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Vitter's opponents hope wishfully of his quick departure

One may wonder why so much is being made about Sen. David Vitter’s chances to “survive” in office. It’s a combination of frustration, wishful thinking, and vengeance that drives speculation that Vitter will resign his office.

Days ago Vitter apologized for his phone number being on a list released by an alleged purveyor of prostitution, and hinted of past marital problems that could have led to infidelity. But while the incident essentially ends forward progress to his political career, since he did apologize and asked forgiveness for past unspecified transgressions, unless further revelations demonstrate a lack of sincerity to it all, simply he is in no danger of losing enough public support to win reelection in 2010.

Yet a full-bore effort seems to be occurring on the basis of the fiction that somehow his position is imperiled, and it tells us something about those trying to give this credence. One doesn’t reach the U.S. Senate without making a few enemies and Vitter particularly is no exception.

Obviously, his ideological foes among Democrats and in the media see this as an opportunity to try to get rid of somebody who last week would have been considered invulnerable. But it’s a measure of desperation to float the idea that Republican Vitter goes and a deal is worked with Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco to appoint a Republican successor. That is absolute fantasy – Blanco never would give up the chance to put a Democrat in and give that person a leg up to win the special election, plus national Democrats with a razor-thin majority in the Senate would not hear of losing a chance to pad their slim lead. To speak of Vitter resigning now in support of this scenario without any additional bad news coming his way is absurd and a product of fevered imagination.

Joining these opponents are ideological friends of Vitter’s but who have clashed with him on a personal level, such as the name floated to replace him, Vitter’s erstwhile Congressional opponent and former Gov. Dave Treen. Marginalized within the GOP as Vitter ascended in power, they see the episode as a way to get back at him and to advance their own interests. However, they ignore the fact that, all things remaining equal, Vitter retains sufficient political capital to continue to win elections. Former supporters may vote against him in three years out of disgust for presumed past behavior, but there won’t be enough of them to keep him from winning and going against him out of a perception of weakness is a sucker’s bet at this juncture.

Definitely the long knives are out to get Vitter, but unless he hands a few more to his enemies, speculation on their part about his imminent departure is but wishful thinking.


Vitter likely secure, remains favorite for reelection

Republican Sen. David Vitter’s apology for his phone number turning up on a list of those revealed by a woman alleged to run a prostitution ring and his oblique confession to marital difficulties has touched off a lot of gum-flapping in Louisiana speculating on his political future. Much of it shows inferior judgment.

First, we have the musings of Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who feels the incident may have an impact on the state getting more resources to continue recovery from the hurricane disasters of 2005. She need not worry: the federal government will get upset when it finds out policy-makers are using such monies unwisely (which already has put Blanco herself into trouble) or if a policy-maker cannot be trusted to use his position of authority honestly (as indictments of Democrat Rep. William Jefferson indicate).

A few think Vitter should leave office, an argument of three parts. First, his stature will be reduced in the Senate by the incident. But history shows it takes more than just a sex scandal to reduce a senator’s power to insignificance. In what is no commonly referred to simply as “Chappaquiddick,” Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy survived not just a potential sex scandal but charges he cowardly abandoned Mary Jo Kopechne in a submerged car where she drowned. The event happened almost 40 years ago but he has continued to be one of the most powerful senators and came close to winning the Democrat presidential nomination just seven years after.


Vitter apology caps political potential; may boost another's

Yesterday’s virtual admission by Sen. David Vitter that in fact he had engaged in unsavory, if not potentially illegal, behavior will have some political repercussions for himself and others.

Vitter’s volunteering that his phone number was on a list released by a woman being investigated for running a prostitution ring, along with his explanation behind the admission, tacitly admitted that he had committed marital infidelity of the possibly illegal kind. No doubt he preferred to control the timing and nature of what would be a news story by not waiting around for the curious to link the number to him.

This gets the conservative Republican into hot water for two reasons. The all-but-admission of infidelity will prompt a small portion of voters who place moral issues as primary in their voting calculus to cross him off their lists for reelection in 2010. Added to that, Vitter denied media reports prior to his election to the Senate that just such activity by him was occurring so now he appears to be a liar as well, another turn-off to such voters. (But at least he didn’t lie to a federal court as did the 42nd president.) This is because in 2002 news reports linked Vitter to another prostitute, although Vitter’s admission here did not address that allegation. However, Vitter did deny this then, so now his credibility on that past issue in light of recent revelations about that seems strained.


