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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.