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Powell departure adds uncertainty to state, U.S. races

Maybe we should have seen it coming when, in the aftermath of Rep. Jim McCrery’s announcement that he would not run for reelection, that buzz did not immediately form around state Rep. Mike Powell to run for the Republican nomination for that seat. Perhaps Powell himself cautioned supporters not to endorse him enthusiastically for the spot, as might be gathered by his unexpected resignation from the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Three reasons present themselves as to why Powell might do this in spite of his having as secure a seat as any in the House, after having just been reelected with no opposition this fall. One could be some lingering ethics problem, as some asserted rather unconvincingly with little proof months ago – to date, the state’s Ethics Board has not seen fit to see anything wrong with Powell’s activities. A second would be that Powell was preparing to run for the open federal seat, but that makes no sense since Powell would not have to give up his state seat to run for it. However, given a choice between time spent on legislative duties and campaigning for the U.S. position, Powell could go for the latter but it would not really solve the dilemma of making time for his family even if he could get a great full-time salary out of it – just ask McCrery who is opting not to run because it’s the family time that matters to him.

In the final analysis, it does all comes down to family with Powell. He has seven children with most hitting their teen years now or shortly, and it is a lot of mouths to feed and attention to be given. You don’t get paid as a full-time employee serving in the legislature (base salary is $1,400 a month) but, perhaps worse, you spend a lot of time in Baton Rouge and even at home on legislative business that also detracts from family life. As unfortunate as it might be that Powell is giving up public service, it’s to his credit that he puts first what really is important.

Giving up his current spot for family certainly also means he will not contend for the 4th District job, and makes that a much more wide-open contest. If Republicans cannot entice Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to run, not only does it leave an uncertain Republican nominee, it strengthens the position of the only Democrat who has a shot at taking the seat, former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower as the top two Republican candidates for it will be out. The national party likely is to involve itself more heavily in the process now to get the best possible candidate.

Locally, two names immediately leap to mind to replace Powell in a district that heavily favors Republicans. The favorite would be current Shreveport City Council member Michael Long, but he may be hesitant to run precisely for the same reasons of family that sidelined both McCrery and Powell from their respective offices. Another contender would be two-time election loser, against Powell in 2003 and for the state Senate seat incorporating the district months ago, Barrow Peacock. His problem is that he spent over $300,000 in his recent losing effort, a good chunk of it his own funds, and many Republicans were annoyed that he refused to support the eventual winner of the state Senate seat B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, a conservative Republican of long standing, against recent GOP convert liberal state Rep. Billy Montgomery. If Long doesn’t run and Peacock does, look for a concerted GOP effort to find another candidate.

Regardless of what happens now, it must be noted that Powell’s departure is a blow to those who value good legislative service, and he will be missed.

How much clearer, and bolder, can Jindal agenda be?

So, is anybody dense enough still not to understand what Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said he was going to try to achieve as governor, after a recent interview? To summarize:

  • No tax increases, considering Louisiana’s budget has almost doubled in size in six years even as the state’s population has declined (backing out recovery expenses still indicates a 40 percent increase with an almost 10 percent population decline)
  • Ethics reform which will focus on stricter reporting requirements for both legislators and lobbyists, dramatic curtailment of legislators being able to get contracts from the state or work as “consultants” otherwise, and better funding to accomplish these things on top of existing laws
  • Economic development that begins with cutting business taxes and hopefully ends in reduction of income taxes for both businesses and individuals, and emphasizing work force training.

    A great start, but one never should be afraid to climb those golden stairs which is argued by the editorialists at the Alexandria Town Talk, definitely the outlet with the surest grasp of superior public policy of any media in the entire state. It recommends taking all money that constitutionally must be used to pay items such as underfunded roads and accrued liability for state retirees, construction (presumably for state, not legislator needs i.e. no more reservoirs), and coastal restoration – and debt reduction can be added to the list, too.

    With monies of a recurring nature, it suggests tax cuts, a wise choice that will stimulate the economy that will create higher revenues for the future and will solve the practical political problem of avoiding breaching the state’s spending ceiling (current surplus estimates would require two-thirds legislative majorities to spend past a certain level which could bog down any good spending plan). Better still, it advises then a planned reduction in the size of government of 10 percent, more than justified by the higher number of state employees proportionate to the population than most states.

    Now, all together, this sounds like a real plan for prosperity.
  • 26.12.07

    Standardized tests make for honest success indicator

    This summer, a Louisiana professor’s experience with whining students was part of a provocative, and welcome, piece in the Wall Street Journal about the culture of entitlement that has developed among youth. If not by every student and their parents in the state, it should be read at least by those in Bossier Parish.

    The article noted that American-born college students’ attitudes about being graded served as a microcosm of an attitude that everybody was “special,” that they all were “entitled” to rewards such as good grades because they “worked hard.” By contrast, when Asian students did not earn A’s, they didn’t ask to get bumped up to a grade for which they had no merited, but instead asked how they could improve their performances.

    With that in mind, I wouldn’t suspect that any of the complaining parents and students who confronted the Bossier Parish School Board this summer came from an Asian immigrant family – first, some who complained they should graduate high school because they passed their classes even though they failed the state’s required Graduate Exit Exam, then others, who had disqualified themselves from parish school’s honor programs because they had not scored at a sufficient level on the state’s iLEAP exam.

    What gets the parents’ dander up is their children do well enough in the classroom, only to fail to measure up on the standardized exams. Then somehow it becomes the fault of the exam itself, or the state or parish’s policy of having the exam score inflexibly as part of the overall assessment of the child, rather than it being the simplest explanation of all – the child didn’t do what was sufficient to merit the reward.

    In both the graduation and honors cases, there is a presumption that the children merit the rewards because they do well enough in the classroom. But the truth is that exams likely are far more reliable indicators of the child’s true learning than the grades.

    An anecdote: my wife graduated from Parkway with a 4.0 GPA, tied for valedictorian with one of her best friends. Her other best friend, the salutatorian, was a couple of tenths of points behind, and the next student was another tenth or so behind her. Almost 20 years later, last year my nephew graduated from Airline. Almost 20 in his class had a 3.9 or better, and the average GPA was close to a 3.0.

    Have students become so much more brilliant and/or their teachers so much better in the interim to achieve so much higher GPAs? I think not, if you look at the Airline 2004 and 2005 GEE scores (representing that class), in the top two categories, only 27, 32, 28, and 14 percent of Airline rising juniors and seniors scored in them for English, math, science, and social studies, respectively. The dirty secret of GPAs in high school is that they have become inflated, not just in Bossier Parish, but statewide (and far more wildly in some schools where students get ‘A’ grades for poor quality work) because many teachers are reluctant to give lower grades because, with TOPS awards for college hanging in the balance, they don’t want to deprive students of these and/or don’t want to put up with the hassle from above and below for giving more honest assessments. And it trickles down to lower grade levels as well.

    Of course, there’s also the oldest fall-back excuse in the book that somebody “doesn’t test well.” Never mind that in the larger real work world tests of one kind or another are always being sprung on you so if you aren’t ready for them in school you won’t go far out of it, but in the smaller academic world my experience has been the students who make this claim, that aspect aside, almost always turn out to be fairly weak students.

    Probably Bossier Parish schools could tweak their program a little bit, like allowing students to be in an honors track in one area but not another (as did the schools I attended growing up), but one of their officials hit the nail right on the head when she said if more children were allowed to take honors classes, then there would not be a lot of academic role models in the classroom for other students. You don’t give rewards only because of hard work; you distribute them when the goal is reached regardless of the amount of work. Reasonable standards are there not to deny deserving students, but to motivate all of them.

    Which means the state should continue to prevent graduation of those who cannot pass the GEE and the district should continue to deny honors classes to those who do not excel on the iLEAP subject exams. Perhaps if there were less time complaining and more time studying there might not be any problem.


    McCrery retirement puts spotlight on replacements

    With U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery’s announcement that he will not seek reelection to Louisiana’s 4th District, two favorites immediately emerge, not least because of the new closed primary system that will favor conservative Republicans and a particular kind of Democrat.

