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Broussard joins promising politicians abruptly gone

As I prepared to return to Louisiana after a few years teaching at universities across the South, I viewed from afar the train wreck developing concerning the governor’s race. With incumbent moderate Buddy Roemer fading against the Hobson’s choice of former holder liberal Edwin Edwards and conservative masquerader David Duke, with genuine conservative Rep. Clyde Holloway not catching on, some wondered if then-mayor of Kenner Aaron Broussard might not be an attractive alternative, a presumed moderate Democrat with a record of achievement at the civic level.

It was thought that with Roemer having just turned Republican that a moderate Democrat could seize a number of votes, possibly Broussard or a then-member of the Public Service Commission, Kathleen Blanco. Blanco got in but never qualified, yet probably chased Broussard whose candidacy never caught fire. We know she eventually won the office a dozen years later, but ended her political career ignominiously wrecked on the shoals of her handling of the hurricane disasters of 2005. The same should have happened to Broussard, but his political exit appears to come for a very different reason.

Despite an image of political competence and progressiveness courtesy of a growing Kenner and then Jefferson Parish which he served first on its council and then as its president for the past several years, Broussard was an old-style political hack as befitting the environs around New Orleans. He worked inside to retain and use power, and he could play the populist card when needed.


If concerns addressed, LA should pursue school funds

Next week, a few days ahead of the deadline Louisiana will submit its formal application for the so-called “Race to the Top” funds that can give the state hundreds of millions of dollars for educational reforms bent on improving its delivery. Whether the state will win part of that money is one thing; whether it should pursue it is another.

Louisiana stands a good chance of getting a piece of the action because it already has a well-regarded accountability system in place and can demonstrate it has the ability to institute a system of teacher accountability based upon student achievement. The latter comes from the willingness of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, in an unexpected but welcome and astute move, to support the idea which is 27.6 percent of scoring (the other major state teachers union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, has declined to endorse the application). Over 80 percent of districts have pledged participation (which can be revoked until the middle of February) as have a large majority of the state’s charter schools.

However, the Louisiana School Board Association rejected the idea, citing the potential for assuming larger costs after the federal money ran out, of which half would go to and then have to be sustained by districts. This also was related to animosity the group felt towards state education Superintendant Paul Pastorek who supported reduction of political interference of education by boards by introducing term limitation to school board members and removing some personnel decision-making power vested in boards. Such support which will not be forthcoming in Louisiana’s application constitutes 9 percent of the scoring.

But education reformer and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Chas Roemer wisely points out that federal regulations, to this point only cursorily written about the program, could make the entire exercise a waste of money. He notes that unless standards are created that prevent union interference, with its emphasis on job preservation especially for the least capable teachers, with the improvement goals of the program, little if anything will be gained. Such rules from the federal Department of Education are yet forthcoming.

This program seems worthwhile and should be pursued – if the concern noted by Roemer is satisfactorily addressed within the month. If not, the state should withdraw its application and pursue many of the same ideas behind it on its own.


LA political future: Kennedy vs. Landrieu for top job?

As 2010 opens, actions unfolding at the end of last year may point to the distant future of political leadership in Louisiana .

Throughout the fall, Republican Treasurer John Kennedy vigorously embraced his role on the Commission to Streamline Government impaneled to find ways to save the state money. By far its most vocal member, throwing out ideas of mixed value left and right, many made their way into the final report released yesterday to which Kennedy gave lukewarm reviews. In the process, the mantle of bold fiscal reformer passed to Kennedy from fellow GOP affiliate Gov. Bobby Jindal.

As Kennedy wrapped up his participation, Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu surprised most observers by reversing his pledge of months previous that he would not take a third stab at becoming New Orleans’ mayor. Sensing the opportunity was right, it appeared to pay off when a couple of presumed quality opponents withdrew and now it appears he has become the favorite to capture the prize that has eluded him for so long. If doing so, statewide attention paid to him would vastly expand (because, let’s face it, with a real Secretary of Culture, Recreation and Tourism around actually to run the department over which the state Constitution grants the lieutenant governor nominal authority, that officer just isn’t responsible for a whole lot and has a hard time having any policy-making influence – although Landrieu has tried.)

With the Streamlining Commission not going away and its relevance remaining high in this time of state budgetary stress and Landrieu’s likely win, the state could be seeing the initial jockeying of the prime two candidates to slug it out for the governorship in 2015. With wags wondering whether Kennedy remains confused about which office he really holds given his enthusiastic embrace of throwing out policy-making ideas that are the province of the governor, and with Landrieu’s increasing activism and profile in a state where Democrats are searching ever more in vain for white candidates that can compete for governor statewide, if things continue to develop as they are, the two could be on a collision course for that office. An easy reelection for Kennedy and one for Landrieu with another year-plus on top of that running New Orleans could put both in strong positions to contest for that top spot.

Much can happen in five years, but on their current trajectories both could become political heavyweights that would set up a race that the state will not have seen in nearly a quarter-century.


Report provides Jindal historic leadership opportunity

Louisiana’s short-awaited Commission on Streamlining Government’s recommendations finally officially are out, and the problem with the report’s results having a significant impact is not with the quality of the recommendations, but with the necessity of political will and from where it must emanate to implement them.

Gov. Bobby Jindal no doubt enthusiastically will go after some of these, as those particular ones are part of a reformist agenda that politically faces tough sledding. While of course Jindal wanted to see savings suggestions in this time of budgetary strain, his main goal was to find political cover for favored measures such as closing inefficient state institutions such as state-run developmental centers, reorganizing higher education (tangentially addressed by this body), reduction of dedicated funds, and reorganizing civil service personnel policies, to name some where he has articulated a need for change and actually has tried to foment some.

