might be necessary to get pre-clearance probably would be shorter, perhaps considerably so. That done, no legal challenge on these grounds could succeed.

Instead of finding reasons not to hold the elections within the May 1 charter deadline, Ater has to understand that, with minor cooperation of federal, state, and local officials there are plenty of reasons why these elections can be held within that deadline. He needs to get to work now on just such a plan so to present it to all parties at the beginning of the year; that’s why he gets paid the big bucks. Failure to do so either reflects poorly on Ater’s competence as secretary of state, or indicates he is not operating in good faith in the nonpartisan performance of those duties.


Blanco, Ater partially can undo hit to state's credibility

Relentless public pressure and, at present, three lawsuits may be forcing the hands of Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Secretary of State Al Ater to hold New Orleans elections sooner rather than later. Doing so not only would uphold the spirit of Louisiana’s Constitution and democracy, but would provide a positive message for the a nation looking for reasons to feel it can trust the state with its resources to enable Louisiana to rebuild.

Infrastructural and cost concerns have been cited by Ater as his reasons for asking for postponement, granted by Blanco, but both Democrats have faced legitimate criticism over the validity of these excuses. They claim the regularly scheduled Feb. 4 date may be (not will be) too soon to ensure enough the presence of enough voting machines, poll commissioners, and absentee/early voting ballot administration, and that the money to be spent could be saved by combining it with a future statewide election.

But besides being questioned as illegal, the arguments for delay seem pretty spurious. Offers of assistance by other parishes, particularly next-door Jefferson which has enough infrastructure to match Orleans’, as well as the fact that a constable’s election is scheduled soon in St. Bernard Parish which has practically no electoral infrastructure has cast serious doubt on the argument that the machinery can not be put in place. Add to the fact that, given that New Orleans has wide swaths of unpopulated areas, that precinct polling locations can be combined, other past officials remained convinced the problems are made out to be bigger than they are, and, like it or not, not a lot of people are going to take advantage of pre-election day voting opportunities, and these reasons lose a lot of their luster.

Thus, increasingly it has appeared that motivations behind these Democrats, actions are one or both of Ater’s incompetence in being able to perform under these circumstances and/or they are striving for partisan advantage in the delay, theorizing that Democrats running will have differentially more access to votes and campaign resources than Republicans the longer elections are delayed. Continued speculation that Ater soon will assume duties as the new head of the Louisiana Democrats has fueled the credibility of this charge.

Both Blanco and Ater have another good reason to have as little delay as possible (while having some lag to save face). As the state’s organization in charge of formulating recovery strategies and actions recently noted image problems plague the state in its quest to receive gifts from the American people for rebuilding. Certainly yet another discouragement to federal government assistance would be the willingness of Louisiana governmental elites to twist its laws out of shape in order to justify a partisan political maneuver such as election postponement.

Hopefully as soon as today Ater and Blanco will set the New Orleans elections for early April, with any general election perhaps on the day recently set aside for statewide referenda consideration (or perhaps slightly later if there actually is some kind of genuine infrastructural problem with Orleans Parish voting, given the New Orleans charter specifies a May 1 date for terms in offices to begin.) Anything less would send yet another signal that Louisiana is not serious about doing the things necessary to make it a good investment, and would invite more application of tough love to cause necessary changes to happen in this state.


Jindal aids state recovery; will Landrieu help him?

Looks like Louisiana (and other affected states) has gotten its wish with agreement on more aid, which now is scheduled to be reprogrammed from assistance to take care of coping with the immediate impacts of the recent hurricane disasters, to longer-term, infrastructural needs. This is in addition to tax relief which passed Friday unanimously in the Senate after almost near-unanimous passage in the House.

Around these parts, two people who will try to take credit for this are Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Sen. Mary Landrieu. Blanco will argue her testimony in front of a Congressional committee last Wednesday helped turn the tide, while Landrieu will suggest it was her threat to use Senate rules to keep the Senate in session that did it.

In reality, it was an effort by Congressional Republicans from Louisiana and Mississippi which carried the day. Blanco’s combative, even misleading, testimony only alienated those in Washington who matter. Landrieu’s threats were entirely empty. It was Rep. Jim McCrery who sponsored H.R. 4440, the tax relief bill. Republican senators from the affected area did most of the of the work on the other, although Rep. Bobby Jindal provided a key component by his insistence that study money for the state to strengthen levees be provided only by the state’s acceptance of a unified governance structure for the levees.

Jindal’s move further makes Blanco appear trivial because of her slowness to embrace meaningful reform in this area (as well as her lack of credibility given she did nothing with her appointment power to rid the many separate boards of inefficiency and cronyism). But Landrieu has a chance to recover some relevance in Washington because, on the aid reprogramming, it appears attached to that measure will be an amendment to open up the Arctic Wildlife National Reserve to drilling.

It’s a sound measure that represents no threat to the environment that will be a part of the puzzle to greater U.S. energy independence and to lower gasoline costs. But Democrats have made opposition to the issue a litmus test to appease the hard left environmentalist wacko/anti-free enterprise fringe of their party.

