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Blanco opposing mill deal right and politically beneficial

Even if Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom is the most powerful man in Louisiana, tomorrow’s State Bond Commission meeting may give Gov. Kathleen Blanco the opportunity to show she is the most powerful person in the state.

At the meeting, Odom will ask for the state to issue bonds to support the boondoggle Bunkie sugar mill sale which seems unlikely to earn enough and, as a result, under Odom’s deal would cost the state up to $67.5 million with nothing in return. Because of his heft with the state Democrat Party and with a majority of the Commission’s members being Democrats from the Legislature (who share Odom’s love of big government for which bonds sales can pay for), in case any of them for some reason go against their instincts and vote against an Odom-backed proposal, he can threaten to withdraw his electoral support of them.

However, because Blanco as governor can do even worse things to them (such as delete spending for their districts from the budget), if Blanco chooses to exert herself, she can muster a majority on the Commission to deny Odom’s request. If they oppose each other, Odom’s recourse is the same as with any Democrat elected to state office who dares stand up to him, deny support of Democrat Party money, operatives, and endorsements (the last being perhaps his most important source of power).

But Blanco, rare among Democrats in the state, may actually find herself in a position where butting heads with Odom will produce greater, rather than fewer, numbers of votes for her in her reelection effort. One thing she has tried to make the state believe, despite her actions to the contrary, is that she represents a new way of thinking not part of the good-old-boy politics of the past. She loves big government just as much as Odom, has proposed far more in tax increases than tax cuts during her term, and still would rather spend to satisfy certain constituencies than for the good of the state, but she has paid lip service to the notion that she governs with some kind of reform agenda in mind.

She must realize that the looming 2007 election will expose her as a lite version of Odom, with probable opponent Rep. Bobby Jindal and possible opponent state Sen. Walter Boasso more than ready to do so, unless she build up some genuine reform credentials. And turning the Commission against Odom’s request would quickly and visibly burnish that image, partially mollifying critics and reducing the importance of the issue for her Republican opponents to use against her next year.

Odom could threaten to retaliate in his election support, but how? He certainly would never support Republicans Jindal or Boasso either of whom, if they had sat on the fourth floor the past three years, would never have put up with Odom’s nonsense. And the political reality is, at this point only Jindal, Boasso, or Blanco has any real chance of winning in 2007. Sure, Odom could throw his support to maverick Democrat populist Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell who also looms as a candidate (who I also suspect would not have much patience with Odom) but he really has no chance to win.

That means supporting Blanco gives Odom his only chance of having any influence over the next governor. He may withhold it out of spite should she best him on this deal but the fact is even with his support she may not win; indeed, by giving at least one example of a reform action taken on her part to offset many that weren’t, that probably increase her chances of winning next year even without Odom’s support that, in any event, has little where else to go. If Blanco doesn’t understand these dynamics, she should.

Thus, it’s more likely that Blanco can leverage Odom closer to her position than the opposite. Standing up to Odom by ensuring the Bunkie mill plan goes down the drain tomorrow will win her more votes than Odom could take away (provided she comes down on the reform side of the ledger a few more times between now and election day, just to keep people’s memories fresh). Right now, Blanco enjoys a happy convergence for a politician – what’s right also is politically expedient.

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