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New-found Democrat ethics interest denotes opportunism

Welcome aboard to ethics reform, Louisiana Democrats – it’s about time you joined the party after obstructing it all these years. For the past decade, a debate whose pro-reform side almost exclusively featured Republicans has obtained so much momentum on that side of the issue it seems on it Democrat legislative leaders now feel compelled to paint stripes on their figurative horses and call themselves zebras.

State Reps. Don Cazayoux (now running for Congress) and Eric LaFleur (in a few days to become a senator) asserted in fact they weren’t latecomers to the effort, giving as an example a (weak) 2005 special session bill to disclose hurricane contract work by elected officials and their relatives. Selective memories have they: the pair fought against strong provisions in bills on this subject both in committee and on the floor.

At least state Reps. Gary Smith and Michael Jackson are hat and cattle when they speak of ethics reform. During last year’s debate about Jackson’s HB 730 which attempted to do much of what incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal wants in regards to ethics reform, Smith spoke in favor of greater coverage of the bill. But when Smith claims “Democrats over the last few years led the charge on ethics reform,” he convenient forgets then that his now-ally on the issue Cazayoux spoke against what Smith had argued, and that it was (then-)Democrat senators Pres. Don Hines and Robert Adley who made parliamentary maneuvers to kill Jackson’s bill.

Even on a matter as simple as allocating tickets to events to legislators, who can forget it was Democrats like state Sen. Rob Marionneaux who in 2004 bleated about how it was being blown all out of proportion by the media, who then authored a resolution to confine them to the gallery in the Senate? And then the next year when Republicans put forward a bill to ban that (which Democrats are now supporting), Democrats (and some Republicans) scuttled it?

The fact of the matter is, all the way back to Reconstruction Democrats have enjoyed healthy majorities in the Legislature and controlled the governor’s mansion for all but 14 of those years. If they ever had been serious about ethics reform on the scale Jindal has proposed, they would have been passed it into law long ago. Among the majority in the party, there’s no genuine enthusiasm for it. Instead, recognize the statements of Cazayoux and most other Democrats reek of political opportunism as they see the relevancy of their party in the state policy-making policy slip away against the growing Republican/reform tide hurtling across Louisiana.


Landrieu unconvincing defending ethics lapse charges

Struggling on the policy front where she has been voting against the majority of Louisianans on a number of issues, the last thing Sen. Mary Landrieu needed to secure her reelection this fall was an apparent pattern of scandal. But the latest publicity surrounding an alleged earmark-for-contribution episode has made her appear to be a serial violator of campaign finance law, her defense of which makes her look even worse.

At is issue is a contract Landrieu foisted upon the District of Columbia school system to provide a specific kind of learning software onto its schools. Four days before formal approval of the $2 million, but after having met with Landrieu on the matter, at her office’s suggestion the company’s founder held a fundraiser among employees and friends that raised $30,000 for her 2002 reelection bid and more than $50,000 more would find its way to her from among his associates. Eventually, the company would receive over $8 million from the federal government for contracts nationwide including $700,000 for Louisiana.

On the surface, this looks like a trade which the nonpartisan Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claims is illegal and wants legal investigations conducted on it. That’s bad enough, but Landrieu has made matters worse for herself by the way in which she has tried to explain it.

Landrieu’s office asserts that there couldn’t be any connection because the item in the appropriations bill that by her place on the relevant committee she was able to include was done months before the fundraiser. But that argument is entirely specious if corruption was in play: the idea was not to include it but to get it passed. Timeline: the item is stalled in the Senate, the company owner meets with Landrieu, her staff suggests a fundraiser, the fundraiser is held (which eventually would lead those affiliated with the company to donate enough for it to become one of the 20 highest sources of campaign funds for Landrieu in her two terms), and the bill with the earmark is passed out shortly thereafter.

It also tries to address the allegation by saying the software program ultimately proved helpful (which is somewhat disputed). But this logic is akin to the ends justifying the means: it’s as if Landrieu was saying, “So what if the deal was shady, it worked.” These “explanations,” if you can call them that, just beg more questions about her role and thought process.

Which is why the watchdog group is calling for an investigation which puts Landrieu in a no-win situation of her own making. Having it could exonerate her, but at the same time it would consistently remind voters during an election season that she may have ethical problems, if not actually having broken the law.