Landrieu bucked that trend in a vote earlier this year. She needs to step up again and do the same to make a substantive contribution to national relief for the state – something Blanco only can dream of doing, especially when Jindal, a potential future gubernatorial opponent of hers, has in reality.


Stuck on stupid XI: Blanco tries to catch flies with vinegar

Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s testimonies in front of the House committee investigating the hurricane Katrina disaster and the aftermath featured a tug of war of sorts, where the testifiers seemed to have one agenda, while the questioners had another. While some may call it political posturing, that misses the point that its leaders living in denial makes the state a poor risk in the investment in its recovery.

Testimony from Blanco and Nagin, both Democrats in front of a committee on which the House Democrat leadership has prohibited its members to serve (but permitting them to make kooky inquiries or grandstanding requests), primarily sought to put their governments’ behavior in the best light possible as a prerequisite to being given funding by the federal government, while simultaneously shifting blame to the federal government. Their Republican questioners stuck more closely to the committee’s actual purpose, which is to study the development, coordination, and execution by local, state, and federal authorities of emergency response plans and other activities in preparation for Hurricane Katrina; and the local, state, and federal government response to Hurricane Katrina.

In particular, Blanco’s testimony (her actual testimony differed in small but significant ways from her pre-hearing published remarks, such as with her lie about not taking “executive privilege”) should be reviewed relative to that of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s the week before. The Republican Barbour made hardly any mention of justifying his state’s response to the storm largely because he didn’t need to. By contrast, Blanco came off as very defensive, and especially in her answering of questions petulant and demanding.

So when Barbour asked the federal government to do more and more quickly for Mississippi, he got a largely favorable response from the committee. By contrast, both Blanco and Nagin received withering questions and comments. Blanco in particular seemed convinced that one can catch more flies with vinegar than with honey, by the pugnacious tone and words of her responses to queries about evacuation plans not followed, communications breakdowns, and failures to act in a timely fashion, bringing in partisan political attacks (such concerning the war in Iraq) at times.

(Nagin, now widely seen as an eccentric with no chance of reelection, further cemented that reputation by indulging racist conspiracy nut Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s fantasies about racial discrimination in response. The condemned enjoy special dispensation to say or do whatever they can get away with.)

But Blanco’s intemperance didn’t stop there. She also found openings with which to whine about having to pay Louisiana’s relatively small share of reconstruction costs (and managed to tell another lie in the process). And she’s doing it outside of the committee was well, such as in today’s letter to Sen. David Vitter where she complains of a double standard between treatment for Louisiana and Mississippi.

Clearly, Blanco neither is informed of the Golden Rule, nor does she begin to grasp that Congress has legitimate concerns about handing over huge sums to money to a political administration and legislative majority whose past record more often promotes politics rather than performance. She cannot understand this because she is so thoroughly part of that ethos. And if nothing else, the tone of the hearings should serve as another wake-up call that “donor fatigue” is present precisely because a growing segment of the country understands this fundamental dysfunction of Louisiana’s noxious mix of liberalism and populism that infuses its government at all levels – a notion she did nothing to dispel, by her words or demeanor, during her appearance.

Given the state’s ills of political patronage to ill-advised spending priorities and everything in between, the last thing Blanco needs to be doing is casting critical and misleading stones at her presumed benefactors when she lives in such a thoroughly glass house to begin with. It shows a desire to continue to live in denial, to stay stuck on stupid, and does not exactly build confidence in the state with the rest of the country.

It’s been a bad week for Blanco, who looked partisan in accepting the recommendation to push back elections in Orleans Parish (even as they will be held on time in even more-devastated St. Bernard Parish), like an opportunist with her watered-down version of levee governance reform, and ineffective in front of the committee in both coping with Katrina and in encouraging federal government assistance after the storm. I’m afraid it’ll be up to more capable folks outside of the Blanco Administration to provide the leadership to help Louisiana recover.


Blanco's confused, mendacious testimony serves Louisiana poorly

In the grand scheme of things, Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s confusion and mendacity in her testimony to the U.S. House’s committee investigating the Hurricane Katrina disaster will serve the state poorly in its quest for federal help to rebuild.

In some parts of her testimony, Blanco seemed confused. Before she made a statement about how she “would not be here today if the levees had not failed,” she said, “What happened to us this year can only be described as a catastrophe of Biblical proportions.” But those kinds of calamities to which she refers were visited upon certain persons and peoples by God because of their wickedness. Is she implying Louisiana was wicked, and how can she square that comment with hers that the catastrophe was man-made because of levee failure? (Obviously, her speechwriters need to do their homework and think more clearly through their arguments.)

Also, she mistakenly called “bold” the recent initiatives that she cultivated through the legislative special session. Finally getting a uniform hurricane-resistant building code isn’t “bold,” it’s common sense that should have prevailed long ago. Taking over failing Orleans schools is necessary, but stands independently of the disaster. Budget cuts at the margins rather than restructuring is timid. And the truly bold changes that needed to be made, such as meaningful levee governance reform, she refused to support.


