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Big Democrat turnout drop gives GOP runoff opportunities

It’s not that Republicans appeared any more motivated to vote last month in state elections, it’s that Democrats weren’t and many have left the state and taking potential Democrat votes with them – consequences of which will reverberate in future elections as early as this month’s.

The state has compiled official voting statistics which prompted one analyst to assert that a “motivated community” or Republicans marked the contest. Actually, when comparing the results of the elections to those of the 2003 primary where 54.4 percent of Republicans votes, shows there was little difference. The real difference, which was under 4 percent for the total turnout between 2007 and 2003, came in Democrat voters and especially with black voters, as white Democrat participation dropped from 60.2 to 52 percent, but black Democrat participation swooned from 49.4 percent to 37 percent.

Three things explain the GOP voters staying essentially the same while Democrats suffered declines. First, switching and migration patterns favor the GOP, and at least among the switchers, since they are involved enough in politics to feel switching is necessary, are more likely to vote. Second, presented only with second-tier candidates for the governor’s contest, Democrats were unenthused and disproportionately less likely to turn out in October. Third, Democrats disproportionately, especially blacks, have been dispersed from Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Orleans Parishes by the 2005 disasters and, while their names remain on the rolls, are highly unlikely to participate in elections. While the dropoff in total vote in Jefferson was less than 10 percent or about 11,000 for governor, it was off almost 42,000 in Orleans or over a third, and in St. Bernard it plunged by over half or a loss of almost 14,000.

The last factor explains most of the decline and jeopardizes the fortunes of Democrats in statewide elections. For example, given that Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal avoided a general election runoff by around 50,000 votes and that 67,000, majority Democrat, votes were “lost” from the previous primary, it would have been touch-and-go for him to have avoided the runoff had demographic patterns remained the same. This is a long-term problem with which Democrats must deal.

But even in the short run, it could prove costly. The Jindal candidacy and the chance to vote against Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom may have rallied Republicans in the primary. Yet if they retain motivation this could help GOP candidates principally Royal Alexander for attorney general. In 1999, another year when the governor’s race was decided in the primary, while GOP registrants’ rate dropped 17 percent, Democrats’ rate dropped about 20 percent.

If that happens again, not only will Alexander have a real chance at giving the GOP six out of seven statewide offices, but the Republicans also may gain control of the House for the first time in over 130 years.


Contrary to facts, Blanco still trying to rewrite history

One would think that, even in the waning days of her term, Gov. Kathleen Blanco would have more to do than try to rewrite history inaccurately. Apparently not, judged by a recent visit of hers to tour economic concerns of which she had practically nothing to do in procuring for Louisiana.

Invited to recall her time in office, Blanco offered that it was her administration’s program to offer pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds from at-risk families. In fact, the legislation to so do came in 2001, three years before she took office. More accurately, she tried to increase funding for it.

She also talked of ethics reforms she supported. And she got some passed which barely tightened up campaign finance laws, before the 2005 hurricane disasters. But after then, she testified, she had to drop the matter because other issues had become more important. Yet the Legislature had made a full-blown effort this past session that would have made sweeping ethics changes in reporting requirements. Huge majorities supported it, until Sens. Don Hines and Robert Adley used parliamentary maneuvers to put the bill into a position to be killed. Throughout, Blanco adopted a hands-off attitude that if she had forsaken and put some weight behind the bill, surely would have overcome Hines and Adley – and, having forsworn running for reelection, would have been in the perfect position to have done so, yet she remained unengaged.

She also commented that, in the state’s futile chase to land a steel mill, that as a result of her efforts “[i]t positioned us as a player. We were not players when I started. We were an afterthought.” Which shows how poor her judgment was and still is on these matters. Until Louisiana reforms its business tax structure – of which Blanco rejected such efforts such as her veto of HB 505 this past session except for the most tepid measures – and adopts sweeping ethics reforms that Blanco did not try to get passed, Louisiana almost always will be an afterthought in this regard.

But her most gross misstatements came in regards to her conduct right after and for the next couple of months after the 2005 disasters. She claims short of “immediately turning Republican,” she said she doesn't know how she could have gotten more help more quickly from the Pres. George W. Bush administration. Which shows either her memory is incredibly short or incredibly selective.

First, Blanco completely botched the process by which to request aid. Even though just a year earlier she had participated in a simulation and had a near-miss, she didn’t know how to request aid. Had she known what she was doing, immediate aid would have come more quickly.

Second, as her e-mail messages show, almost from the start she viewed the crisis through political lenses, giving way too much emphasis to the political consequences of options that prejudiced her decisions. For example, this was why she refused to allow in federal assistance earlier than it came because she feared it would make her look upstaged, so it was her own actions, not Washington’s that slowed everything down.

