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Vitter's voting record explains conservative support

In a nutshell, the case for reelection of Sen. David Vitter was made succinctly and compellingly (for conservatives, at least) by the Republican Caddo Parish Executive Committee which endorsed the incumbent Vitter over challenger Chet Traylor. Reviewing its reasoning shows why Vitter continues to lead commandingly in polling of the contest.

The endorsement notes Vitter’s strong and reliable support of almost every conservative issue preference. This corroborates the American Conservative Union’s voting scorecard, which gave Vitter a perfect (conservative) 100 for 2009 to elevate his lifetime (in Congress) score to over 93. It concludes by arguing, essentially, that why change horses when this one works so well?

That’s why Vitter can play so well statewide on the issues. Simply, in terms of political ideology, in a self-identified conservative country Louisiana stands out as a self-identified conservative state. In the last semi-annual Gallup polling on this question, Louisiana ranked 10th in terms on self-identifying conservatives and eighth in the “conservatism gap” (conservative percentage minus liberal percentage; notably, only Rhode Island and the District of Columbia even have more self-identified liberals than conservatives) – there are about three times the proportion of self-identified conservatives in Louisiana than liberals. Vitter’s views are received warmly in the Pelican State.

Of course, Vitter’s opponents regardless of political stripe want to try to detach some the majority that agree with him on the issues by raising the “serious sin” issue, for which three years ago Vitter asked the public forgiveness. He never has specified it nor has he ever been subject to any legal proceedings over it, but it is believed to be in connection with a prostitution service. The argument goes that, assuming Vitter utilized such services, that this somehow renders him unfit for office.

It’s a line often promoted by liberals frustrated with Vitter’s electoral success who hope desperately it can be used against him in this election cycle in order to elect a Democrat like Rep. Charlie Melancon. Unfortunately for them, it relies on an implicit “inoculation strategy” that, at a subconscious level, people usually reject as illogical.

That is, since Vitter’s ideology espouses social conservatism, alleged immoral behavior on his part thereby renders him unfit for office. Note the two tremendously faulty assumptions that must prop this view: that if you aren’t a social conservative you get a pass on immoral behavior (the inoculation) so that, unlike with Vitter, it cannot be used in negative evaluation of that candidate, and that the issue necessarily dominates over all others; that is, no matter how conservative Vitter may be in voting behavior, a moral faux pas negates any other attractiveness that he may present to voters who place importance on a candidate’s issue preferences.

More sophisticated conceptualization consistent with true conservative belief tells us that as long as Vitter’s hypothesized immoral activities did not translate into corrupt practices as part of his legislative duties, and that he recognized personal shortcomings and successfully works to keep them from giving into temptation to commit immoral acts, that past “sins” are irrelevant to effective representation of an optimal public policy agenda. This is absolutely consistent with conservatism, which recognizes inevitable and unchangeable human fallibility and wishes to order society so that it provides maximal redemptive opportunities to be made available for their taking by individuals. (Contrast this with liberalism, which believes in the inherent perfectibility of mankind and that the state is the optimal instrument to force this involuntary remaking on members of society who are captive to a “false consciousness” of autonomy.)

As a result, those who propagate the inoculation strategy turn out to be hypocrites. They argue Vitter’s disqualification because of his assumed violation of a moral code with which he and his supporters agree, but they are selective in picking and choosing which incidents apply and to whom. For example, if you condemn the breaking of the bonds of trust and fidelity between husband and wife that leads to unsuitability to hold office, you must equally condemn it when a liberal Democrat president sworn to truthfulness lies to a court about the performance of his job (Bill Clinton) and shatters the trust of the nation, or when liberal Democrat representatives take money for favors for special interests (alleged by Congress itself with Reps. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters) that destroys the trust their constituents had in them. In fact, because these incidents involved malfeasance in office, their transgressions are far greater and public and relevant to a support decision instead of the private matter that had nothing to do with constituents involving Vitter.

