Search This Blog


Jindal uses cuts to advance reform agenda sooner

Gov. Bobby Jindal swung the budget axe and largely hit some unneeded trim. More importantly, some of the cuts, triggered by a $341 million current-year deficit, began to shape things into a more fiscally sound posture that he has advertised was a priority for him in governance.

By law, Jindal could cut up to three percent of the budget with no more than three percent from any budget unit. That made up a little less than half of the projected general fund deficit (doubled in relative terms since half of the year’s spending already has occurred at the higher levels) so technically the remainder of his suggestions still wait legislative approval. However, because the total deficit exceeds 0.7 percent, he also was allowed to go beyond just the fund in deficit, the general fund of which almost three-quarters of all appropriations go to health care and higher education, and make cuts in other dedicated funds – a panoply of appropriations attached to a certain revenue source or drawn from a revenue source or to satisfy a bookkeeping or legal requirement – of up to five percent.

In doing so, since these funds go certain activities, in essence Jindal told the departments with access to the funds to perform the same functions with less, absorbing a cut in operations. Although this constituted only about seven percent of the total, it increased flexibility and the necessity for the general fund to absorb everything (not all dedicated funds got the maximum cut; some didn’t get cut at all). Jindal also targeted strategically cuts within the general fund programs that will constitute $317 million or so of them.

How he did it was instructive. By the ratios of general fund spending, $252 million should have been pared from health care and higher education, but targeting cuts put the final total at only about $173 million. Some of this could be achieved by the hiring freeze earlier instituted also allowed by law which reached all sectors of government, not just those dependent in any way upon the general fund, but the remainder of it did not follow what some had advised, across-the-board measures.

Smartly, Jindal used this power to promote his agenda, in a way getting an opportunity early to shape parameters of the kinds of reform he wants to bring to these areas. In higher education, for example, he backed up his assertion that the most important area of development was in community colleges and technical schools by leaving them out of the cuts.

In health care, he showed that efficiency was going to be injected into the system even if some interests would get a smaller portion of the pie as a result. For example, he signaled reality had arrived more quickly that thought by instituting a measure he had talked of in reference to overall reform of the Medicaid system scheduled to commence in 18 months, limiting non-vital prescriptions paid for monthly from eight to five a person. He also began to reduce incentives towards institutionalization by sensibly cutting the state’s reimbursement rate for facilities that have residents who leave for short periods, instead of paying at the full 100 percent as has been custom. (Hopefully, reductions in waiver programs that also work as incentive not to institutionalize individuals that can be cared for in the community won’t sabotage this effort.) He also placed reductions on medical provision that have been identified as inefficiently used, either by lowering rates or by changing procedures.

In other areas, he looked to eliminate what seemed to be duplicative, not needed at the current level of consumption, or where federal dollars could be eased in. There will be some retrenchment in areas some people find beneficial. For example, prisoners and the indigent who need mental health services in some places will have to suffer more inconvenience in gaining physical access to those services, and the Department of Social Services will continue its hiring freeze the remainder of the budget year as positions come open, stretching its human resources further.

As it was, Jindal created opportunity out of crisis. Those who believe that state government, which features higher spending and personnel per capita than most states, should go on a diet by eating less (by cutting taxes) and exercise (to reduce its size) should be pleased by his actions and recommendations. Additionally, those who believe in certain priorities – education continue as unmolested as possible, restructuring of health care to promote efficiency without reduction in service, downsizing or elimination of low-payoff programs, aligning demand with resources – should take heart in his chopping block list. While nobody likes to see budgetary problems, the silver lining for Jindal and supporters of this agenda is that it allows him to commence reform efforts sooner and with less opposition (driven by the imperative of the crisis), and he appears to have done so in carrying out his duty.


Protests designed to hide Constitutional subversion

It’s a clever tactic by supporters of legally-sanctioned homosexual relations, but if it is the will of the people of Louisiana, this agenda may be derailed.

As consumers of what passes as “news,” observers always should wonder when something becomes declared “newsworthy” by the media that doesn’t seem to have any real cause or impetus behind it. Such was this story about how a state board, after its existence of seven years, and about a year after election of socially conservative Gov. Bobby Jindal who appoints it members, suddenly has gotten worried promoters of legally-sanctioned homosexual relations.

The Commission on Marriage and Family has seldom conducted any activities, but Jindal has expressed interest in activating it and its nominal head state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome has scheduled a meeting of it. Jindal released an executive order on Aug. 22 re-establishing it. In October, he appointed its members. But only now does it seem to be drawing the alarm of some homosexual advocacy groups, which claim now it could be used as some kind of political cover for an “attack” of homosexuals adopting a child. They argue too many religious conservatives appear to be on this panel and, even though not a word has been uttered indicating any disapproval of these kinds of adoptions, that now it’s something to be worried about because the people of Arkansas in November voted to make unconstitutional such arrangements and the Commission could conceivably promote a similar policy.

This is an odd rationale. The Commission can do nothing but recommend, but somehow its opponents think a pronouncement by it on the issue would engender enough political power as to sweep the state into also making unconstitutional unmarried couples being able to adopt jointly. Yet there’s no real reason this has to happen: if enough of the people and political elites think this such a measure is good public policy, they don’t need a commission to tell them that and get them going to achieve it.

The timing of this complaint also is extremely curious. Why complain now? If these groups had stated publicly their concerns with the re-establishment in August (with the order itself extolling the virtues of marriage only between a man and woman, overwhelmingly approved by Louisianans into the Constitution years ago), or when the Commission’s composition was determined in October, or when Arkansas acted in November, that might make sense. But why go public, seemingly without warning, at the end of December?

Even more intriguing is, by law, just as same-sex marriage was ratified as unconstitutional, many years before that the Louisiana Legislature prohibited unmarried couples from adopting. Act 235 from 1991 created Article 1198 of the Children’s Code which unambiguously states that, outside of intrafamily or agency adoptions, “A single person, eighteen years or older, or a married couple jointly may petition to adopt a child through an agency.” Legally, this idea the groups see as problematic is a nonissue: the only couples that may adopt in Louisiana are married, and since same-sex couples cannot marry, such couples cannot adopt. What these groups complain about being attenuated already is banned by law, so why are they complaining? And the law still permits a single homosexual parent to adopt, so where’s the problem?

The answer lies in a little-noticed court decision made days ago. In New York, where same-sex couple adoptions are allowed, two men sued Louisiana to have the birth certificate of an adoptive child born in the state altered to put both of their names on it. Louisiana allows adoptive parents on the official birth certificate to have their name(s) and seals the original. However, R.S. 40:79 makes clear that “If the child is adopted by a married couple, the names of both parties shall be recorded as the parents …” and “If the child is adopted by a single person, the word ‘adopted’ may be written on the new birth certificate if the adopting parent requests it, otherwise no such wording shall be imprinted on the document and the name of the single adopting parent shall be recorded on the new birth certificate.” In other words, state law does not anticipate putting a non-married couple’s names on the document.

U.S. Eastern Louisiana District Judge Jay Zainey (a 2002 appointee of Pres. George W. Bush) ruled that since the adoption was legal in New York and that Louisiana allowed adoptive parents’ names on certificates, that the state would have to accommodate even though an attorney general’s opinion on the ambiguity ruled that the state did not have to put both names. This is a federal question since it involved the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the only way it would appear that the state could prevent this would be a law or amendment that specifies that unmarried couples cannot adopt, as opposed to listing that only married couples or single individuals may do so.

And that’s what advocates of legalized homosexual unions are afraid of. With this ruling, despite the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, some privileges of marriage are being conveyed to same-sex couples. Consider: what if these two men decided to move to Louisiana? Because of this ruling, regarding the welfare of the child (the men argued in their court briefing health care benefits could be denied relative to the child) this same-sex union would have equal footing with constitutional marriage. It’s a back door way of forcing benefits associated with marriage to be granted to same sex pairs, contravening the Constitution.

Unless that is taken care of legally or constitutionally. It’s not a commission making recommendations that they fear, but that the import of an event, this decision relative to existing adoption and records law and the impact on same-sex unions, that has them worried. Thus, they went public when word of this court decision got out in order to defuse the situation and to deflect attention from this, using the Commission and the passage of the Arkansas amendment as excuses. They didn’t want anybody connecting the dots that could allow this new loophole to continue undisturbed

Such tactics should not distract those who believe public policy should grant no special privileges to people of the same sex who decide they want to live together and call themselves united in some fashion. If they can muster a majority, they need to have legislation passed or an amendment ratified to negate this end run around the Constitution.