    Republican McCrery’s deferral almost a year before the primaries no doubt was made to boost Republican chances at holding the seat, because it will give fellow Republicans plenty of chance to organize to take on potentially a formidable Democrat who has been plotting for years to take a stab at this office. It’s not Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who ran against McCrery when the last vacancy occurred but who has just limped through a quixotic, resource-exhausting campaign for governor and who would have to give up his current office to do so. Nor would it be any black candidate, in a district that is about a quarter white Democrat, a quarter black Democrat, and a quarter Republican – if one particular Democrat does enter the contest.

    Because he’s the only white Democrat who in recent years has proven he can draw together enough white and black Democrat votes to win a major office, former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower would box out any competitor black or white. And McCrery’s decision not to wait to retire puts Hightower in a weaker position. Memories are still fresh about how Hightower foisted hundreds of millions of dollars of debt on Shreveport to build a big-money-losing convention center and hotel, even as water and sewerage rates soar because this money wasn’t used to repair basic infrastructure. Such reminiscences may have dulled by 2010 and the public monuments in question may end up losing less money, and Hightower has that much less time to raise money and to campaign.

    Whether intended, the timing also assists the favorite to win the Republican nomination, state Rep. Mike Powell. A potential competitor could be attorney and former mayoral candidate Jerry Jones, but being only a year removed from his expensive losing effort would make it difficult for him to catch up to Powell, whose state legislative jobs enables him to have been continuously visible in the 13 parishes that comprise the district (and most prominently in Caddo and Bossier where half the district’s registrants reside) and, not having any competition since 2003, could quickly tap into fresh supplies of funds. The only Republican that has Powell’s ability in this regard is Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, but it’s unlikely Prator would trade being the closest thing the parish has to a chief executive to which he could get himself reelected to for life for being a low-level member of a legislative body, even if it is Congress.

    Other suggested candidates have much more daunting odds. On the Democrat side, candidates from the 2006 election Patti Cox and the Rev. Artis Cash have no chance with any major Democrat running. One major Democrat who could win the nomination would be state Sen. Lydia Jackson, given that the balance between white and black Demcorats in the district is about even. But surely she realizes outside of a miracle she has no chance of winning the general election. The same applies to Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover. Recently defeated state Rep. Taylor Townsend needs to understand he's not going to win this seat with Hightower in the race, especially since he could not even beat a political newcomer for the state Senate a month ago.

    On the GOP side, there are a few names who have announced explorations of potential candidacies, but all face distinct organizational and fundraising problems compared to Powell and Prator. The only one who might have a chance against those two, state Sen. Robert Adley, just switched to the party and is disliked by too many party activists who disproportionately would turn out for this kind of contest for him to be able to win the nomination.

    Expect announcements to begin in early 2008, and probably Hightower’s and Powell’s names to head the field.


    House picks should calm GOP, regional, reform concerns

    As noted in the last posting, Republican reformers and north Louisiana legislators seemed perturbed that the new Louisiana Senate committee leader lineup lacked their legislators. Their complaints might have been oversold, and when viewing House leadership selections, that should bring reassurance to these worriers.

    Of the 16 House committees, half are lead by GOP affiliates and another by a Republican-leaning independent, a minor overrepresentation of Republicans. North Louisiana also got about its share of panel chiefs with four, or 25 percent where north Louisiana’s population is about 27 percent of the state’s.

    One significant appointment of expected incoming Republican Speaker Jim Tucker was that of Democrat Rick Gallot, who is black, to lead House and Governmental Affairs. This committee will be in charge of redistricting and fuels speculation that the new 2012 district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives will end up creating five majority-Republican-voting districts and one plurality-black (Democrat) district, ending what now is the 3rd District held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon. Population changes will force the state to lose a seat which almost assuredly would be the 2nd (majority black now) or 3rd, and a combination of Republicans and blacks in each chamber constitute a majority. With state Sen. Bob Kostelka in charge of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee, if this is the plan it is one step closer to reality.

    So when combining the results of the chambers’ leadership selections, reformers and/or Republicans and anybody concerned about regional representation ought not be very disappointed at how things appear they will turn out.


    Regional, partisan imbalance in the new Legislature?

    As I mentioned previously, while it seems the ordinary citizenry couldn’t care less, the “political class” appears upset at the distribution of committee chairmen slots for the incoming Legislature. I was going to present an analysis of House picks by apparent new House Speaker Jim Tucker in addition to Senate picks as it was said he would release them today. Apparently he has not and I’ve held off this posting long enough, so I’ll just add them when I find out. Below then is an analysis only of the Senate selections made by presumed incoming president Joel Chaisson.

    Perhaps most frequently expressed have been complaints about a lack of representation for North Louisiana. In the Senate, three of the 17 charimanships went to senators from north Louisiana (defined her as north of the Beauregard-Allen- Evangeline-St. Landry-Point Coupee boundaries lines), or 18 percent. Keep in mind that this part of the state has about 27 percent of the population, so any bias towards the southern part of the state is not that great. Also consider that in the Senate, of the 11 districts (29 to 39) that could be declared “northern” in geography, only five featured returnees to the chamber (plus a couple of transfers from the House and a previous house member) of which three of these – Adley, Sherri Smith Cheek, and Lydia Jackson – are among the most junior incumbents and are at odds with much of Jindal’s agenda which reduced the pool of potential chairmen.

    The other major complaints have been about partisan distribution, a surrogate for the capability of incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal to pursue his conservative, reform agenda. In the Senate, only four of the 17 picked were Republicans, or 24 percent, where (now with the recent surprise partisan switch of Robert Adley to the GOP) 23 of the total membership are Republicans, or 41 percent. Keep in mind, however, that the minority Republicans always have been disproportionately underrepresented in the past, even with other GOP governors around.

    Further cheer for reform forces should come from some individual selections of who got what and who didn’t. In the Senate, Adley despite his late switch was denied chairmanship of the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee because of his insufficient track record when it came to reducing the size of government and returning the people’s money to them. State Sen. Joe McPherson, a sworn enemy of meaningful health care reform that would pass power from institutions to people, was stripped of his chairmanship of the body’s Health and Welfare Committee.

    So at first glance concerning the Senate, there’s a bit of an imbalance to the Senate but to some degree this can be explained. The House figures will provide more definition.


    Blanco must halt revisionism, search for relevancy

    On behalf of the state of Louisiana, I would like to make a request of lame-duck Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco: give us an early Christmas present and just go away quietly.

    We’re tired of your inane, even mendacious, attempts to explain away your failed governorship. You blame your inadequate response to the hurricane disasters of 2005 on Republican-instigated “partisanship,” yet your own words and e-mail messages show you were the one interjecting partisanship from the very beginning into your actions which detracted from your ability to pursue better policy. In fact, despite having gone through simulated and real disasters, you still didn’t know simple intergovernmental procedures to have gotten aid faster, and you deliberately delayed to try to get partisan advantage.

    You also blame partisanship on the much slower pace of recovery in Louisiana than Mississippi when in fact it was your own dithering that hampered the receipt of federal recovery dollars into the state. Then your people disregarded federal rules in the distribution of that money which tied it up bureaucratically and bankrupted the program.


    Dead zone reveals problem of govt economic intervention

    On the back of the man-made global warming fraud, many taken in by it argue society must move away from the use of hydrocarbons and increase use of renewable sources of energy. Regrettably, the federal government for years has subsidized the production of ethanol and Louisiana joined in a year ago for the future with the state requiring sellers of gasoline to sell ethanol if statewide production reaches a certain level and politicians decide it’s not really more expensive than gasoline. Now these decisions are starting to haunt us and point out yet again an enduring lesson that hubris prevents too many from realizing fully.

    In the past year, production of corn has increased significantly which is the most common renewable crop used to produce ethanol. It’s not just government subsidies and federal regulations requiring its use in many metropolitan areas that now drive production, but higher oil prices. The consequence of the increased production, which is supposed to help the environment, is actually to degrade it in a way significant to Louisianans.

    Corn takes more fertilizer, typically nitrogen-based, than typical crops. Unfortunately, when carried south down streams that empty through the Mississippi’s delta, the nitrogen runoff of thousands of miles away creates a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where aquatic life can’t exist. Not only does this constitute an ecological problem, it is makes for commercial difficulties as fishing industry vessels must travel farther from port to harvest potentially less seafood, obviously negative for Louisiana’s industry.

