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Scalise almost certain, Jenkins favored to win in May

Runoff elections for Louisiana’s major party candidates for the two U.S. House seats recently vacated produced a congressman-in-waiting, but have left the other indeterminate.

State Sen. Steve Scalise bested state Rep. Tim Burns to win the Republican nomination in the Second District. Barring incredibly unlikely circumstances, Scalise will join the long line of GOP representatives in this seat next month.

The Sixth District is another matter. As expected since he was less than a hundred votes from avoiding a runoff last month to secure the GOP nomination, former state Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins grabbed that slot. And the results on the Democrat side, with state Rep. Don Cazayoux prevailing over colleague Michael Jackson, give Jenkins the edge in the upcoming general election.

Jenkins assuredly would have beaten the liberal black Jackson, but the white liberal Cazayoux would have an easier time of masquerading as a conservative making this a closer contest. Cazayouz is vulnerable on many issues as his voting record in the state Legislature demonstrates, so Jenkins’ optimal strategy is to turn this into a contest about ideology especially in the use of tax dollars. For example, just last session, Cazayoux voted to bust the state’s spending cap that facilitated using a lot of one-time money for recurring, now entrenched spending, to authorize building a palatial new charity hospital in New Orleans even as Baton Rouge struggles to get money to build its own new charity hospital, and to fund pay increases for “ghost” workers (vacant positions) in state government as well as to not cut those positions and continue funding them instead of allocating the money elsewhere..

While Cazayoux is not as liberal on social issues he can’t top Jenkins in conservatism on that. By contrast, Jenkins can tie Cazayoux into the biggest whipping boy among (at least among the public) concerning Congress, earmarks. In 2007 alone, Cazayoux steered $131,000 in state taxpayer dollars directly to New Roads and Pointe Coupee Parish, and perhaps more to more obscure nongovernmental organization.

Cazayoux, by contrast, will keep clear of ideology and try to make the race turn on personality. But even here, his upside is limited. His best card, saying Jenkins got fined in 2002 by the Federal Elections Commission for not reporting he got a phone bank list in his 1996 very narrow loss to Sen. Mary Landrieu, will be relevant only to his likely supporters and Jenkins can turn it around by asserting he was the victim of corruption in the 1996 contest (even as a U.S. Senate investigation could not definitively demonstrate enough fraudulent activity cost him that election).

Cazayoux might draw a false sense of security from the fact that over ten thousand more voters participated in the Democrat primary than Republican, but that would make him fall into the trap, as historically has been the case, of underestimating Jenkins’ support. Note first that Jenkins given his primary advantage was assumed to be the winner, depressing GOP turnout who will be there to vote for Jenkins in May. Also, independents were allowed to vote in the Democrat primary but not Republicans, and far more Democrats typically vote for GOP candidates in national contests than vice-versa, meaning a number of Jenkins voters who forcibly were sat on the sidelines this time will get their chance in May.

This is Jenkins’ race to lose. If he has the resources and makes the contest relentlessly ideological, it will be a GOP sweep on May 3.


No fancy plans required to ameliorate workforce needs

Gov. Bobby Jindal has made clear his primary emphasis in the regular session of the Legislature in 2008 is workforce development, identifying the problem needing solving as disconnection between the kinds of skills graduates have coming out of public secondary and tertiary institutions and what the economy demands. But to correct this, we need first to understand the true nature of the problem which many have failed to correctly grasp.

If one is to argue there is too many offerings for bachelors’ degrees and not enough for associates’ degrees or vocational training, to say it is because of the whims of higher education officials largely misses the point. Louisiana’s problem in this regard is not there are too many people getting bachelors’ degrees and beyond – far from it, as the state ranks among the lowest in terms of the proportion of its population with these degrees which are the backbone of any economy that wishes to develop.

Nor is it accurate to maintain that passing control of tuition from the providers who ought to know something of the costs of education delivery, the universities, to largely uninformed politicians would not improve the situation. Louisiana is the only state that is backwards enough to leave tuition decisions in the hands of the Legislature. In fact, it is this very politicization of education that has skewed education needs from workforce needs.

It was politics that gave Louisiana too many four-year institutions in the first place. Note that Illinois, with three times-plus the population of Louisiana, has just about as many four-year institutions (public and private) as does Louisiana, while it has more than four times the number of two-year schools. Simply, schools outside of areas of real need, often in smaller cities or too many in bigger cities, were allowed to exist and grow to grant bachelors’ degrees and graduate degrees, usually at the behest of area legislative delegations looking for prestige.