New numbers empower Vitter, marginalize Melancon

The irony of it all is that as Democrats prepare to wield more power in Washington, in Louisiana the biggest loser from this will be its sole Democrat member while the biggest beneficiary will be its most high-profile Republican.

One might think Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon might be in a good position given the takeover of the White House by his party and a stronger majority in the Congress. The fabulously do-nothing 110th Congress run by Democrats, which when it tried to do something substantive typically sent extremist legislation blocked by Pres. George W. Bush’s veto, gave Congress the lowest public opinion approval ratings in history. But with him out of the way, the floodgates may open allowing Melancon and his ilk greater leeway than ever (as long as they hold on to that power which, if they serve up the same kind of legislation they have been proposing, unless it tries to structurally change electoral politics in Democrats’ favor such as by the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, won’t be long).

But his problem is that things got too good for Democrats. Melancon often argues his affiliation with the liberal Democrats, not liked by a majority in the state (and whose presidential candidate got about 35 percent of the vote in Melancon’s Third District), is tempered by his fiscal conservatism. He will claim that it’s not a contradiction to put him into office because he can help moderate the more extremist tendencies of his party. It’s an assertion that next year he will have a much more difficult time conveying convincingly.

In the 111th Congress, the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative Democrat “blue dogs” will have about 50 of the about 257 Democrats in the House. With a majority (assuming all present) of 218 in order to win votes, for the fiscal and in every way liberal Democrat House leadership because of absences and defectors, they won’t need Melancon or his colleagues to pass legislation and therefore will not moderate it. In the 110th, their votes were sometimes crucial but that not being the case any more, their influence will go down.

At the same time, Republican Sen. David Vitter’s influence will go up, and for the opposite reason. Being in the smallest minority now than ever before, as a member of the opposition Vitter has greater freedom than ever to make a name for himself within it precisely because the opposition does not have the responsibility to govern. Utilizing the power of filibuster and cloture along with other Republicans, Vitter can publicly lambaste the harebrained schemes likely to emerge from the 111th Congress and have a visible hand in stopping them, gaining large credit back home for doing so.

Melancon, by contrast, will be tarred with every bad decision made in Congress. And to add to the irony, this will impede him as he contemplates taking on in 2010 Vitter who will be gaining strength with the same dynamics. As a result, in the next two years expect a lot of vocal opposition from Vitter, while Melancon stays as far away as possible from discussing policy desires of his party and confines his remarks mainly to how much pork he brings his district.


Calendar militates against Jindal 2012 White House run

As speculation flies about potential national aspirations of Gov. Bobby Jindal, one thing often left out in the equation is the electoral calendar particularly is unsuitable for getting himself elected to a second term as governor and making a stab at the presidency in 2012.

As anyone who has paid attention to national politics over the past two years can relate, running for the presidency is a full time job starting at least two years out from the election. The 2008 election had particularly two newer trends that exacerbated the problem even more. One was the abandonment of public funding by serious presidential candidates in order to raise more money than ever, which takes additional time of a candidate, and the other was the most front-loaded primary schedule ever which mandates more work earlier in a campaign.

Senators who may oversee a few dozen people at most and whose only responsibility is to cast votes have the luxury of time to campaign while on the job, and the president and vice president have huge staffs and resources to help the president out with his far more numerous tasks (the vice president hardly has any, of course). But governors are another matter, who have to run a state and largely must keep state and national issues separate which makes their time campaigning for national office at a premium. It’s no accident that since the beginning of the Depression only five sitting governors were able to get a major party nomination for the presidency and just three have won, the last being Bill Clinton in 1992.

And these governors typically have an advantage that Jindal will not – about three-quarters of them are selected in off-years for presidential elections, so that they can run for reelection and as soon as that is complete, they could pick up running for the White House. Jindal will not have that opportunity since Louisiana is joined only by Mississippi in having its statewide elections in the third year of a quadrennial presidential cycle, a year later than most. In Louisiana, Jindal could get elected in October, 2011 and then face the beginning of presidential preferences primaries less than three months later, while other Republicans will have been campaigning exclusively for the presidency for months, perhaps even years. Jindal can’t, because he cannot be seen as ignoring state issues when running for reelection.

One could argue that Jindal might have that luxury. Right now, Democrat officials are whistling into a hurricane if they think Jindal will lose in 2011. Only unless Jindal proves utterly incapable of helping to fashion a fiscal solution to the current budgetary crisis would he stand any chance of not being reelected. No Republican that could win will run against him, and Democrats have few they could put up against him with any legitimate chance to win.

(Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu would rather be mayor of New Orleans in 2010 and if he can’t get that, he’s not going to give up his safe position to go up against Jindal. Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell is too old and low profile to seriously contest Jindal. Rep. Charlie Melancon probably will try for Sen. David Vitter’s seat knowing he could be redistricted out of his House job, but if he can’t beat Vitter in 2010, there’s no way he’ll beat Jindal in 2011. Sen. Mary Landrieu would not want to leave the gig she has.)

But neither will Democrats give Jindal the luxury of an easy run that could allow him to think of piggybacking a presidential candidacy on a gubernatorial one. Democrat operatives at all levels know how dangerous Jindal is to them nationally and they aren’t going to give him a pass at the state level to bolster his national stature. When the most competitive Democrats pass on the election, look for the party regulars to throw a sop to blacks by backing up a black candidate who cannot win, such as what occurred in the Seventh District this past fall and at the gubernatorial level in 1999. This move serves the dual purpose of placating black Democrat officials, as the whites running the party take for granted black votes but when this becomes too obvious it results in revolts such as state Rep. Michael Jackson’s independent bid for Congress in the Sixth District this year. If state Democrats know they will lose, at least they can take the opportunity to throw some bones to that part of their neglected base.

So even if Democrats back someone with really no chance to win, Jindal still will have to work at his reelection which will obviate any presidential campaigning. In this situation, the only way for Jindal to take a shot in 2012 would be to not run for reelection. While if president-elect Barack Obama does what he campaigned on the country will be in a mess by 2012, still it would be a gamble by Jindal to give away sure reelection for a chancy run at the White House.

When Jindal tells the media he’s only focusing on his present position, he very likely means it. By retiring after a presumably successful eight years in 2015, he would be set perfectly for a 2016 run if Obama somehow wins reelection (and would quiet critics about his “job-hopping”). If a Republican does win in 2012 he could challenge Landrieu in 2014 and set himself up for 2016 or 2020. These possible futures given the electoral calendar do make it unlikely that Jindal will go for the White House in 2012.


Support of EWE commutation explains LA ineptitude

At first I thought I was reading a term paper from one of my sub-par students. No, it turned out to be an Abbeville Meridional newspaper editorial advocating the early release of former Gov. Edwin Edwards, now better know as Prisoner #03128-095, and the intellect and logic showed in demonstrates exactly why Louisiana ranks at the bottom of many quality-of-life indicators.

The rambling thesis of this appears to be that the elderly Edwards has suffered enough. A lifetime of achievement it offers as exculpatory justification. In doing so, not only does it miss the entire point of Edwards’ punishment, it doesn’t even provide convincing arguments that he merits commutation of his 10-year sentence.

The editorial skirts Edwards’ apparent corruption in office. Instead, it advances the peculiar notion that his long service in various capacity somehow exempts him from paying the full price for his misdeeds, even going so far as to maintain proof of his overriding good work was being elected governor four times showed “he must have done something right. Voters in this state are not stupid.” No comment of mine can illuminate better the “merit” of this statement and I’ll leave it to my readers to ponder this wisdom without my input.

While he never was convicted of abuse of office, plenty of circumstantial evidence makes it hard to explain what the author claims is a “myth” that “Edwards made his money in politics.” If he didn’t make it while in office, it seems difficult to understand why Edwards was so unconcerned from what today would be illegal lobbyist cash gifts from Tongsun Park while in Congress, or why his former operative Clyde Vidrine would produce salacious revelations in his books about these things, or why during his 1986 corruption trial it was revealed that Edwards regularly visited Las Vegas casinos with suitcases full of hundreds of thousands of dollars when as governor he made in salary a fraction of the contents of one such case each year. Willing suspension of disbelief does not make for good argumentation.