    Irony abounds in this scenario. Ethanol is supposed to help air quality and reduce “greenhouse gases” that allegedly are responsible for significant global warming. Yet in the mania to produce it, it harms not just another aspect of the environment, the ecology of the Gulf, but in pursuing this forces fishing vessels to use more energy – which is hydrocarbon-based and produces more greenhouse gases.

    Thus revealing the folly of government intervention into the economy. Human history time and again has shown when there is a presumed public policy problem dealing with economic inputs and outputs, government intervention produces unintended and/or suboptimal outcomes. If government policy wasn’t forcing so much ethanol production, that production would be responding only to market forces, which would have the salutary impacts of reducing corn production (and prices for basic food on top of that) that would reduce the ecological consequences of it, and supplying greater incentives to spur technological developments such as ways to use fertilizer more efficiently and to extract and burn more efficiently petroleum products.

    The environment always is best protected by market forces. If degradation becomes too much and/or a less-friendly process thereby becomes too expensive, consumers demand changes. Government fiat only interferes with outcome and, if Louisiana policy-makers want to get series about not contributing to the dead zone problem, they will repeal R.S. 3:3711 as soon as possible.


    Merit, not parochialism, must guide offering decisions

    It’s not politically correct, but it’s true what University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors member Michael Woods says about the Louisiana Board of Regents’ hesitancy in granting Louisiana State University Shreveport even a part of a Ph.D. program – it’s territorial and could delay or excise entirely the ability of LSUS to offer a doctoral degree in its own back yard..

    Add to LSUS alumnus Woods’ comments the observation about the Board's position made by LSUS Chancellor Vincent Marsala: “short-sighted.” The program would offer a Ph.D. in bioinformatics and computational biology, contemplated for and developed over years by LSUS, which fits in nicely with a collaborative effort made with the LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport and Louisiana Tech University. The program has even more value now that it appears more likely than not that the Air Force will base its Cyber Command Center at Barksdale AFB in Bossier Parish.

    The program has received cautionary approval by the Regents who must authorize any new degree offerings in the state. The report does not at all indicate that the program should not be offered, nor that LSUS could not contribute significantly to it. Rather, it expresses reservations that LSUS ought to be a part of it, noting that the higher education master plan while not prohibiting LSUS from offering doctoral degrees does not explicitly permit such offerings.

    However, the Regents chairman Pat Strong personally seems to question whether the bringing of a doctoral program will really enhance the Shreveport metropolitan economy – “a doctoral program being that important to economic development.” That might make sense if it was a Ph.D. program in political science being discussed, but it seems pretty clear with the medical industry there and Cyber Command probably coming that there are going to be economic benefits, possibly substantial ones.

    And if the Regents are so wedded to the plan, perhaps it needs changing. There’s no reason why the state’s four-year comprehensive university in the state’s third-largest metropolitan area should not have the ability at least to collaborate on such a program. It already is forced to collaborate for masters degrees with outsider Louisiana Tech – a school 70 miles distant from the area.

    Woods also was courageously candid about that aspect, pointing out Tech has long sought placement in the Shreveport market. This brings up an entirely different question about the overbuilt nature of Louisiana higher education but if that’s not going to be addressed, then the next best thing is to give preference to universities in their areas – and that means LSUS in Shreveport, not Louisiana Tech.

    Part of the problem is, historically, the insistence of the LSU system to base as much as it could in Baton Rouge. LSUS began only 40 years ago (over a century after the modern incarnation of LSU Baton Rouge) and spent its first decade as a junior college. It’s not just Shreveport either: there was no LSU campus in New Orleans until 50 years ago, it took several years to establish its own identity, it could not offer graduate degrees until 40 years ago (even as it became the second-largest in the state in enrollment) and it wasn’t until the 1970s that doctoral degrees were allowed there. The LSU system would not even allow dormitories to be built there until several years later and until the 1990s not for LSUS (and still vastly restricts their capacity both places). (For the record, not only am I obviously an LSUS employee although not its spokesman, but I also received my Ph.D. in political science from the LSU member institution in New Orleans, the University of New Orleans.)

    This lingering desire to keep system campuses outside of Baton Rouge more as adjuncts to the flagship school than as separate entities has encouraged other universities wishing to poach on the natural LSUS market, and creates another red herring argument to prevent LSUS expansion through its involvement in this degree – that it would be the smallest school that could offer a Ph.D. in the state. But, as Woods points out, why shouldn’t this be allowed given it is the third largest market in the state and facing competitive pressures from out-of-state nearby institutions? (And the LSU system is giving full support to LSUS in this matter.)

    If this is point of contention, then it also is natural to ask why Louisiana Tech, in an area with a population of about 20,000, gets to offer five different doctoral degrees most of which are in areas in which LSUS offers degrees? (What makes more sense, offering a Doctorate of Business Administration in the booming, thriving commercial capital of Ruston, or in the metropolitan area that is 18 times its size? Or a Doctorate of Education in an area with 67,000 students or one with a ninth of that number?) If degrees are going to be offered where the people aren’t, shouldn’t different degrees that have economic development value be offered where they are regardless of the size of the school as long as it has the capacity to deliver that education?

    Woods’ remarks demonstrate there are just no clothes on those who bring up the questions of mission or size to deny LSUS not even wanting to offer a doctorate on its own but just to do so in collaboration. Market forces and economic development considerations must take precedence over parochialism in deciding the worth of this program.


    Forecast argues for tax cuts, spending changes

    Louisiana’s Revenue Estimating Conference confirmed that revenues are slipping in the state as the infusion of federal recovery dollars begins to taper off. Once again, this fact reinforces the need for prudence in future spending commitments and for fiscal policy that will boost revenues in the future.

    These realities may have been overshadowed by the fact that a healthy surplus both for the current fiscal year and predicted for the next were declared by the Conference. Focusing solely on that aspect, however, misses the larger picture if drawing the conclusion that the state now has “extra” money to spend on things which, absent changing expenditure priorities, would be the worst possible decision to make.

    A retreating revenue picture demands caution with any new commitments, which are prudent only if revenues look likely to increase over time. Rather, the current scenario dictates that new spending be sparse and that reprogramming of current commitments takes place to ensure that a fairly flat revenue forecast does not strain future state resources as inflation erodes and unexpected but necessary new commitments eat into these revenues.

    Policymakers must understand the surplus exists only because spending demands in some areas (obviously not in areas of recovery expenses) have declined. Bluntly, with 300,000 or so few citizens displaced by the 2005 hurricane disasters of the socio-economic class most were in, the majority absorbed more, often much more, in state resources than they contributed. It’s not that state revenues have and will continue to go up for anything to do an improved state economy or fiscal outlook, it’s that with significantly fewer people to support off of government money that programmatic, nondiscretionary spending has gone down noticeably in some areas such as education and health care.

    If current practices don’t change, this means revenues will remain stagnant at best while expenditures will rise. This argues that policy must change to increase revenues, entailing alterations in both the revenue area (designed to increase the gross take) and in the spending area (reconfiguring the mix of expenditures in a way which will maximize the gross take).

    An example of the former would be cutting income taxes. Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal has stated his preference of reducing if not eliminating these. Not only would this allow revenues to grow within the next few years because of the greater economic activity produced, but also the approach solves a political problem: the Constitution caps spending by the state and if Jindal wanted to spend all of the surplus he would need a two-thirds vote of both Legislative chambers to secure this. Tax reductions lower the spending levels for cap purposes.

    An example of the latter would be passing legislation diverting transportation-related revenues to be spent only for transportation purposes. Under-funded transportation infrastructure has held back the state’s economic potential thus tax-generating potential of state business. The surplus dollars would cushion the amount removed from the general fund by this reform the transfer of which would boost future revenues.

    Typical policy of the past in Louisiana would have this “surplus” blown on a number of new commitments, may of dubious value. Hopefully, Jindal and the new Legislature will understand the opportunity presented and take full advantage of it through tax cuts and reprogramming of spending.


    No trick reading Jindal intent, judging future performance

    I guess I’m not part of the “political class” that keeps “busy with a new pastime: reading tea leaves” concerning what Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal will promote as policy when he takes office. Maybe I’m just too simple, but it seems like to me it’s all been made very obvious to us – which will give us clear benchmarks by which to assess his performance in the future.