Blanco closes barn door, runs after levee reform horse

In a classic example of closing the barn door after the horse gets out, Gov. Kathleen Blanco over the weekend suddenly decided she was all for consolidation of powers and functions of the disparate levee boards in the state. She didn’t mention whether the fact the state had been under withering criticism since she made no effort to help support a similar measure in the last special session, state Sen. Walter Boasso’s SB 95, had anything to do with her change of heart.

Blanco even asserted she was now going one better by asking her newly created, do-little-or-nothing Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which previously she thought was all that was needed to bring efficiency and effectiveness to the process of building and maintaining levees in the state, to reinvent the wheel by coming up with legislation to combine districts and their governance in the form of a constitutional amendment. SB 95 only intended a statutory solution which just needs a majority vote as opposed to the two-thirds in the Legislature for an amendment, the latter of which the governor crowed was better because it was harder to undo.

Given that SB 95 passed the Senate unanimously and that nothing along these lines, whether requiring a simple or two-thirds majority, would pass the House without Blanco’s active support, as long as she does give her support it doesn’t look like it would be undone anytime soon and, like all bureaucratic institutions, would be difficult to eliminate after a short period of time. This is a classic example of a straw man argument, arguing a point that doesn’t really exist. That is, whatever improvements Blanco claims to be bringing to the idea now she could have brought during the past special session.


Democrats, media egg on Blanco to poor storm response

Unfortunately, part of the delayed response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster came because of the need to wait out a political mating dance, one which might have been expedited had Louisiana a different governor of a different political party.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco neither is bold nor leads particularly well, qualities which served her poorly in the aftermath of the storm. But it certainly didn’t help that her administration seemed overly sensitive about the political implications and ramifications of her actions.

And two things caused her to impose an absurdly partisan lens on the entire episode, including the decisions about getting regular federal armed forces into the state that delayed such response. First, the liberal mainstream media felt moved to “tip her off” about what they saw as the Pres. George W. Bush Administration’s motive. Do we need any more proof about the motives of the media and its biases in this country than this sorry episode? Not only did media figures feel compelled to contact Democrat Blanco about what they saw as Republican Bush’s maneuvering, but does anybody seriously doubt that the media did not offer similar “aid” to the White House?

Second, the Democrat Party apparatus, both in personal contact with Blanco and in the general ethos it disseminates concerning Bush, also contributed to Blanco’s paranoia. We must recall that both Democrats and the media, most of each understanding that their liberal agendas cannot win in the marketplace of ideas among American voters, only can try to win voters’ hearts and minds by character assassination of Republicans. Thus we get the total mischaracterization of Republicans ingrained into Democrats’ psyches, aided by the media, as immoral blackguards out to wreck the country to empower themselves (when, in fact, given the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism this more likely would apply to Democrats).

(And Blanco’s administration is obsessed with its image. One needs no more proof that its reaction to comments and reporting about her on the Internet.)

Thus, Blanco, a weak figure to begin with, was exceptionally impressionable to her allies telling her falsely that the Republican White House primarily was cruising for political points in its actions instead of its justified concern over Louisiana’s famous politicization of all things governance which it hoped to avoid through federal supremacy in troop direction. Therefore, she reacted by making suboptimal decisions about requesting federal troop aid and in how they were to be directed.

But’s let’s say that the liberal straw man of the Bush White House constructed by the Democrats and media had been true, and Blanco’s fears realized. Even so, were Blanco a real leader, she wouldn’t have cared who got the political blame or credit, and she would have written whatever and signed whatever papers were necessary to get assistance there as soon as possible.

However, we don’t have that quality in this governor, and it’s sad that needless suffering occurred because her and those around her were so invested in a false image of Republicans, egged on by their partisan cohorts and willing accomplices in the media.


Is Blanco trying to hide something from Congress?

I guess Louisiana has its own mini-version of the 18-minute gap with Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration’s initial refusal to fully comply with Congress’ request of official communications, in both what was and was not provided. Congress asked for communications from the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. But her response leaves out almost all e-mail from her, and in parts redacts other material.

Both the Attorney General’s office and Blanco staffers took a black pen (clumsily at time) to some of the content. Since some of the choices made in this regard seem odd (intended to exclude non-official or personal items), it raises questions about the applicability of the content from Blanco’s own communications that did not appear, whether the excluded materials really did not have anything to do with her response. What has appeared to date already has made Blanco look confused, with more of her attention paid to image than to helpful actions.

The administration’s excuse takes a page out of the former Pres. Bill Clinton playbook about defining “is.” Blanco spinmeister/Communication Director Bob Mann argues that the order applied only to personal devices of others that are not covered by Congress' request. (Which, with the redacting, seems odd that so much time and resources would be put into this when there is so much other pressing business on Blanco’s agenda, like bringing the state back.)


Some Louisiana elected officials get it, others don't

Louisiana elected officials must understand that if the country is to give a huge donation to help the state’s shattered coastal areas rebuild, that the state doesn’t make itself look irresponsible. Some apparently get this, and some don’t.

THEY GET IT: Reps. Jim McCrery and William Jefferson (even as he remains under a legal cloud) scored their second recovery-related bill. It makes sensible requests designed to promote economic recovery and government capacity-rebuilding. It was done with little publicity but with maximal results.

