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Second spot choices show mixed results for reform

Looks like questions are getting answered concerning recent potential leadership changes in the state, in a way mixed for political reform.

One was Sec. of State Jay Dardenne’s announced entry into the lieutenant governor’s contest this fall to succeed Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu who will be assuming his new elective office of New Orleans mayor in early May. This is a clear sign that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hope of savings some bucks and streamlining government through elimination of the nearly-useless office is likely to fail.

Since it would require a constitutional amendment which means at least two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature must approve followed by a majority vote of the people – a referendum that would occur at the same time as the election to fill the unexpired spot in question – that Dardenne, whose current office likely would inherit some of the duties of the abolished office and become the new successor to the governor if that office disappears, does not fear leaving his current spot only to find his new job is disappearing into his old. This means his political intelligence must have the bill probably never making it out of the Legislature.

Of course, if somehow it does by the end of the session near the end of June and he feels it could get voter approval, he always could fail to qualify shortly thereafter. Still, this would require spending a decent chunk of money campaigning to that point so he must feel the odds are not in the favor of legislative approval.

The other was the apparent imminent appointment of state Rep. Joel Robideaux to the Speaker Pro-Tem position in the state House. With the body split essentially evenly between Republican and Democrats but with Speaker Jim Tucker being a Republican, to honor this close division somebody from the GOP could not realistically be favored by Tucker. Robideaux is one of three independents in the House.

Black and younger Democrat state Rep. Rick Gallot and old-timer white Democrat Noble Ellington also declared intentions for the post, but not only appear to be splitting the support among Democrats. Further, some Acadiana Democrats (Robideaux is from the Lafayette area) are lending support to the nonpartisan (Gallot and Ellington are from north Louisiana). This gives plenty of capital for Tucker to forward Robideaux’s name and for the latter to win the leadership election at the commencement of the session.

This is good news for reformers, of which Gallot and Ellington are anything but, and ironic for Republicans. Robideaux ran as an independent only because of an internecine feud within the local GOP and while maintaining that label after his special election win in 2004 votes fairly reliably with Republicans. Thus, what at the time looked like an embarrassing defeat for the party actually turns to its advantage now. This ascension also would make Robideaux a favorite to become the new Speaker after Tucker leaves on term limits after 2011.

Reformers might be nonplussed at the dim prognosis of the amendment regarding the second slot in the executive branch, but getting Robideaux in the second slot in the House, even if it largely is symbolic in terms of wielding real power, is as good as reformers could have hoped for at any time during the life of this Legislature.


LA must pay closer attention to delivering disabled help

It may not be coincidental, but surely Louisiana is looking much more carefully into how it delivers Medicaid services to the developmentally disabled as a result of budget crises and a lawsuit concerning delivery of such services.

The same day the state announced it was going to alter this delivery, particularly in the mental health area, a family sued the state arguing it was not complying with federal law regarding provision of services to a developmentally-disabled man. Courtesy of the federal Olmstead court decision in 1999 and the state’s Barthelemy court decision in Louisiana in 2001, state governments must, when possible, deliver such services in the least-institutionalized manner.

The family argues that cuts in service, prompted by large budget deficits with a state fiscal structure that forces the largest absolute reductions to be made in the area of health care, will force unnecessarily the man into an institution instead of receiving home care, by lopping off hours allocated per day from 24 to seven or fewer. The state notes that there is no absolute right to unlimited care provided by the state.


Jindal, Cao lead on Medicaid issue; Landrieu obstructs

If he puts his money where his mouth is, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal will have Louisiana move in a very positive direction to cope with budgetary problems and set up better state fiscal policy-making for the future. Unfortunately, Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu seems more interested in playing politics than in finding solutions.

In his latest remarks, Jindal gave broad parameters to his agenda over the next few months, and welcome they are. He absolutely ruled out tax increases and said the state would concentrate on cutting spending, correctly identifying how to boost economic development and make state government the right size. Further, he pledged to try to alter the state’s fiscal structure to provide for a more-rational mechanism by which to cut spending so that it did not disproportionately fall on health care and higher education, such as freeing dedicated monies and allowing more control by universities over tuition as long as they performed adequately (modeled after Virginia’s plan). Also, he said he would work towards getting the federal government to remedy an unintended consequence of its formula to distribute Medicaid dollars that artificially inflated Louisiana’s share of paying for the program because of federal recovery dollars for the hurricane disasters of 2005 – perhaps the most serious fiscal problem the state faces in the short term.

Regrettably, Landrieu seems unwilling to help out on this last part. In discussing a proposal by Democrat Pres. Barack Obama to have a bipartisan meeting concerning health care policy, she continued to stay unusually wedded to the current Democrat plan that would bring higher costs and taxes for lower quality. Perhaps this should not be unexpected since she was ridiculed for, even as a large majority of the state’s residents were against the plan, her support of it after it was revealed an amendment to its Senate version giving the state perhaps over $300 million concerning the Medicaid formula got put into it at her behest. Then when political conditions made the plan impossible, she dug in even more in her support of it through a bizarre speech on the Senate floor. In short, she has invested herself so heavily into a plan that cannot pass and which is detested by a majority of her constituents that she cannot see the wisdom in cutting her losses and abandoning it in favor of genuine political solutions.

Particularly relevant as a solution is H.R. 4047 by Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao which would make the adjustment requested by Jindal and is co-sponsored by every member of the Louisiana House delegation. If Landrieu were serious about trying to get what she claims she wants, she would abandon the flawed Obama changes and clearly articulate her support for Cao’s bill.

