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To defeat school reform, opponents try false portrayal

You could accuse supporters of the educational establishment in Louisiana, invested in a one-size-fits-all, command-and-control monopoly of secondary and elementary education in the state because it serves the needs of special interests comprised of politicians, unions, education bureaucrats and liberal ideologues, of just not getting it. You could argue that the massive repudiation for their failed ideas suffered at the ballot box this past election cycle they refuse to acknowledge. But that would sell at least some of them short as they try to stave off defeat by other means.

One such example comes from an opinion piece circulated to major newspapers across the state, dutifully reproduced by outlets. In it, the communications director of the leftist Louisiana Progress presents the group’s strategy to cope with forthcoming policy changes that threatens its worldview and that of its ideological fellow-travelers – by using straw men and distortions to attempt to create a consensus rejecting expansion of the very ideas that haltingly have begun turning around the system.

Several of its assertions present problems in coming to an honest appraisal about education policy in the state.


Jindal late start presidential nomination a pipe dream

At the perceptive The Hayride, the case already has been made as to why Gov. Bobby Jindal politically would not work as a last minute entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes. This space has discussed why, from the standpoint of Jindal’s personal situation and presumed career goals, he would never enter the 2012 contest for the top spot, although perhaps for the vice presidency. Amid some continuing chatter about how the GOP could use another candidate with Jindal’s name being mentioned, the numerical case against Jindal, or anybody else jumping in at such a late date, needs making.

There are just two ways to win the Republican convention, having a majority of delegates pledged prior to the first ballot or, if no candidate receives that majority, by obtaining an absolute majority of delegates in any subsequent ballot. Any late entrant simply cannot fulfill the former requirement because, by the time of the Iowa caucuses, qualification for well over a quarter of delegates that would be pledged by various states and territories would be over.


LA state worker compensation issues still need fixing

With publication of the federal government’s 2012 pay tables comes a reminder about how much remains to be done in Louisiana concerning streamlining, right-sizing, and improving efficiency in the state’s bureaucracy.

On the positive side of the ledger, at least the state is not following the federal government example of Pres. Barack Obama’s policy that puts more emphasis on growing government than in setting up an environment for success in expanding private sector job opportunities and wage levels. Despite a couple of cost-of-living pay freezes for federal employees, their wage growth continues at a higher rate than that of the private sector, just not increasing as much as it had previously. Other forms of compensation remain more generous than ever compared to the private sector, and these civil servants know it, decreasing their low voluntary turnover rates even further that are much below that of the private sector’s.

At least in Louisiana, which, unlike the federal government, must live within means as it cannot use debt for operating budgets except in extraordinary circumstances, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration with the Legislature’s cooperation has started state government on a healthier diet.


Numbers suggest LA Democrat decline hard to reverse

As actually has occurred now for several decades, partisan dealignment nationally continues with no letup as the two majors parties lose affiliates while those who claim none increase in numbers. Louisiana’s history in this regard illustrates the evolving political culture and trends of the state that differ from the national scene.

Of the 49 states that observe voter registration, four-sevenths require some affirmation of partisan status. And of those 28 states, in 25 Democrat registrations have declined since 2008 and in three-quarters of them Republican registrations have followed the same course. Meanwhile, those not affiliated (often called “independents” but legally in Louisiana known as “no party” registrants) have gone down in only 10.

The last year of the quadrennial election cycle typically has the highest number of registrants while the midterm has the lowest, with a slight increase in the third year such as 2011, so the drop partly is a result of that cyclical dynamic.


LA chooses wisely to reward performance, not credentials

Wisely, Louisiana continues to shift its philosophy in delivery of elementary and secondary education from assumed ability to actual performance by its abjuring to reimburse districts for teachers certified under a national standard.

Over a decade ago, R.S. 17:426.1 made obligatory the provision of a $5,000 annual bonus for teachers that picked up a certification, using their own resources, from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It required the expense of local school boards but invited state reimbursement, subject to appropriation. Until fiscal year 2010-11, that was forthcoming.

