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Carmouche avoids Obama, but sounds like him

Fourth District of Louisiana Democrat frontrunner Paul Carmouche had just one mission to perform in mopping up resistance to his nomination during the forum for that party’s candidates – say nothing specific without sounding like an empty suit – and to the casual Democrat voter probably pulled it off. Whether thinking voters bought the act is another matter entirely.

The former Caddo Parish district attorney of long standing apparently has thoroughly studied the Democrat playbook for the South – on the very few issues where he can be in agreement with the district, play those up, and on the majority where he cannot be without risking the ire of the liberal party to which he has pledged his loyalty, talk about only in the broadest platitudes without giving away the specifics that either would reveal his liberal credentials.

Other candidates in the race, even if both black candidates more enthusiastically support the national Democrats, get the cold shoulder from the party in its quest to prop up a figure to fool enough voters in a conservative district. In fact, if you wanted a Democrat who sounded much better versed on the issues – and as a result sounded more liberal – local lawyer John Milkovich took that prize. But because he is too much a social conservative even if simplistically liberal on most other preferences, despite previous runs for this office the national party would never dare support him.

On several occasions Carmouche proved he had been well-coached to say just enough to obfuscate without inviting closer scrutiny for the casual voter. He talked about making health care more affordable and available by creating “larger pools” of the insured. Translation: government involvement leading to mandates on individuals and employers ultimately creating universal health care that would provide a lower standard of care than present. He spoke of making prescription drugs more affordable and available by having government negotiate prices. Translation: the clout of government buying power for its programs would destroy the free market in drug provision and create dictates that would dry up supply and drive up prices

Outside health issues, he would revise school accountability standards, which he called failures even as improvement continues, to put power of determining the meeting of goals into the hands of local school boards. Translation: reform away from changes that would cut out gamesmanship by districts that were not serious about educating students in favor of pursuing other trendy goals (like enabling teachers to put forth less effort for higher wages as his teacher unions backers prefer) such as Orleans Parish had been for many years could undermine improving education in America. He also wants to “renegotiate” to restrict free trade agreements’ impacts on changing the American economy. Translation: unions losing members because their absurd demands help price that activity out of the world marketplace would be protected, driving up prices for Americans and creating a less efficient economy that would lead to a declining standard of living – but which would keep unions fat and happy.

The only area where he really got into trouble – even if neither the moderators nor his opponents had the wit to probe him on it – was being perhaps too specific in dealing with government finances. Carmouche first said he was for “no new taxes” then pledged “tax breaks” for those not in the highest brackets of marginal tax rates, echoing Democrat presidential presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s refundable tax credit plan that would take money out of the federal treasury and transfer it to those who pay little or no income taxes. This sounds like a recipe for a massive increase in the federal deficit as these recipients would do little to invest their bounty in ways to cause economic growth for all.

But then talking out of the other side of his mouth, Carmouche turned himself into a deficit hawk, declaring that government had a “spending problem,” had to balance the budget, and could do so by eliminating “wasteful spending” and earmarks. Nobody called him on where he would find a few hundred billion in wasteful spending or that earmarks don’t come close to this level, where he would cut spending to balance the budget, and that unless he cut all marginal rates, economic growth would not be stimulated as it was under GOP Pres. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush with their comprehensive cuts. Nor did anyone ask whether “no new taxes” meant the same as “no tax increase” (old taxes can be raised) nor how he would deal with the gaping hole his idea would create in the budget, impossibly squaring the circle.

These kinds of questions will have to wait until a Republican captures his party’s nomination, conservatives will have to hope. “Change for the better” proclaimed Carmouche in his closing statement, echoing Obama who he explicitly refused to endorse upon request during the forum. But shave 20 years off of him, darken his skin color, make his ears a little bigger, and make more flowery his vague, obscurant rhetoric, and the informed observer will note that despite the dissociation Carmouche and Obama are one and the same, one just as empty as the other.


Subtle differences emerge among GOP 4th candidates

As expected, the forum for the three Republican candidates for the Fourth District congressional seat revealed that little philosophical difference existed among then, only a few issue preferences really separated them, and that the main distinction they tried to create among themselves thereby comes the image they are able to convey to voters.

Minden physician John Fleming, Shreveport trucking executive Chris Gorman, and Bossier City attorney Jeff Thompson all made clear their conservative worldviews. Probably the most polished in terms of conveying a broad message was Gorman – which in fact was too broad in that he seemed most comfortable in falling back on platitudes rather than provide substance. Ironically, as he cautioned against politicians and their use of sound bites, he emitted them throughout.

