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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.

Human psychology is such that people tend to attach more weight to and remember longer their disappointments. When trying to govern from the ideologically mish-mashed center, as Blanco appeared to do over the past three weeks beginning with the session call, those on the left and right will remember more intensely and for longer the episodes where they feel Blanco subverted their agendas rather than those moments of her support for them. In other words, she always will make more enemies than allies by governing from the center.

If Blanco could keep tacking to the right, to mirror the slow trend towards conservatism in the state now accelerated by the outcomes of the disasters, she might have a chance to win another term. Her problem is, she didn’t start there and two long-time, genuine conservatives at any time could step right into the race and corral majority conservative support across the state – Sen. David Vitter or Rep. Bobby Jindal. Then she would be in no-woman’s land, having burned too many bridges of support with the state’s liberals, especially as their leadership becomes more infused with the kook fringe and ignoramuses, for her to get meaningful political support from them.

One disappointed leftist faction, the Legislative Black Caucus, will continue to act as if it had meaning and relevance even as the post-disaster environment spurs its loss of political power. When its chairman state Rep. Cedric Richmond complains that “her administration has to be more open to input from the Legislative Black Caucus,” he fails to realize that “input” does not equal “influence.” Failing to grasp the distinction, it will be eager to find another candidate to support in 2007. Given the post-disaster environment’s producing a decline in black voters to make further a liberal black candidate unelectable in Louisiana, they likely would find appealing the candidacy of a member of Louisiana’s leading plantation family – Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

In other words, the hard left will support the likes of Landrieu, genuine conservatives will rally behind a Vitter or Jindal, and Blanco will be out of the Governor’s Mansion in 2008 – if these guys run and Blanco continues to govern as she has. Which, given her move to the center towards the right away from the left, actually is the best thing for the state. She won’t win reelection as a result, but will have performed valuable service to the state, and that’s what a politician’s primary goal in office should be.

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