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Democrats prefer preservation over responsibility in session

As if we needed any more proof of the inability of Louisiana’s current gubernatorial administration’s and its Legislature’s leadership to serve the people of the state, the recently-concluded special session delivered it in abundance.

The biggest priority, of course, was not even part of the special session call: trimming the low-value programs from state government and thoroughly reviewing personnel distribution to cut a bloated state bureaucracy (this had better be part of the regular session starting in five weeks). The next biggest priority was levee governance reform, followed by consolidation of Orleans government to save money and improve the city’s ability to bounce back from the recent hurricane disasters.

State Sen. Walter Boasso got the southeastern regional levee board consolidation and professionalization off to a good start at the session’s beginning, with a nice pep talk by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. However, Boasso then began to run into legislative critics who wanted to protect political fiefdoms that their local levee districts represented to them and/or who felt too much political pressure from local interests (backbones often being in short supply among Louisiana’s legislators) to stick with his plan. For awhile, any sort of reform looked as if it would founder.

Blanco seemed disinterested in salvaging the enterprise until the waning days of the session, with legislators saying she did not even bother to contact them until late. But what really seemed to turn the tide to produce any reform at all was federal relief coordinator Donald Powell lecturing the Legislature that reform had to come or the federal government would look much more dimly at providing any sort of relief. In the end, a watered-down bill that will improve somewhat the situation made it out.


Will politics prevail in Shreveport ambulance decision?

What seemed to be just a routine bureaucratic decision, even on the surface an attempt to introduce more efficiency, instead has enraged certain Shreveport citizens and has sent the Mayor Keith Hightower in search of money he already has spent on monuments to himself and to government.

Recently, Shreveport Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran proposed to move a paramedic unit from Fire Station 19 on Ellerbe Road to Fire Station 9 on St. Vincent Avenue. A cursory overview of the situation at first could support Cochran’s decision: the area around #9 had over 1,500 calls that resulted in medical transport in 2004 while the area around #19 had around 500. The former station does not currently have a unit stationed there so by relocating response times would be cut around that station, but would increase substantially in the area around #19.

However, reaction to the proposed move proved so negative that Cochran put it off. The burgeoning population in the southeastern part of Shreveport would argue response times would become unacceptable with units having to travel such a distance in life-threatening situations. Nor would relocation of a unit to Fire Station 20, somewhat further to the east, help much because it would have to cross rail lines which could have trains holding up help at a crucial moment.

The outcry also provoked Hightower into promising the purchase and staffing of a ninth ambulance, which will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of thousands more annually to staff and run it – this at a time where the city is so strapped for funds, thanks to Hightower’s and his Democrat City Council allies’ huge commitments in building and running a convention center and hotel, that it has to cut the city grants to nonprofits organizations and has allowed a huge infrastructure backlog to accumulate.

But is this extra purchase necessary, or is the realignment even necessary? Presumably, ambulance transport with specialized personnel becomes necessary in serious, especially life-or-death, situations. Medical units should not be sent out unless that standard is met. And a quick look at relevant statistics makes one question whether calls for service around #9 meet this criterion relative to the need around #19.

For one thing, theoretically a greater population is served in the area around #19. In its range are census tracts 239.1, 239.2, and 240 that in 2000 had 18,789 people. Tracts 233, 237, and 238 are served by #9, totaling 16,169. Further, the population around #19 has a higher median age – 36.4 years compared to the area served by #9 of 34.2, meaning there are more elderly people who are more likely to need emergency medical services.

One could argue the relatively poorer area around #9, with a median household income of $22,112 annually, might not have private transportation as readily available as the area around #19, with its median household income of $59,223 per annum. But that’s only slightly true; the former averages three persons per vehicle and the other two persons per vehicle. That is, why does an area with one-third less private transportation still manage to have three times the number of transports than the other?

Or, to put it another way, in the #9 area, there was one transport of a presumably serious medical condition for less than every 11 residents while #19 had such a transport for one out of every almost 38 residents. How could there be, on a per capita basis, 3.5 times more serious cases in one part of town than another?