It also reads a “second myth is that government in Louisiana is corrupt and that all elected officials are crooks.” Insofar as this is a straw man argument – nobody seriously argues this so why waste the space refuting something irrelevant – it claims corruption essentially stops at the Orleans Parish lines. The author needs to do a little research to discover just in the past year high-profile corruption cases being decided in Jefferson Parish concerning judges and a former state senator and in Baton Rouge about the state’s film office. Somehow, asserting without proof that little corruption exists outside of New Orleans is supposed to make readers believe … what? That since Edwards wasn’t from New Orleans he wasn’t corrupt?

The sad fact that the author runs from is that Edwards was convicted of a federal crime of using his influence improperly in politics. No amount of character references or favorable polling can change this fact, and it is important for him to serve his entire (and typical for the collection of crimes for which he was convicted) sentence because, as noted elsewhere, it provides disincentive to deter criminals from doing things, including performing additional corrupt activities to prevent the day of reckoning from coming to hold off their punishments long enough to have a way to escape their full sentences.

It will be interesting to see whether the Meridional is consistent in its view about Edwards concerning the case of Bernard Madoff who also allegedly engaged in corrupt activities (in the financial markets). Investors may have lost billions by him (although some made quite a bit from him as well, so he did help the public), but, hey, the guy is 70 years old and no doubt the trial will be taxing on him so why not let him off light? I await this editorial that argues if Edwards should be let off despite what he did to the Louisiana citizen, regarding Madoff that he merit the same treatment for what he did to duped millionaires.

That such an editorial so oblivious and would seem to take itself seriously just provides another indicator explaining Louisiana’s dismal situation. People who entertain the notion that violation of public trust not be punished to the full extent of the law are the same folks who keep putting into office politicians and supporting public policy that tolerates such behavior to the detriment of the state.


Normal circumstances make Cao reelection difficult

With all due respect to longtime Orleans Parish stalwart Republican and former city councilman Bryan Wagner, saying GOP Rep.-elect Anh “Joseph” Cao was going to win earlier this month the majority-black-Democrat Second District without a favorable confluence of events shows less political sense than the neophyte Cao’s, who acknowledges these things. Whether he can win absent these dynamics in 2010 is another matter.

Wagner, who played a major role in the Cao campaign, naturally wants to create the impression of future electability of Cao because he understands the fundamental truism (misunderstood by many) that donations go to candidates on the basis of their quality, i.e. ability to win. These resources Cao will need for a 2010 run because all the Democrats in the 2008 contest except one outraised him as of Nov. 16 in terms of both total funding and individual donations. However, it is likely when the next reports in early January are released through the general election, Cao’s totals should have gone up considerably and won’t be reported too far behind incumbent and indicted Bill Jefferson’s.

Let’s not kid ourselves over why this was the case: Jefferson was viewed by many, even by some who voted for him, as corrupt, discouraging electoral and monetary support. Some portion of these people, as shown previously, who had supported Democrats against him twice unsuccessfully in the party primary and runoff, while they could not bear to vote for a non-Democrat in the general election did not vote for Jefferson thus at all. But an underreported aspect of the election was the fissures in the black vote that had begun to appear in the Democrat runoff primary in black support for Jefferson spread more forcefully in the general election.

As previously noted, in the runoff estimated black support (calculated by Jefferson proportion of the vote less proportion black registration) for Jefferson dipped to about 89.5 percent against a Hispanic opponent. It further dipped in the 142 precincts with at least 90 percent black registration to less than 85 percent, precincts on average only voting about 80 percent in Jefferson’s favor (in several, he barely pulled an estimated 70 percent of the black vote). (Contrast this with the five 90 percent-plus white precincts that gave Cao an average 92 percent of the vote, where he got an estimated 95 percent of the white vote.) Simply, an unusually high proportion of blacks abandoned a black candidate in favor of a Republican, and it’s hard not to conclude it was more the scandal-tinged Jefferson than Cao’s campaign that triggered this significant exodus.

So Cao was seen this election cycle as a quality, competitive candidate, but most likely because of the nature of his opposition. Reduced black loyalty to a black candidate when running against a non-black, the introduction of (mostly white) Republicans into the contest who were absent in the primary which had produced the least-electable candidate, and, as previously observed, a much bigger drop in black compared to white participation from the primaries in part due to black registrants’ questions about Jefferson all played a role in making Cao an attractive candidate, obviously enough to win.

That perception will be enhanced by a couple of years’ service in Washington. But that time also is plenty for one or more black Democrats free of scandal to position themselves well to win the 2010 party nomination to go up against Cao. Such a candidate will restore black voting loyalty to levels not far below those below the Jefferson era’s (giving Cao a little credit for some minor conversion through good service) and not discourage those blacks who stayed home. This scenario creates numbers that undeniably will make Cao a longshot for reelection, and no amount of talking up his chances by senior Republicans will change this. Not acknowledging this reality almost certainly will lead to his defeat.

Although I do envision one scenario where Cao’s chances would be pretty good. I won’t go into details now, but it involves as the Democrat nominee somebody who believes a high crime rate “keeps the New Orleans brand visible” and envisions New Orleans as a “chocolate city” ….


Tax cuts blamed when LA really has spending problem

It’s official: the arbiter of liberalism in the American press, The New York Times, has weighed in on Louisiana’s budget deficits present and forecast, and as usual misses the point in its eagerness to slant the story in favor of big government.

The party line that liberals want to spread about the state’s deficit is that tax reduction, principally the individual income tax cut, is bad even in flush economic times, perhaps explained by irrationality. Appropriately to advance this notion, they trot out one of the most liberal state legislators, head of the Democrat Caucus state Sen. Eric LaFleur, who practices a little psychology in declaring “euphoria” captured the minds of so many greenhorn legislators who “hadn’t been around long enough” to know apparently that tax cuts have consequences by his reckoning. (For his part, LaFleur proved to have a gelatinous spine by voting for the cut, although at least he has done the proper liberal thing by declaring he had “misgivings” about it.)

Of course, this view entirely ignores the statistics and recent history of the state’s fiscal picture. Numbers officially got declared on Friday so they have yet to be posted, but the forecast has the fiscal year 2009-10 revenues numbers for the general fund outside of statutorily-dedicated funds to come in around $8.3 billion (as opposed to the previous that came in a billion bucks higher). Excluding in all cases federal recovery dollars, this can be compared to the numbers of (still-evolving) about $9.65 billion for FY 2008-09 (note that if the 2/10/08 forecast had held a surplus would have been declared instead of the deficit that used the 5/9/2008 forecast), about $9.5 billion in FY 2007-08, $8.2 billion in FY 2006-07, and $7.3 billion in FY 2005-06.

In other words, from FY 2005 to FY 2009 (predicted), state revenues have increased over 13 percent, at a decent annual clip of nearly 3 percent. The increase for 2005-08, pumped up by federal disaster recovery dollars, was 32 percent. By contrast, consumer inflation over the 2005-08 period was only 9 percent (and may not even be that high through 2009 given recently falling prices). Add to this that the state’s population has declined slightly (about 85,000) throughout this period. This shows that state revenues (and therefore, except for an eventual $500 million or so of tax cuts now or about to kick in, spending) rose much faster than existing needs and demands on government. Only unless one thinks (as no doubt The Times, LaFleur, and liberals in general) that government should do more (implying that people should be less responsible for their own affairs), could such an increase in spending from these revenues be justifiable.

Once again, the data are very clear: Louisiana has not had a revenue problem, which has grown at a faster rate than inflation with a stagnant population, but rather has had a spending problem. There is no justification why government must keep doing more just because more money rolls in. With all of the excess revenue coming in, a tax cut was not only appropriate because it allows people to keep more of their money and will set the stage for improved future economic growth, but it was the moral thing to do. Yet the majority of the attention of the article was about the revenue side of the equation, not on spending.

Deficits loom now because spending was not kept under control. If it had been, huge surpluses could have been declared for a couple of years and far-sighted legislators could have in the past (even one this year) voted to increase the maximum size of the Budget Stabilization Fund where this money could have been saved to cushion future deficits. Even better, with spending controlled, the deficits may not have appeared at all, and the excess money could have gone to unfunded accrued liabilities, coastal restoration, improved infrastructure, etc., if not even more tax cuts.

Often, when people advocate reductions in government spending, their ideological opponents ask where cuts should take place. But in this situation of rapid revenue growth above the baseline price and population levels, the more appropriate prior question is first to justify the increased spending beyond what was being done previously, and then what cannot be justified is the candidate for cutting. Trying to deflect attention from this imperative by fixating on revenue-raising measures disingenuously disserves the public.