Legislative enthusiasts such as the commission’s chairman state Sen. Jack Donahue also can be counted on to run with these. In remarks related to the release of the report, Donahue urged the Legislature as a whole to review and act where appropriate on the report’s conclusions. That, however, even with Jindal’s assistance, will shape up as a tough sell for many items.

This is because they are frightening efficient and truly revolutionary in the context of policy in Louisiana today and historically. For example, the report advises giving no pay raises to state classified employees who garner a middle (“meets expectation”) rating, closing out almost all dedicated funds in the near future, that only accredited nongovernmental organizations receive state appropriations and cannot contract with the state for a year for functions similar to those vetoed by the governor, shifting of health care responsibilities away from state institutions, that elementary and secondary education spending follow pupils and not districts, that those able-bodied recipients of public housing assistance either work or train to do so, moving the state retirement systems from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution system (including the phasing out of the DROP system), and eliminating the state’s public insurer Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and return that function to its previous quasi-governmental administration.

All of these alterations with the exception of the first would require legislation that might be difficult to extract from the Legislature. Individually, too many legislators have too many sacred cows – NGOs, the education establishment, state employees, the “poor,” contractors, etc. – which all together might add up to resistant majorities for true change. Despite Donahue’s plea, for these kinds of things, the leadership will not be forthcoming from the Legislature.

But it can provide for some success if it comes from Jindal. The governor has been excellent in getting unglamorous yet significant changes that promise substantial cost savings enacted in the executive branch. Yet it he really wants to go for the home run, he needs to go after at least some of these. He has shown that he will strategically use the inconvenient fact of budgetary stress to pursue a reform agenda that he articulated during the campaign, so there is reason to believe he will back visibly these kinds of improvements which is the only shot they have of becoming policy.

To date, this means that Jindal has done an adequate job of fulfilling his promise of making the state use taxpayer resources more efficiently. However, if he wants to earn the label as the governor who has had the most enduring impact on the state in history – along with Prisoner #03128-095 and Huey P. Long and unlike them for the better – his opportunity and moment have arrived with the political capital provided by this report.


Landrieu deal can't make silk purse out of sow's ear bill

In reference to what has become known as the “Louisiana Purchase” by Sen. Mary Landrieu, a recent effort by an opinion columnist reminds us of the folly of losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Last month, Landrieu faced derision when revealed that she had dropped objections to a health care bill in the Senate that promises higher premiums and taxes with reduced quality of care when she had secured attachment to the bill of a provision that could bring the state as much as $300 million to next fiscal year’s Medicaid program. Despite the widespread criticism she expressed pride in her ability to extract this concession.

Apparently, one Stephanie Grace seems convinced by Landrieu. She writes that Landrieu followed the norms of expected legislative behavior and did it well enough to “solve” a particular problem. But as soon as the reader is informed of this, Grace senses something is wrong with her argument because she immediately goes on to write that, in the scheme of getting goodies tucked into the bill, what Landrieu did was “more defensible” than some deals made by her colleagues.


Murray exit makes Democrats calmer, Landrieu favorite

From a questionable position, suddenly Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu can be considered the favorite to do what he could not four years ago, win the New Orleans mayor’s contest, perhaps by being the beneficiary of larger forces.

As noted previously, even with his long experience and family name, Landrieu could not be considered the favorite for the spot unless no high-quality black opponent emerged, somebody with elective policy-making experience in government. Several passed on it, but one who got in the chase was state Sen. Edwin Murray and seemed like the best bet to make a runoff against Landrieu, who unexpectedly entered the fray less than a month ago. If so, an enormous edge in black voting registration would have made it difficult for Landrieu to secure the win.

However, Murray with little warning pulled out of the race, leaving only three black candidates that have any real opportunity to make a runoff – former judge Nadine Ramsey, activist James Perry, and businessman Troy Henry. Only Ramsey has ever run and won a political office, unopposed in three terms as a judge so she really has no successful competitive campaign experience. Murray hinted that difficulty in raising funds since the entrance of Landrieu led to what he thought would be a personally too-expensive race for him as well as he cited the potential for “racially divisive” rhetoric becoming a feature of the race.

In other words, Murray may have been a victim of national political trends that may have made Democrats look bad. Given his entrance just prior to his sister Sen. Mary Landrieu’s crucial votes to allow health care legislation that would raise premiums, taxes, and lower the quality of care to advance, it’s theorized that part of Mary’s motivation for supporting the bad legislation was promises for Democrat fat cats to contribute to Mitch and not to Murray. Then, Murray fell on his sword to prevent Democratic infighting that might damage the already rapidly-souring Democrat hopes later in 2010.

Unless one of the remaining black candidates can hurriedly demonstrate some major fundraising prowess, the election environment otherwise will create momentum for some blacks, who almost double up on whites in the electorate, to go with Landrieu and discourage others from turning out, giving Landrieu the ability to win. Henry might be the best placed, being an outsider of government with a successful business background to contrast with the insider Landrieu and the current regime running the city into the ground again.

The problem is, the one who is encouraging the present follies in city government was before assuming the city’s top job was an outsider with a business background, Mayor Ray Nagin. New Orleanians historically put insiders into the position so the chance they took on Nagin, twice, may have soured them on the kind of candidate that is Henry.

Regardless, Landrieu’s biggest obstacle is out of the way and unless something happens soon where support suddenly coalesces around a black candidate, he has established himself as the most likely to collect eventually on his dream post.