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Stuck on stupid XIII: Chicken Little Ater validates aid concerns

Did I miss Secretary of State Al Ater changing his name to Chicken Little? Ever since the hurricane disasters struck Louisiana, he has been running around predicting all sorts of dire consequences to not allowing people who have never had to prove positively their identification for voting to vote without doing so. And at each step of the process, his claims have been proven without merit.

But he’s at it again as the Legislature prepares to convene in the first special session of 2006. Even though every time Ater has gotten all agitated about the federal government stepping into the Louisiana election process not only hasn’t it, but it has acted on the state’s requests much faster than he predicted, yet now he again raises an alarm, this time fingering U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle as a culprit, saying Lemelle’s “federal court [will] take over the election” if the Legislature does not pass a short-term exemption to allow these “voters’ to cast ballots.

Ater continually has missed the point that to do this opens the system to fraudulent voting. Further, he bases his latest cry that the sky is falling on a “feeling” that Lemelle, in a hearing a couple of weeks ago where he threatened to set election dates, would rule that to not allow these unverified “voters” to cast ballots would be in violation of federal law. (Although, curiously Ater didn’t mention any of this at the time – it would seem odd that he would not report this to the media if it was such a big deal.)

Given his previous history of judicial activism on the matter, anything is possible with Lemelle here, but even if he went off the deep end and did what Ater argues, no doubt much cooler and sensible heads at the Fifth Circuit would quickly overturn such a decision. It’s great to have an accessible voting process, but not at the expense of the integrity of elections, and there’s little reason the judiciary would see it otherwise.

Ater frets that he “could see the headlines across America right now. They’ll say it’s another thing that Louisiana can’t handle on its own.” No, when the rest of the country sees the state’s chief election official, who is supposed to protect the integrity of the process, encouraging the state to do the opposite, and especially if the Legislature took his cue, it’ll roll its eyes at yet another Louisiana political shenanigan and become more firmly resolved than ever that the state simply cannot be entrusted with resources for its own recovery.

And then there’ll be more whining from state officials about how Louisiana is being shortchanged, etc., ad naseum. Are those in power in this state that stuck on stupid?


Predictably, special session call contains risky items

Following the pattern in her first special session call last year, once again Gov. Kathleen Blanco has issued items where government could perpetrate some profound mischief on Louisiana’s citizenry.

The clearest danger comes from #19, which invites fraud and abuse in elections for years, even decades, to come. It allows for people whose identities never have been verified to vote in an election. No date is given, so presumably the Democrat-led Legislature with the Governor could come up with a bill that would apply to so-called first-time voters during the rescheduled New Orleans elections, or for that to fill the slot of Secretary of State (maybe Lieutenant Governor, too?), or in congressional elections after that, even the 2008 elections including that for president, so long as it is the “first” election that person votes in. Separately, #20 also contains abuse potential, because it would allow for people to vote outside of their parishes, unless accurate rolls are made available in these alternative places from the other parishes. Together, #19 and #20 could wreak tremendous havoc on Louisiana’s democracy.

Items #5 and #17 together also could have a tremendous deleterious impact on the state. These could be used by the majoritarian branches to force insurance companies to pay out for policies unwritten or for purposes for which the policies weren’t written, i.e. force them to pay off for flood claims when policies didn’t cover them. That would send rates for everybody in the state through the ceiling (if making up for the state insurance company’s losses doesn’t already), if insurance companies would write any such policies at all after such a bait-and-switch.


Landrieus' decisions take political risks

The end of January proved interesting for the Landrieu clan as its two major political figures, Sen. Mary Landrieu and little brother Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, took some political gambles.

Sen. Landrieu finally made her up mind and cast a vote against the confirmation of Associate Justice Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court. That’s all we really can conclude from this because in her remarks concerning her vote (which have yet to appear on her Senate website) constituted a bizarre, if not totally at odds with reality, explanation:

I want my vote against confirmation to help send a signal to all who care that the Supreme Court nomination process has become far too political and far too removed from the original purposes set forth by the framers of the Constitution. It is time for all of us, Republicans and Democrats, of every possible philosophical persuasion, to stand up against a process that so poorly serves the people of the states we represent in this great body.