Success on Jindal health plan also can help budget woes

It is all interconnected, the balancing act Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to pull off as state revenues look to underperform and state expenditures, basically Medicaid, prepare to overperform. He has to get it right or practical and political ramifications will be substantial.

Naturally the state’s current and looming budget deficits have dominated headlines for the past week, even as surrealistically a surplus came about for last year.. Problem is, that surplus cannot directly be used to offset this year’s or the predicted deficit. As has been suggested previously, the best use of the surplus would be to boost the Budget Stabilization Fund, which would comprise about 60 percent of it. And while paying off debt and then using interest savings with the remainder also would generate some more short-term cash to offset the future deficit, perhaps a better strategy would be paying down unfunded accrued liabilities of state retirement systems to reduce huge expenditures in the next two decades.

But aggravating spending over the long run will continue unless the single biggest portion of the biggest item growing at the fastest rate continues, and that is Medicaid spending on the poor and indigent. This week, Jindal got a significant victory with legislative approval to allow him to bring to the federal government a coordinated care plan that would introduce private sector aspects to the system that promise to hold down costs.

This came despite two different forces who oppose the plan. One comes from physician organizations which would prefer the fee-for-service model because it better serves their interests. The new plan would reduce providers’ abilities to make nonessential and/or duplicative charges and thereby also their revenues. It additionally would force more attention to be paid regarding their own practice management which some would prefer not to do.

The other, represented by the only dissenting legislative committee vote of state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, objects because Jindal’s plan disempowers government too much for its liking. The current fee-for-service arrangement, where government pays whatever reasonably is billed, puts everybody but the health care consumer in charge and encourages no efficiency. Jindal’s plan, developed by Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine who supervised a similar reform in Florida, introduces market forces with competing nongovernment administrators. This is in contrast to rumblings coming from Democrats in Washington who now control both majoritarian branches of government and campaigned on providing national universal health care.

Peterson commented that the process was too rushed, even though legislators were not being asked to make a commitment and many options were open. The implication was this plan was trying to get approval before Democrats essentially could force a plan onto states that had no free-market mechanisms to it, as it would be more difficult for them to dismantle these kinds of programs (which more and more states are turning to) oncethey were put into place. Particularly dangerous to their perspectives is that Jindal’s plan has elements of universal coverage in it, making it politically difficult to turn down half a loaf.

However, while a rearguard action of the likes of Peterson’s would slow things down for nothing more than political reasons, the fact is it is highly unlikely that in less than a month the federal government will be able to act on and approve the waiver anyway. The real concern is that with the new administration coming in, months will pass before positions are filled where these kinds of decisions can be made and that threatened to push back the intended launch date a year from 2010. By having lower-level bureaucrats start immediately on approval, that could save several months, and Democrats still would get a chance to approve or not.

Jindal is being particularly crafty with his introduction of the elements of universal coverage, and not just because it can win approval for a free market-oriented plan. Because of past shenanigans, the state owes $771 million to the federal government for Medicaid overcharges. Jindal has proposed waiving that if the state plows that into a phase-in of universal coverage, and also makes for a more compelling case for the efficiencies from the free market elements to be introduced in order to keep overall costs down. One must be there for the other, and without either, as Levine has preached constantly, costs will continue to spiral without any improvement in coverage or service.

The timing is everything because while Jindal probably can come up with stopgap measures to take care of this next fiscal year’s deficit, with no attempt to control Medicaid spending future year deficits will create a chronic budget problem. So not only does Jindal have political stakes attached to Medicaid reform for its own sake, but also to help mitigate potential future budget woes. With legislative approval, given the confluence of political forces in these times of transition, he may have started playing a winning hand.


Vitter opponents' rhetoric only helping his reelection

If his opponents want to oust Sen. David Vitter from office in 2010, they have found exactly the wrong way to do it. He now enjoys the happy coincidence of an issue where he can come out in favor of his conservative principles and ride public sentiment in his favor while making opponents look sanctimonious and simultaneously devalue the only real vulnerable issue concerning Vitter.

Until last year, Vitter was 99.44 percent assured of reelection, given his strong conservative voting record in a majority conservative state. Then he revealed commission of a “serious sin” in the past, likely the usage of a prostitution ring prior to election to federal office. Given his record on the issues, his apparent contrition, and that many voters will accept somebody who votes the right way as long he doesn’t abuse the powers of his office, his chances for reelection may have plunged to 90 percent.

But with the emergence the possibility of the federal government bailing out one or more failing domestic automakers, he may be on the way to that higher plateau of reelection possibility. This issue not only allows Vitter to remind Louisianans of his specific opposition to this, shared nationally, and general dislike of government intervention into the economy, but the way in which his opponents have attacked him about it makes him look even better while pushing away the “character” issue. Just one sample of the rhetoric from a union hack that plays into Vitter’s hands:

“I don't know what Sen. Vitter has against GM [which has a major facility in Shreveport] or the United Auto Workers or the entire domestic auto industry; whatever it is, whatever he thinks we've done, it's time for him to forgive us, just like Sen. Vitter has asked the citizens of Louisiana to forgive him,” said [Morgan] Johnson, president of [Shreveport] Local 2166. Otherwise, Johnson said of Vitter, it would appear, “He'd rather pay a prostitute than pay auto workers.”

Is it possible to critique Vitter in a less intelligent way than this? Here’s a guy defending an industry losing money hand over fist because of an inadequate business model that allows a $30 differential in labor costs to its rivals promoted by his very union which allow typical workers to make $55,000 a year (exclusive of benefits worth 150 percent more), which until recently paid people not to work up to two years, paid them more in early retirement than when they worked, and supplies health benefits that even members of Congress would envy. And has the audacity to ask taxpayers many of whom are poorer that these unionized workers to subsidize this? Especially when Vitter would have supported a bailout bill that moved up minor union concessions only two years?

(It’s not like the UAW has been a fan of Vitter’s. Over his career, on average he has supported the UAW in votes only 6 percent of the time. So what did they expect? And General Motors hasn’t exactly been generous to Vitter during his 9 years in office: for the first time, earlier this year it gave him a contribution, of $1,000. Contrast this with the $19,000 they have thrown at Republican Vitter’s Democrat colleague Sen. Mary Landrieu in her 12 years in office, who wanted the bailout to go through.)

All this rhetoric does is it makes Vitter look like a champion of taxpayers, the middle class, and even more courageous because he is going against a special interest in his own state. And to drag in the shot about “pay” not only looks stupid because it’s clear that Vitter, nor anybody else, is obligated to “pay” any workers, but by coming up with such a strained metaphor on the character issue reduces its effectiveness. That is, when people see such an attack and recognize it is so ludicrous, it desensitizes them to the issue forcibly tied to it.

It also helps Vitter that he has attackers from outside the state that also seem to be part of a greedy cabal asking for handout to save them from their own folly. Speaking of paying, Vitter could not have had the funds to fund all the favorable publicity he can derive from a column appearing in the Detroit Free Press which basically called Vitter and others ingrates from not supporting the handout when Detroit manufacturers had sent aid after the 2005 hurricane disasters – never mind the difference between a natural disaster and bringing your own problems onto yourself, and not having the wisdom to figure out that if you’re doing something wrong that put you in this situation you don’t ask for a handout and not make more than cosmetic changes. (Perhaps it’s no surprise that with such simplemindedness in its product this outlet is losing so much money it is eliminating home delivery every day of the week; maybe it should ask for a bailout, too.)

If Vitter keeps getting these political softballs to whack over the fence, nobody is going to remember he had a “transgression” at all. If his opponents allow Vitter to demonstrate conservative credentials favored by the state’s majority over and over again, they might as well save their resources and give up on defeating him now.


Looming deficits beg reevaluation of handling mechanisms

As Louisiana goes forward to contend with a budget deficit of $341 million this year (so far; there are two more regularly checkpoints at minimum on this figure before the end of the fiscal year) and a potential $2 billion deficit for fiscal year 2009-10, the question arises how the state’s fiscal mechanisms can deal with these deficit situations which cannot exist according to the state’s Constitution except for extreme circumstances. A review of these procedures is in order.