Teacher pay raises waste money without accountability

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Soon Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco will sign off on huge pay raises for teachers that will put their typical salary around $7,000 more than the median household income in the state. It will do little or nothing to improve education in Louisiana because it does nothing to address the real problems with improving secondary education.

While advocates of the raises bleat improvement will occur, even a modicum of thought and logic destroys for the most part that assertion. By giving every existing teacher some kind of increase, it’s not going to make them better teachers just because they’re getting more money. The only possible way higher pay could increase teacher quality is in the future, fresh hires from education schools or more good veteran teachers moving into the state.

But neither of these possibilities for advancement is in any way guaranteed. In terms of new teachers, there is little evidence to suggest that the near-monopolistic providers of this labor, university education colleges, prepare students for more successful teaching. In other words, the method-heavy, content-light curricula requirements of states that these schools must follow seem to do little to encourage production of good future teachers.

Further, many states, with Louisiana being a prime example, do little to demand individual accountability from teachers. Failing to do so, such as in granting raises of roughly the same dimensions within a school district without subjecting those decisions to valid, empirical reviewing of a teacher’s performance and knowledge of subject area, means the most subpar teachers get about the same increases as the best – which provides no incentive for improving performance.

In Louisiana, that is perhaps the major reason why the state continues to lag behind, even far behind, almost every other state in outcomes. While the number of states demanding annual evaluations and/or subject knowledge testing of teachers is rising, Louisiana certifies mainly on the basis completing certain coursework resulting in education degrees and passing an exam and they are certified for life during good behavior with no requirement for review of current knowledge in their field.

Squeezing more money out of taxpayers with no guarantee of better performance may please teachers unions, but it doesn’t improve education in Louisiana. If the state is serious about overcoming perhaps its biggest obstacle to economic development, inferior education, these raises only waste money unless true individual teacher accountability measures are implemented.


Nagin governor run features unusual political calculus (headline link feature isn't working)

Why would New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ever consider running for Louisiana Governor? Maybe because (and perhaps only in Louisiana) a black Democrat and Asian Republican working together can get the office they each really want – which isn’t the same one.

And that one would not be the governorship for Democrat Nagin. Surely he knows the only possible office he could win was one where black voters significantly outnumber whites, given the absolute mess he helped make of the Katrina hurricane disaster before, during, and (many still argue continuing) after. That electoral dynamic was the case in New Orleans last year, but definitely is not true regarding the entire state now.

No, the office Nagin really would be interested in is one of a few roughly in the same geographic area, is substantial, and is the only one coming open in the near future: the Second District Congressional seat. Given his indictment, current occupant Rep. William Jefferson will not last past the 2008 election, if he is not run out of the House sooner either through the Constitutional removal process or by succumbing to pressure to quit.

But making a statewide race a warmup to a contest whose constituency largely overlaps the same one encompassed by his present office, with plenty of chances to build (he would hope) positive name recognition seems wasteful of resources. It’s here where a putative opponent of Nagin’s, Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, comes into play.

At one time there were good feelings between Nagin and Jindal – so much in fact that Jindal won Nagin’s endorsement for the 2003 governor’s contest. However, Jindal did not reciprocate during the mayor’s race so it would seem Nagin owes Jindal nothing even as Nagin’s entry into the race would benefit Jindal more than any other candidate.

In a field of floundering Democrats already, Nagin would pull mostly black votes from them, dashing the already slim hopes that either state Sen. Walter Boasso or Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell have of making a general election runoff, or even of being able to create one by denying Jindal more than half of the primary vote. Indeed, Nagin might outpace the others to get into a runoff if there is one, a race he cannot win. Either way, election of Jindal becomes an even surer thing.

So why do Jindal another favor by entering? Because a Nagin run at governor would be more than a primer for a congressional run: it also could be a way to get a sympathetic governor into office that could provide useful for Nagin’s political ambitions. Neither Boasso nor Campbell is fond of the way politics are done in New Orleans. Ideologically nor is Jindal, but if Nagin assists him in this way, Jindal, already looking pretty good, upon election might be willing to open up more state aid to New Orleans, which will make Nagin look better and give him something to run on for Congress. Further, Jindal may help behind the scenes a Nagin House candidacy and gets an ally in Congress if Nagin can win, neutralizing what almost surely much more hostile potential occupants of that seat.

Jindal and Nagin may never have spoken to each other about this, but don’t bet against the two of them separately computing the political calculus along these lines on this one.