    It baffles me why one cannot go to Jindal’s campaign site and read what he has to say about important issues of the day. One columnist claims there’s only issue he seems to be clear on – ethics reform – and then thinks everybody must guess what he’s going to do. Well, it’s not hard to figure out, so let me assist:


    Closed primary to alter substantially election dynamics

    Although the closed primary is common among the states, it’s new to Louisiana for congressional contests and, further, will debut in a special election in early 2008 for the House seat to be vacated by incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal. This could pose questions for many and, as a highly-trained specialist in this area whose graduate education in political science partly was paid for by Louisiana taxpayers, I’ll provide for its citizens some answers concerning this subject.

    First, as has been pointed out by one of my colleagues, that no runoff election exists to give a final general election winner an absolute majority not only is unremarkable for federal elections in the U.S., it is practically nonexistent. A very few states have super-minority kinds of requirements such as if nobody gets at least 40 percent in the general election that there is to be a runoff, but no state requires an absolute majority for declaration of a winner as a result of federal elections held on even-numbered years the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (In fact, only about a dozen states or so even require runoff elections for any election, almost all of them in the South.)

    Second, for the foreseeable future it will be rare that a winning candidate does not get an absolute majority in the general election, even if more than just a Republican and Democrat nominee run. As weak as the major parties are in Louisiana, the state of minor parties is much worse and the closed primary legislation was designed to strengthen the major parties without commensurate benefits for minor parties. It is difficult to imagine than any minor party candidate could get more of a small sliver of the vote in these kinds of contests any time soon when both major parties put up a nominee.

    Third, however, the exception could be well-(probably self-) financed independent candidates along the lines such as recent gubernatorial hopeful John Georges. But even their effect will be diminished because the new law implicitly has what is called a “sore loser” provision. In their explicit versions which many states have, the law flat out mandates that a loser of a party primary cannot run in the general election. (One state that does not have any such law is Connecticut, a lacking that Sen. Joseph Lieberman exploited last election cycle when he lost the party primary to a fringe far-leftist; he then ran as an independent in the general election and won.)

    Louisiana’s version is implicit because its sets qualifying for candidates who do not go through a primary nomination process at the same time as those who wish to vie for a party nomination. Normally, but not in the case for Jindal’s 1st District seat because it is a special election and all things are accelerated, that would occur four months prior to the actual general election. Thus, for a regular election in the first week of July, candidates must irrevocably choose their routes, either contesting a party primary or passing on them and going straight to the general election by qualifying as a minor party candidate (assuming these parties have not yet met the organizing threshold set by state law that would enable them to have their own nomination elections) or as no party (colloquially termed “independent”). This prevents candidates from contesting a primary and if losing it to change registrations to no party and getting in on the general election.

    Thus, for federal elections we won’t see any last-minute switches less than two months to the primary/general election, such as Georges when only a few days before qualifying began he announced he would run as an independent despite having for months campaigned calling himself a Republican. Any candidate in essence would have to declare much earlier and fight all the publicity being monopolized by the races for the major party nominations. It will make a strategy of going independent more difficult to pull off successfully (although the compressed time frame of the special election might mitigate these obstacles to some degree).

    Fourth, any registered voter may participate in the primary election, but not exactly because of the law’s literal wording. It gives the option, identical to the already-existing system for presidential preference primaries, of letting the qualifying (currently only the major) parties decide whether to allow non-party members to participate in their primaries. As it is, the Republicans refused to allow this but the Democrats will allow this. Thus, anybody not registered with a major party will be able to vote in the Democrats’ primary until the party decides to change it.

    Fifth, the new law benefits Republicans, conservatives, blacks, and reduces the political power of white Democrats. Currently, a substantial minority of registered white Democrats routinely have voted for Republican candidates in national elections. The GOP’s complete closure of their nomination process means these individuals will have to switch registrations to Republican if they wish to participate in nomination decisions for the party whose candidates they typically have supported. In turn, this will create a more conservative nominating electorate for Republicans, and thus produce candidates who are more conservative.

    This same dynamic will drain whites from the Democrats, strengthening the power of black voters in the party. It does not necessarily mean more black Democrat registrants, since non-party members will be allowed to vote, but black independents support Democrat candidates at a level close to what those registered with the party do. Still, the proportion of blacks participating in party primaries will increase relative to whites, meaning nominees are more likely to be black and liberal.

    Thus, the “moderate” white Democrat will become an endangered species as a candidate and this process is likely to produce a white conservative Republican matched against (depending on district demographics) white or black liberal Democrat for House elections. Given the electorate generally is right of center in Louisiana, this means more Republicans who are more conservative will get elected. It could be, depending upon census numbers and who has control of state government after the 2011 elections, that this system will produce an entirely Republican, conservative slate of members of the House after the 2012 elections. (The dynamics for Senate contests are just as interesting, but that’s a subject for another time.)

    Thus, the closed primary system for Louisiana federal elections will alter substantially election dynamics in the state.


    Adley switch paints stripes on horse, calls it zebra

    You can’t paint stripes on a horse and call it a zebra. State Rep. Billy Montgomery found that out when he changed parties prior to this year’s elections, then was defeated by a genuine conservative and Republican when he tried to extend his legislative life into the Senate. Now his ideological and Bossier Parish fellow traveler state Sen. Robert Adley has done the same.

    New Republican Adley claims he chose now to switch, almost two months after his reelection, because of his enthusiasm for the agenda of the Republican incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal. One wonders whether he spent too much time campaigning against a lightweight Republican challenger to be aware that Jindal’s agenda hardly has changed since he last ran for governor in 2003, so why didn’t this happen before the election?

    Instead, it’s almost comical the reasons he stated for the switch now, describing himself as a conservative reformer, saying "I'm excited we have a new governor with the same philosophy, and I want to be as effective as possible in dealing with him." Of course, his record in the Senate just from the past year violates truth-in-labeling.

    Jindal repeatedly has said ethics reform is his top priority; Adley was one of the two senators most responsible for killing meaningful reform in the 2007 session. Jindal also has stated he would like to see the reduction, if not outright elimination, of income taxes; Adley in Senate committee hearings has publicly disparaged the idea and help ram through only the most miniscule tax relief despite an enormous budget surplus. Give Adley some credit for a skill most people can’t perform (although politicians often can), talking out of both sides of his mouth.

    The real reason why Adley switched likely is he realizes his power and privilege in the Senate is endangered under a Jindal Administration. Currently vice chairman of the Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, his past contrary stance to Jindal’s agenda leaves him less likely to retain that position under the anticipated election of Sen. Joel Chaisson to the Senate’s Presidency, especially as Chaisson, supported by Jindal, wishes to increase Republican representation on key committees and to give leadership positions to more Republicans. For example, this committee ended the session with Democrats holding an 8-3 advantage in a chamber where there were fewer than two to one Democrats over Republicans, and both leaders of it Democrats.

    The proof will be in the pudding, if Adley does vote a much more conservative line starting next year. Still, this switch, like Montgomery’s, seems more of convenience than from actual belief, if Adley’s past actions compared to current rhetoric apply.


    Jindal agenda appears to grasp real cause of poverty

    If there’s any consternation at all about incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal not having an explicit policy on poverty reduction in Louisiana when it seems he’s got a policy suggestion for everything else, it comes from misunderstanding that in most cases in no direct away can government do anything lasting about poverty.

    For about four decades now, there has been a persistent failure on behalf of many elites, borne of the invalidity of political liberalism to explain the human condition, in comprehending the causes of poverty. There are two of these, each requiring a different public policy approach in order to minimize poverty and simultaneously improve the life prospects of those caught up in it.

    One cause of poverty is bad fortune, both temporary and permanent, but with the same basic solution. Say a short-term illness drives a family into poverty; in this instance, government may provide relief designed solely temporary in nature until the crisis has passed and breadwinners are able to return to the workforce. This would include people whose bad choices brought the problems onto themselves, where government policy must be not to facilitate that behavior. If it’s a long-term illness, disability, or the like, government should provide a minimal, decent standard of living at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer.


    McCrery departure surprising but politically astute

    Apparently, the frustration of a bifurcated life between career and family and an inability to pursue the agenda he wanted combined to have veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery decide against running for reelection for Louisiana’s Fourth District. The timing of the announcement of his decision, however, additionally likely included partisan factors.