It’s hard to square Landrieu’s stated desire to “send a signal” against a process that has become “far too political” when in fact her vote was purely political itself. Alito was about as nonpolitical of a nominee as one could imagine: all he promised was to decide cases within the parameters of the Constitution using its text and what it actually said. She voted against him entirely for political reasons, because he did support her goal to implement her agenda by judicial fiat since she could not get it implemented through the ballot box. Therefore, it’s doubly astounding that she could claim the process now is “far too removed from the original purposes set forth by the [F]ramers” because Alito himself epitomizes the kind of judge that would follow the original intent of the Framers.

And what was so deviant from the intent of the Framers, so wrong about the process that she claims “poorly serves the people of the states we represent?” They had a vote and he was confirmed, all according to the Constitution. What deviance or disservice is there? Or even more to the point, with this kind of rationale, can Landrieu even hold a coherent thought in her head?

Her brother, by contrast, did a much better job using logic in his unannounced decision to run for mayor of New Orleans. Certainly it pales in comparison to the Governor’s Mansion, and he was well-placed to go after that in 2007.

But such a run would have gone against sitting Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco who will quixotically seek reelection and against either, both, or even more than, two powerful Republicans (Sen. David Vitter and/or Rep. Bobby Jindal). His dividing the party and with heavyweight partisanship opposition facing hin in a gubernatorial run, mayor is smaller potatoes but more winnable, with a crossover appeal that makes Lt. Gov. Landrieu the early favorite. He just has to hope he can win and the job he does in a difficult environment will not detract from any higher ambitions he might have.

His sister’s vote probably will hurt her more than help, but it could end up being the better option. She benefits from it for a reelection run in 2008 only if the GOP comes up with a fairly conservative candidate because any voters on the right she could have picked off from a moderate Republican by herself appearing more moderate with a vote for confirmation will be held firmly by a conservative challenger. This vote under this scenario helps her activate the kook base of her party with little or no penalty. However, a moderate challenger claiming he would have supported Alito makes her appear further to the left (and even moreso when paired at the top of the ticket with the likely Democrat presidential nominee), which in Louisiana is where the votes to win aren’t.


New Louisiana Democrat leader shows party still doesn't get it

The next person to preside over the long-term decline of Louisiana’s Democrat Party is party insider Chris Whittington, its legal counsel. His ascendancy and rhetoric demonstrate why he will be unable to improve the party’s fortunes.

Long ago the Democrats nationwide forfeited the battle of ideas to the conservatism largely embraced now by their Republican opponents. The liberalism echoed by the Democrats, and (particularly in this state) its cheap knockoff populism, has been thoroughly discredited through logic and fact, so the party has become reduced to name-calling, emoting rather than thinking, and to an exercise in trying to fool voters into misperceiving reality.

Whittington’s comments at his election of state party chairman shows he remains enthralled in this political retardation. Instead of trying to provide intellectual arguments to support the party’s positions that those who contribute more to society must have more taken from them than ever before, that it is moral to murder the unborn, that your characteristics matter more than you as a person in determining who gets what rewards from government, etc., instead we get this:

We have let the Republicans define us as something we are not…. We love our families. We stand for the proposition you should love the God of your choosing. You should be able to speak freely without fear.

I challenge Whittington to name one Republican officeholder or elected official who has said any of (1) Democrats do not love their families, or (2) Democrats do not support loving the God of peoples’ own choosings, and/or (3) that people in this country should fear speaking freely (unless the First Amendment and laws supported by it are violated in the process). If he can’t do that, then what he said has no connection to reality but instead is yet another emotional pandering designed to stop people from thinking about the issues.

That’s because he knows Democrats lose on the issues, and, given his backers, that is especially true. Significant in this leadership battle was that the liberal-in-conservative-clothing wing of the party, comprised of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Sen. Mary Landrieu, her brother Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Rep. Charlie Melancon, and others, lost to Whittington who was backed by the good-old-boy populist wing of Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, and others, joined by the unrepentant liberal wing fronted by state Sen. Cleo Fields.

Whittington lives in delusion if he believes the reasons state Democrats increasingly lose is because they don’t define themselves to their own liking. Just the opposite; they define themselves all too well as the party that believes in property as theft, that government knows best how to spend resources that people earn, in death to the most vulnerable in our society, that irresponsible behavior is to be rewarded, and so on. Ideas better than these, not improved public relations, is the only hope the Democrats have of reversing their sliding fortunes in Louisiana, and Whittington looks like the next victim ready to learn this the hard way at the ballot box.