SHE DOESN’T: By contrast, Sen. Mary Landrieu put her name on a bill that is tantamount to post-disaster looting, and now runs around screaming about how she’s going to be a Grinch stealing the Senate’s Christmas if she doesn’t get her stiff demands (for example, not just restoration, but dramatic improvement of levees, even as it is way too early to resolve that argument). That’s really going to win friends and influence enemies, and is just another reason why she is headed to political oblivion.

THEY GET IT: It seems that the Jefferson Parish Council has seen the light regarding the creation of a regional governance boards for levees. Using as a starting point previously failed legislation, some of its members now support a regional board of qualified appointees would make region-wide decisions while leaving existing districts to implement. In part it was Jefferson’s opposition in the last special session that prevented the bill from passing.

(Although they do have a problem with their request that tax monies raised in Jefferson stay with Jefferson projects. That defeats the purpose of having a regional strategy, even if what they do support removes more politics from the process.)

HE DOESN’T: Secretary of State Al Ater continues to generate the appearance of partisanship in performing his duties, by continuing to insist that New Orleans and now statewide elections be delayed several months because of perceived logistical and monetary problems. By arguing there should be a delay of the April statewide election for two constitutional issues, he attempts to blunt criticism that New Orleans elections could be held the same day.

But Ater admits the necessary machines are on order, and surely five months is enough time to get them here and scare up enough poll commissioners in Orleans to operate them (and an ex-Secretary of State and former jailbird says it can be done in February). Even if cost is a consideration, with Ater claiming the federal government is slow to reimburse him, there still is that five months and the reimbursement could come at any time,

Worse, Ater wants to blow a portion of funds that would be set aside for an election on an unprecedented voter outreach effort. In America, states put the burden of registering to vote and carrying it out, in person or absentee, on the individual. Why are people any less competent to perform these tasks just because they got chased around by a natural disaster? This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and again brings up the specter that Ater is more interested in trying to influence the results of the election than in impartially conducting them.

THEY DO AND DON”T GET IT: Most of the members Northeast Louisiana’s legislative delegation think small, judging the recent special session as successful. It largely was, but had such a limited agenda and execution that when you aim that low, it’s hard to miss. Only Sen. Robert Barham and Rep. Kay Katz seemed to understand that bigger issues are at stake. We can only hope by the time of the next special session, projected next month, that this big-picture thinking among all legislators will be spreading faster than water through an Orleans levee breach.


Katrina "racism" testimony further erodes nation's good will

The victim mentality of New Orleans was on full display, aided and abetted by race hustlers, at Congressional hearings about response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, giving the rest of the country yet another reason not to care about what happens to Louisiana.

This mentality, that somehow some insidious force beyond the individual’s control causes misery in his life and keeps him in a disadvantaged position in society, is a major reason why Louisiana in general, and New Orleans in particular, are among the poorest areas in the country. Ordinarily, the fruit of this attitude, that a person’s inability to make much of himself in life is not his fault but some “others,” could be seen encapsulated in the Orleans Parish School District, where learning was sacrificed on the altar of inefficiency and politics, few demands were made in learning, and many students and their families did little to change this situation or take control of their educational futures. As a result, it was perhaps the worst school district in America.

But with recent state activity to put education in the hands of those who actually mean it with the near-dismemberment of the district, now the best example of this attitude comes in hearings in front of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the Committee has tackled serious matters previously, allowing self-styled “representatives” of New Orleans evacuees to testify was a sop thrown to the few Democrats on the committee.

Most House Democrats wanted to boycott the enterprise, saying they wanted a federal government-wide investigation, not just that of the House. This is because they knew that, since the Republicans control the House, that in the course of the investigation there would be no shielding to public view of New Orleans as a poster child for the failed liberal policies of the Democrats, where generally policy decisions made by Louisiana but specifically by New Orleans would illustrate the destruction liberal Democrats have visited upon, in particular, our most disadvantaged citizens.

Victimization is a big part of this ideology. We saw it with how the Gov. Kathleen Blanco administration handled the matter of getting troops and buses into New Orleans, depending on others to do it for them, flailing about waiting for help to show up. We saw it in the response in New Orleans, where Mayor Ray Nagin failed to implement plans, instead stalking around complaining he wasn’t getting help. In larger terms, politicians such as these are the product of an electorate that itself is less willing than others to do the things it needs – demand better education, access that better education, stop expecting government to take care of them – than those in other parts of the country. Liberalism excuses these attitudes, saying they’re not people’s fault, and it’s a snake oil that Democrats still try to peddle frequently.

Thus, we get the pathological need to ascribe unfortunate situations to some sinister motive beyond the person’s control, despite no evidence to back it up. In this instance, it’s the idea that “racism” had something to do with rescue operations. Note that for this charge to be credible it would have to be demonstrated that most rescuers (many who were black) were irredeemably racist in attitude and action and/or it was government policy to promote this behavior among them. Since no such evidence exists, only the most exaggerated, wildest accusations can be brought forward to support this claim.