Third, she tried the patience of Washington, the nation’s public, and Louisiana citizens by moving slowly and insisting on doing things her way, again with an eye towards political considerations, rather than pursue the most effective solutions. For example, at first she assumed the federal government would just throw money at the state by latching onto a ridiculous $250 billion request, then by latching onto the imprudent “Baker plan,” and finally taking almost a year to come up with any plan at all, the inefficient Road Home. Even then, without proper authorization she allowed the program to reimburse for uncovered expenses, bankrupting the program.

Try as she might, Blanco cannot jawbone her way into changing the historical facts surrounding her failed governorship. Opportunities abounded and she missed many because of her captivity to a liberal, populist ideology that trusts government before the people it’s supposed to serve and looks to take from and blame others rather than doing the work itself to bring about achievement. No amount of revisionism changes these truths.


Artificial voting drop may get used for political purposes

Apparently there’s been a lot of jaw-flapping going on about the meaning of the 46 percent turnout in the governor’s contest, some four to five percent below the elections for that office in 2003, with Democrat politicians arguing it signals that politicians are failing to “inspire.” As a statement of what primarily caused the drop, that sentiment is utter tripe.

The primary reason is very simple – Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes and, to a lesser extent, Jefferson, have kept a number of people on the voting rolls who are not residents of their parishes because they left and haven’t returned from the 2005 hurricane disasters and, without extraordinary efforts being made by candidates, will not vote. Just look at the provisional figures recently released by the state – two of the three lowest turnouts of the highest-turnout contests in a parish were Orleans at 29.2 percent and St. Bernard at 37 percent; Madison got in just below at 36.3 percent. Jefferson was a few places higher at 42.8 percent.

But compare the 2003 numbers: among all but Orleans, St. Bernard, and Jefferson, the state had 1,096,733 of 2,244,867 vote, or 48.9 percent – less than 1.5 percent below the 2003 primary total. And that 1.5 percent may have been an artifact of two different things: first, lack of a hot parish-wide race on the ballot especially in populous parishes (in the ten highest turnouts, eight were registered by a sheriff’s or parish president’s race while only two came from the gubernatorial contest) and blacks (besides those displaced from Orleans) turning out in noticeably few numbers (for example, from what I could derive, black turnout dropped a couple of percent in Caddo Parish but the bottom fell out in East Baton Rouge, down about 10 percent).

It’s interesting that Republican politicians pointed to the storms or, as a longer-term cause of a decline in turnout, legal changes that produced more registered voters but disproportionately fewer who would turn out. The Democrats may blame candidates because they may perceive the reduced excitement in the black community.

However, the Democrats in blaming politicians may have a political motive behind it. By ignoring the impact of the hurricanes’ displacement, they can attempt to make the problem out to be bigger than it really is – a mathematical artifact of essentially inaccurate representations of reality. This could give impetus to efforts to dilute ballot security in an effort to crease turnout for its own sake, such as by the unnecessary and wasteful laws passed in the wake of the hurricanes that applied to the New Orleans city elections of 2006.

It also may be an attempt to try to reduce the legitimacy of Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal’s landslide win. The fewer people that voted, the more impetus it gives to trying to deny Jindal’s win wasn’t what it was – a mandate for reform and conservative agendas.

The fact is, when adjusted for true residency, 2007 primary was not much below that of 2003 and, if anything, discouraged Democrats (of whom blacks disproportionately label themselves) probably account for most of the remaining difference. This is neither a crisis requiring relaxation of laws protecting ballot security nor repudiates the historic message of the election.


Chaisson realistic hope for leader from obstinate Senate

Of those persons who have presented themselves as potential leaders for the Louisiana Senate starting next year, the question of who would best serve the state in this positions is juxtaposed with who politically can win, meaning some compromise may have to occur in the hopes of getting this balky institution moving in the right direction.

Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal has stated that, unlike almost every previous governor, that he will not dictate the process of choosing legislative leaders. Traditionally, governors would impose leadership on the bodies by dangling out the threat of line-item vetoes and the ability of the governor to organize too many capital budget requests making claim on too little money. Jindal says he will eschew this past practice, in all likelihood because he plans to depoliticize to a large degree the capital outlay process – to move items through not on the basis of political expedience, but on genuine need.

However, deferring in this way risks his reform agenda, for, of the declared candidates for Senate President, some hostile to his agenda definitely have put themselves into the running. Two such obstacles to progress in Louisiana would be Democrat state Sens. Joe McPherson and Robert Adley.

Not only does McPherson have a fairly liberal/populist voting record (as a check of voting scorecard postings on the Louisiana Legislature Log will show), but he also is a major shill for the industry in which he has a financial interest, nursing homes. Probably the biggest area of savings in the budget that Jindal has pledged to scrub is in health care which, thanks to the influence of legislators like McPherson, has a heavy tilt towards institutionalized rather than community- or individual-based care. This has led to, as studies and Legislative Auditor reports have shown, one of the most expensive and least efficient long-term health care systems in the nation, and one of the least efficient and worst-performing indigent care systems in the country.