But as the state’s budget tightened, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Legislature decided not to fund the stipend, thereby passing the cost on to local school districts.


Election administration needs more efficiency, not money

Sec. of State Tom Schedler whines about how his office will need more money to conduct elections before the first half of next year is out. Instead, he needs to become proactive and start lobbying policy-makers to change Louisiana’s election code to reduce inefficiency and waste in the conduct of elections.

After having asserted that he foresaw a deficit in the operations of his department approaching a half million dollars for the rest of fiscal year 2011-12, Schedler further was disconcerted to learn that recent mid-year shortfalls meant $1.5 million was getting chopped from his budget, or less than two percent of the total. Since elections must go on, by all indications some time before Jun. 30 the sum of those totals must find its way back into the Department of State’s coffers. It must pay in total almost all expenses for elections with federal and/or state candidates and/or issues on them, half of many others, and a portion of most of the remainder. It also pays half of expenses regarding equipment storage sites, equipment, and drayage, and also pays portions of local elections full-time personnel as well as that for commissioners and their training.

But whether the money currently spent on elections should be is another matter. There are several statutory and procedural changes that could be made that would reduce the cost of elections in Louisiana without compromising the quality of their administration:


Attempt to subvert fund likely to fail, but without consequences

Prosperity in Louisiana has forced austerity, in a sense, putting the state on the hook for a rash action of a couple of years back, but that same prosperity might end up saving the state from the consequences of that decision.

Voters wisely rejected this past fall’s Amendment 4, which would have loosened up requirements on use of money in the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund. Under narrowly-defined circumstances defining its use the BSF acts as a savings account. It gets deposits from a variety of constitutionally-defined sources, which is where the state got into trouble in budgeting for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

One source of funds is when severance tax revenues, most of which is from oil and gas extraction, exceed a statutorily-defined figure of $850 million.


Dardenne again whines about not spending more

It's the unfortunate nature of government to always want more of the people's resources, usually the amounts demanded inversely related to the actual usefulness of the matter to be funded. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne regrettably demonstrates his acquiescence to this trait with his latest lament about how he can't get enough money to spend.

Dardenne has complained before about how the state does not dedicate all of the 0.03 percent sales tax it rakes off does not get used completely for the department he nominally heads, Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. He fingers as the worst culprit using those proceeds to subsidize special athletic events. Now he has a solution -- reaching into taxpayers' wallets.

He proposes establishing a fund for financing of these events, paid for by possibly diverting more of the proceeds from the sales tax or, worse, perhaps some kind of increase. Even if the tactic only was to divert, this locks away money that is needed for more pressing concerns and would compound the bad problem of too many dedications, too little discretion in the state's budgeting.


New candidate illustrates dishonesty of Roemer's bid

There’s the honest way to go about running for president, and then there’s former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s way, illustrated by another announced contender’s proclamations about his anticipated campaign.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson recently declared his candidacy for the nation’s highest office through the vehicle of a new political party, mouthing the same conspiracy theories about moneyed interests controlling America, and in doing so trumped Roemer’s on credibility in three ways. First, Anderson, although like Roemer personally wealthy, made his fortune the old-fashioned way of liberals, as a trial lawyer, not through the system that Roemer used to supplement his family’s wealth and now criticizes. Second, he’s been a hardcore, fringe leftist his entire political career, not shifting views as has Roemer.

But, third and most relevant to the current election cycle and the issue on which Roemer has asserted purifies him relative to other candidates, Anderson also says he’ll accept no campaign donation over $100 and actually means it by running for this new party.


Election market suggests LA judicial spots priced right

Who’s gotten the biggest pay raises in Louisiana among its class of employees over the past 11 years? Statewide elected officials have gotten a small increase, and so have legislators, if you count their per diems, but it isn’t either. Not even state classified employees, until the last two or three years (depending on what your job was) did get hikes of four percent annually in most cases. Don’t even consider unclassified employees, the majority of whom work in higher education and have seen little in the way of any salary increase in this century.