As of this year note that about 65 percent of the state operating expenditures can be financed currently through federal monies of some kind. Thus, the total being discussed here is about $14.5 billion. (Recognize this excludes any disaster recovery federal dollars.) Of that, a little over 63 percent is discretionary funds that have no strings attached to them in their expenditures, a little over 10 percent are non-discretionary in that they are fees or other self-generated revenues that go back into the programs from which they are generated, and the remainder is by law revenues dedicated to a certain purpose. (Technically, about three percent of the grand total really goes to capital outlay projects.) The “undedicated” monies go into the general fund, and the dedicated funds have each of 36 funds into which they go.

When there is a budget deficit in the current year reported in a fund, appropriations from the fund in question may be reduced. Typically, the only meaningful deficits that exist are in the general fund, and to take care of those typically appropriations must be reduced to the discretionary areas. In this instance, on Friday the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget is likely to certify the deficit numbers coming from the general fund with little or no deficits from the others.


LA tightened belt 4 years ago; it can work again

The news about Louisiana’s looming budget deficit probably was beyond what elected officials wanted to hear – current year $341 million, and if spending stays at the current projection factoring in known increases without adding services, it will be a billion dollars more and $1.2 billion less in revenues to cover it.

Some things to note about the issue for this fiscal year:

  • For this year as a whole, this projects to about a 3.5 percent hit on the general fund minus dedicated funds which constitutionally means Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget together can handle the cutting (although in reality, since half the year has gone by, it is a 7 percent real cut) by up to 5 percent in a fund
  • Over half of this, about $5 billion, for disbursement lies in statutory dedications many of which are stable but some potentially unpredictable in cost – for example, higher enrollments and tuitions at state universities through TOPS, those stemming from judicial proceedings, debt service increases, etc. – which must be paid without the budget going into deficit
  • The remainder is not statutorily dedicated and is considered totally discretionary in its treatment, of which almost 34 percent goes to higher education and 40 percent to health care – meaning that potentially if cuts are uniform across agencies at the 3.5 percent level, these two will absorb around $252 million in cuts, or a real reduction in their general fund allocations for the remainder of the fiscal year of 15.6 percent and to their overall budgets of 8 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively
  • About 29 percent, the largest portion, of the general fund goes to the Minimum Foundation Program, but that is the exception to the rule and can be cut at most only 1 percent, or around $27 million, providing less than 10 percent of the amount needed.
  • About $4.35 billion of statutory revenue dedications, as opposed to those of expenditures above, also come into the state’s coffers, but to redirect any of these immediately would require legislation from a special session, so the only savings here would be from operations such as those from executive orders recently issued by Jindal and then subsequent transfers of funds

    Next year’s numbers truly are sobering (although not unreal such as those of 20 years ago were with a $1 billion deficit to a general fund that then was less than $4 billion in generated revenue), a drop of about 13 percent to around $8 billion in revenue for the general fund (note that as recently as May, the forecast for next fiscal year was essentially flat). Jindal wisely has promised not to use the Budget Stabilization Fund monies to tackle this year’s deficit because next year’s really will call for these funds. It also cries out for him to dump the maximum amount of funds from the declared fiscal year 2007-08 surplus into it to use next year.

    This is serious. The head of my budget unit has called a faculty meeting tomorrow on 18 hours notice just to address this. It’s going to take quite a bit of skill to maneuver this just for this year’s alone so Jindal better be prepared to sacrifice his holidays (the budget must be brought in balance 30 days after a deficit projection or else a special session is triggered).

    As for the future, as Jindal wisely has ruled out tax increases that might depress the economy even further, tinkering around the margins as Jindal can do for this fiscal year will be insufficient. Still, to put matters in perspective, the initial revenue forecast after the 2005 hurricane disasters pegged the general fund at $6.6 billion and $700 million worth of cuts made that turned out to be not needed to match realized revenues. If it could be done then, it can be done again.
  • Months later, wisdom of line item vetoes confirmed

    Much wailing and gnashing of teeth occurred this summer when Gov. Bobby Jindal did what he said he would, cut down on state government money going to private interests. He employed his line item veto to excise around $16 million going to 258 nonprofit organizations, and some legislators who had one or more such entities in their districts made disapproving noises about how crippling the lack of funds would be for the organizations.

    But Jindal and supporters of these moves pointed out that if these truly were desirable functions being performed, other sources of money would compensate for the loss of state funds, or the organizations would find more efficient ways of doing these things, or government formally would oversee the function. Almost six months later, this is exactly what has happened as opposed to the apocalyptic scenarios some legislators asserted would be the outcome.

    Some organizations did find other philanthropic sources. Others relied more heavily on volunteers. Still others found ways to work more efficiently. Many had to cut back services to some degree, but that only demonstrates that perhaps they was an oversupply of that service to begin with or a more efficient way or alternative funding sources could not be found. In all, this demonstrates that government money was not being used as optimally as it should have been, as these other solutions and resolutions existed but had not been implemented precisely because of the free flow of money from government.

    This disposition also points out why the system has existed so long, not because it is a good use of taxpayers’ monies, but because it suited the political needs of politicians. Legislators could promise money to these organizations, the members of which no doubt would work for that legislator’s reelection and sing that person’s praises. The governor could use line item veto threats of these kinds of projects to entice legislators to support his initiatives.

    By taking the issue off the table, however, these political dynamics no longer apply. It was a bold move by Jindal, unilaterally surrendering this tool of power, but he did so and by his continuing to enforce this standard, the state will be better off.


    Fleming takes Democrats' best shot, likely to stay awhile

    A year ago, when Rep. Jim McCrery semi-surprisingly announced his retirement, it would have been hard to believe that an obscure coroner from Webster Parish would succeed him. Lessons both locally and nationally may be learned from this.

    Dr. John Fleming not only was not considered a contender at the time, he wasn’t even on the radar screen. But after a couple of big names passed as they liked their current situations, local Republicans were presented with a thin bench of elected officials to compete for this due to a mixture of age, inexperience, too much flirtation with the Democrats, or interest in keeping some semblance of a private life.

    Still another factor loomed as well – 2008 was not shaping up to be a good GOP year on the national front. When around Baton Rouge a Democrat slid into that seat in a special election months later, that seemed to confirm the trend, and by then it was known a lackluster nominee would head the Republican ticket for the presidency.

    This opened up the field for candidates willing to take risks and those who had little connection with government, given the anti-incumbent sentiment that more than anything else was hurting the GOP. Of the three Republicans who finally contested the nomination, only Fleming had any experience in elective office – serving as Webster Parish coroner from 1996-2000 by virtue of racking up about 7,000 votes, and then bowing out after a single term.

    With no real record for any of these candidates to fall back on yet unabashedly conservative in their orientations, Fleming ultimately would come out on top because his personal story was the most compelling. Born of humble circumstances, by grit and wit he had persevered to become an extremely successful businessman – the antithesis to what many saw as the typical Washington politician. This was despite his being probably the most conservative candidate in the contest, articulating some issue preferences that on the surface can be easily caricatured negatively but in reality are nuanced, complex, and on the whole comprise very sound public policy.

    Fleming then caught a couple of breaks with his Democrat opponent, retiring First District (Caddo Parish) Attorney Paul Carmouche. While Carmouche fit well the Democrat playbook for the South – be conservative on a few, mainly social, issues to mask a willingness to serve liberal interests in Washington – and had a much larger geographical base, the fact that he was a career politician who had not run a campaign in decades not only provided a lengthy record with sufficient negative fodder to publicize, but made it easy to have him appear as just another political insider.

    However, as important was Mother Nature which sent Hurricane Gustav to cause postponement of state elections. Without this, the general election would have been held the same day as all national elections; instead, the runoff primaries for party nomination were pushed back to then. Carmouche would show his weakness as a competitor in two ways here: first, when he got forced into a runoff with a black retiree from the rural southern part of the district who spent a tenth of what Carmouche did, and that he, an old-time white politician preaching that he was conservative, depended so much on black voters for support. On Nov. 4, with Barack Obama on the top of the ticket, Carmouche got about 93,000 votes in wining the nomination.

    But on Dec. 6, with no other contest on the ballot, in the general election that should have been on Nov. 4, not even 93,000 votes total were cast. Carmouche’s total was only about 47 percent of his runoff total, while Fleming exceeded his total from a month previous by 3 percent. In other words, a significant portion of Republicans who voted for Fleming’s runoff opponent showed up again and voted for Fleming, while many who had voted for Carmouche and his opponent, probably largely blacks, sat out the general election. Had an inspiring figure such as Obama topped the ticket as would have happened without the delay, Carmouche would have won.

