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In Senate race, Melancon shows worse character

It’s the other shoe time dropping time with the final prong of the Rep. Charlie Melancon campaign emerging, possibly as part of a presumably coordinated effort with defeated Senate candidate Chet Traylor.

In his quest to take the seat held by incumbent Sen. David Vitter, the Democrat Melancon has found himself on the wrong side of most issues about which a majority of Louisianans care. Recognizing this, he has based his campaign almost entirely on attempted character assassination of the Republican Vitter, making thoughtful people wonder whether it’s worth putting such a petty, vituperative person that focuses most of his efforts attacking his opponent into such an office of great responsibility.

The unusual entrance of Republican Traylor into that party’s primary from the beginning smacked of an attempt to create a stalking horse working with Melancon against Vitter. With little organization, almost no money, and considerable political baggage himself, the only plausible explanation as to why Traylor would enter, and lose devastatingly, was as an excuse to intensify Melancon’s attack strategy against Vitter.

In particular, Traylor ran some ads thin on substance but long on personal attacks on Vitter, more extreme and explicit than previously had surfaced from the Melancon campaign or from allied Democrat organizations and affiliates. This level of venom has continued with new ads out designed to support Melancon by tearing down Vitter. Now, Melancon, who would have looked less statesman-like had he initiated these on his own in the past, can claim he’s simply repeating what other candidates already have articulated.

If Traylor was encouraged by backers of Melancon to enter the race, that was the main purpose, to provide this kind of cover for a campaign that will get nastier because that’s all Melancon has to offer. It reflects poor character on his part to permit such shenanigans to go forward, rather than conduct a campaign concentrating instead on issues of government spending, taxation, support of Democrats’ agenda, federal funding of abortion, and wasteful junkets.

But if polling data to date don’t change dramatically, it’s not working. Louisiana voters are more focused on issues, even if Melancon avoids them as well as his constituents, and this final descent into hate-filled politics that Democrats are making serves perhaps as the final validation of why in the next couple of months Americans will judge them unfit to run its national legislature, as well as illuminating Melancon’s deficient character.


Protests, reaction to damage higher education more

Not wanting to do a run-of-the-mill fifth year anniversary story on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I wasn’t sure what to do and these past couple of weeks kept finding better stuff about which to write. Then, thanks to some manifest irresponsibility and self-absorbed cluelessness, I found this direction in which to head.

Narcissistic students who fancy themselves as “rebels” (who all end up dressing, acting, and thinking as a herd of lemmings) and hippie graybeards in academia must have had their hearts skip a beat of joy when they discovered student protest over university funding cuts had broken out at the University of New Orleans. There of all places made it a wonder still; the vast majority of the students at my alma mater with their jobs and family responsibilities don’t have the time, their parents’ money, or taxpayer-funded free tuition to allow them the luxury of behaving as spoiled brats.

First, it was a small group (not all of them UNO students) that barred classes from starting in one building by getting themselves locked in overnight, then obstructing doorways. After their disgorgement in time for the next set of classes to begin, some actually cheered their brazenness. Then, at a rally already scheduled to protest the reductions a scuffle broke when university police ordered several dozens of participants to leave and some refused after they unexpectedly entered then yawped around the Administration Building, leading to violence and a couple of arrests.

That the initially-planned rally was ill-conceived did not make it too counterproductive. Had it been held out as a rally at which could educate about the state’s budget situation, the place of higher education within it (including the inconvenient facts about there being too many schools a high per capita spending on them), and how to influence policy-makers to alleviate the extra structural burden higher education faces in fiscal arrangements in the state, that would have been a positive step. Instead, from reports it ended up as a festival of whining and posturing combined with a dance party.

Unfortunately, this degree of cluelessness exhibited should surprise no one in academia. It never ceases to amaze me how some college students, who have roofs over their heads, generally get the chance for three square meals a day, have their health care paid for one way or another, and who get paid by taxpayers or from the generosity of donors or family to study and not work full-time, can form any idea that they in any way are being “oppressed.” Live a year in Cuba, Iran, or North Korea and they might wise up to the fact that larger class sizes with fewer scheduling options and major courses of study available isn’t exactly the end of the world.

Such an experience might do some good especially to the young savants who hung up signs like “Occupy! Strike! Resist!” and another who stated his selfless goals as “We want free education, free university for everybody” – despite the fact that the rally was scheduled specifically to conflict with class times and some associated with it urged students to boycott these classes, So, they want everybody else to pay for letting them sit in classes at which they don’t even bother to show? Many non-participating students seemed to grasp that, but because they just went along with their business of acquiring education it didn’t garner any publicity.

Regrettably, the stupidity did. Viewing this, thinking members of the public might conclude UNO enrolls too many people who, if their brains were gunpowder, couldn’t even blow their own noses. The problem is, perhaps they took their cues from a few too many members of the faculty as some (students said) encouraged students to miss classes to attend the rally, and the even more accommodating ones cancelled classes. Needless to write, such an abrogation of duty by these pretentious blowhards and/or milquetoasts not only demonstrates a distinct lack of character but also great willingness simultaneously to give taxpayers a Bronx salute and to cheat students out of education by failing to perform the very task for which they are supposed to be there.

