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Unruly choir demands bold Jindal leadership on budget

Three political forces continue to move towards digging Louisiana out of a tremendous projected budget hole for next fiscal year. The question is, whether they will be able to go far enough, fast enough to prevent unnecessarily harsh spending cuts.

There’s the one majoritarian branch which has shown the greatest progress but at a slow rate. While Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rhetoric sometimes has exceeded results to date, slowly but surely the cautious, incremental reform approach of his administration grinds it way to better prioritized and more efficient state spending. Big moves have been few, yet the little ones are starting to add up. But this approach unlikely to be enough in time to address this dilemma.

Then there’s the other majoritarian branch that makes grand gestures but ends up with not much to show for them, the Legislature. Last year, it convened the Commission for Streamlining Government and its companion the Post-Secondary Education Review Commission which made suggestions from incremental to grand to make state spending more efficient. The Jindal Administration shot layups on the smaller stuff but only mildly pushed for the bigger and the Legislature, lacking any other imperative, whiffed on those. Whether the greater imperative of the crisis will be enough for more sweeping measures this year is another matter.


Cao's contests affect careers of LaFonta, Hines

The inability of Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao to secure recent reelection for his federal office has produced interesting political consequences regarding different state offices and their holders.

While Cao’s defeat was expected, the size by which he lost to state Rep. Cedric Richmond was not, despite spending huge sums to hold onto his seat in an uphill battle. Demographics worked heavily against Cao, who two years ago found the right combination of circumstances to be elected as a Republican in a majority black and Democrat district.

But Cao’s conduct in office and reputation for honesty and weighing ethics heavily in his decisions was the former seminarian’s strong suit, and he may have found the office that would emphasize most those qualities as he left the door open for a run for Louisiana Secretary of State, to be occupied on an interim basis by former state Sen. Tom Schedler when his boss Jay Dardenne becomes lieutenant governor next week. A significant portion of the job deals with elections and their integrity, and integrity is Cao’s strong suit.

Cao’s leaving the door open for this possibility should not have been received well by state Rep. Walker Hines, who last week announced a party switch to the GOP and possible pursuit of the same job. He has established a centrist voting record largely made that way by enthusiastic reform efforts. Schedler, who has registered his intention for the job and is anticipated to be supported by many establishment Republican activists, would be expected to be backed by long-standing conservative forces so Hines’ strategy may have been to come in front the center, stressing his reform credentials.

However, were Cao to enter the contest not only could he stress those same credentials, but his reputation for integrity, greater name recognition, and congressional experience would trump Hines’ qualities. He also has demonstrated the great fundraising prowess necessary to run successfully statewide while Hines has not (although Cao cannot use any leftover funds from his federal campaign). This may make any such campaign by Hines stillborn from the start.

In addition, Cao’s defeat may have been the final straw to end, at least for now, the elective career of state Rep. Juan LaFonta, whom Richmond convincingly defeated in the Democrat primary. LaFonta, first elected in a special contest five years ago, proclaimed that he would not run for reelection, in essence arguing the job wasn’t any fun any more if it ever had been.

LaFonta called the atmosphere of the Legislature “vindictive,” said over the past few years (meaning about all the time he was in it) it frustrated him, and, in particular, Gov. Bobby Jindal was really spoiling the party by threatening to under the penalty of their withdrawal or actually vetoing LaFonta’s slush fund line item appropriations. Confirming that he had no stomach to fight for and/or no confidence in his own leadership qualities to pursue his agenda, he remarked, “To beat Bobby Jindal it takes ... the people of this state to really wake up and put their foot down. To be vocal and active and organized and I just have not seen that.”

LaFonta insists he had made up his mind on this before Richmond’s shellacking of him. Translation: LaFonta was putting up with his fruitless legislative position only so long as it took him to use it to ascend to higher office. But now that Richmond has got it and the district’s demographics and history (of long tenures once elected) on his side, he doesn’t want to play any more and is going to go home.

Given a voting record favoring higher taxes, more spending, bigger government, and greater regulation by it, the citizenry should congratulate LaFonta on his exit from elective office, if not ask, since he seems set on this, for his immediate resignation.


LA's Medicaid proposal superior to providers' preference

As Louisiana tries to get a handle on its biggest ticket item, health care spending on the poor and disabled, it’s imperative that it get it right which means making sure taxpayers and patients’ needs are put before those of managing care, whether they be insurers or providers.

In the past few years, accelerated under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term, the state has sought to move away from the uncoordinated system that relies on individual providers and the charity hospital system to provide this care. It has resulted in user overutilization often of the least efficient manner of service provision, while users have neglected much more efficient practices such as preventive care.

For lack of a better term, recent reform has gone in the direction of “Florida Plan,” which encourages competition among private providers managed by insurers (either third-party or extensions of providers). The state pays the manager the premium for the Medicaid enrollee which then reimburses the provider. Different plans would offer different mixes of benefits.


Changing wind blowing Alario to new, expedient label

Another day, another announcement for all intents and purposes that a Louisiana Democrat lawmaker is going to switch to the Republican Party. But this one smacks even more of seeking electoral advantage.

The proclamation by grizzled Legislature veteran state Sen. John Alario that he was almost certain to change registration before the year’s end seems even more expedient than the recent declaration by state Rep. Walker Hines that he was doing the same now. At least in Hines’ case his three-year career voting record seemed more amenable to a GOP affiliation all along, so the expediency comes from his having had to gain his election in a fairly Democrat-heavy, majority-black district. Having secured that election as a Democrat, his present defection is a signal to the GOP to help him out in redistricting and may help his chances in case he makes a run for Secretary of State next year.

But Alario’s move would come for almost the opposite reason. Until recently, he never has shown much affinity for a conservative/reform agenda, not the least because he served as House Speaker and as a committee leader in periods where the governors and Legislatures were comfortable with tax increases and big spending. His voting record, as by the Louisiana Legislature Log’s index, over the past seven years averaged about 49, where 100 is the maximum support in voting for conservative or reform positions on legislation.

However, this centrist score is skewed by his activities since entering the Senate after being term-limited in the House at the end of 2007. His last term there he averaged under 35, barely above the Democrat average of about 32 and well under the House overall average of around 46. Yet he seemed a changed man in the Senate, averaging about 67 in those three years with a stunning 90 in 2010.

It’s not that his district is pushing him in this direction; although it has been trending more conservatively, its large majority of Democrats and one-quarter black minority does not mean he could not get reelected as a Democrat. Unlike Hines’ case, redistricting really does not threaten dismembering his district, packing it with enough blacks to invite a challenge from a black Democrat, or with more Republicans to make that party able to knock him off: the Louisiana Family Forum plan, for example, adds some blacks but leaves it clearly with a white Democrat majority.

Rather, Alario, as he has done his entire career, is going whichever way the wind blows. When populist Democrats and/or Republicans-in-name-only called the shots in the Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, he was out in front of that as one of the biggest yes-men and facilitators of their tax-and-spend, grow government agenda. Times are different now, with conservative Republicans having captured the fourth floor, tightening their grip on the House, and may well gain a Senate majority for the first time since Reconstruction in the Senate by this time next year.

Alario acts however he needs to try to retain influence with whichever faction wields power. While he mouths the expected “Democrats have left me” line to explain it, any switch that does occur must be evaluated in light of this fact.