Yet few on the political left then or now boldly proclaim that resignations or rejection at the ballot box are the appropriate standard for liberal politicians who make what conservatives think are moral transgressions but that liberals think are just different lifestyle choices or perhaps “justified” somehow by the past, their commitment to liberalism, or some other excuse. If not a double standard, the inconsistency of its application is unprincipled. This then creates comedy when these liberal critics, who don’t think this kind of issue should be important in vote decisions, then have the audacity to tell conservatives it should be for them.

But, as the endorsement implied, that consideration itself is irrelevant: as long as a representative follows an agenda with which his constituents agree without other matters interfering with it, he deserves reelection. It is that thinking that will predominate in electoral choices concerning the Senate contest, and is why, unless he falters in his repentance, Vitter will win reelection.


Shreveport needs to throw Carnival bills at others

As Carnival season has passed, one wonders whether a festering issue left over from it will become part of city election contests this fall.

The city has been picking up the tab of nearly $200,000 annually for supporting four parades, two of which – those of the large Centaur and Gemini Krewes – are focused on the Carnival period and the other smaller two – Holiday in Dixie and African-American History – occur at other times. With budgetary stress only mounting on the city, its Council in particular has floated the idea that the city receives compensation for this as part of its provision of service to these organizations.

In turn, supporters of the present system argue that (recognizing the reality that the vast bulk of these expenses come from accommodating Centaur and Gemini) the parades bring in tax revenues that ought, in a sense, to pay back the city. LSUS’ Center for Business and Economic Research estimates the Carnival season, almost all of which would be attributed to these parades, generates $350,000 extra in sales taxes.

But digging into the numbers, the city’s case grows stronger. Consider the $350,000 figure (based upon an estimated economic impact of $17 million): probably a good portion of that comes from individuals residing nearby who, without the parades, would have spent on alternatives that also would have registered in city sales tax coffers. Thus, only some proportion, perhaps not even the majority, of this gain is directly a result of the parading.

Further, external costs passed onto the citizenry are not included. For example, the intrepid editor of this publication becomes a shell of his former self the two weekends of these parades as he struggles for the preservation of his humble abode that lies near the parade route, battling the wave of detritus that washes over his otherwise pristine property. Traffic inconveniences, loss of business activity in the nearby areas, etc. also factor into this, costs never calculated.

So it can be argued persuasively that, from the city and it citizens’ perspective, the costs of the parades exceed their benefits. Certainly Bossier City, of all places, saw it that way when a few years ago it waved goodbye to hosting part of the parades rather than to allow them their preferred times and routes through the City that Fiscal Probity Forgot. Also notable is that precedent exists for these parades to pick up their own expenses. The smaller Krewe of Highland does precisely that.

However, this strategy might seriously jeopardize the parading. For example, the two big krewes have roughly 1,000 members, of which perhaps half at most get to ride on floats (which incurs extra expenses to them). Passing the cost onto them would entail an extra $200 per person which may discourage too severely their participation.

Thus, part of a solution would entail making krewes somewhat more monetarily responsible for their affairs. Shreveport estimates expenses annually to be $109,500 for police overtime and drunken driving tests, $16,800 for fire department overtime and emergency response units, $38,800 for Operational Services to deal with barricades and cleaning up, and $27,100 for Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation to handle portable bathrooms and cleaning up (and a small amount of this is offset by charges for reserving spots along E. Kings Ave. for revelers for the two Saturdays). It would not be unreasonable to charge the krewes $66,000 annually for barricading and cleaning up; after all, if any ordinary citizen stopped traffic and began to litter profusely instead of being welcomed as economic development he would be fined.

The remaining $127,000 could be paid by the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau which collects a tax on hotel rental rooms which will house a small portion of Carnival revelers. In the latest audited year, it ran a surplus of nearly $600,000, made nearly $4 million off the occupancy tax authorized by the local citizenry, and had over $2.7 million in unrestricted cash lying around. That’s not too much to ask from this quasi-public entity whose reason for existence squarely matches with the existence of the parades.

Eventually, the city decided it could raise its spot reservation charges from a startlingly-low $10 or $20 to $75, but that raises only an additional roughly $19,000. That's really not enough in times of budgetary stress.