    It was well known that McCrery was leaving sooner rather than later, given his past sentiments about the disruption his career caused to his family not only for him but of his wife and two boys. Something which may have encouraged him to hang on was his high position in the House GOP, at present the ranking member of perhaps the most powerful committee in the body, Ways and Means.

    The problem was, if not for the Democrats taking over control of the House last year, he would have been chairman of Ways and Means, and in position to write fiscal policy that emphasizes greater individual freedom, less government intrusiveness, pro-growth and greater efficiency. By contrast, Democrats have tried to push an agenda that takes more of the peoples’ earnings to favor special interests, would rather sacrifice prosperity on the altars of various causes such as the environmentalist anti-growth religion and other forms of political correctness, and thereby refuse to reform government programs to make them work better.

    Unfortunately, McCrery found out very quickly few of his ideas had any realistic chance of seeing the light of day, and the political trends of next years elections offer no assurance that Republicans could take back the majority. While Democrats might follow the suicidal path of nominating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the presidency, the large number of announced retirements from the House (his being the 18th so far) by Republicans make their chances only even of retaking the House even with a Clinton nomination.

    And, partisan politics may have played a role in the timing of the decision. He might have taken the chance to see if a Clinton meltdown would vault him into the chairmanship, then if not depart in 2010. But even as that would have led to two more years of decreased presence in his teenagers’ lives, a 2008 exit might also increase Republican chances of holding the district. With Clinton likely heading the Democrat ticket, that would be poison to any Democrat trying to succeed McCrery.

    McCrery definitely will be missed in both the district and the state. Louisiana would be fortunate if his replacement is of such quality.


    Shaw defeating Montgomery provides lessons for NW LA

    We can draw several lessons from former state Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw’s besting of outgoing state Rep. Billy Montgomery in the Senate District 37 contest, but perhaps the most important is the sign of continued maturation of the area’s electorate.

    Almost a year ago when Shaw began talking of running for the office, he knew that the perception could form among voters that, at 74 years of age, he was a bit long in the tooth to be pursuing the job, especially given a younger candidate already was in the race and a couple half his age would join. So he (and his wife) embarked upon a vigorous walking campaign that would have driven most politicians into the ground which had to dispel any thought that he wasn’t up to the job physically.

    It also reaffirmed one of the truisms us political scientists have discovered concerning local campaigns: by far the most effective strategy is personal contact. While it’s very time- and energy-consuming, it’s relatively inexpensive and enormously effective. This basic tenet seemed to escape Montgomery, who had not run a campaign in 20 years and his expressions of befuddlement about why he lost confirms it.

    Montgomery seemed to think that meet-and-greets and an avalanche of money (likely five times what Shaw spent, probably half a million dollars making it the most expensive campaign in state Senate history) could win it which, under typical circumstances with such a monetary disparity, might have worked. But Montgomery’s problem basically was he was a fraud in the minds of many in a district who had known little of him before the campaign.

    In a sense, Montgomery represents vigorous resistance to the passing of an era when a lack of information about a legislator’s record and state political news combined with an affable nature was enough to get Louisiana legislators elected. Montgomery’s past legislative behavior that smacked of liberal populism simply did not comport to the policy preferences of perhaps the most conservative Senate district in the state. Modern technology that got information out about his record plus the visible, contrasting view Shaw energetically disseminated could not be papered over by Montgomery calling himself a Republican and spending all outdoors publicizing the stuff he claimed he had and could bring back from Baton Rouge.

    It also helped that local and state Republicans took the rare step of backing one Republican over another, to alert voters of the difference (even as Montgomery had admitted he switched from Democrat out of political necessity). And other GOP opponents Jay Murrell and Barrow Peacock hammered home the same message that Montgomery was out of touch with the policy interests of his new district. But none of this publicity could have made the difference unless a majority in the district was ready for fundamental change.

    Simply, enough rejected the infantile model that bringing back stuff defined the quality of representation. Rather, they prefer that government take less in the first place thereby creating better conditions for the individual to succeed, instead of tolerating increased government interference offset by throwing a few more baubles their way.

    It was particularly encouraging to see in Bossier Parish that Montgomery, it being his home base, won there by such a narrow margin. More than most places, Bossier government elites have been enthralled in courting saviors, whether they be military installations, casinos, retailers, or whatever, and lavishing public monies on them, rather than making sure the people keep as much of their own money as possible that creates economic growth beyond what government can micromanage. And they have done the same old thing because the people generally have been too accepting of the old way of doing things.

    Despite the protestations of those elites like Bossier Sheriff Larry Deen who had mailers going out denying Montgomery was a “good old boy,” it takes one to know one and many voters had it figured out despite such denials or diversionary tactics. It signals maturation on the part of the electorate as a whole which again denied the dream of the good old boy network that runs Bossier to get a companion senator for fellow big government advocate Robert Adley.

    Perhaps this signals a turning point in the parish’s political path. Next year really has no elections of consequence, but Bossier City elections loom in 2009 with a number of current officials fitting the Montgomery profile up for reelection. Only after those contests will we know for sure whether the Shaw victory represents a temporary or sustained change in direction.


    Politically correct N.O. Council pursues thought control

    The American Civil Liberties Union usually gets it wrong, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day and it’s that time to be correct for the ACLU when it voices what oddly is almost the sole opposition to the New Orleans City Council’s Big Brother attempt to regulate thought.

    The Council appears ready to dive into and beyond the trendy and constitutionally and theoretically troubling waters of “hate crimes.” As a recent bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives redefines the existing 1994 law, a hate crime is one where someone “willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person” – an expansion of the existing federal law in terms of protected categories. (The Senate is trying to sneak such language into the current defesne appropriaiton bill.)

    The existing federal act itself is highly problematic for it allows government to apply stiffer punishments merely on the basis of one’s presumed thoughts. It is inherently immoral because, by making certain motivations for committing violence cause for additional punishment, it tacitly condones violence that is not “hateful.” Violence is violence regardless of motive; it is the act, not the thought behind it (the only exception being self-defense because that removes entirely the criminality of the act), that causes the injury and it is unjust to treat equal acts differently.

    There are other obvious problems with the whole concept of hate crimes, constitutionally and in terms of application, such as really knowing what an attempted or actual assailant was thinking which invites abuse of government power using these statutes to persecute certain selected groups yet not others. But far worse is the Council’s desire to go way beyond existing law not just to expand the additional penalties for violent acts, but to make non-violent acts punishable under this concept as well.

    The envisioned ordinance creates the crime of intimidation by use of hate symbols by their mere appearance in public places when intended as an act of intimidation. This invites tremendous government abuse and selective prosecution based upon the political whims of the day and of politicians and government officials – how can you read the minds of people to say it was with the purpose of intimidation, and what is a “hate symbol,” and how does one know it was hatred on the basis of some category that motivated the individual? With a direct act or attempted act of violence, there’s no question of symbol and the act obviously intimidates.

    New Orleans’ municipal code already covers threatening someone with harm (such as Sec. 54-403 concerning disturbing the peace) so not only is this proposed law superfluous, it additionally makes “bad thoughts” a crime. And while such displays may be in bad taste, it should never be a crime simply because somebody gets offended – why should the Council fall prey to the fashion that offense, as defined solely by the offended themselves become a matter for government intervention?

    In the final analysis, this politically correct proposal sets up a situation based far too much on subjectivity that criminalizes stupid thoughts. This is an exceptionally bad bill that the Council, as part of an already-overbearing city government, needs to trash immediately.


    Can Jindal pick for top aide promote campaign agenda?

    In keeping with the youthful orientation of his incoming administration, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal selected current Secretary of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Angèle Davis to serve as his commissioner of administration. Whether that will enable him to keep with his agenda of new direction in Louisiana remains to be seen.

    Davis is an experienced hand in state government and in that role, having been former Gov. Mike Foster’s deputy commissioner in that role, which, most importantly among other things, is responsible for fiscal policy. The question is whether she is committed enough to policies that reshape state spending priorities and cut taxes, burdensome regulation, and bureaucracy through her budgetary suggestions to him.

    Democrat-turned Republican Foster was not known as a smaller-government advocate, and the fact she had a high profile job in the Democrat administration of current Gov. Kathleen Blanco with Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu as her nominal boss indicates she is flexible enough to please masters of varying political persuasions. In addition, she has good experience for a Republican governor where there haven’t been too many in such positions of responsibility, which is needed.