By contrast, Fleming provided the most policy details, and in doing so generated the most controversy by preferences considered somewhat less orthodox. He broadly sketched a guest worker program for legal aliens that brought cautionary remarks from the other two. He voiced support for a balanced budget amendment and another providing the president with a line-item veto to control spending while the other two did not discuss anything really specific in that area. On a couple of occasions, Thompson actually drew a policy difference with him, while it was hard to tell with Gorman’s generalities his thoughts of these issues.

Fleming said state and local government should back off on funding the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier Parish until there was more certainty whether the Air Force’s Cyber Command would locate at Barksdale AFB, while Thompson indicated they should go full speed ahead confident enough Cyber Command components would come there. However, the issue of taxation really seemed to exemplify candidate distinctions at the forum. Fleming stated support for a national sales tax, to replace individual income taxes, while Gorman said it needed more study to determine whether taxes might not go up for some, and Thompson opposed it saying to be effective it would have to be almost twice the level Fleming advocated of 23 percent.

Actually, all three candidates whiffed on this one to some extent. A tax with exemptions for lower-income families could be realistic at 23 percent or close to it, as it has been well-studied, obviating both Gorman’s and Thompson’s concerns. However, its major problem is something only Thompson mentioned and just in passing, with enforcement. It likely would be easier to evade through barter or noncompliance and any significant leakage would either create a shortfall in revenue or cause the rate to be raised.

The most disappointing remarks came concerning health care reform to keep a great system but to make it more cost-effective, including prescription drug prices. Fleming seemed to have little specific to offer despite his being a doctor, Thompson contradicted himself in suggesting government coordinate efforts to pool efforts yet at other intervals said government should involved as little as possible, and the best Gorman could do, as he did on more than one interval when a question involved money, was to say savings could be realized by cutting out waste and fraud without offering anything more innovative or substantive.

Gorman came off the worst when questions (obliquely referenced by both Fleming and Thompson in their opening remarks) delved into their political pasts. The questions made it impossible for Gorman to hide that he had only in the past few years returned to the area after several years absence during which he had not been registered as a Republican if registered at all to vote. Gorman’s excuse – that he had been dissatisfied with the party – rung hollow when compared to events of the past 15 years where it only has been recently that GOP national leaders had moved away from conservatism, since Gorman kept bringing up the conservative label to describe himself.

The casual observer would not have found much to differentiate the candidates. But those with more interest and knowledge would have found it a helpful exercise – and these are precisely the kinds of Republican voters that will hit the closed primary on Sep. 6 to decide (almost certainly) which two of these will head to a runoff.


Attitudes, not federal spending, hold back N.O. recovery

As we approach the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans, it’s increasingly clear that it is not insufficient government assistance that slows recovery, it’s attitudes of too much dependence on government.

The federal government already has committed $126 billion – or in per capita terms using New Orleans’ population prior to the disaster, $278,146 per resident – to build back up the area. And no doubt hundreds of billions more will be spent to do things like rebuild and strengthen levees. It will be by far the most money the federal government ever has spent in a single metropolitan area, in history. To ask anything more of it not only is beyond reason, but smacks of greed and contempt for hard-working Americans who have paid to date about $415 per capita extra on behalf of New Orleans.

Yet some keep complaining enough hasn’t been done, in large part mostly by people who pay little if anything in taxes to the federal government to finance the operation. No doubt these whiners were socialized into the New Orleans that fostered a culture of dependency, where government programs not only were widely utilized, but demanded as some kind of right to finance lifestyles devoid of effort to contribute to society at least marginally.

Not all severely inconvenienced by the disaster responded this way. While some emitted cries of woe and waited for others to do things for them, others like the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East took matters into their own hands and didn’t wait on government to put things back together. Many families at an individual level have done the same.

The reason why New Orleans still shows considerable lack of recovery is not because of a lack of resources provided by the federal government, it is because of New Orleans and too many of its citizens’ actions and behaviors – from putting in to office a whimsical mayor to carping rather than doing. One wondered whether the great displacement that occurred would wash away the dependency syndrome entrenched in the minds of too many Orleanians and politicians. That has proven not to be the case.


Improper analysis misses significant displacement effect

If you’re going to analyze prospects for a particular electoral contest, you need to use the right data. Unfortunately, an otherwise well-done piece on the contest featuring incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu and challenger Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy was marred by reliance on poorly-conceptualized analysis.