No, it’s judges, whose salaries have about doubled over that time span, although they did not get anything in the past year. And now the body, largely represented by members of the judiciary or those of the profession whose members comprise it, lawyers, charged with recommendations on this matter thinks there should be another hike over the next two years, although it graciously wants to hold their size to about, in aggregate, half of the typical rate of the past.

The Judicial Compensation Commission, whose recommendation needs legislative approval for anything to happen, argues that Louisiana’s elected state judges are falling behind their comrades in other similar states. One of its judicial members decries that salaries are so low it discourages people to serve in these posts, as “They can't afford to be judges” on the current salary.


Response to challenge LA higher education improvement

The Louisiana Board of Regents made the right call in holding Louisiana State University – Eunice accountable for its decisions, but the episode demonstrates the perils the policy-makers and educators face in trying to improve delivery of higher education.

School and LSU system officials petitioned the Regents to exempt LSU-E from meeting requirements voluntarily entered into by the college in order to get increased state funding and higher tuition rates. While almost every requirement was met, one fell distinctly short, and administrators asked that, under the agreement’s “extraordinary circumstances” clause, for next year the failure not abrogate its chances to receive at least a portion of almost 25 percent of projected funding. They argued that budget cuts, in part causing larger class sizes that theoretically would have a negative impact on the problem area, retention, and a general slow economic climate justified the request.

The Regents refused, rightly noting that all institutions were on the record knowing that state budgetary tightness did not constitute an excuse and that LSU-E had been told that, if in doubt, to lower its projections of retention.


Rates set ignoring risk bad for LA consumers, investors

My friend Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell pitched an idea to members of the press concerning electric utility rates in Louisiana. Here’s why in the long run it would be injurious to both Louisiana ratepayers and (some of whom are also) investors.

Campbell mused that the average rate of return allowed by the PSC, the five-member board that sets these rates in Louisiana, at 10 percent allowed too great of a return to providers. He thought more like 8 percent would do, but, of more interest, he thought then pegging that rate of return on equity (even with the state’s current average being in line with regional and national averages) to other investments’ rates of return would do a better job of producing what he considered a reasonable rate of return for utilities, with the implication that today’s allowed rates were too high.

(As a side note, the figures he quoted as comparison benchmarks – 1 percent return on a certificate of deposit and 3.5 percent on a mortgage – if that’s what he gets, he’s got some pretty sweet deals. The average 30-year rate on a mortgage yesterday was 3.96 percent, while the average 1-year CD earned 0.75 percent.)


Media finally conceding wisdom of Jindal berm strategy

One wonders why it took the mainstream media so long to realize what readers of this space knew well over a year ago, that the leveraging opportunities of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to build sand berms as a defense against potentially polluting oil made the decision wise.

When the Macondo well explosion erupted to begin emptying oil into the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana’s coast, one of the parties involved, explorer and producer BP, asserted it would pay for all damages. Assured of a funding stream at no cost to taxpayers, the Jindal Administration began an ambitious plan to build sand berms to catch any oil that might threaten ecologically-sensitive areas.

As a bonus, the choice had real value added for it could be designed in a way for the berms to double as barrier islands to aid in coastal preservation and restoration; in other words, at no cost to Louisiana, hundreds of millions of dollars could go years ahead of schedule for improving the coastline, saving even more by stopping any deterioration faster. Regrettably, at a time when these considerations should not have mattered, because it was conservative Republican Jindal taking the lead, the plan baselessly caught flak from partisan and ideological opponents.


LA GOP success may moot party governance controversy

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee met yesterday. Talk may have focused on the fact that only 16 of 230 vacancies occurred when qualification for seats on this body for the next term ended the day before, two fewer than for the 2008 election and certainly better than the 38 of 210 vacancies for their Democrat counterparts, demonstrating the former’s ascendancy and the latter’s decline. But by qualification for the 2016 election, because of this ascendancy Republicans might be like Democrats and thereby sidestep a controversy about their districts that nearly derailed this election.