    Yet this also leads one to wonder whether she will bend to good-old-boy legislators who want to keep a bloated, inefficient state government more suited to their political agendas. Especially to put up with lot of them in the incoming state Senate, she will have to be a firm believer in the platform for change Jindal espoused throughout his campaign to stand up to their attempts to sabotage it. We just don’t know at this point how successful she can be in that which will require deep belief in that platform that publicly in her past work she has not displayed.

    Still, it is something that this is not a wholly recycled appointment from the past. Jindal promised fresh faces for a new start, and as far as experienced individuals in state government go, she’s not too stale.


    Kennedy, not Landrieu, best positioned to win in 2008

    As the 2008 Senate race in Louisiana seems to be off and running, initial indications are that Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a serious challenge from Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy and to think her odds at this point of reelection are better than even ignores political reality.

    Kennedy’s declaration of candidacy allows him to start raising money to catch Landrieu, even as he has tried to spend generically from his Treasurer’s campaign account to build support. (State law prohibits transfer of campaign money from state to federal contests and vice-versa.) It seems to have worked, so far: Kennedy commissioned a poll from one of the premier national pollsters to find he led Landrieu 45-38 percent. It’s early, but an incumbent with those numbers is not in good shape.

    But Kennedy’s initial matchup probably won’t feature Landrieu. With the switch from the blanket to closed primary system for federal elections, he’ll likely have competition for the GOP nomination, perhaps from Sec. of State Jay Dardenne although Dardenne’s recent injuries and projected extended recovery time might have him reconsider – that and Kennedy has a lot of momentum going for himself. Still, it is unlikely that he would go unchallenged.

    For the GOP primary, Kennedy will have to satisfactorily answer a couple of concerns. First, when he ran for the Senate in 2004, he went off on a bizarrely liberal direction on several issues; he will have to give convincing explanations concerning these departures from conservative orthodoxy. Second, recent financial problems at the state’s insurer of which he as Treasurer sits as one of several board members will draw questions about his (among the many others) inattentiveness to the matter; Kennedy will have to demonstrate a mixture of contriteness and extenuating circumstances to allay concerns.

    If he can accomplish these things to win the nomination, he then is in an excellent position to draw a very flattering comparison to Landrieu. For example, as Treasurer, Kennedy got behind popular programs such as unclaimed funds reimbursement, and he became known as a fiscal watchdog ready to challenge spending priorities at odds with what was good for the state.

    For eight years four years prior to Kennedy’s initial election to the job, that office was held by none other that Landrieu, who did … absolutely nothing and, worse, let the good times roll without dissent as the state plunged into debt. (Kennedy worked for former Gov. Buddy Roemer during the first part of her reign in that position who encouraged some of this, but at least he can claim he was bound to do what his boss wanted in terms of policy why Landrieu was completely free to do as she liked.)

    Also, Landrieu has required quite a reputation for supporting spending in nonsensical ways, earning national condemnation with some of her choices potentially contributing to New Orleans having been less prepared to stave off something like the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, even as Kennedy must explain some of his past liberal positions, Landrieu “out-liberals” Kennedy by a longshot on a variety of issues that will not make her popular among Louisiana voters if these are publicized to show she is more a friend of Washington Democrats than to the state.

    Finally, electoral dynamics will work against her, one past, one future. In about a month I’ll be presenting some research at a professional meeting (more about that in the future) with part of it demonstrating that, by actual votes cast, Democrats lost a net 48,000 or so voters statewide for 2007 as a result of Katrina. Considering that in 1996 Landrieu barely (as best we can tell despite widespread allegations of fraud) defeated a state senator who is now in political obscurity and in 2002 by not many more votes even as an incumbent beat a weak holder of a now-abolished statewide office, Kennedy is clearly the toughest challenger she has yet to meet – in a less-favorable election environment than ever.

    And this analysis does not factor in perhaps the biggest negative that could happen to her in Louisiana – if Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democrat presidential nominee. That seems likely and Kennedy and anybody else running in the general election will relentlessly use very opportunity to tie Landrieu in with Clinton who would lose the state by a bigger margin than Democrats did in 2004, dragging down Landrieu and other Democrats on state ballots.

    At this point, if there’s anybody that could be considered a favorite in this contest, it would have to be Kennedy, not Landrieu.


    Playoffs for major college football beneficial to LA

    LSU’s backing into a shot at the college football national championship, at the expense of a more deserving team, might appeal to some, but if as a college football fan you want a true champion to emerge annually and if as a Louisianan you want the state’s three bowl games to bring in bigger economic boosts, only a playoff system would work to achieve both.

    The way the top division of college football chooses it national championship, unlike any other sport including all other divisions of college football, is not by a playoff system. Instead, subjective criteria prone to biases and limited information determine that only two teams can play for the championship, instead of head-to-head matchups on the field leading to the final game.

    The reason why this happens is that bowl games that pit teams in postseason games having no playoff implications, especially the largest – the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls – want to retain their high-profile status. The higher the profile, the more money the organization running the game receives and, from a community standpoint, the more tax revenues from fans traveling to see their teams play.

    But the problems presented by this arrangement in picking a true champion are legion. Besides the obvious subjectivity, luck has way too much to do with determining the outcome. Taking the team that was more deserving on ability than LSU, Oklahoma, the only reason OU got its second loss (equaling LSU’s total) was its starting quarterback, rated the best in the nation, got injured early in a game against Texas Tech who has the nation’s most prolific passing offense. It took his backup awhile to get going, during which Tech was able to exhaust OU’s defense and rack up a lot of points. When OU’s offense got back on track in the second half, it was too late, and the game was put away by Tech with about 30 seconds left by a touchdown.

    The way the playoff system works in lower divisions, the top 16 teams are picked or qualify by conference championship wins for playoffs. Under that system, that loss might drop OU’s seeding, but they could still win it all on the field instead of being left out with no chance. Bad luck in one game can be overcome by sustained excellence throughout the season and one unlucky incident doesn’t have to end a team’s chances with other potentially fortunate teams that avoided game-changing injuries to star players (or blown referee calls or whatever misfortune) being the beneficiaries.

    And such a system would create economic benefits as well. Consider that LSU will take on Ohio State in New Orleans and may be favored because it is, essentially a home game – the same dynamic that allowed them to take a share of the 2004 national championship. While that may be twice lucky for LSU, it’s not so great for the New Orleans and state economies, because so many fans will not be staying in or consuming things around New Orleans, or as much, denying collection of potential revenues from out-of-state fans.

    A playoff system could meld traditional bowl games into it. Currently, there are 31 such games plus the national championship game. Eliminate the latter and allow one of the major big four games to host it every four years. In two of the other three years, it would host a semifinal game, and in the other year, host a quarterfinal game. Then three of the next prominent bowl games – probably the Cotton, Outback, Gator, and Capital One – would host the other quarterfinal games, with one of them every four years hosting a first-round game. Finally, of the remaining bowls, about half would host the remaining first-round games every other year, and the other half would invite whoever did not make the playoffs for a one-off game as they do now. (Other issues such as scheduling, seeding etc. would not be difficult to work out.)

    This would be an economic boost in particular to the lower-level bowls such as Louisiana’s Independence and New Orleans Bowls. Currently, bowls like this often must depend upon regional tie-ins to attract crowds. But as part of a playoff system at least every other year, interest would be heightened in these games, probably not only drawing bigger crowds but many more traveling fans to boost their cities’ and states’ economies. The largest games probably won’t see any changes in attendance or from where fans come, but would benefit because they could lower their payouts since teams getting that far already will have picked up a couple of paychecks and they won’t have to use these to induce the highest-quality teams to accept their invitations.

    Louisiana’s five school presidents with teams in the top division need to lobby their governing National Collegiate Athletic Association to makes these changes – even LSU’s. While that school may have disproportionately advantaged by the current system, in the long run for fans and the state with three bowl games (only much larger California, Texas, and Florida have as many or more), a playoff system brings more benefits.


    Kennedy Senate run hand forced by past preferences

    In the worst-kept secret since, well, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said he would run for that office, Republican Louisiana state Treasurer John Kennedy announced, 341 days before the election, that he would run for the Senate seat currently occupied by Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu. The timing reflects the reality of his electability.