State Democrats want handout rather than hand up

As usual, Louisiana politicians have commenced their whining and moaning upon being informed that the gift they are getting from the generosity of the American people to alleviate a problem in part caused by Louisianans’ own doing just isn’t big enough. It crosses partisan lines and, for the most part, resembles the reaction of a spoiled child being told by a parent to grow up and to be more responsible.

Two separate developments triggered the latest tantrum. First, the federal government restricted the use community development block grants totaling $6.2 billion for use only to compensate homeowners flooded in non-floodplains, about 20,000, leaving out another 185,000 who could have had flood insurance (and perhaps half did) and about $5.8 billion estimated to cover all. Second, the White House signaled that it would not support the bill by Rep. Richard Baker that would have created a federal corporation to buy up distressed property from victimized homeowners at 60 percent value, mortgages paid if any, in the hopes of redeveloping and reselling it.

When added to this Pres. George W. Bush’s comments that he didn’t see any plan from Louisiana for recovery, these prompted the biggest crybaby of the past several months, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, to squeal long and loud about the unfairness of it all and that she really did have a plan – Baker’s bill. Of course, because it typifies the primary plank of her recovery platform which has been to stick out her hand in expectation that the federal government would stuff unimaginably-large amounts of cash into it, which Bush correctly identified as no plan at all.
Thus she gets annoyed at the conditions attached to the grants. At least Baker’s bill had the good sense to keep recovery resources out of the hands of state politicians who have yet to prove they can spend money prudently, but even his idea has potential problems. Besides the obvious identified by the White House (creation of a new, huge federal bureaucracy that would be around a very long time), it’s not at all certain Baker’s plan could have worked as well as he intended, also noted in the White House objection.

Baker hoped that a good portion of the properties bought could be resold, perhaps after some kind of development. But chances are good that the vast majority never would be as valuable as they were prior to Hurricane Katrina’s reality check, and so if the government ever could even sell them, it might get far less than its compensation costs. Again, that meant a hit of tens of billions of dollars to the American taxpayer and would make the federal government the largest landholder in Orleans Parish for decades to come.

Louisiana’s congressional Republicans have smartly vowed to keep working on it, but they must realize they cannot win with Baker’s bill in its present form. Indeed, what they should do is work to loosen up the grant requirements, as a quick overview of the numbers shows.

Even if it sensationalizes its conclusions, this research more soberly indicates the potential extent of the damage done by Katrina. If you take 2000 census data (median value per parish of owner-occupied houses which probably is too high for Orleans damage but maybe lower for other parishes given the actual distribution of the damage), assuming all housing is totally damaged the amount comes to about $20 billion and almost 226,000 units.

But the median value of such housing, assuming non-floodplain houses equally are distributed, is only about $88,500. If the state estimates that’s about 20,000 houses, that’s only about $1.77 billion spent (surely overhead wouldn’t be almost 70 percent of the total?), leaving almost $4.4 billion that could be distributed. If Congress would go in and loosen up the grant requirements to encompass owners who had flood insurance but cannot get the full value of their property back even with it (up to the grant stricture of $150,000 each), this probably could bring tens of thousands, maybe even 100,000, houses, into eligibility.

As for perhaps the other hundred thousand homeowners who lived in floodplains but did not exercise common sense in insuring their properties against flooding, what’s stopping Louisiana from having its own version of the Baker bill? The state could sell $9 billion worth of bonds by amending the Constitution (it went down this road before for far more trivial reasons) to create a state authority to issue that amount of debt (without additional taxes). If the buy low/sell high theory of the bill works, the state would get a good chunk of its money back, and it could be backed by some capital outlay funds (instead of wasting them on trivialities) or maybe even the federal government itself will buy some of the bonds and/or pay the interest on them. It may even donate some money for the purpose, if the state shows the money will be well-managed.

There are plenty of options, but if you listened to the complaining of Democrat politicians like Sen. Mary Landrieu on the matter, you’d think the world had ended. That’s because their political world is based upon taking from others for themselves and their allies, not upon providing fresh ideas and leadership. Blanco, Landrieu and others need to understand from the federal government Louisiana can expect a hand up to pull the state out of this situation, not a handout.