The answer, of course, is there can’t be and that the residents around #9 very likely are making numerous calls and then subsequently using emergency services for non-emergency reasons way out of proportion to those around #19. This is something the city should commit to investigating before any money is spent on new ambulance services or any relocation is done. Apparently, the city is making very hesitant, tentative steps to do this, even if only to provide political cover.

Yet if the city does this rational thing, it needs to prepare itself for the inevitable complaints that leaders of a majority-black city are buckling under to the demands of mostly wealthy, mainly white neighborhoods (the area served by #9 is about 80 percent black; the area served around #19 is about 80 percent white). Irony would abound in that case: the proportion of tax dollars paid to support that service (and actual dollars – the poor usually pay nothing out of pocket for an ambulance ride) by those who would suffer from the switch far exceeds that of those who use it more than thrice as much.


Democrat "super-precinct" plan degrades election integrity

Some odd politics seem to be at play in considering two sets of bills, HB 12 and SB 16 which allows people who registered to vote without providing positive identification between the last presidential election and the declaration of emergency as a result of Hurricane Rita, and HB 14 and SB 22 which would set up regional voting centers in registrars’ office in ten large-population parishes.

Of the sets, which would last until Jul. 16, the former which would enable almost 15,000 people statewide, nearly 2,000 in Orleans Parish, to cast votes without ever being positively identified by election officials, would seem to contain the greatest opportunity for voting fraud to occur. Yet opponents, almost exclusively legislative Republicans, have let these pieces of legislation go largely unchallenged. Instead, they have fought strenuously the latter pair which, at first glance, would seem to address a less-important issue than ballot security.

Yet consider: regarding election accessibility, Democrats statewide have a vested interest in making the state go beyond any state or federal requirement, written in the constitution or law or intimated by the judiciary, because they believe likely Democrat voters disproportionately were scattered from Orleans Parish. Their goal, from Gov. Kathleen Blanco to Secretary of State Al Ater and on down, is to create a structure that can funnel as many likely Democrat voters as possible to a polling place, any polling place, that will accept them – and get the government to pay for it.

A typical get-out-the-vote effort would entail transporting geographically-dispersed people to geographically-dispersed precincts, normally an expensive process. But under current conditions, with many refugees concentrated, the creation of, in essence, 10 super-precincts that will accept anybody, could dramatically reduce the costs of organizations dedicated to hauling voters to them (and keep in mind Democrat Ater is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to find these individuals which the state is not obligated to do, either).

Republicans consistently have pointed out that existing legal and infrastructural mechanisms exist to accommodate the unusual circumstances presented, and so their objections to additional cost and unnecessary complication are legitimate (contrary to the feeble assertions of Blanco that anyone against these bills are deliberately trying to keep Orleanians from voting). Even Democrat attempts to argue that the absentee ballot process wouldn’t be good because of people moving constantly around temporary addresses is largely mooted because it is so easy to get a ballot sent almost immediately through Internet contact with Ater’s office!

In short, both Republicans and Democrats know that there is just limited upside in watering down ballot security in order to create more eligible voters. The real payoff comes from creating a mechanism that improves Democrats’ ability to direct existing voters in their direction. Republicans cannot be faulted for objecting to a plan that does nothing to create more ballot accessibility or democracy but does cost the state more in terms of money credibility. Democrats can be faulted for being disingenuous by saying mistakenly that this plan actually does increase accessibility, and then to have the nerve to argue opponents of it are against voting rights.

And that’s why it’s a bigger issue, because even as they loudly proclaim they are making elections better, with this Democrats actually are eroding the integrity of the process by trying to use government to try to convey advantage to their candidates.


Crybaby Black Caucus discourages assistance

In my previous posting, I averred how the actions of many Louisiana politicians were akin to spoiled children. Today, the Legislative Black Caucus in the House put an exclamation point on that fact.

The first bill discussed this afternoon was HB 14, which in its original form would have created for future election regional voting centers in populous parishes where people registered in any parish could vote. It later got amended so that people registering to vote in an area affected by a declared emergency after the declaration could not use this method, and then an expiration date of July 16, 2006 was attached. This is the same date as for HB 12 which allows people who registered to vote prior to the emergency declaration for Hurricane Rita but after the last presidential election who have not provided positive identification not otherwise called to military service to vote by mail, passed only days earlier by the same chamber.