    Kennedy, then as a Democrat, took a stab at the Senate in 2004 but veered into a populist, liberal tack. Finishing third, since then he has articulated reformist rhetoric that sounds quite conservative. Had he not had to perform this turnabout, Kennedy would not have announced this early for a contest more than 11 months away.

    This is because in about nine months comes the first closed primary nominations in decades for federal offices, and Kennedy’s objectives in the early announcement are to head off potential opponents and begin to raise money for that particular office (Louisiana law prohibits using campaign funds for a state office to be used for a federal office). Not only must he start collecting funds, but he must hope to clear the field to cruise to an easy nomination by Republicans. The last thing he needs is a bruising primary fight.


    Elections set up redistricting for more GOP gains

    A recent opinion offered that the results of the 2010 census likely would cost Louisiana a seat in the House, and that might be the 1st District seat of current Rep. and future Gov. Bobby Jindal. But it’s far more likely, because of the 2007 election results, that it will not be the Republican seat of the 1st that goes, but the Democrat 2nd or 3rd.

    Understanding the consequences of the election and the timing of the census shows why the GOP should continue with six seats and the Democrats will drop to one by 2012. Because census data won’t be reported officially until the end of 2010 (its collection begins that year in March), the 2012 elections will be the first federal elections requiring redistricting. The decision that Louisiana will lose a seat will be made in the spring of 2011.

    That will be just in time for the Legislature to begin the task of redistricting at all levels. As previously mentioned, a Republican governor – and there is one now with Jindal – can skillfully play off white and black legislators to eliminate a Democrat district. This is because Jindal holds the ultimate trump card – as governor, he can veto any redistricting bill put in front of him and has plenty of Republicans especially in the House to sustain that veto. Then, in 2012, after 2011 state elections but still in time for federal elections, if he can win reelection he’ll likely have a GOP House and maybe GOP Senate to finish things off. Thus, unless Jindal looks like he’s in real electoral trouble in 2011, he can force redistricting to Republicans’ favor.

    The real prize for the GOP will be the 3rd district. As discussed previously, this might involve some crazy district boundaries to create a majority-black district based around New Orleans, but this way instead of collapsing three districts into two that would produce a marginal GOP district and a marginal Democrat district, they could create one solid Democrat and one solid Republican district. (This also would accomplish the aesthetic goal of keeping the state’s largest – probably – city mostly if not entirely in a single district.)

    While the Senate which will have a healthy 24-15 Democrat majority further aiding Republicans in dismantling the 3rd is that the three state senators (Districts 19-21) who would find their districts lumped into the existing 7th (Lafayette on its eastern side) and 6th (Baton Rouge on its southern side) are term-limited, with them steadily becoming more Republican for state elections. These Democrats might be able to fight this in 2011, but they’ll be gone in 2012 and maybe replaced by Republicans.

    More likely than the 1st disappearing, it will shift, giving up its western precincts to the 6th and probably jumping the lake to take St. Bernard Parish and the Westbank. The 2nd will take in Orleans Parish and heavily black areas of Jefferson Parish and shoot north perhaps to Baton Rouge. The 6th will shoot south in the opposite direction perhaps even into Jefferson and the 7th will expand to the east. Finally, the 7th may cede its western territory to the 4th (radiating from Shreveport) with the 4th pulls back its eastern boundaries to allow the 5th to expand. The 3rd disappears.

    Much can happen in four years but one of the undiscussed consequences of Republican gains in this fall’s elections is that they have positioned the redistricting process to accelerate GOP gains in the 2011 and 2012 cycles.


    Jindal needs to emulate Strain to get successful staff

    Incoming Agriculture Secretary Mike Strain appears to have rebuffed calls from some to keep a large portion of outgoing commissioner Bob Odom’s senior staff. It is a pattern incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal would do well to emulate.

    Strain was an unrelenting critic of Odom’s management during his campaign so it would have made little sense for him to keep a large portion of the senior appointees, despite the wishes of some who argued many appointees were doing a good job (which Strain did not seem to agree with in his campaign rhetoric). But Strain’s complaint was as much, if not moreso, the governing philosophy of the department – even if the top officials seem competent enough, only those that Strain can be assured share his philosophy should be retained.

    There were some murmurs when Jindal revealed that in collecting advice about his transition that he was consulting people who may be very experienced in state government but who do not share his stated campaign ideas. One must consider, however, that the worth of advice doesn’t have to be more than its cost – nothing, so if Jindal wants to hear from longtime good-old-boy state Rep. Charlie DeWitt, whatever DeWitt has to say easily can go in one ear and right out the other if Jindal doesn’t like it.

    But key appointees are another matter. They must translate the Jindal agenda into policy and thereby must very faithfully reflect that agenda in their own personal ideologies. Otherwise, they begin to substitute their own, different ideas into the process, diluting what Jindal has stated he wants to do.

    So far, as the Jindal transition teams work on recommendations, only close personal staff that won’t really deal with the nuances of shepherding things through the policy process have been tapped by Jindal. These panels and Jindal will be besieged (online at first) by folks for positions, some of whom may be personable and some even may know Jindal well, but who may not be willing to fight with sufficient ardor for the campaign items around which the public rallied.

    Jindal has to realize that expectations are high, perhaps undeservedly so given the constraints both constitutionally and politically on his new office, and he has no room for error on key appointees, particularly with his commissioner of administration who will serve as the chief liaison between himself and the Legislature. For some in the electorate, even Jindal’s delivering half of what he stumped for might still brand him a failure in their eyes. Only reliable appointees that believe in his agenda can maximize his chances of its success, which will lead to continued electoral success in four years.


    Solid LA ethics reform not difficult; only requires will

    Within two months Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal overwhelmingly is likely to keep his paramount campaign promise and thereby call a special session on ethics reform. From a laundry list of suggestions can be derived an ideal package of reforms.

    First, the system needs expansion, but smart expansion. Many argue the current system has too little enforcement as it is, and Jindal’s ideas would increase it. But enforcement also is made more difficult when so many exceptions currently are carved into the ethics code. By making no exceptions whatsoever – in other words, no gifts of any kind from lobbyists – these become readily apparent, cutting down on enforcement costs.

    Along the same lines, third-party loans can be prohibited. Actually, these are tightly regulated as of now – they have to be “standard” in the sense of rates must be market, typical lengths etc. or they become classified as donations – but overseeing them does create more bureaucracy thus cost.

    However, loans made to the candidate by himself should be retained – any American should have the right to be foolish enough to blow as much of his own money as he wants on his own tries for elective office. But, to prevent obscure personal gifts to a candidate from finding their way to paying off personal debt, candidates would be prohibited from paying it back with their own personal funds except for the legal personal contribution limit (which depends on level of office) to his campaign. This would decrease the amount of loans and force candidates who are serious about using their own funds to put more of them into campaigns as gifts rather than loans. Combined, these changes in lending laws would decrease the total amount of supervision necessary.

    As a result of these changes, the definition of “lobbyist” also should be tightened. Currently, only people who have at least part of their job lobbying activities (defined as a direct act or communication with a legislator, the purpose of which is to aid in influencing the passage or defeat of any legislation) and spend at least $200 doing so are covered. With the exclusion of gifts, that should go to zero dollars.

    Finally, income disclosure should take the form of the bill sabotaged at the end of the last legislative session which would require stringent reporting by anybody elected or appointed to a position in government anywhere in Louisiana. Other states do it, why it not Louisiana?

    Of course, even with simplifying the system which will save money this increased level of enforcement will more than offset savings that will raise overall costs. Therefore, greater efficiency can reduce costs through required electronic filing of reports – no more paper copies requiring scanning that would make much more expensive storage and cross-checking. There is no reason that in this day and time lobbyists and campaigns cannot have access one way or another to the simple computer resources necessary to accomplish this.

    Still, more money will have to be spent on enforcement. A dedicated funding source is a good idea, although the use of filing fees is not because other qualifications to run for office exist besides paying a fee and forcing all to pay fees could prevent some people from running on cost considerations. Instead, make it something simple, like the Legislature automatically must appropriate each year an amount of dollars (inflation adjusted per year) equaling the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election (that’s $1,297,840 for 2008 if this went into effect, a hefty increase over current funding) for funding enforcement activities.

    This increased funding could be used to hire extra people to vet reports, including the use of software to check them singly and to cross-check them (the money for new facilities to do this should come from a capital outlay request in the next budget cycle), as well as to pursue complaints further. A sampling procedure also could be employed with these funds to scan reports visually and to launch investigations on that basis.

