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Blanco still proving she is no fiscal reformer

In response to optimistic projections by the Revenue Estimating Conference, it looks like Louisiana has chosen more a path to spend like a drunken sailor that true fiscal prudence.

Of course, part of this comes from the legislative process, where legislators stuff in as much pork as possible. Just to use an example from around here, why is it that Shreveport’s Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association gets $100,000 in state money under the amended operating budget now headed to the House floor and other area associations like Queensborough’s, Broadmoor’s, Captain Shreve’s, and University Terrace’s get nothing? Or why should they get any money period?

But some of it also comes as a result of Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s lack of fortitude. We must never forget that while Blanco is not a big spender in the mold of federal prisoner #03128-095, neither is she a fiscal conservative who wants smaller government (this guy was the gubernatorial candidate in 2003 that was a fiscal conservative).


Landrieu vote changing signals political expediency

What is going on with Sen. Mary Landrieu? For months she rails against Priscilla Owens and nine other Circuit Courts of Appeals nominees by a Republican president, supporting the Democrat leadership in attempts to keep filibusters going to prevent all of them from coming up to a vote. Then she joins a cabal that preserves the rule that allows a minority to block nominees that enjoy committee and chamber majorities from coming up to a confirmation vote.

So then the vote to invoke cloture on the filibuster on Owens comes up and she votes to stop the filibuster. Then the vote on Owens comes up – and she votes to confirm her! Why did she not publicly proclaim this over two years ago when Owens first was nominated? Why did she, on 5/1/03, 5/8/03, 7/29/03, and on 11/14/03 vote to continue debate if all along she wanted to end it and vote for her?

Landrieu can offer two weak defenses for this behavior. First, she could argue that since Owens is for the Fifth Circuit, Louisiana’s, she felt she should support a “hometown” nomination (as did all other of the circuit’s senators, who also all happen to be Republicans). But just because Owens is from Texas and for the home circuit overrides all the past negativity Landrieu countenanced concerning Owens’ suitability to be on the bench?

She also might argue that she was voting with the leadership previously because she wanted to preserve the “principle” of the filibuster applied to appellate court nominees. That argument might actually work if there were any “principle” to it – this concept is two years old, was unprecedented in Senate history before then, and the older filibuster concept in general itself has been altered many times.

Of course, I guess principle has become redefined (“extraordinary circumstances”) with the deal. But let us state what this “principle” really is – a political tool of convenience manufactured by Senate Democrats whose party has been routed from national power, as a way to obstruct the majority and to try to reverse the results of the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. That’s what Landrieu defended by her previous votes, and her present votes merely reinforce that.

By voting for Owens twice now, and a likely vote for Janice Rogers Brown, Landrieu is going to try to argue that she votes for Louisiana first and the party leadership second. But her previous record on cloture motions (for Brown, 11/14/03) and the inevitable logic behind them shows in fact she is a party-line Democrat, and deviates from that only as often as she thinks she needs to in order to try to fool the Louisiana people.


Landrieu decides and benefits politically -- for now

She decided – Sen. Mary Landrieu helped broker the deal that ended up giving more of a victory to the Republicans in the Senate and the White House over judicial confirmations.

The deal carries an immediate promise to confirm three nominees to circuit courts of appeals but doesn’t address four others (with two previously made recess appointments and another withdrawn). Democrats beginning two years ago had taken the unprecedented step of a minority party filibustering appellate court nominees made by the majority party president.

Using its power as the majority, the Republicans could have changed Senate rules (which have been changed many times on this account) to require a simple majority rather than 60 votes to stop the dilatory tactic. But when seven GOP senators said they would not vote to change the rule, and seven Democrat senators said they would not vote to have a filibuster, this meant neither the Republicans could make the rule, nor the Democrats could launch a successful filibuster under the current rule.

Landrieu was one of those Democrats. She must have been praying for this deal to come about because otherwise she would have been in a very untenable political position. She could have stayed with the Democrat leadership, and been pilloried endlessly in the 2008 campaign. What would have been worse would be the deal failed, the rule gets changed, and then she gets forced to cast a vote against all the highly-qualified nominees (particularly regarding Janice Rogers Brown, betraying desires of many blacks in Louisiana). She would have to because then the hard left that has taken over the national Democrats would encourage their Louisianan minions to abandon Landrieu in the campaign which would give her no chance to win reelection.

Now, she can take some credit for this and cast symbolic votes against these nominees (her position on Brown should be interesting), and then maybe defect on a couple, such as Michigan-based nominees being opposed by Democrat senators from those states simply because they object to the majority Republicans preventing confirmations of Clinton-era district court nominees (at lowest court levels, senators essentially can dictate to the president appointees to courts in their home states when they share the same party as the president). This enables her to throw red meat to the hard left on some nominees, but on others she can appeal to the Louisiana public by arguing she showed independence from the national party and voted for qualified nominees.