Despite the impression given by standing along the side of the road and having people throw essentially worthless baubles at you, nothing in life is free. Elected officials need to understand this and to make discerning choices when handling taxpayers’ monies. Getting Shreveport out of the business of subsidizing events that don’t really pay for themselves meets this goal. Whether candidates for mayor or council have enough gumption to suggest these solutions is another issue.


Melancon plays politics, kowtows to party in ban measure

As it’s fashionable on the political left to believe there is no such thing as objective truth (and also hilariously self-negating: making such a statement is itself the positing of an objective truth), one might be tempted to give up trying to ascertain whether Republican objections – including all representatives from Louisiana – to Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon’s amendment to mend rather than end the Pres. Barack Obama Administration-imposed moratorium on deepwater oil drilling actually hold substance that it makes no substantive changes. But denials of such truths do not negate their real existences, and we can figure out which side wanted substantive change and which wanted to play politics.

The matter came up on the CLEAR Act bill, H.R. 3534, which presumes to deal with energy policy in a wide ranging fashion. Essentially, Melancon, running against incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter this fall, got approved with almost no GOP a support an amendment that would nullify the Jul. 12 declaration by Energy Secretary Ken Salazar that imposed the moratorium, but it also allowed the official the authority to impose a case-by-case refusal to allow permits regardless of whether they passed other requirements on the basis of protecting “based on the threat of significant, irreparable or immediate harm or damage to life, property, or the marine, coastal or human environment.”

In other words, this codifies power that Salazar has asserted he has, but which twice was denied his by the courts as an impermissible overreach of this authority as exists under current law. Melancon actually didn’t have such language in his original amendment but it was added at the behest of the Rules Committee, which determines what amendments may be offered in floor debate – one of the most influential in the House of Representatives and tightly controlled by the majority Democrat leaders.

Forced to accept this, Melancon tried to obscure this import by articulating the ruse that the language was like that of Vitter’s S. 3588. But while Vitter’s bill like Melancon’s amendment does say the Secretary “shall make a determination on whether to issue the permit,” it does not add the other language. That is, Vitter’s language does not change the judicial rulings against Salazar’s arbitrary use of power, but Melancon’s amendment’s language does.

Further, Melancon claims he meant to offer an amendment even more unambiguously against saving the moratorium by killing it, but was prevented from doing so by GOP objections. Still, Melancon had a chance to demonstrate he was undeniably against the present politically-based and judicially-voided moratorium when Rep. Bill Cassidy asked for reconsideration of the passed amendment, substituting language that specifically negated the reissued moratorium. Instead, Melancon spoke against the substitute and thereby implicitly in favor of his language which would codify this power, and backed it up by voting to refuse to recommit, contrary to the rest of the state’s delegation.

To summarize, under present law by following certain steps the secretary can make rulings such as a moratorium. Twice, courts have found he did not. The language that Melancon proposed and defended by word and deed removes the specific, illegal moratorium at present but places new avenues into law that, contrary to the present, permit politicized moratoria (by the aggregation of continued specific denials) to be issued that quickly could reinstate the existing one, and then resisted a chance to alter it. It is disingenuous of Melancon to suggest this equates to his unconditional support of erasing an existing moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, so his claim that Republicans voted against and later criticized his in order to deny his legislative accomplishment because it might help him get elected is verifiably false.

This incident also puts to a lie the claim that Melancon makes on the campaign trail that he would be “independent” of Democrat leadership claims that he thought contrary to the state. He could have proved that by resisting their claiming of his amendment, refusing to offer it or by siding with Cassidy. That he did one thing and tried to define it as something else shows he was just playing election-year politics.

So when Melancon bleats about Republicans playing politics with the issue, understand this is a form of projection of his own actions as again he tries to trick voters into appearing as one thing while he reveals his true self by doing another.


Pass session start, reject civil service amendments

Now that the Secretary of State has released ballot language for the Oct. 2 constitutional amendments for the Louisiana citizenry’s inspection (except it has been too lazy to post them at its website as of this writing), it’s never too early to consider who to vote on the two propositions left over from the 2009 session of the Legislature (because no statewide elections were scheduled for last year).