Unfortunately, the overbuilt nature of senior institutions just isn’t going to go away. Bluntly (and sorry if it hurts the feelings of my colleagues at these institutions, but they know the veracity of this statement), there’s no reason to have such institutions 60 miles from both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, or 70 miles from Shreveport, or historically black institutions within 10 miles of large institutions in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Ruston. But that’s the situation the state must live with.

Thus, if the problem is too few two-year degrees or less offered relative to four-year degrees – which, again, are relatively too few in Louisiana already – the problem rests on the shoulders of the leaders of the four-year schools and their governing bodies only insofar to the extent that they themselves do not offer more in the way of associates’ degrees and certain certificate programs to meet this need.

Practically, this is the quickest and most effective way to use resources to close the education-workforce gap, not name-calling and suggestions that the dysfunctional legislative control of tuition continue. Besides removing legislative control over tuition, there’s no legislative solution needed here, just a willingness by the state’s education leaders to provide this kind of education where appropriate.


Blind spot on development imperils Jindal's agenda

To date, the talk of Gov. Bobby Jindal, and to some extent his actions, has been great on economic policy. He has said he wants to make Louisiana more business-friendly with the ultimate step being reduction, if not elimination, of income taxes both individual and corporate. He has started to back that up with the elimination of three nuisance taxes on business in the previous special session. But in all of this, he seems to have the same curious blind spot that did his predecessor in that, according to his premier budget, it’s necessary to prefer big game hunting than casting bread on the waters to achieve economic growth.

Jindal’s Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret is the point man on efforts to get $307.1 million of nonrecurring surplus funds dumped into a fund set aside to attract large employers which already has a $140 million balance. Both in practical and philosophical terms this allocation seems unwise and, in a related question, begs whether Moret is right for the job especially given his salary demands.

Moret claims the fund needs more money because other states are doing it, particularly large projects may need it, and the present balance could be gone after landing a project. It is possible that the increase could lure a project whose return to the state in terms of tax revenues could exceed the amount give up over the long haul, but, congruent to the theme of Jindal’s that proper priorities in spending will promote economic development, it’s hard to argue this is the right expenditure at this time.


Unbelievable good sense overtakes NW LA governments

Political watchers on both sides of the Red River were stunned by a series of announcements by local politicians that threatened to turn upside-down completely the political landscape of Caddo and Bossier Parishes and their principal cities Shreveport and Bossier City.

At a news conference jointly scheduled by leaders of the parish and city governments, not only did these officials promise sweeping new policies to be introduced, but an entirely new form of government that essentially would abolish their present forms. The conference, held at the Shreveport Convention Center, brought smiles to the operators of the city-owned facility who said the big crowd attending would assure that the Center would at least break even financially for the year.

The new form of government would make the two parishes and all their municipalities federative in nature, which some power retained by each unit but with larger decisions made by an elected assembly with representatives from each unit. “All our governments have concluded that local government is too fragmented and by working all together, we can provide more and better services to the public for reduced costs,” said Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover. “I’ve been an elected politician all my adult life,” he noted, and he said the cost savings by eliminating the number of area elected officials to one-fifth the current amount and including the elimination of his job “would be a fitting end to my political career.”


Jindal address plays safe, leaves guessing for future

If you’re looking for radical change coming from Gov. Bobby Jindal this legislative session, you can’t find much of it in from his State of the State address prior to the opening of the 2008 Regular Session. That doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen, while it does indicate Jindal’s strategy of caution for his first year in office amid potentially hard fiscal times for the state in the near future.

Jindal’s campaign last year promised three broad things: reducing the size and spending of government, empowering people rather than special interests, and shifting spending priorities. What he plans, according to things like his budget, to serve up this session is little of the first, some of the second, and more of the third – but you couldn’t tell from his speech which concentrated on priorities only, and the uncontroversial items at that.

Best exemplifying shifting priorities is the signature item intended by Jindal, workforce development, more perestroika than anything else the most radical change of which is dismantling the state’s Department of Labor into a more decentralized system, and some changes to education delivery. But nothing was heard concerning related items already released by his administration that are much more controversial, such as merit pay for teachers and pumping over $300 million into a fund to entice large-scale employers.

Some glimpses or far-reaching change did sparkle throughout his message. Using education as an example, Jindal discussed things such as a “teachers’ bill of rights” and laws to increase penalties against teacher assault. But mostly he touched on technocratic issues, making government work better, and not much on announced policy changes that would shift power to people, such as increased access to private schools that also will improve public education through competition.