    Republicans have faced a lot of bad luck this election cycle, with the difference in the presidential election being an economic crisis triggered by Democrat over-regulation of the mortgage industry yet blame placed on Republicans. Yet the postponed election finally got something to break their way, at least in northwest Louisiana. And it’s a break Democrats will rue for years, because the Fourth District’s history is that once elected, a Member of Congress typically stays as long as he likes. Unless he makes some seriously questionable and/or liberal policy choices, Fleming can stay in this seat as long as he likes, thereby adding another chapter to his interesting life story.

    Finally, when Republicans were down after Pres. Bill Clinton’s 1992 triumph, the first sign of a turnaround came when a Republican knocked off an incumbent Democrat senator a month later. Two years later, the GOP swept into power on Capitol Hill. Is the Fleming victory a sign that Republican fortunes are rebounding from their nadir?


    Cao win puts another nail into Melancon's House coffin

    Besides the obvious fact that the biggest loser of Anh “Joseph” Cao’s upset win over Rep. Bill Jefferson was the incumbent himself, next in line is the neighbor to the south, Rep. Charlie Melancon, and Louisiana Democrats as a whole.

    A Democrat as is Jefferson, he is the most endangered species in the Louisiana House delegation since every single member other member now is a Republican. The giddy dreams some state party officials must have had now have turned nightmarish; the party had hoped to wiggle out of this election cycle with another Democrat to succeed Jefferson on the Second District, Paul Carmouche to pick up the open seat in the Fourth, and Rep. Don Cazayoux to retain the seat he has won by special election only months early, to give the delegation a majority in the state. Instead, despite all being at least even-money possibilities, all three wishes came up craps.

    In the short run, the surviving Melancon (unopposed for reelection) really gains nothing more than he already had. Even had Jefferson won, the indictments hanging over his head would had rendered him largely ineffective as a powerbroker, so Melancon among the state’s House members, being of the same party as the current Congressional majority and incoming president (plus now among the most senior even just starting his third term), would still have been the most influential. But in the long run, the Cao upset along with these other GOP victories makes Melancon’s deteriorating position even worse.

    With Louisiana very likely losing a House seat due to reapportionment in 2012, Melancon’s seat remains the most threatened. Three interests will jockey over this process, and two of them have a community of interest that will drive it. Republicans will want to create conditions that will ensure at least five of the six seats remain in their hands, while black Democrats will want a secure seat for themselves.

    This cuts out white Democrats entirely, and the other two forces have the muscle to put this through the state legislature. Republicans already effectively control the House and while Democrats control the Senate, black legislators among them will defect on this issue. And of course Gov. Bobby Jindal whose approval is necessary on any plan and could only be bypassed with an impossible supermajority is a Republican.

    The idea all along has been to carve up Melancon’s Third District and shifting other districts at the margins. This would allow the Second District to take in majority black areas of the Third and reach into the Sixth and First to do the same to reinforce its current black majority – necessary not only because of general population loss, but as a result of the hurricane disasters of 2005. These with the Seventh then can swallow up the Third.

    Just in case black Democrats hesitate, Jindal and his allies can offer them a deal they can’t refuse. With depopulation costing New Orleans as many as five legislative seats, Republicans can offer to save most of these black legislators’ seats in exchange for dismantling the Third. Those affected incumbents will throw Melancon overboard faster than the Silver Zipper can charm a female ex-reporter.

    But with the election of Cao, they may not need such inducements. The special circumstances of this contest are not likely to repeat, but they still demonstrate that the seat is not as safe as they might like for a black. Any thoughts they may have harbored about trying to eliminate a Republican seat against the odds to save Melancon’s surely are reduced now.

    As 2010 approached, had a black Democrat been ensconced in the Second and Cazayoux or Carmouche or both in office, there would have been less concern about shoring up the majority black status of the Second and perhaps the Sixth or Fourth (likely the latter) would have been more vulnerable for elimination. But the 2008 cycle produced the worst possible outcome for Melancon, meaning this could be his last term. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, in 2010 he may take a chance opposing a slightly vulnerable Sen. David Vitter as the only opportunity to extend his political career past 2012.


    Caddo failing schools plan itself not likely to succeed

    Newcomer Caddo Parish School District Superintendent Gerald Dawkins has introduced a plan to deal with schools threatened by state takeover, which should receive an answer concering it from the state next week. As befitting a situation where dramatic results must be changed the plan is bold. Unfortunately, it addresses too few of the impediments that have created the underachieving problem in the first place.

    To prompt better performance out of failing schools, first one must be clear about why the underperformance happens. No one cause, but several in part interrelated must be addressed before any substantial improvement can occur. They deal with the students’ backgrounds themselves, the competency of the teachers, and the administrative/political environment in which it all operates.

    Dawkins’ plan faces long odds because it cannot adequately address all of these considerations. It seeks to create a theme at each subpar school (typically utilizing some already-developed education system), clear all present positions of their occupants and invite open hiring into them, and add instructional and development time among other things. The hope is to attract students from other attendance zones in the district interested in theme areas which (even if this goes unstated) can increase the school’s test scores, as well as to attract better teachers to get students to achieve more.

    These outcomes may be realized, but given all of the other inertia they are unlikely to cause the big improvement necessary. The least controllable factor of school performance is the students themselves, more specifically the backgrounds and cultures from which they hail. Simply, in these schools, children disproportionately come from families that do not possess the attitudes and/or abilities to facilitate success in learning.

    Regrettably, too many of these children have parents who do not value education and/or are unable to assist their kids in their schoolwork or in providing support that encourages students to stay in school and learn. (Not surprisingly, most of these parents were poor or indifferent students usually if now working in low-paying jobs that afford them little opportunity to give support, creating a cycle of low achievement.) Shamefully, until welfare reform in the past dozen years, these attitudes were encouraged (what was so important about doing well in school if the state would support you regardless?) and it will take a generation to undo the entitlement mentality present in the subculture of underachievement, something Dawkins’ plan can do nothing about.

    Teacher competency in their subject knowledge base also contributes. In its initial certification guidelines (and note that schools are not forced to hire only teachers certified in the subject area they teach), Louisiana requires some undemanding demonstration of knowledge, but none to renew certificates. And a large number of teachers still operate under the old certification system where no demonstration of competency is required at any time. Louisiana as many states have done already needs to implement a periodic testing of subject area knowledge of all teachers to make sure only those who demonstrate proficient knowledge of the subject areas they teach be allowed to do so.

    But this necessity is a pipe dream as long as current school governance remains unaltered and teachers’ unions given power to prevent the needed changes. Ideally, the best teachers, both in terms of subject competency and in pedagogical skill, would be placed in the worst schools. The central office could create a process offering substantially better pay for teaching in these schools, based upon these two merits demonstrated by some objective process, with it doing the hiring for these schools. That would be needed to get the better teachers in place.

    However, this would invoke the wrath of the beneficiaries of the current process, where hiring is done in a decentralized process by principals primarily based upon seniority and who knows whom where the low-performing school are generally the last choice of teachers, and would be opposed bitterly by unions whose main goal is to transfer as much money as possible into the pockets of as many (unionized) teachers as they can and who have vehemently obstructed any efforts at kinds of merit pay or competency testing. Another potential improvement would be to introduce much sterner disciplinary measures for disruptive students, whose behavior disproportionately plagues these schools, but then different political and legal forces would fight these changes as well.

    For a vexing problem it’s good to be a big thinker. But one also must understand the root causes of the disease, some of which are beyond schools’ control and others where fundamental political change must occur requiring courage seldom seen within the educational establishment. Dawkins’ plan addresses little of this, and such represents a reshuffling of chairs resting on the deck of a sinking ship.


    Fat lady sings but Carmouche doesn't yet listen

    Democrat candidate Paul Carmouche for Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District is of a mind to ask for a recount of the results from last Saturday’s contest with Republican Dr. John Fleming, where Fleming came out 356 votes ahead. The way the numbers are, it is the equivalent of coming into the last hole of a golf tournament in second place trailing the clubhouse leader by four shots on a par 5 hole.

    At least this is according to national Republican officials, who sent out information Monday about what a recount would entail. Important to note is that the only recounting done is for ballots not counted electronically. Excluded are paper ballots courtesy of early voting procedures by mail, which since they are counted by a scanner typically have a very low error rate. All other ballots are electronically cast and could be recounted only if there is some verified irregularity revealed when they are “opened” tomorrow. (See here for an excellent front-line explanation of what gets counted.)