Democrat leaders shied away from participation in this committee’s investigations because they wanted to avoid this welfare-state mentality on parade, of a party that conjures up imaginary impediments of institutionalized racism instead of seriously debating issues, even as they believe it. These beliefs are losers at the ballot box because the American people are smart enough to see that this is not reality.

But one of the party’s genuine kooks didn’t get, or ignored, the message. The main instigator behind this portion of the hearings, the nutty, racist Rep. Cynthia McKinney, eloquently stated from their start, “And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed [sic] by the Katrina survivors.”

She was followed by, in the main, people who make their living off of crying racism and “community activists” who could offer no hard proof any crazy assertions they made when challenged other than “says you.” Perhaps the most famous comment was the incredulous comparing of the evacuee situation to the Holocaust, but maybe more indicative of the mindset and credibility of the professional complainers is another (again, eloquent) remark made by one them: “It was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was [sic] black.”

So, let me get this straight, in a city that mostly is black already, run mostly by black politicians who planned and supervised the (non)evacuation, where a large portion of the flooding occurred in an area of the city where almost all of the residents were black, where because of income differentials blacks disproportionately had reduced private means of evacuation, then the fact that mostly blacks needed rescuing is a sign of racism? Maybe it’s because I didn’t graduate from the typical Orleans Parish public school, but I can’t follow that logic at all.

And neither will the rest of the nation as it debates what kind of assistance the state will receive, and it won’t be too willing to send much to an environment where such moronic attitudes flourish. It doesn’t matter the expressed views aren’t held by all, unlikely even a majority, of Louisianans, but it is things like this or trying to cover incompetency in execution or refusal to reform themselves or relief-money looting whichmake indelible impressions in the minds of the country. Is there any place in America whose people, from its top officials on down, do a better job of shooting themselves in their own feet?


How long will Blanco, Legislature remain this clueless?

So how clueless is Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc? Enough apparently to continue in denial of what his boss Gov. Kathleen Blanco needs to do, in exercising her own powers and to prod the Legislature, to ensure the state’s adequate recovery from the recent hurricane disasters.

In a presentation, LeBlanc gave remarks that show his view decidedly is out of touch with reality. While it may be true that the state did take the first step towards recovery with the special session, calling it any more than a baby step would be a gross mischaracterization. Orleans Parish schools and building code reforms were handled adequately, but these are changes that will take years to manifest. Actions dealing with the immediate term paled in significance, if not making the situation worse. The budget was cut – but not restructured as it must be. The only levee board reform was cosmetic. The same goes for ethics reforms. State financial stability concerning its “rainy day fund” and its electoral honesty were altered for the worse by legislation. The session, called and determined in content by Blanco, may have been a mild success – but it’s hard to aim so low and still miss.

Thus, it is high comedy when LeBlanc suggested that it was now up to the federal government to respond in terms of assistance. Respond to what? How have things significantly changed, as a result of the session, relative to the political and fiscal structure of the state that would give government donors of money any confidence that they are making a wise investment in the state’s comeback?


Patience: world doesn't revolve around Louisiana flood control

It seemed to bother a number of commentators in Louisiana that when the federal government’s point man for recovery efforts Donald Powell visited the state last week, he would not give definite assurances that the federal government would pump in huge sums of money to the state to provide for things such as stronger levees and coastal restoration, as preventive measures against future hurricanes’ effects. This shouldn’t.

The state has to get over the attitude that somehow its residents have a divine right to live wherever they choose while somebody else pays huge sums to try to safeguard them against all but the most improbable flooding scenarios. It would be one thing if state or local governments taxed these citizens to provide this service, but in reality only a fraction of these costs are not covered by the federal government and the nation’s taxpayers.

In fact, there’s just one compelling reason why the federal government should pay anything at all – south Louisiana does provide service to the rest of the country, through its port facilities, petroleum production, aquaculture, and agriculture. It’s clear everybody is better off with it protected than without.

But the larger question is whether what amount of protection is cost effective. There’s widespread agreement that, at the very least, levees should be rebuilt (correctly) to withstand a Category 3 storm. However, going beyond that will be incredibly expensive and, perhaps, ultimately futile.

To begin, at a minimum of $32 billion and decades of construction, levees that would withstand a Category 5 storm could be built. (Note that this probably would increase substantially, especially if done right, the roughly $30 million a year spent by the federal government on maintenance of Louisiana flood control measures – the state accounts for about 20 percent of all Army Corps of Engineers projects – and that the federal government already pumps in funds for Louisiana coastal restoration, $65 million scheduled for 2006.) Yet experts point out that a hurricane of this force may occur only once every 500 years, so there is a question of whether that much protection really is worth all the money spent.

Then there’s the question of whether all levels of government can be counted on actually to do proper maintenance. The latest disturbing report is that federal, state, and local authorities performed negligent, cursory inspections of levees, and it’s been known for some time that local agencies demonstrated poor alertness and execution in detecting potential problems. And, of course, there’s the issue of how politically serious is the state in providing flood protection; nobody wants to throw money away on shoddy performance and politics as usual.