    These are bold reforms that will meet resistance in the Legislature, especially among the many mossbacks now in the Senate. But Jindal should not be afraid to climb these golden stairs, and hopefully his advisory committee will produce recommendations as aggressive as these, if Jindal really is serious about setting the “gold standard” in this regard.


    Transformation of Landrieu to moderate now beginning

    With 2007 election results screaming at her and a 2008 reelection date looming, look for Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu to begin defying her party and ideology over the next 11 months.

    Her support for increased enforcement measures and new ones puts her in step with longtime supporter of these measures Republican Sen. David Vitter and the state itself, a refreshing change. It’s a no-brainer but rejected by most of her Democrat colleagues who don’t really care about making it more difficult on illegal immigrants and in fact want to preserve or increase benefits these non-citizens receive. Even though these preferences hurt a constituency to which Democrats pay lip service but whom, outside of its organized aspects, they do nothing for – labor – Democrats seem to think aggressive enforcement of borders and keeping benefits only for Americans and legal immigrants will hurt them in the ballot box (perhaps as they wish to make voters out of illegal immigrants).

    Landrieu with few exceptions has acted contrary to Louisiana’s interests on a variety of issues from economics to foreign policy to free speech and lots of things in between. But in the last year of her term, her strategy will be to veer from the left to center to con Louisianans into thinking she is not a solid liberal. This issue may mark the start.

    She will be aided by the Democrat leadership. Out of touch with America’s real needs and Americans’ real interests for decades, upon taking the Senate last year they totally misunderstood that the lesson of the 2006 elections was not a change in governing philosophy, but in execution. But thinking the former rather than the latter, they stupidly put forth dramatic policy changes in the direction of liberalism that have gone nowhere, including on the issue of illegal immigration. As the election season wears on, they will decrease such things to make their party’s candidates look more mainstream and in tune with America. This means there will be less pressure on Landrieu to cast liberal votes that will remind voters in Louisiana who she really is.

    But Landrieu will succeed in winning a third term if her Republican opponents don’t expose her record. Both Vitter in 2004 and Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal this year have shown that publicizing a solid conservative record can win statewide in an open field. However, running against an incumbent, Republicans will have to take the additional step in 2008 of preventing Landrieu from pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes by showing she is just a moderate of convenience.


    Thanksgiving Day, 2007.

    This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas or New Year's when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

    With Thursday, Nov. 22 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.


    EBR numbers compensate little for Democrat losses

    Much attention has been given to displacement effects of the 2005 hurricane disasters in Louisiana, particularly in Orleans Parish but also, to a lesser extent Jefferson and St. Bernard. As I mentioned yesterday, this has created interesting dynamics in Orleans Parish, which confirms the thought that Democrats are disproportionately disadvantaged in statewide contests. But another interesting consideration is whether a substantial portion of those displaced ended up in East Baton Rouge Parish and thereby could mitigate the Democrat disadvantage.

    Census data released earlier this year showed New Orleans had lost of age 20 and up almost 129,000 black and about 40,000 white residents from 2005 to 2006. At the same time, of East Baton Rouge of residents of that age blacks gained over 15,000 while whites were virtually identical in total. Assuming whites split between Democrat and Republican, 80 percent of blacks register as Democrats and 10 percent Republican, and further assuming 55 percent of blacks of age register to vote, this means about 50,000 Democrat votes were lost in Orleans and about 6,000 gained in Baton Rouge – in other words, not much compensation. (Of course, in 2007 some more have trickled back to Orleans from Baton Rouge and out of state.)

    Registration and election returns verify Baton Rouge gains won’t provide much Democrat cushion. From the end of 2005 to just prior to the 2007 primary elections, whites had been reduced on the rolls by about 3,000 and blacks increased about the same. In the 2003 sheriff’s primary election, about 116,000 participated, while in the same 2007 election about 118,000 voted in an election whose turnout was down slightly from the previous four years because even as white turnout was about the same black turnout was down about 6 percent, which questions the speculation that blacks or even Democrats may have made a pivotal difference in that parish’s 2007 contests.

    These numbers means that perhaps half of presumably displaced blacks in the parish typically expected to actually did register to vote, implying that some may return to Orleans and/or have disengaged from the electoral process. It also may mean there is fertile ground for recruitment but only a few thousand votes for statewide purposes could be added.

    Knowing they may have “lost” a few thousand less voters than anticipated may make Democrats feel better, but it does little to reverse the major long-term problem they face of declining numbers in Louisiana.


    Crossover voting may not affect upcoming Senate race

    Perhaps an item that slipped by the consciousness of observers was election results in New Orleans that contradicted long-held conventional wisdom about race and voting. In several plurality-black constituencies, non-blacks were elected which is a reversal of past trends. More intriguingly, you had white candidates winning in majority-black constituencies because black crossover voting exceeded white crossover voting – and this could have consequences for upcoming statewide elections.

    In House districts in New Orleans, among the four plurality (but not majority) black districts, three white candidates won. (And in the 102nd, Democrat incumbent Jeff Arnold, white, won again in his majority black district). Parish/city-wide, an at-large council seat and Criminal Court judgeship were won by whites where black registrants outnumber whites by almost double.

    Most interestingly, rough estimates of voting show that white voters in contests pitting a white and black candidate were only about half as likely to vote for the black candidate as blacks were to vote for the white candidate. This is highly significant because with very few exceptions the ratio typically has been in the reverse in Louisiana urban elections – as shown in New Orleans only last year with its mayoral election.

    If victories for white candidates came about because of lack of black numbers because of 2005 hurricane displacement, that is interesting. But because, at least in the city-wide races, crossover voting that showed less solidarity among blacks than whites which was the margin of victory for white candidates truly is astounding, contradicting much of the literature explaining elections in urban America that consistently have shown whites are more likely than blacks to cross over racial lines in voting.

    Whether this will have an impact on the 2008 election for the Senate is another matter. Larger-than-normal black crossover voting, it must be noted, applied only to white Democrats, so it well may not apply to one or more white Republicans running against incumbent white Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu. By way of example, black voting for southeast Asian Indian Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal ran within norms in Orleans at about 10 percent.

    Still, this represents an intriguing potential trend. In all probability, it may be a factor of individual candidacies specific to this election and may not play out as a permanent kind of shift. If it were to, one possible explanation would be that displacement disproportionately affected lower-income individuals, disproportionately black Democrats, who would be less likely to defect from monoracial voting. Future election results will confirm whether this is a blip, or a new phenomenon awaiting study and explanation.


    Term limits overcame personalistic, incumbency effects

    I know some people who refuse to leave home after dark on New Year’s Eve because they argue it’s “amateur night” for partiers and therefore their chances of a motor vehicle accident not their fault increase dramatically. We see a similar dynamic with elections when those not accustomed to reporting about politics end up doing it, and in doing so create wrecks of their own when it comes to analysis, aided in part by some unsustainable assertions that do not accurately assess the impact of party and incumbency in the 2007 legislative elections.

    What is one to do with the published statement “Louisiana voters may have put less emphasis on party labels in Saturday's general election and more on individual candidates, challenging pre-election predictions and showing a different dynamic at the polls?” Anybody trained in analyzing political parties and elections at the state or local level, or who have watched them in action attentively around these parts, or who have done both, knows the highly personalistic political culture in the state de-emphasizes partisan politics perhaps more than anywhere else in the Union. I don’t recall seeing anything in print about how partisanship as an attitude would play a much magnified role in the 2007 elections, and it’s no surprise that its impact, as always, was small. (Especially considering only 4 Senate and 12 House districts of the 144 total even have pluralities of Republican registrants – 11 percent – yet 15 Senate and 50 House Republicans get elected, 45 percent of the total.)

    Further, “Prior to the election analysts had said they expected a Republican-majority would be in the Louisiana House of Representatives, which was anticipated following Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal's victory in the October primary.” I must have missed these “analysts’” statements: certainly I wasn’t among them as I gave my prediction last week on WIST’s “Inside New Orleans” with Eric Asher as 54 to 55 Democrat or leaning-Democrat House wins (54 actual). Not only was there little expectation the GOP could take the House after Oct. 20, a month before qualifying Republicans were conceding the enterprise would be a longshot.