Nor did their superiors acquit themselves well. They did, by breaking up the Administration Building disruption, hew to what the university spokesman said, that UNO would not allow the normal functioning of the university to be impeded. But then administrators validated the very concept of disruption by refusing to punish the building occupiers/barricaders, who caused class cancellations, and invited them to do the same in the future by meekly requesting the powers that be to get served a heads up next time on any planned occupational activities.

This all connects to Katrina because that is what started UNO’s downward spiral that prompted some of these toy revolutionaries to get worked up. Heavily dependent on the surrounding parishes for enrollments, with Orleans and Plaquemines still down substantial numbers of people, when budget crises came at the state level, you simply couldn’t keep a university with infrastructure and personnel budgeted for 16,000 students operating when only 12,000 were there. It’s sad that services must be cut and people let go, but it’s a fact of life.

And when the general public sees these events, itself under pressure from other state cutbacks and general economic malaise that only has grown since Pres. Barack Obama came into office saying he’d produce the exact opposite, this will strengthen its conclusion that in dealing with predicted future budget woes the cutting of more funds for self-indulgent students, self-absorbed faculty members, and self-parodying administrators isn’t such a bad idea after all.


Conditions make Cao's reelection not hopeless cause

All along, the chattering classes have assumed that Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao cannot hold onto his Second Congressional District seat, a Republican in a district where only one in nine voters are and two-thirds are Democrats. In light Saturday’s party primary election results, it’s time to reassess that conjecture.

Cao’s only real competition will come from state Rep. Cedric Richmond, securer of the Democrats’ nomination, who racked up 60 percent of the just over 24,000 votes cast in that primary. A colleague of mine estimates that Richmond picked up two-thirds of black votes, estimated at nine percent turnout, and almost half of white votes, estimated turnout at seven percent. Cao did not have challengers for his nomination.

Three things must be considered to extrapolate these results to November. First, Cao will benefit from an enthusiasm gap, where supporters of Republican candidates will be more likely to turn out than those supporting Democrats, as other Saturday results showed. Second, on the baseline white voter turnout for elections in this district historically is a little higher than black turnout, again favoring Republicans since blacks vote overwhelmingly Democrat. Third, only Democrats and no-party registrants could vote in the primary; Republicans were absent. They get their shot obviously in a general election, and no-party registrants can get a chance to vote for a Republican.

That last point explains the racial turnout figures in the primary. While blacks comprise only 13 percent of GOP registrations and whites over three-quarters, the figures are for Democrats over three-quarters and 15 percent, and for none and other parties 43 and 40 percent, respectively. With no conservative candidates in the primary that would be more likely to appeal to white Democrats and independents, they disproportionately sat this one out. Come November, not only should the historical gap of 2-4 percent white over black emerge again, it probably will be greater given the enthusiasm gap.

Estimating that very roughly can be accomplished by looking at the Senate primary voting patterns in the larger of the two parishes that comprise the Second, Orleans (about 278,000 registered voters; Jefferson contributes around 111,000). Backing out the tenth or so of Orleans precincts not in the district and then comparing turnouts, the hot House race got 8.3 percent turnout, the sleepy Democrat Senate primary picked up 7.7 percent, and the overhyped Republican Senate contest (the only one on the ballot for them) got 7.4 percent.

These numbers ought to encourage Cao, because if a high-stimulus Democrat House race marginally outdraws a low-stimulus GOP Senate contest, it does show an enthusiasm gap in his favor. Further, perhaps part of the reason why House turnout did not much exceed the Senate’s was some Democrats and independents not wanting to vote for any of the Democrat candidates, but willing to vote for Cao in November. This hypothesis finds additional support when looking at the party primary in 2008, when turnout was almost three times what it was this time. While there were additional contests on the ballot then – mostly judicial, one being for the state Supreme Court, but also a Public Service Commission spot and, most stimulating, for Orleans District Attorney – it’s a stretch to say those additional contests were that much more incentive to draw out voters.

Instructive here is that no-party registrants came out below 10 percent for that primary in 2008, but when the general election came along two months later, despite that contest being the only one on the ballot, their turnout jumped five percent. It was noted at the time that this very likely represented disproportionately Cao voters. In addition, in 2008 in the first primary election white turnout exceeded black by about one percent, contrasted to down about two percent this year, so the effect of whites sitting out the primary waiting for the general election to vote for Cao may be felt to a greater degree this year. Again, all signs point to an enthusiasm gap strongly favoring Cao despite his natural constituency being far fewer in numbers.

However, in 2008 that enthusiasm gap was magnified by disgust with his main opponent former, convicted Rep. William Jefferson, even as national tides worked against that for Cao. What may give Cao more hope this time are results from Jefferson Parish, now about 30 percent of the district, where enthusiasm seems even stronger. There, the House race drew only 4 percent participation while the GOP Senate contest brought over 50 percent to the polls. Some of that is due to Sen. David Vitter being from Jefferson, but most has to be ascribed to much greater enthusiasm.