    Therefore, the only place where Carmouche could make up ground would be with provisional ballots – those cast because an election commissioner had reason to believe the voter was registered but for whatever reason was not recorded as being registered to that precinct – and any challengeable spoiled ballots. There are only 36 verified of the former and 171 of the latter (and perhaps an additional 10 potentially spoiled).

    But there could be many more provisional ballots in each precinct box containing information from the voting machines. A general rule of thumb from national statistics is that one percent of the total cast end up as provisional, meaning 926 in this case (although Republican operatives estimate there may only be about 200). Further, other rules of thumb indicate that only half of provisional ballots are verified and half of spoiled ballots are reintroduced and declared valid.

    If these numbers hold – 463 provisional and 181 spoiled – Carmouche would really have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to win with these. Even if he got 50 percent greater than Fleming on each set (such as a 75/25 split) that’s only 322 votes he makes up. He would have to capture close to 80 percent of the votes (assuming voting machine tallies check and no errors made in tallying already-processed paper ballots which all would have to be non-randomly in his favor) in order to pull ahead.

    That seems very improbable given the closeness of the contest. Of course, a higher number of provisional ballots discovered would decrease the margin necessary to win, as would more of them and the spoiled ballots being validated, but these things also would entail a departure from statistical norms, and potentially dramatic ones for a difference to be made. After spending in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to try to take this office, Carmouche can’t be blamed for putting a little more down on a recount, but it looks like it will be just a little more good money after bad for him and an unnecessary taxing of registrar resources and the public’s patience for everybody else.


    Numbers show disgust at Jefferson likely ousted him

    Analysis shows the reason why Rep. Bill Jefferson lost a chance at a tenth term, even if it might have been attenuated, was his black voting base abandoned him at his time of need while disproportionately more non-black voters showed up to give Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao enough margin to knock Jefferson off.

    It’s fascinating to review the 91 precincts in the Second Congressional District that have at least 95 percent black majorities with fewer than 2.5 percent whites in them over the Oct. 4 Democrat primary, the Nov. 4 nomination runoff, and the Dec. 6 general election. In this time period they averaged 61,477 registrants or about a sixth of the district’s voters, and it’s no surprise that almost all of them in all three contests returned 95 percent-plus majorities for black candidates (several in the first election, Jefferson in the remaining two). Indeed, in the general election Jefferson swept every vote in 10 of them, while Cao was shut out in another 7.

    The problem for Jefferson was, too few of them voted in the general election compared to the others. Turnout in October was only a little under 17 percent in these districts, but swelled to over 37 percent in November. But in December, it plunged to just under 12 percent. In numerical terms, the drop from October to December was over 3,000. Considering that Jefferson would have gotten at least 95 percent of this vote and he lost by 1,826 votes, even a turnout level, all other things equal, matching October’s would have brought him the victory by about 1,000 votes.

    Why did turnout fall so incredibly? One clue is to look at the October election’s other contests and compare it to other contests on the ballot. Comparing precincts, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the sum total of votes received in the Second District primary and those for other local contests. Important to remember is that Republicans could vote in these other local races, but they comprise only about 11 percent of the district’s total. In other words, in a contest where a range of choices besides Jefferson was available, turnout was roughly equivalent to other contests on the ballot, meaning few of those voting were there only to vote on local races and rolled off on the congressional contest.

    Therefore, if all other things were equal, turnout should have been close in December to October levels in these precincts. Instead, it dropped five percent. This would appear to indicate that some who voted in October did not vote in December because their choice was either a damaged Democrat in Jefferson or non-Democrats. Rather than be forced to make such a choice, they stayed home.

    This played into Cao’s favor given the dynamics with which he had to work. He saw a boost come from white and Vietnamese constituencies. In October, turnout in the 24 precincts (that comprise over 25,000 registrants) with at least 80 percent of registrants being white and fewer than 5 percent being black, adjusting for Republicans not being able to participate until December turnout was over 28 percent, zooming to about 52 percent in November, and then declining back to about 29 percent in December.

    The differentials are striking, especially in December. Typically, black turnout will fall a few percentage points behind that of whites. But the gaps here are unusual, of 11, 15, and 17 percent. The last in particular was stunning and cannot be explained, as Jefferson seems to want to believe, that there was “confusion.” Whites turned out at almost exactly the same adjusted rate October to December, so is it being argued here that whites somehow were less confused? The only explanation that makes sense is that some black, mostly Democrats, in October found someone they could for in the Democrat primary, but in December they felt there was nobody on the ballot for which they could touch the screen, and therefore stayed home.

    Even though whites comprise only 31 percent of the district while blacks have twice as high a proportion, white turnout apparently was over 2.5 times that of blacks (this was the scenario for a Cao victory previously outlined). The magnitude of the increased differential suggests that some whites and other race voters who had participated in the Democrat primary defected to Cao. So he not only benefitted from a depressed Jefferson base, but appeared to also differentially benefit from defections. There maybe have been “apathy” among blacks about this election, but let’s be clear about why – it was because of the Democrat nominee.

    (Only four precincts have a large Vietnamese population. In the two where other races outnumbered blacks, turnout increased from October to November, and then stayed the same from November to December – likely a boost of about a hundred votes for Cao.)

    In the end, Jefferson appeared to lose support in the general election well in excess of what normally would have been expected – likely because of the federal indictments hanging over him – while Cao’s base remained more present and firmer. It’s why this unprecedented situation has occurred where for the nest two years a non-black Republican will represent a district with over half of his registered constituents being black Democrats.


    Cao's stunning win shows maturity of Second District

    One would have thought that Anh “Joseph” Cao had as good a chance as anyone to turn the majority-black Louisiana Second Congressional District into a Republican seat, at least for two years. He has a rag-to-riches background, faced an indicted incumbent the evidence concerning which was particularly toxic, and had the good fortune for the election to occur in the optimal electoral environment that would attract disproportionately his supporters compared to those of his opponent’s, Democrat incumbent Rep. Bill Jefferson.

    But early voting totals seemed to dispel the notion of an upset, combined with the insistence by a large portion of the district’s black voters that comprise 62 percent of the total electorate that when it comes to voting, the absolute necessary condition for any candidate to be eligible to receive a vote is that he is black. For Cao to have any chance of winning, he had to draw disproportionately from Republicans, mainly whites. Early voting indicators showed that wasn’t going to happen. As these results tipped off an overall low turnout, this would have helped Cao only if whites had disproportionately shown up then (signaling the same was likely to occur on Saturday). Instead, the ratio of white-black-other-race turnout was pretty close to the district’s overall ratio.

    And yet, Cao pulled off the biggest upset of the 2008 election campaign. I’ll need more time to scan the precincts to give a definitive answer, but two things seemed obvious. First, turnout for the election was just 70 percent of the Democrat/independent-only primary total on Nov. 4 – now about 50,000 Republicans would get a say and looked to ahev turned out disproportionately. Second, while some of the super-black-majority precincts in Orleans (95 percent-plus black registration) had decent turnouts of 20 percent, other turnouts were microscopic – heavily Jefferson, but less than 5 percent. Even a 10 percent turnout in these might have been enough to win Jefferson the election.

    Just a couple of days ago, rhetoric such as this was emanating from Jefferson supporters:

    “They're trying to disenfranchise us, trying to convince us that it's a wasted vote to go on Saturday and pull the lever for a man who we know is ours,” said the Rev. Samuel Butler, who organized the news conference [Thursday supporting Jefferson]. He didn't elaborate on how he believes Republicans are trying to accomplish [that].

    “This district means a lot to us because it was really created ... for the blacks to have representation,” said the Rev. Zebedee Bridges, a longtime Jefferson ally. “I'm hoping that the people in that district don't sit down and let someone walk in and take our rights away from us. You really can't visualize how much this means to us. This is history.”

    Such ignorance reflects poorly on the leadership, if any, that these ministers demonstrate. Butler needs to explain how the election of Cao would “disenfranchise” him, blacks, or anybody else. How would the election of Cao in any way show compromising of the right to vote? Bridges desperately needs a history lesson: the district was designed to have black interests represented, not blacks – demonstrated by the fact that the longest-serving holders of the district were husband-and-wife white politicians Hale and Lindy Boggs. And he needs to explain the obviously racist sentiment that somehow failure to elect a black to the office would “take our rights away from us.” Does he mean whites like the Boggs in office did that? Or in Tennessee, does he imply that white Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen discriminates against black constituents in his majority-black district?