Further, having it or repeated calls for it would compound the fallout the campaign finance matter on which she ran afoul months ago regarding recently incarcerated Democrat fundraiser Norman Hsu, who appeared to have steered illegal donations her way. Democrat Landrieu ignored the issue at first then finally issued denials that she knew of any illegal activities taking place and promised to divest the contributions. Adding to this festering was the appointment last year to her staff of Stephanie Leger who was investigated as part of the Jack Abramhoff lobbying scandal (Leger’s work history with the Abramhoff organization goes unnoted in her biography on the Landrieu senate web site).

Together, all of this adds up to create a plausible picture of a politician who plays fast and loose with the law. (And one who doesn’t even bring home the bacon despite all of that: Louisiana got less than 10 percent of the questioned earmarks.) That’s not the thing Landrieu wants to convey in a state ready to embark on major ethics reform when polls show she is well short of reelection, if not behind announced Republican challenger state Treasurer John Kennedy, yet she seems to be doing her best to do exactly that.


Election dynamics favor Carmody in special election

Of those that matter for the House District 6 special election next month, the field is probably set with former Shreveport city councilman Thomas Carmody and becoming-perennial candidate Barrow Peacock, both Republicans. Two other potentially viable candidates, current City Councilman Monty Walford and recent state attorney general candidate Royal Alexander appear to have opted out. Democrat Walford probably took a look at the heavily Republican district that doesn’t much overlap his present one and thought discretion was the better part of valor, while Republican Alexander probably concluded his recent expensive campaign was too much too quickly.

Another Democrat that could run is Caddo Parish School Board Member Charlotte Crawley. However, she would suffer from the same political problems as Walford and therefore has little chance of winning.

Carmody has been out of office a year and built up much goodwill among local Republicans for his service there as perhaps the leading fiscal conservative. (A few, however, might blame him for being the deciding vote in a 2002 redistricting plan that enabled Democrats to get a council majority, although others argue with the numbers going the way they were it was the best deal possible.) He won two impressive victories but his council district covers only about half of this state district.

Peacock ran for this seat in 2003 but was drubbed by resigning seat-holder Mike Powell. His 2007 Senate District 37 run encompassed most of the area, including the Bossier City portion, but again he failed to make the general election runoff. In addition, many Republican activists were distressed by his failure to publicly endorse eventual winner last fall state Sen.-elect B.L. “Buddy” Shaw over state Rep. Billy Montgomery who had switched to the GOP but whose voting record was much less conservative than had been Shaw’s when he had been a state House member from 1996-2004.

While Carmody has the advantages of electoral success, proven money-raising ability, and GOP goodwill, Peacock has the advantages of having run in the Bossier portion of the district twice, having run more recently (Carmody’s only serious-contested contest occurred in 1998), and can raise a lot of money very quickly. (Peacock’s campaigns have been enormously self-funded; in his latest bid – pending campaign finance reports due soon – he spent over $300,000 of which well over $200,000 was his own money which was probably more than any single legislative candidate in the state spent.)

But what gives Carmody the edge is that this special election, in tandem with presidential preference primaries, will disproportionately attract party activists. Especially after Peacock seemed to thumb his nose at the GOP with the failure to endorse Shaw and never having been much of a favorite of theirs anyway, Carmody will be their choice. Peacock can expect little enthusiasm from Democrats having spent much to craft a solidly conservative image of himself in last year’s campaign and if Crawley runs that is moot, so his best shot would be to pour his own resources into getting Bossier voters out. However, given the dynamics of this race, it’s not likely to be enough.


Blanco legacy attempt: silk purses out of sows' ears

With one week to go with the lamentable term of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, her comments about that tenure reveal that she doesn’t really need to pen a political autobiography to explain all. One aphorism describing her and one statement she made really sums it all up. They are, in order, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” and that she should have spent (state) money on a public relations campaign to change perceptions of her in the wake of the 2005 hurricane disasters.

The two link to explain why she was utterly the wrong choice to lead the state and did so poorly. In her heart, Blanco loves big government. She thinks its purpose is to do things, to correct problems real and imagined, the latter of which obviously don’t need government arrogation of power from the people in order to intervene into, and the former of which in most cases government does less efficiently and effectively than if individuals are left to their own devices to grapple.

This view of hers entirely misunderstands the human condition and human nature. Government should exist to enable individuals to pursue their own ends, interfering as little as possible with human lives because in the end down this path almost everybody in society is better off both in terms of autonomy and in accrual of resources. Simply, minimal government involvement to redistribute power and wealth for most people optimizes their individual abilities to accrue these on their own in an efficient way most beneficial to society as a whole, while for a small bunch of people they are no worse off than under alternative, increased levels of government intervention.