Jefferson, the parish as well as the opponent, also was a key to Cao’s win in 2008. While white participation was about 11 percent higher in Orleans than black voting, it doubled up at almost 29 percent in Jefferson, nearly five points higher than in Orleans. Put its figures the same as Orleans, and the race is a toss-up. If anything, enthusiasm among Cao’s constituency – recalling there is a much higher proportion of Republicans in this part of the Second and almost as many whites as blacks – in Jefferson is likely to be even higher relative to Orleans than in 2008. Also helping him potentially here is that Jefferson is going to have some high-profile municipal, parish, and school board contests decided on that date, driving turnout higher.

To put it into boilerplate, Cao’s situation is far from hopeless. He can win, following the formula of 2008, modified to current conditions. Rather than depend upon depression of his opponent’s turnout because of his opponent being under indictment, he has to hope this time around greater enthusiasm among his supporters takes up that slack. This time out turnout should be double the 2008 general election’s, around 35 percent if following historical norms. Cao can win if he can get at least 40 percent white turnout in Jefferson, which also doubles black turnout there, and if white turnout exceeds black turnout in Orleans by at least five percent whose total turnout is only two-thirds or less of the district’s (it was 68.5 percent in 2008).

For this to happen, Cao must create, through enthusiastic turnout of his supporters, as big a gap in participation as in 2008 when it was disgruntlement over Jefferson that depressed his vote. This will not be easy, especially as Richmond can expect closer to 90 percent of the black vote rather than Jefferson’s 80 percent. But the macro electoral conditions are there for him to pull it off. Thus, electoral obituaries written about him almost two years gone may turn out premature.


Despite problems, dynamics favor Glover reelection

Now that the federal primary stuff is over, we can look to the 2010 Shreveport mayor’s contest with state Rep. Roy Burrell, City Councilman Bryan Wooley, and current Mayor Cedric Glover being the main candidates running in November. At present, despite his penchant for irritating a number of different constituencies, this configuration favors a Glover reelection.

In order to understand the dynamics of the race and where it is likely to go, it all starts at the ultra-salient fact that a majority (50.2 percent) of city registered voters are black and they have a history of almost uniformly voting for black candidates. Further, unless a significant minority of the black community supports a white candidate, recent history has shown, it tends to overwhelmingly support one black candidate for the top job.

Wooley, a white Republican, does not have the candidacy that can pull this off. His quick rise to prominence that knocked off far more experienced (and older) politicians in 2006 for his current post and his largely steady performance since meant he could have retained it. Instead, almost certainly the best he can do in his mayoral quest is to make the general election runoff where the numbers make it almost impossible for him to win, not just because of monolithic black voting for black Democrats like Burrell and Glover, but also because white liberals will forsake his conservatism.

If Wooley had been counting on disaffection with Glover – over a seemingly drifting city government with Glover antagonizing other political elites with an imperious manner – to drive just enough white liberals and blacks into his column, his task was made more complicated by the entrance of Burrell, who holds himself out as more “moderate” than Glover. Burrell’s strategy is to corral the discomfort with Glover among the coalition that put him into office, at least enough of it to make the runoff against either candidate, for he wins either way. Thus, if Wooley wants Glover in a runoff, he might well get Burrell instead.

However, whether Burrell can do this is an entirely different matter. Since leaving the City Council nearly eight years ago and ensconcing himself in the state House a year later, he has been less connected in city politics than was Glover who did the same thing and, like Burrell seeks to do, then win the job while serving in the House. Glover had the advantage in carrying water in the Legislature for the previous administration of Keith Hightower and therefore also having no incumbent to face.

Burrell also may find his “moderate” claim a hard sell to voters. He’s never voted that way in the Legislature; his six-year average on my Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting scorecard is 24, which puts him among the most liberal/populist members of the House, capped in 2009 with a 0 making him (tied for) the most liberal member of the Legislature then and in 2010 recovered somewhat to a 30. But by going by the bills he’s introduced into the House this year, he didn't change his uber-liberal reputation much.. For example, his HB 1402 essentially would institute semi-set-asides for “disadvantaged” groups of people, much like the city’s quasi-quota Fair Share program defended by Glover.

Thus, despite squabbles with the Council over things such as financial reporting and funds usage and with the citizenry over stuff like closing railroad crossings and nuisance plant control, Glover still has a pretty good chance of consolidating the black vote. If that happens, he can’t be beaten, meaning Burrell won’t make a runoff. Wooley’s best bet was to hope he and Glover were the only two major candidates, leaving him as the only real alternative, and thereby win without a runoff if enough disaffection with Glover existed; in a runoff against either black candidate where black turnout tends to be disproportionately higher than in the general election, he has little chance of victory.

For Burrell, even defeat produces a payoff: higher visibility for what he may be signaling as an attempt after Glover, if the incumbent wins, facing term limits, for 2014. Burrell himself is limited out in 2015 (if he wins a final term) and this warm-up effort could gain future resources to get the top spot in four years without sacrificing present office now. By contrast, Wooley’s cost is higher because he must give up a relatively safe seat with not much chance of moving up where, given demographics, he likely already has reached his peak in city office. This sacrifice is worthwhile only if state or even national office is on his mind in the next few years.