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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.