Finally, all of this may end up a moot point given the geology and geography of the Mississippi delta region may well be changing. One scientist, even if many other scientists dispute his findings, argues New Orleans is sinking through coastal erosion. But another has supported this argument in a different way, arguing that it’s subsidence through a warping of the Earth’s surface that will have a similar effect, mooting costal restoration efforts and forcing ever-higher levees to be built. Were this scenario to come true, costs could be astronomically higher than initially conceived.

So when federal officials balk at immediately promising everything to Louisiana on this issue, we must understand this behavior reflects prudence and reflection. As immediate and important as the issue may be to residents affected by Katrina and Rita, and even state taxpayers, there must be reasonable cost-benefit analyses which will require much time and information. As it is, what has been promised should be more than enough to encourage all but the most risk-averse individuals to rebuild. And what those whose lives will be affected by the decisions must remember is, in the end, they are recipients of either a huge gift or an insanely huge gift, so a little patience might be in order.


Blanco's Katrina documents show her fumbling, spin control

Iblamefema Gov. Kathleen Blanco, forced by Congress, let more light shine on her administration’s mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina situation, and at the same time gave public view to her attempts to deflect criticism of it.

It’s not surprising that the documents were released late Friday – this is a standard trick by officials to minimize the damage that troubling revelations about them can create by sending them out at the least attentive point in the new cycle. And these materials paint an unflattering picture of the Blanco Administration’s response to the disaster.

The confusion would seem to be evident. The most important document that could be sent, Blanco’s request for federal assistance, she asserts was sent by mail which the White House says it never received. I know Katrina caused problems even in Baton Rouge, but wasn’t there a working FAX machine on the state capitol’s fourth floor on Sep. 2? Or a computer with Internet access? Reading this brings to mind the old excuse when a debt isn’t dealt with in a timely fashion: “the check’s in the mail ….”


Partisanship appears to lie behind Ater's actions

When I was in graduate school in New Orleans, whenever with certain of my friends and we remarked on something unfortunate happening, there would be a standard articulated response. For example:

Me: “Reuben Mayes rushed for over 200 yards and the Dolphins still beat the Saints!”
Randy (or Tom, Mark, A.J., etc.): “I blame Reagan.”

This, of course, made fun of the penchant of Democrats then who always tried to connect anything, no matter how totally unrelated, to an imagined misdeed of our fortieth president. I get the same feeling whenever I hear yet another Louisiana Democrat (and some Republicans) complain about “FEMA” to deflect from their own inabilities to perform their jobs in a competent, impartial fashion. At the rate they blame the federal government, those outside the state are going to stop calling us “Louisianans” and start calling us “Iblamefemans.”

The latest to succumb to this disease is the temporary Secretary of State Democrat Al Ater, who alleged presumed Federal Emergency Management Agency intransigence in part lay behind his decision to recommend delaying New Orleans elections until perhaps as late as November, 2006. Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco has said she’ll follow whatever recommendation Ater makes.

While Ater also cited other concerns such as logistics as a reason behind his recommendation, he seemed miffed that FEMA would not abandon privacy guidelines and turn over information about the locations of alleged displaced persons to his office. Further, he seems nonplussed that FEMA does not hand over to him a wad of money to pay for contacting these individuals and to enable him and his staff to engage in “outreach” and to barnstorm across the country to see them.

What this shows is Ater seems to show a curious selectivity in performing his job. Does the state conduct information campaigns such as the one he envisions with its two recognized classes of out-of-state voters, college students and those in the military? No; it’s incumbent upon these individuals to gather their own information about how to vote absentee. Why should Ater get $750,000 of taxpayer dollars that could be used for other reconstruction purposes to help displaced people when it never has been state policy to do what he proposes for others in a similar kind of situation?

But Ater probably is unconcerned with those individuals because college students participate in small numbers and the military, well, it’s unreliable because it typically strongly votes Republican. Ater would prefer to boost Democrat turnout because the majority of displaced individuals are Democrats. Worse, many of these displaced people probably have no real intention of ever returning to the state yet Ater is trying to single out these people and pump them for a vote.

Further, the timing he suggested, particularly singling out the Sep. 30 date as it is one where there already will be statewide elections and would cost little extra, raises questions. Democrats believe the farther in the future an election is held, the greater the chances will be that the displaced people who are disproportionately Democrat will be able to return, making their likelihood of voting greater and improving Democrats’ chances at getting elected.

However, if Ater truly were concerned about the integrity of the process. i.e. to stay as close to the original date as possible, he would have instead championed the newly-established statewide Apr. 29, 2006 date. After all, the Legislature went to the trouble of creating this date to allow dealing with constitutional amendments coming out of the special session, and it buys about three extra months past the original Feb. 4 date which should be more than sufficient to overcome any logistical problems now present, and cost no more extra than the Sep. 30 date.

Definitive proof of Ater’s partisanship laying behind these decisions may come if he assumes the chairmanship of the Louisiana Democratic Party as has been rumored. Even if that never happens, his actions regarding elections in Louisiana cast serious doubts on his impartiality.