So Jindal mostly played it safe in his address, championing popular items or saying he would make government work better which nobody is against. This continues the debate about Jindal the leader: will he truly lead the state in a different direction, or just do a better job in directing the state to a place not very different from what we have now? While factors such as looming future deficits as federal recovery money peters out and fixing spending difficulties introduced by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco do constrain what Jindal can do, on its surface this address seems to indicate the latter.

With that in mind, in keeping with my habit of grading these efforts, I’ll give him a B-. But for that grade to go any higher in future years, or even to prevent it going lower, we’ll need to hear more about empowering people and reduction of government even if he can get government working better. Because when government takes resources from the people and uses them in places it shouldn’t be, how well it does that is entirely a moot point.


Jindal agenda success brings slanted media pieces

The Gov. Bobby Jindal express tries to crank itself up again for the regular session after he pretty much got what he wanted in two prior special sessions. On its eve, we also got a reminder that there are still a number of people opposed to his conservative, reformist agenda who are desperate enough to try to create a non-story to slow it down.

A journalist who has shown past animosity towards Jindal (as well as to those who dare criticize the media) reported that a freshly-approved expenditure would benefit the business of a contributor who not only gave Jindal the maximum $5,000 contribution in his campaign, but whose companies in which he had an interest did so, as well as apparently several of his relatives who gave smaller amounts, or who gave to an organization associated with the state Republican Party which expended some funds on behalf of Jindal. The state Legislature appropriated $14 million to go to port expansion in Terrebone Parish. The donations were both legal and perfectly transparent, and the appropriation was deliberated and passed in full public view as well.

Yet the article insinuates differently, using itself as a vehicle to trot out some tiresome Jindal opponents. One discussing the contributions and appropriations, state Sen. Joe McPherson like a trained seal barks, “You’re talking about legal corruption.” As if McPherson is in any position to talk – scan through his campaign finance records all the way back to his initial 1999 run for office and one will find the nursing home operator has substantial contributions from that industry, people in that industry, and from people in and the medical industry as whole (before Jindal became governor McPherson had been chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee), with labor unions finishing a strong second in contributions to him. (Of course, the article mentions none of this, nor of the $9,000 state Democrats gave him in 2007.) If McPherson finds this evidence enough to argue Jindal in involved in a form of corruption, then McPherson himself is awash in corruption.

Then there are those who opposition to Jindal has them cast aside objectivity. This incident is “a smoking gun” sniffs one, and another calls it “legalized bribery,” ignoring the facts behind the series of events: the idea of the expansion started two years ago under former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was spearheaded by someone who hardly was a supporter of the Republican Jindal, Democrat state Sen. Reggie Dupre. It was virtually complete by the time Jindal was in any position to exert any influence on it at all. Not only that, but if the deal seemed shady in any way, the entire Legislature could have killed it; instead, it approved it overwhelmingly.

Finally, a related point of contention is that current laws – because of First Amendment rights as the article does point out – allow the kinds of donations made to Jindal, McPherson, and others, it’s implied that they are intentionally made too obscure and mentions legislation defeated during the first special session would have made it easier to identify sources of contributions (even as the article negates its own premise in that it is publicizing these supposedly obscure donations). What it doesn’t say is that Jindal backed that legislation but too many legislators (stating mainly by reason of complexity in administering) were against it.

It bears repeating – nothing that has happened here is illegal, immoral, or unethical. Contributions were received legally with full disclosure and an open public policy process (which largely did not involve Jindal) full of checks and balances did its job. So why is this a story?

Because it’s an opportunity for Jindal’s opponents to try to erode his political capital by making appear something that he is not, presumably as the public would be less likely to support him and, thus, other elements of his agenda. Jindal has said (at least in the long run) he will remake Louisiana, reducing the size and spending of government, empowering people rather than special interests, and shifting spending priorities. Some want him to fail because this runs counter to their political liberalism and/or his success in this agenda will make him a future national leader and he can bring that agenda with him. In order to stop him, even the most capricious charges will be directly or indirectly brought against him.

(Contrast this with the Louisiana media’s treatment of far more compelling stories of potential corruption, liberal Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s tainted campaign donation incident or her apparent campaign-cash-for-earmark episode. Despite very suspicious timing and evidence on both accounts, it took the national media to break the story and only belatedly did the Louisiana media hop on board.)

This is an article that better deserved placement on the opinion pages than in the newshole. But don’t expect it to be the last of its kind, either, as long as Jindal is governor and continues to enjoy success.