One item essentially would move up the start of legislative sessions about two weeks, making them mid-March in even-numbered years and begin in mid-April in odd-numbered years. This came from a bill authored by state Sen. Neil Riser which originally would have bumped them up into January and February. But he, as well as state Sen. John Alario who offered the amendment that put the dates into their present form, apparently read my post last year about how this would interfere with Carnival and be a non-starter as a result, while Alario must have come to understand why his objections were specious.

The logic remains the same: Louisiana’s session finishes latest of all states’ and with an earlier start the budget doesn’t have to go down so close to the wire against the fiscal year which begins Jul. 1. If need be, the May 15 date reserved for the Revenue Estimating Conference to provide fresh fiscal forecasts can be moved up as well to accommodate. This deserves an affirmative vote by the people.


Levine leaves legacy of improvement, hope for more

The departure of Alan Levine as Secretary of Health and Hospitals provides a reminder to understand how the system has changed during his tenure, his contribution to it, and where it may and should go.

It’s not hyperbole at all to conceive of Levine as the second-most influential person in Louisiana during his two-and-half years on the job. Not many in the public realize that the single largest area of expenditure by the state, by far, is in the area of health care where well over a quarter of all state recurring spending annually from all revenues sources goes into it. The epicenter of any campaign to make Louisiana government more efficient because of this vast claim on dollars, Levine’s agenda, formulated from desires by his former boss Gov. Bobby Jindal (who formerly held the same job), that he was able to implement, has put the state on the road to much more efficient operation with at worst little reduction, if any, in quality of service.

Neither would it be exaggerated to conclude quality actually improved for many and helped the state as a whole. For example, the vast majority of individuals needing intermediate kinds of care – assistance with most life tasks because of disability or infirmity – are better off as a result of changes sought by Jindal and started by Levine. Efforts to steer people out of state-run institutions and into community settings or allowing them to receive services in the home not only improved the quality of life for clients, but also saved the state money.

The efforts also brought order to the system and rationality to use of taxpayer resources. Using the same area as an example, although the implementation wasn’t perfect – the Resource Access Model proved to be wanting and incompletely administered – the basic idea that service provision ought to be aligned with actual client needs took hold. The only lamentable aspect here was that it took tremendous fiscal stress to make this transition much less subject to political warfare than otherwise might have happened.

Some critics of Levine’s direction in reducing reimbursement levels really have more of a problem with the state’s disappointing money picture, where Levine had to make the best of a bad hand but got the flak as the decision that squeezed providers had to be made by him. Others were less honest in their motives from Levine’s attempt not so much to bring more privatization into the system but, more accurately, make it more responsive to market and client needs.

Defenders of state-run institutionalization as a strategy, while articulating nebulous if not irrational opposition to the state getting out of the direct provision of health care (if privatization is so bad, why is so often done in the area of health care), acted as such because they placed too high of a value on the electoral benefits of keeping things as they are, as it allowed them to claim they brought jobs to their districts and/or contracts to special interests, or ideology, through fervent belief that government ought to be as powerful as possible. All their blather ignores the fact that no state has a charity hospital system like Louisiana, some don’t have any state-operated resources and supports center (what were once called “developmental centers” in Louisiana), and many do not have state-owned nursing homes – and yet their health care outcomes in general clearly are superior to Louisiana’s.

In this area the greatest reform task lies – continued moving away from an institutional bias, whether by the state or in how it contracts out health care, in provision. For example, the charity hospital system must be whittled away to where there are just two state-owned institutions whose existence primarily is for medical education, most resources and supports centers must be closed, and nursing homes cannot retain the special, favorable treatment they get to the detriment of taxpayers, such as by the $23 million set aside last year for empty beds in nursing homes to make up for their own foolish investment decisions.

Levine would have been a great ally in this campaign and it is hoped his successors prove as effective as he did. He leaves the state’s health care system much better off than when he inherited it.