SOS contest may be harbinger of GOP Louisiana takeover

With Sec. of State Al Ater signaling that he will not run to complete the office’s term, as well as plummeting poll numbers for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, there’s now not one but two statewide contests about which to speculate, the results of which well may be linked.

Ater probably was the Democrats’ best shot to hold onto the office being an incumbent of sorts, as one thing becoming clearer is that the aftermath of the hurricane disasters will disproportionately tilt the state’s electorate towards the GOP, as well as create some minor conversion from the Democrat to the Republican column. This trend may be accentuated in the New Orleans area given it has been the epicenter of the tragedy.

While much attention has been paid to the disproportionate share of Democrats fleeing the state and unlikely to return, the conversion aspect has been well underway for contests at the highest levels of political office. Sen. David Vitter’s 2004 win was just the latest in a trend towards the GOP, which occupied the Governor’s mansion between 1996 and 2004 (even if by a RINO) and then who barely lost it to a Democrat who kept trying to sound like a Republican during the campaign against a candidate who lost because of the prejudices of Democrats, particularly from northern Louisiana. (Of course, Pres. George W. Bush carried the state healthily twice.)

This means that if only one or two higher-profile Republican candidates enter the contest, one is very likely to make the general election runoff and then subsequently win. By contrast, names being bandied about on the Democrat side to date have less-than-stellar chances. Marjorie McKeithen may have the legacy, but she doesn’t hold any elective office as a base and is largely unknown outside of Baton Rouge – it’s been a long time since John McKeithen stomped around north Louisiana so that name has little currency among the Republicans and DINOs she’ll need there. And any New Orleans-based politician who in August might have been competitive just from having the Orleans area as a base no longer has that strength.

Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower might have been a potential quality candidate but his tenure as mayor has been so divisive that he has fragmented any potential northwest Louisiana base from which to grow. In short, any quality candidate with an “R” next to his name has a better shot that any Democrat yet speculated to run.

Naturally, the good old boys and girls are going to fight the Republican trend in the state tooth-and-nail to delay the payoff to the GOP as early as 2007. The race to complete the Secretary of State’s term may end up as a referendum on Blanco and the Democrats controlling the state as well, and may presage the governor’s race outcome.


Stuck on stupid X: Reform the Louisiana flood control money pit

And there’s a reason why the federal government still hasn’t decided whether to pay for Louisiana to have stronger levees, three months after the first of the hurricane disasters – because Louisiana’s leading female politicians keep acting like they’re stuck on stupid.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has done her share by supporting cosmetic changes to the state’s flood control policy while abandoning a measure that would have produced meaningful change. Sen. Mary Landrieu keeps on caterwauling about how the federal government isn’t doing enough (read: the mean old Republicans fronted by Pres. George W. Bush who, Landrieu never seems to remember, secured a majority of the vote against her preferred candidate) even in light of her own efforts to pull strings to use federal money that could have gone to flood control for other purposes.

Don’t think Washington isn’t noticing that state leaders did nothing this past legislative session to reform the flawed system of governance that was the main cause of the failure of flood protection. Tinkering at the margins is not going to root out the problems of patronage and cronyism endemic to the current patchwork system of levee boards and the wasteful activities of some of them which spend tons of money on activities other than flood protection and maintain what is there badly.


Bossier City has lost right to make citizens pay for its mistakes

Bossier City is preparing, after a month of controversy, to wrap up its budget. The crux of the argument has come over city government asking the citizenry to pay more for through higher Emergency Medical Services and waste collection fees. The city has tried to argue that the roughly 5 percent of the budget paid for out of monies that have come from gambling revenues needs to be eliminated, and raising the fees is the easiest way to do it.

To analyze this, we need to understand the philosophical justifications for fee increases versus using gambling revenues and the interest thereof. Recognize that neither fee can be tied directly to any discrete amount of service to any particular individual. The waste collection hike is said to handle costs of street cleaning and grass cutting of which neither is related to the individual pieces of property whose owners pay for waste collection of all kinds (even if they don’t use those services). The EMS charge is a kind of mandatory insurance which again bears no relationship to the actual users of it and the amount of it they use.

Worse, at least in the case of EMS, the existing revenue structure (fees compelled from Bossier City property owners and charges to those actual users outside the city limits) at $4 million a year pretty much satisfies all current EMS direct and indirect costs. (In fact, if the city is dead set on hiking fees, why not do it for out-of-town users instead?) In other words, in both cases, there’s hardly any more relationship between Bossier City citizens’ usage of units of these services and what they pay for them than there is with, say, sales tax revenues and public safety expenditures allocated to each citizen.


Landrieu remaking political self to challenge Blanco?

Since when does Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, whose main purview is over tourism, culture, and recreation, get involved in a debate over flood protection, levee boards, and relations between different levels and parts of state government? When your name is Landrieu and you’re casting a covetous eye on the governor’s office.

It is entirely possible that a political revolution is brewing in Louisiana, the shortcomings of the current liberal/populist regime from state to local governments having been exposed by the hurricane disasters, and resentment to which has been fueled by the statements and actions of those invested in that failed ideology who continue to demonstrate that they are stuck on stupid. And Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu seems to have discerned this and is trying to catch this wave.