    One would have thought America was past this with the election of multi-racial president-elect Barack Obama. These people may not be, but the voters of the Second District showed they were.


    Democrat mistakes appear set to cost them more seats

    One reason why Louisiana Democrats are becoming an endangered species in the state is they would rather shoot the messenger than comprehend the message. The party’s reaction that led to Rep. Don Cazayoux’s failed reelection bid only demonstrates this and may explain why they are about to let another congressional seat slip from its grasp..

    There is a standard Democrat playbook to try to win these seats in the South where solid white conservative majorities exist: get white candidates who can sound conservative on social issues, and take the black vote for granted. As compared to a candidate, black or white, who always unabashedly will vote liberal, this kind of candidate can be relied upon by the party leadership to do so much of the time and has much improved chances of winning since casual voters will be fooled into thinking he is more conservative.

    But for this to work, black Democrats have to cooperate. In all, with this kind of candidate they still will get a majority of what they want in policy terms. However, it discriminates against black candidates who find it more difficult to hide their liberalism because, as long as party officials think the district is competitive or there is no other alternative, they will prefer the white candidate. The problem Cazayoux encountered was state Rep. Michael Jackson tired of this condition of servitude in the party, and when narrowly defeated by Cazayoux in the nomination for the special election, struck out on his own as an independent in the regular election.

    Jackson did so because he felt slighted by regular power brokers in the party. He had good reason to feel so. Comparing donors to the special election campaigns, a flood of money from Democrat-supporting interest groups and a who’s-who of prominent white Democrats in the state gave to Cazayoux, while Jackson got little in the way of these PAC contributions, from individuals most money came from blacks, and of whites more (although still a fraction of Cazayoux’s total receipts) actually came from Republicans. And while the party in terms of giving remained neutral until after Cazayoux secured the nomination (and then it threw everything it had to him), it is incredibly hard to believe that it was coincidental that the traditional big donors to the party’s candidates would not almost exclusively line up behind Cazayoux if there wasn’t some tacit, perhaps even unspoken, directive from party leaders to support Cazayoux because he better fit the playbook.

    There was a good case that the party could have supported Jackson over Cazayoux as a winner in the regular election. Especially with then-Sen. Barack Obama on the ticket as the presidential candidate to stimulate black turnout and the regular election scheduled to coincide with this election, Jackson would have had 30 percent of the vote secured immediately. The district probably had enough white liberals that Jackson could have won under these conditions. The problem was Cazayoux was the more electable candidate for the special election which if won could bring advantages of incumbency to the regular election and deny them to a Republican.

    So, Jackson was told to stay in his place and this caused him to bolt. It is particularly humorous to witness the naïveté and/or disingenuousness of Democrat officials to “blame” Jackson for Cazayoux’s loss and to call him a “sellout.” This is because Louisiana Democrats long ago sold out the party’s black voters in its attempt to appear to be something that it isn’t to chase more numerous white votes. Jackson was not the reason Democrats lost the seat, it was the party itself from the internal contradictions of its strategy.

    (And it may not even be fair to “blame” Jackson for this defeat. As previously noted, the relatively higher turnout among blacks on Nov. 4 really benefitted Cazayoux more than Jackson. Take away the good luck of the “Obama effect” and the bad luck of the “Jackson effect” and Cazayoux’s reelection was a tossup.)

    Saturday, it may happen again, this time without a black politician to take the blame. Former First District Attorney Paul Carmouche, the Democrat nominee, is running the same playbook as did Cazayoux against Republican nominee Dr. John Fleming. Already signs seem to point to Fleming winning, but an additional one confirms the trend: in early voting, in Caddo Parish where whites only slightly outnumber blacks, whites turned out in 3.5 times greater numbers than blacks, and in Bossier Parish where whites outnumber blacks 6:1 the ratio in early voting is over double that (these parishes hold over half of the district’s voters and almost all of the its black citizens). This would indicate not a lot of enthusiasm among blacks for a Carmouche candidacy, and would be the death knell for any chance Carmouche has of winning.

    Simply, the white, long-time politician Carmouche seems to be failing to energize the majority bloc of blacks in the Democrat base. The Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves for putting up a candidate they thought could fit a cookie-cutter winning mold instead of a candidate who will address what so many of their constituents want. It failed them in the Sixth District, and it may well fail them in the Fourth.


    Signs point to Republican retention of LA Fourth District

    With the reelection of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss yesterday, only one probable competitive federal contest remains to complete election cycle 2008, in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District (while by no means impossible, Rep. Bill Jefferson is not likely to lose in the state’s Second District). Chambliss’ win gives clues as to the winner between Republican physician/businessman John Fleming and Democrat former First District Attorney Paul Carmouche.

    Fleming has run as a solid conservative from the start in this conservative district, while Carmouche has tried to do the same despite his party label that won president-elect Barack Obama all of 39 percent of the vote in the district. Citing his prosecutorial background and constantly articulating social conservative views, Carmouche has bent over backwards to argue he can work for a liberal taskmaster such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who dropped in during the campaign to help him raise money) yet somehow reflect conservative values in his representation.

    It is the preferred strategy by non-incumbent Southern Democrats, trying to appear conservative on a few issues to “inoculate” themselves against charges that they largely will serve liberal interests. But it’s wearing thin, as results across the South showed in November, and in December now (the election pushed back here because of Hurricane Gustav-induced difficulties) odds are it will come a-cropper on Carmouche.

    Two dynamics are at work here, both because this is an election outside the normal election day: that disproportionately better-informed voters will show up at the polls, and that there is no one at the top of the ballot which with Obama in November served to give an extra boost to Democrats. Reviewing the first consideration, more casual voters are less likely to vote this time out than in November, and these voters are typically less informed and therefore less likely to grasp the contradictions of the Carmouche candidacy.

    For example, despite the fact that pro-abortion forces such as Pelosi have rallied to the aide of Carmouche, he says he’s pro-life and implies he’d vote that way on legislation addressing that in Congress. But more informed voters doubt that he would. One thing that Obama is likely to do is relaxing the current presidential order that funds not be given to international groups that advocate and perform abortions, so the next budget passed by Congress could include that kind of funding. So Carmouche really is going to stand up to Pelosi (who was rebuked by American bishops for suggesting the Catholic theology really did not ban abortion, while some church leaders including Pope Benedict XVI have suggested Catholic politicians should not take communion if they voted to support abortion) on this, or would he try to have it both ways?

    Carmouche has stated, on occasions such as this, he would act independently and still have influence in a liberal party. But either he is being dishonest or ignorant with this attitude. On tougher issues where there will be defections, perhaps from the 45 or so (hard to tell how many exactly are left given recent election results) “blue dog” Democrats currently in the House (Carmouche wants to join the caucus if he wins), a lot of pressure will be put on him to vote liberal. And on others, he will have no influence at all because (if he and Jefferson win) there will be 257 Democrats in the House, meaning even discarding the fiscally moderate blue dogs Pelosi has around 210 sure votes. A few absent members and GOP defectors on each vote, and Pelosi can ignore the blue dogs and Carmouche. So he will often be there for her against the will of his district, and often when he is not he will have no influence anyway. This is something better-informed voters understand and therefore conservatives among them will be hesitant to support him.

    Concerning the other consideration, the Georgia election shows that while Chambliss’ vote total dropped off about 600,000 from November to December, his Democrat opponent’s dropped about 800,000 (although Chambliss’ figures may be slightly understated because he probably picked up some portion of those who voted for the Libertarian candidate in November although the majority of those voters probably stayed home in December). The same dynamic will be at work Saturday in Louisiana.

    The only independent survey of the contest assumed 72 percent turnout among registered voters and that 27 percent of the electorate would be blacks (which the survey showed favored Carmouche by 85 to 9 percent), which deduced Fleming would win by two percent. Both of those turnout figures are optimistic; overall turnout may reach two-thirds of that number and black turnout was only 28 percent of the total electorate in the October primary where there were both local and statewide contests on the ballot with especially intense local contests in Caddo Parish where well over half of the district’s blacks live.

    After Democrats won the White House in 1992 and retained control of Congress, a Georgia runoff for the Senate that captured a seat from the Democrats was the very first signal of the approaching Republican onslaught of 1994. Should Fleming retain the seat for the GOP, it could be the initial sign of a Republican comeback in 2010.