An excellent example concerns one issue Blanco wishes remembrance for and asserts she did good things with, economic development. She acted as if a big game hunter, trying to use the resources of government to bag hefty trophies. For the rest of her life, airlines, hotels, headwaiters, and the like will send her an avalanche of Christmas cards for all the business she brought them as she traipsed around on taxpayers’ money believing she could talk businesses, while dangling baubles such as special incentives in front of it, into coming to the state.

Meanwhile, existing business in the state was contracting for the very reasons Blanco was almost always unconvincing in her arguments to these presumed economic saviors who time and again refused to come to the state as non-government job growth stagnated: Louisiana has an unfriendly business climate because it taxes too much, regulates too much, educates inefficiently, and plays too fast and loose with governmental ethics. These problems were caused by too much and too much acquiescence to big government: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear — no matter how much PR through government largesse you apply.

From Blanco we did not get meaningful tax cuts (just a small one for some businesses followed by a huge health care tax hike that she had to get repealed) and/or reductions in government spending (spending continued to increase even as population declined). Instead, we got Blanco blaming all sorts of imaginary forces and concepts – storms, FEMA, Bush, Republicans, Nagin, partisanship – for her lack of progress in economic development and in a host of other policy areas. Who she really needed to blame was herself for her flawed political ideology but since she had neither the intelligence nor wisdom to understand the theoretical bankruptcy of her liberalism, she had to find excuses instead.

Throughout her gubernatorial career Blanco has believed PR could solve her problems (within a day of Katrina-triggered floods she was communicating with staffers about what actions she should take to make herself look better). With her book plans, it appears that attitude will continue. If so, do not expect it to explicate the central insight that she should draw from her four years as the state’s chief executive – her worldview that promoted big government preordained her to failure, something that no amount of PR can change.


Baker departure would create more congressional chaos

From the sounds of it, the dean of Louisiana’s congressional delegation may not be in office much longer (you don’t volunteer that you may resign office early to take a new job without being serious about it, and even if you don’t come to terms with that position it sure sounds like you’re willing to field others). With the almost-certain departure of Rep. Richard Baker, more chaos infiltrates the Louisiana political scene.

With the resignation of Rep. Bobby Jindal to become governor, retirement of Rep. Jim McCrery, looming departure willing or otherwise of indicated Rep. William Jefferson, and sketchy reelection chances of Sen. Mary Landrieu, Baker’s departure would finish a wholesale revolution in national elective posts in the state. After the 2006 elections, the state’s delegation had about seven-eights of a century of service. By the beginning of 2009, it could be reduced by 75 percent. To put it into perspective, the new dean of the delegation, Rep. Rodney Alexander, at six years of service may constitute two-sevenths of the total amount of experience of the state’s congressional figures.

Such losses of seniority could reduce the amount of capital appropriations courtesy of the federal government coming to the state, and should become a campaign tool for Landrieu, in office for 11 years now. Expect her to remind voters that her defeat would cause the loss of seniority of the (at present, but maybe not given 2008 presidential contest dynamics) majority party for the state; whether that would prove convincing in any significant way is another matter.

As in the case of the 4th District of McCrery which has very similar demographics, the 6th favors a Republican although a certain Democrat candidate with good fortune could win the spot. In the Sixth, that person could be state Rep. Don Cazayoux who has a centrist voting record. But just like with the Fourth, any chance that Democrats might have to take the seat might go up in flames from intra-party strife – and it is more likely to happen here.

This is because the Sixth features a politician who has tasted a Congressional seat before, has run statewide well enough to get into a runoff for governor, and will be forced out of his state legislative office in about a week – state Sen. Cleo Fields. Having been in political office most of his adult life, Fields is itching to return to his biggest stage and would be at worst even money to win the Democrat nomination under the new closed primary system. The only thing holding him back is knowledge that the odds would be heavily against him in the general election regardless of the GOP opponent.

But you can’t win if you don’t play, and, even if he didn’t, Fields might want to show Baton Rouge-area Democrats he’s still the boss even if not in office by winning the nomination. Former Baker aide Paul Sawyer says he will run on the Republican side if the congressman leaves, but one can be sure others will take a stab on both sides of the aisle for a rare chance at an open seat.