Unfortunately, McPherson probably has done more to prevent meaningful reform in this area than any other legislator. His actions have particularly been at odds with Jindal’s emphasis of shifting health care away from a government-run, one-size-fits-all operation to maximizing individual autonomy and choice, a stance just re-articulated by Jindal over the weekend. Further, Jindal’s ethics reforms also likely would restrict McPherson’s activities in the nursing home sector, giving McPherson another reason to be as obstinate as possible with helping Jindal change the state. Few choices could be worse as Senate leader.

Adley would represent minor improvement. His voting record is better but, if Jindal’s premier issue is ethics reform, few legislators have proven themselves more of an impediment to this than him. Last session, with current Sen. Pres. Don Hines, Adley derailed an ethics reform bill much like favored by Jindal despite it having virtually unanimous support in the Legislature. Adley claims he had to kill the bill to save it, while less amused observers believe he never wanted any reform. So Adley either is too incompetent to get a widely-supported bill through the legislative process, which does not commend his leadership skills well, or he’s an opponent to Jindal on the incoming governor’s biggest issue. Either way, that’s not the guy to be running the Senate.

Further, he’s shown himself to oppose meaningful tax reduction or willing to pursue tax and spending reduction solutions that Jindal will want to enhance the state’s economic development. He’s also been a past advocate of wasteful health care spending. Like McPherson, Adley simply is unacceptable as a leader to move the state forward.

This leaves state Sens. Joel Chaisson, a Democrat, Willie Mount, also a Democrat, and Mike Michot, a Republican, as remaining contenders. The best of the lot by voting record is Michot (although he has warts here, principally his supporting the 2005 sick tax) but with a likely solid Democrat majority in the Senate, without Jindal intervention a Democrat seems the more probable choice. Mount’s voting record is worse than even McPherson’s, so Chaisson, who has been slightly left of center and is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, could end up, given political considerations, the best Louisianans can hope for from the institution that will put up the most resistance to changing the state for the better over the next four years.


Smart GOP campaigning will bring Democrats misery

The head of the Louisiana Democrats, Chris Whittington, has had to do an awful lot of whistling into the wind these past couple of years, and he was working up to a grand finale of it when asked about his party’s chances in the remaining legislative contests on Nov. 17.

Whittington asserted that “polling” showed that, of 17 House races remaining that did not pit a Democrat vs. Democrat, he saw Democrats ahead in 13 with one undecided. For the Senate, he conceded just one of four with one also too close to call.

One must wonder who did this “polling,” or if it even was done. In the Senate, I guess the one that will get away is in District 32 where Republican Neal Riser came within 550 votes of winning Oct. 20 with 49 percent. Maybe the one that is up-in-the-air is District 25 where although Republican state Rep. Blade Morrish trailed Democrat state Rep. Gil Pinac 39-32 percent, a Republican newcomer got 30 percent of the vote – and the bulk of that will be going to Morrish.

Likewise, Whittington appears to be doing a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm imitation with his House numbers. There are several districts where the sum of total Democrat votes are less than the sum of Republican votes (and in the one Democrat vs. no party contest, adding the GOP votes to the latter goes over the 50 percent mark), and a few others where GOP candidates scored better than 40 percent or a combination of the runoff and defeated Republicans get that high. In other words, three or four seats not won by Democrats seem optimistic to say the least.

Throughout the election season Whittington has offered a Pollyanna view of Democrats’ chances (such as his last comments on the governor’s race). But his hopes may come close to realization if state Republicans let it. Without Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal or outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom on the ballot, because some incentives to vote for those interested in reform may have gone away, the party and its campaigning candidates may squander this opportunity to come close to a House majority and to make minor gains in the Senate.

To make Whittington look foolish again, Republicans needs to take the following steps:

  • While Jindal has said he won’t get involved in legislative races (and rightly so, as personal interjection of himself against potential winners may alienate them), that doesn’t mean his campaign organization can’t; some donations here and there and lending of certain resources and personnel can go a long way to shaping a Legislature more to his liking.
  • Defeated Republicans need to endorse those Republicans in runoffs who are willing to embrace reform and conservative values.
  • The state party and allied organizations need to target their resources wisely; for example, best not give additional aid to contests like Senate District 7 where the Democrat was just a few hundred votes from winning and the only Republican trailed by 17 points in the primary.

    While it’s certainly possible that reformers and Republicans disproportionately won’t show up at the polls for the general election runoff, it’s a possibility that can be obviated by smart electioneering by Republicans, to make this an even more miserable legislative election cycle than Democrats wanted to endure.