Ironically, in her comments about Obama’s pitch, Landrieu cast doubt on whether Republicans would be honest in her intentions when she seems to exhibit a lack of that on the Medicaid formula issue. Petulantly insisting that passing a bill based on the same flawed philosophy that cannot get public support, any real bipartisan support, or necessary majorities to move forward and holding hostage the Medicaid fix as part of that is irresponsible and demonstrates Landrieu’s greater interest in insisting on following blind ideology rather than in realistic efforts to help Louisiana.


Musical chairs in the offing for ambitious LA politicians

With the elections of Democrats Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu as New Orleans mayor and state Rep. Karen Peterson, currently the Speaker Pro-Tem, to the state Senate, the musical chairs have started early in Louisiana state government, creating some interesting succession scenarios.

For the state’s second job, Landrieu’s choice not to leave it until shortly before his mayoral inauguration sets interesting dynamics. With talk intensifying about eliminating the job for money-saving and logistical reasons after the current term ends in early 2012 as a result of no elected incumbent being there for months after Landrieu leaves, it’s possible that a bill to do so will be well through the Legislature by that time. Two-thirds of each chamber must approve, followed by a majority vote of the people which would be held at the same time as the election to replace the temporary gubernatorial appointee to finish the term.

By the end of April, legislators should have sense of the bill’s likelihood of passage and this could affect substantially offers to fill the seat temporarily, which Gov. Bobby Jindal has said would go to somebody who will pledge not to run for it in the general election, and to run to finish the term. The temporary appointee likely would be a Republican and/or Jindal loyalist either at the end of a political career, or had a long-serving career and recently retired from it, or is looking for a little visibility for a future but not immediate career. One thing it will not be would be a Democrat, as the stakes simply are too high to have a situation of vacancy even during a time span of a few months just in case the office becomes vacant within that window for whatever reason, as this would give such a Democrat a big leg up to run for it in 2011.

If the winds seem to be blowing fairly convincingly for the elimination of the lieutenant governor’s job among the judgment of legislators by the beginning of May, more interest among sitting term-limited legislators approaching the end of their political careers might manifest as they will see this as an easier ticket on which to wrap up their service than jockeying in a race for a job that has no future. But if elimination seems uncertain, interest will be light in the appointive six-month job and interest in running for the replacement job will perk up substantially. If the bill fails to get out of the Legislature, interest by legislators will go through the ceiling since it would not cost them their seat to win; if it does get out but voter approval seems uncertain, a fair amount of interest still will remain for qualifying by term-limited legislators that will begin over a month after adjournment.

Two leading names suggested for the appointive job – former House Speaker Hunt Downer and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle – are interesting in that they also have been linked to running for the Third District of the U.S. House, itself a possible lame duck seat that may be apportioned away, this fall. Selection of one of them would indicate passing on this contest and might leave the other as one of the favorites if entering. But either they will enter prior to Jindal’s selection or very shortly thereafter, given by then only four months will remain until the party primaries. If both do, this may tip that former state Sen. Ken Hollis could be the leading candidate.

Assuming there is ambiguity about whether the office will be eliminated, one figure that will not run is Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, who stands to become next in line to the governorship if it is done away with. Nor would Republican Treasurer John Kennedy run, whose position now would be much higher profile. Others who are more influential legislators who are not term-limited also would be unlikely to run (unless bored with their present post), since they would give up a sure seat and reelection to run for a job that may last only a year, and would have to campaign twice in a year to get their old seat back. Thus, the field mostly would be term-limited legislators.

The dynamics differ somewhat when dealing with the House pro-tem position, as no spending nor voluntary leaving of a seat is necessary. Clearly favored here is state Rep. Rick Gallot given the demographic and partisan composition of the House. With a virtual 50/50 split between parties and with Speaker Jim Tucker being a Republican, a black Democrat normally almost would be required as pro-tem choice with over half of House Democrats being black.

However, Gallot has a choice laid down to him by Tucker: either be the (largely symbolic) second-ranked officer or be chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that will control the redistricting process, but not both. Him being term-limited, look for Gallot to take the House’s second spot and perhaps try to parlay that into the state’s second position. But should he remain in this chairman’s role, the next choice could be interesting.

Tucker cannot pick a Republican, given the close split in the House. Yet he could pick state Rep. Joel Robideaux, an independent who votes more often with Republicans if he wants a more reform-minded colleague. Otherwise, he could go with an old warhorse who has served in the Legislature longer than any other House member, Democrat state Rep. Noble Ellington. He won’t be much of a reformer, but his sclerotic nature as a political force may allow Tucker to ignore him largely in pushing a more conservative agenda.

Tucker promises his pick within a week, and certainly by the time three months have passed we’ll know what has developed concerning the job a step away from Jindal’s.


Jindal pleased, establishment not, by sensible report

(This one is for you, Jimmy and Randy Steele)

Louisiana’s Postsecondary Education Review Commission wrapping up its formal work drew some resistance to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s quest to reform public higher education. But that is to be expected from a hidebound regime, and in its reaction to the recommendations showed it is becoming more alarmed at how inevitable and beneficial reform is going to impact traditional and present arrangements.

PERC got most of it right: consolidating higher education boards will save money and clarify mission and implementation (including program duplication issues); increased institutional control over tuition rates will improve alignment of resources to institution; stressing progress towards graduation over enrollment will mean less wasted effort (and tax dollars) on education that doesn’t much get used or makes an no real impact on low achieving/unmotivated students; and raising admissions standards at all baccalaureate institutions will reduce tax dollars inefficiently used on students not capable or ready to attend such universities.