In an unusual moment of good sense, the House defeated the amended bill, with Republicans holding fast against it joined by some white Democrats (the debate can be read here). Not long afterwards, during debate on an entirely unrelated bill, the head of the Caucus, Rep. Cedric Richmond, made a motion to adjourn the entire session. After his motion was defeated 24-77 with all votes cast by members of the Caucus, its members (except for the Speaker pro tem Rep. Yvonne Dorsey) left the chamber and did not participate in further votes.

Levee reform actions show Louisiana still needs tough love

It’s only taken about five months, but Louisiana’s mainstream media finally is catching on to the full ramifications of the fact that the state must accept tough love from the federal government in order to weather the effects of the hurricane disasters, with a salutary side effect that this could kickstart political reform so desperately needed. If only the state’s political elites would do the same.

This isn’t to argue that the light bulb suddenly came on, nor that it went from totally dark to incredibly bright. A gradualism has marked the process. On levee governance reform, the state’s mainstream media got on the bandwagon early, far before Gov. Kathleen Blanco. But on other matters, it has been just as far behind the curve as the more important elected officials.

Perhaps the best example is the so-called Baker bill, a questionable plan which would have created a huge new federal bureaucracy which would transfer tens of billions of dollars to those with property interests in Louisiana which the federal government could well never see again. Blanco basically made it her recovery plan (even as the federal government points out there’s really no plan at all). Louisiana’s media and politicians have been united in supporting it, but it was rejected by the White House which brought near-universal scorn from the state’s media and politicians (see this typical media response). But the thing is, a good part of the country rightly agrees with that decision (see this typical response), viewing the legislation as another giveaway not requiring the state show some sign that it plans to do its utmost to exhaust all remedies and resources.


Stuck on stupid XIV: The right way or the Louisiana way

Tell us something we don’t know: failure of government at all levels led to a poorer response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that should have been, according to a report to be released by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Until the report officially is released on Wednesday, look for the mainstream media to spin the report as unfavorably as possible for Pres. George W. Bush’s administration (it likely will be harder to do so when the details are known to all). But that partisan attempt misses the larger point: government as an institution is inherently flawed in its ability to respond quickly and adequately to sudden, large needs because it is government, made inefficient by the lack of a profit motive and by the realities of bureaucratic necessities of impartiality and effectiveness before efficiency.

That understood, theoretically government that is closer to the people – state and local – should be the most responsive of the sluggish bunch because it is the most immediate and least impersonal. Thus, where reform is most urgent is at the state and local levels; reform should occur at all levels, but where it will have the biggest impact is at the lower levels.

To accomplish this, it’s necessary to promote efficiency within government operations and in the organization of government. This is why it is important to have less government at the lowest levels, both in terms of structure and power. And with the latest Louisiana legislative special session half over, it appears from it that lesson at best has been only half-learned.

Part of the problem with the flooding that occurred was because of a fragmented levee governance system. Yet it seems only incomplete consolidation is going to occur, leaving a system still too decentralized to operate at its best and without safeguards to assure the maximal amount of professionalism and minimizing the effect of politicization in flood control. No other state in the country allows its flood control system to be fragmented even to the degree that the legislation that would combine a few, but not most, southeastern Louisiana levee districts, does.

The same is true with making other Orleans governments more efficient. No major city in the country has its property assessment not unified as New Orleans does, yet legislation to unify it was killed. Only the legislation that combines the civil and criminal judicial systems there looks like it will succeed (ironically, it is the only feature that actually is not the only of its kind in America: some states do set up different civil and criminal courts tracks).

Yes, the report makes clear that leadership such as Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s failed in the days before and after Katrina hit. But real leadership occurs way before any disaster happens, in the creation of government institutions best able to mitigate and respond to the effects of a disaster. And (even as the federal government strongly points the state in the right direction) it seems in this session Louisiana’s leaders are failing its citizens on that score as well, stuck on stupid yet again.