Of course, the irony of it all is that Landrieu himself has occupied one of the top spots in the stuck-on-stupid crowd, a scion of Louisiana’s last great plantation family. But response to the disasters has opened new avenues by which he can try to divorce himself from his past and try to remake himself politically similarly to the ongoing attempt by his older sister’s compatriot Sen. Hillary Clinton.

So when levee boards (as well as other local and the state governments) keep pointing fingers at everybody except where they should, at themselves, for inadequate flood protection, right after, either through commission or omission, a special session bill that would have improved matters gets scuttled, Landrieu abandons his stuck-on-stupid brethren here to argue for consolidation of levee district functions.

If Landrieu appears serious in a quest to unseat the beleaguered Gov. Kathleen Blanco, we can look for him increasingly to stake out different preferences from her on matters of making government work “better” (although he will not abandon his love of big government that he shares with her). And, for the family’s sake, this scenario seems more and more likely as the post-disaster political environment has seriously endangered Sen. Mary Landrieu’s reelection chances the year after the governor’s race. At this point, having a Landrieu in the Governor’s Mansion, able to use the power of the office to assist her statewide, may be the only thing that could save her from defeat.

Naturally, her brother faces the same daunting electoral odds, especially if Blanco does not desist in running for reelection. Still, in his current low-profile job he has a greater opportunity to warp his image away from his past, and may think that he can put one over on the state’s voters. After all, since so many others have done so in Louisiana, history suggests that he does have a reasonable chance at success.


Blanco shows signs she may not impede Louisiana's improvement

Perusing Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s remarks about the past special session, one gets the sense that she kind of, sort of, understands what Louisiana is up against and maybe, just maybe, with a lot of prodding and enlightening, she’ll actually do something constructive about it.

She seems to grasp that businesses will need incentives to return to the hurricane-devastated areas of the state, but can’t seem to see past a state sales tax-free three-day holiday and a $5 on $1,000 utility tax exemption are things designed to improve marginally a fundamentally bad situation made worse. In other words, the disasters only magnified a structural problem already present, that Louisiana invests too much power in government to control aspects of the economy (whether by confiscatory tax policy, poor spending choices, inefficiency induced by politics, corruption, or all of the above) rather than in having it avoid interfering with the economy as much as possible.

Blanco gives us no better example of her thinking on the issues of flood control and government spending. She touts SB 71 as “putting together a hurricane protection authority that will manage both coastal restoration and hurricane protection - with a pretty big stick, I might add, because the authority has been given a lot of authority to create a master plan and then have the local boards adhere to it.”


Thanksgiving Day, 2005

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed bu the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are five of these: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Thursday, Nov. 24 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.


Session results further dig Blanco's political grave

Perhaps it was her governance from the left in her first two regular sessions of the Legislature which attracted too much criticism for her liking. Or maybe it was the gravity of the situation after the hurricane disasters – reality predictably and reliably turns liberals into conservatives. But as Gov. Kathleen Blanco moved towards the ideological center, partly by her own volition, partly by others’, in her managing of the special Legislative session she endangered her political future even as she did many, if lukewarm, necessary things to help the state.

In this session, Blanco let the reins loose on Republican/conservative/good government impulses while pulling back on Democrat/liberal/populist ones. But, as has been her wont, she did so very inexpertly. She supported ethics reform – weak reform. She supported reducing taxes – barely and/or temporarily reducing. She supported budget reductions – but at the margins, not the real structural changes needed except by getting rid of the urban and rural (slush) funds.

By contrast, she did not stop efforts to make minor changes in the election code that if mishandled could promote fraud, or to redefine the nature and purpose of the Budget Stabilization Fund to allow more spending rather than encouraging increased, necessary budget cutting and, worst of all, backed a tepid marginal change in flood control policy in the state instead of throwing her weight also behind a comprehensive, vital overhaul. In short, she grudgingly adopted watered-down versions of the conservative/reform agenda, and allowed her allies on the populist left to have some small victories that left them wanting more.


Last legislative session moments produce troubling results

Two bad things happened on the last day of the Louisiana Legislature’s special session, when attention spans of legislators wane and time constraints make some of them do things they ordinarily shouldn’t.

One was allowing the Senate to hijack HB 140 that would have the effect of preventing the full amount of money that should go into the Budget Stabilization Fund from doing so. The idea originally had been in another Senate bill but when that seemed to go nowhere in the House the Senate seized upon this bill and it easily passed both houses – even its Senate opponents in the Senate bill voted for it. However, this may be because of the contention by many Republicans that the bill is unconstitutional in its attempt to amend the Constitution by statute, and they passed it out simply to be able to challenge it in court if Gov. Kathleen Blanco signs it.

If it holds up or the challenge never comes after Blanco’s expected signature, this doesn’t necessarily mean the state will go hog-wild in spending when cuts may make better sense and to show the federal government that the state is serious about bringing more sanity to its fiscal affairs. Still, it’s best not to have the temptation present.