However, the main event looms – a Supreme Court nomination as early as this fall. The deal leaves open the possibility of Democrats' mounting a filibuster against judicial nominees "under extraordinary circumstances." Hopefully, the attendant publicity would make some of the seven “moderate” Democrats, including Landrieu, think twice about trying to filibuster that kind of nomination. No filibuster ever has been launched against such an appointment where the nominee had not some ethical cloud hanging over his head. So her participation in this matter may have delayed, but not permanently postponed, a political day of reckoning for her.


Are Louisiana elected Democrats getting it together?

Although seemingly unrelated, a couple of events happened last week that showed, finally, both major political parties in government in Louisiana are trying to act like, well, political parties.

The Republicans started it months ago by electing party officials who were willing to take a stand on traditional Republican principles of smaller, more efficient, and less corrupt government. Leader Roger Villere more than once has taken the Democrat gubernatorial administration and others of their elected officials to task when they act contrary to these ideas.

Even elected officials got into the act, with the Republican Delegation discussing the merits of opposing any tax increase.The latter was important because such increases in most cases require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and after the 2003 elections the GOP had better than one-third of each chamber. In fact, since the 1974 Constitution went into effect, the growth of the GOP has been slow but quite steady (click on the images below to get larger representations; there are two separate ones divided by black):
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Superior organization beginning first with the minority is frequent. Since they are the minority, they have more to gain by organizing while the majority has the luxury of numbers to continue in power. Eventually, the majority realizes too much power is slipping away too quickly, and that activates it to start its own organization campaign.

Democrats in office seem to have realized this, with their organizing of their own delegation within the Legislature. But another manifestation of this came with their Senate vote on SCR 25 which argued against the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote for determining the presidency. Both arguments have their merits, but SCR 25 particularly was provocative because it invoked the 2000 election and said the results of that election showed “the will of the people as expressed through popular vote can be thwarted in the electoral college.”

But, with the exception of state Sen. Bob Kostelka, the GOP senators were asleep at the switch at this jab and voted for it. There’s little excuse for this inattentiveness since the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee had reviewed the bill and even amended it; particularly its lone Republican committee member Sen. Jay Dardenne should have been on the lookout and/or alerted his colleagues about the resolution (it was there plain as day on the agenda).

If in fact these events show increasing attention being paid to party in the Legislature, this would augur for an increase in legislative power relative to other parts of state government, particularly the governor. The more personality gets removed from the policy-making equation, replaced by party, the more professional will be the Louisiana Legislature, and the better able it will be able to fend off encroachment of executive informal power in our system of state government.


Hotel problems again make Hightower look silly

Events surrounding the building of a convention center hotel just keep making Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower look sillier and sillier. The bids for its construction have gone out and just two came back – one nearly 15 percent higher that the city expected, the other almost 50 percent higher.

This creates an immense practical and another immense political cost to the project. Concerning the former, the speediest option is a negotiation with the low bidder to reduce costs through materials and design changes. Given the over $4 million gap existing, this inevitably means that materials changes alone are not going to close that. It means there will have to be fewer rooms – this regarding a project that no study ever has shown that it would be a money-maker, so reducing the number of rooms will make it even harder to prevent taxpayers from footing the bill.

The other option would be to redesign and rebid the project, but that is even worse. Not only would that also likely result in fewer rooms, but it also runs up against a looming political consideration – state Sen. Max Malone’s SB 260 which would put the brakes on Shreveport’s financing and building of the hotel. It would force a vote of the citizenry of Shreveport (the only government in the state to which the law would apply) in order to sell bonds for or to allow construction to begin on projects for which bonds were sold.

As far as this goes, it has become a race between Malone’s ability to get this bill enacted into state law and Hightower’s ability to get construction started (not to mention the mayor’s race against the judiciary which has before it a lawsuit to declare the state’s contribution of $12 million to the $52 million project illegal). A renegotiation could take up to a month; a rebid much longer.

Meanwhile, even as the head of the local contractor’s association and City Councilman Mike Gibson points out the typical job of this size might attract a half-dozen bids, city Chief Administrative Officer Ken Antee cautions us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain:

Antee said that there were negative connotations placed on the project by people in the construction community but that their efforts were unsuccessful."It's obvious that people with agendas against Mayor Hightower and the hotel have been trying to poison the well," he said. "But based on the bids, I don't think it had any impact."

That Antee can argue contractors would rather score political points that make a ton of money off this project, and that only two bidders wildly over the city’s estimate constitutes a successful process shows he possesses a rare combination of chutzpah and gallows optimism akin to a man in front of a firing squad who, when asked whether he wanted a last cigarette to go with his blindfold said, “No, thanks, I’m quitting smoking.”