An erroneous remark came from a New Orleans-area demographer who asserted “Senator Landrieu will not be losing African American votes as a result of Katrina.” Facts simply do not back up this claim. The comparison made was between the 328,443 blacks who voted on Nov. 5, 2002 and the 310,428 who voted on Oct. 20, 2007 – which is not the correct comparison and uses the incorrect metric.

Of some concern is that the first date was the runoff involving Landrieu’s last Senate race while the second was the primary for statewide elections. A comparison of more similar things would have been looking at data for either the primary date for each election, or the runoff date for each, a minor problem. But a huge conceptual error was made because the nature of turnout for each differs because different offices were up for grabs. This causes not only different levels of turnout, but different levels of registration.

If one cares to study election cycles in Louisiana, there is a hierarchy to turnout and registrations, roughly mirroring each other. The highest turnout elections are those with presidential candidates on the ballot, followed by congressional contests, with state contests dragging the rear. Tracking monthly statistics, for example one can see about six months before a presidential election a building large increase in registrations which pays off on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November with the largest turnout of any kind of election requiring statewide voting. Afterwards, registrations begin to tail off dramatically until the next similar kind of election (congressional) looms.

In other words, comparing number registrants in 2002, a higher-stimulus election, to those in 2007, of lower stimulus, is like comparing apples and oranges. Further, focusing on the raw numbers of a single group, rather than numbers of all groups and their turnout rates, distorts the picture even more.

A better comparison is between the figures of Nov. 5, 2004, the last presidential election, and the latest registrant statistics which will be close to the ones applicable to the presidential election this fall, and applying to them the turnout rate differential between the 2003 and 2007 state elections. This keeps the comparisons between elections of the same kind, and allows us to convert, since actual turnout is what we are interested in but we don’t have that yet for 2008, registrations to turnout.

For the 2004 election, there were 1,934,953 whites, 870,103 blacks, and 116,658 other races on the Louisiana books. For Aug. 3, 2008, there were 1,884,947 whites, 874,896 blacks, and 121,315 others. However, raw registrants turn into voters at different rates. In 2007, as I have noted elsewhere, the 4 percent decline in turnout was attributable almost entirely to sharply lower participation rates among blacks in the state that were largely a product of displacement in three parishes from Hurricane Katrina – that is, while some had their names on the books, much more than in the past they were not present to vote nor wished to vote absentee.

A year will have passed and people continue to trickle back into New Orleans but the fact is 365,015 blacks voted in 2003, a gap of almost 55,000 to 2007, and registrations respectively for those races for blacks were 812,905 and 843,674. (An academic paper I presented earlier this year predicts the effect for 2008 to be a net loss of 48,000 Democrat votes, of which most were blacks.) To say the effects of Katrina will not have a substantial negative impact on votes for a Landrieu candidacy simply ignores reality.


Ruling may expedite removal of white Democrat officials

While this space has devoted some effort to the political machinations that will accompany redistricting in Louisiana for Congress for 2012, perhaps more fascinating will be what happens at the legislative level in 2011.

I have argued that a coalition of Republicans and black Democrats will ensure that New Orleans keeps the Second District centered about it with a black majority, endangering any white Democrat that may be in office in 2010, being that population loss as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 will deprive the state of a House seat. That same dynamic will also take away districts from around New Orleans, as many as four state House seats and a Senate seat.

This ordinarily would come at the expense of black legislators. Disproportionately black citizens from the Second were displaced by the storm and have yet to return, and existing standards supported by courts have been to draw “majority-minority” districts where possible.

But a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for next term might cushion the impact of these losses. This case could allow the Court to rule that minority voting would not be diluted by redistricting plans that concentrated more on creating near-majority-minority districts, instead of granting great primacy to the creation of majority-minority districts.

While legislative staff complains this could complicate the redistricting process, an affirmative decision would be music to the ears of black and Republican politicians. Say four House districts will be lost with the majority of constituents drained from those areas being black Democrats. With the present distribution of partisans as they are, it may be that of those four (now all represented by black Democrats) districts could be drawn without changing significantly the demographics of other districts to manage to get a Republican, a black Democrat, and two white Democrat seats.

However, courtesy of a favorable ruling not requiring a majority black district in there, by splitting it up and sprinkling in white Democrats to make plurality black districts, those four could turn into a pair of Republican and another of black Democrat districts. Race is thicker than partisanship; if the price of another GOP seat must be paid to gain an additional black seat, black politicians will pay it at the expense of white Democrats.

Especially if this ruling comes to pass, look for the same GOP-black Democrat coalition that would dismantle a white Democrat congressional seat to maximize the legislative seats each can get, again costing white Democrats. That ruling only would accelerate the endangered species that white Democrats in state office have become in Louisiana.