Last month, longtime RSCC member (and the man holding the singular distinction of losing to David Duke for elective office) John Treen sued to prevent the election. He contended that the official schedule for submitting boundaries of districts had not been followed, and therefore the default according to R.S. 18:443.2 of a member per legislative district would have to be followed. While he argued on legal grounds, he indicated the request also would have the effect of decreasing representation on the SCC from more ideologically social conservative elements.

However, the federal judiciary disagreed, in the form of (interestingly, the former head of state Democrats) District Judge James Brady, and elections and qualification for these districts proceeded as the state party had planned.


Pay plan disposition may signal Jindal strategic shift

The perfunctory approval of the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee of the latest pay plan to make it out of the State Civil Service Commission, and then its expected approval next week by that body, may signal a shift of strategy in the long campaign by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration to create a more efficient classified civil service.

This endorsement of the rather tepid changes, which now sends the proposal back to the SCSC for public comment and formal approval at its next meeting next week, does not now attain what Jindal has stated he wants in a new pay plan. Principally, it does not allow for pay raise levels to be tied to evaluation category (the present five being collapsed into three), nor within a level allowing agency supervisors flexibility in determining raises. The one-size-fits all current system where roughly 99 percent of rated employees fall into the top three categories and all get the same four percent raise acts more as a cost-of-living raise (an actual one not given now for over a decade) than any motivational tool or wise expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars that accurately matches compensation to productivity.

Yet the new plan, less bold that ones passed out by the SCSC previously when not all non-elected appointees had come from Jindal but he vetoed as they did not contain exactly what he wanted, looks certain to go to Jindal as he has given no indication that he will reject it.


Maybe good politics, but Landrieu on jury bad for process

It’s great politics for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to serve on a jury. But the symbolic benefits he seeks to reap for his own ambitions come with real costs to the integrity of the judicial process – and might backfire on him if things go to an extreme conclusion.

This week, Landrieu found himself in the jury pool, and then was accepted by parties to the trial of accused murdered Gerald Nickles. He perceives the experience as beneficial to his quest to gain insight into ways to lower the nation’s homicide rate of any major city over the past few years by examining this microcosm of the larger environment (Landrieu is a lawyer by trade but did not practice criminal law).

Yet his service, which he no doubt hopes generates an aura that he doesn’t see himself as too important to try to avoid an important civic duty and that’s he’s an ordinary, concerned, and dutiful citizen like voters fancy themselves to be, appears problematic on a practical level for a few reasons.


Vitter reform bill helpful to reduce poverty, increase growth

Last month, Sen. David Vitter, along with several other senators, joined House colleagues in introducing their version of the Welfare Reform Act of 2011 that promises to right-size and make appropriate taxpayer efforts to assist those truly down on their luck and in need of social welfare  assistance.

Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the uninformed who 15 years ago claimed work and time requirements placed on recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families would cause widespread poverty and misery, the opposite happened as rolls of those using the program declined, in some cases dramatically. Further, states with more restrictive requirements saw the biggest decline, while economic fluctuations played a minor role. In other words, making this cash benefit program available only to the truly needy, structured in a way that would encourage self-sufficiency rather than dependency, worked.

But the problem is, that was just one of over six dozen federal programs that provide some type of anti-poverty assistance and thereby solved only a small part of the difficulty in ensuring only the deserving poor receive such benefits as today the typical recipient of anti-poverty funds receives an average of $19,000 per year costing taxpayers $871 billion in 2010.


LA Democrats delude selves in analyzing election results

Readers who desire an illustration of the definition of the phrase “whistling in the dark” need look no further than comments made by organizational and legislative leaders of Louisiana Democrats, on the subject of what the party and its candidates did in this past election cycle to win what they did in the Legislature, and what they need to do going forward to improve on that performance.

The template the likes of party Chairman Buddy Leach and legislative leader Eric LaFleur are attempting to have some compliant media and uninformed public accept is that, against tremendous odds and badly lacking in resources, the party’s legislative losses were sparse because it’s on the right track to “rebuild.” Hence, the argument goes, state Democrats need only do more of what they did in order to become more competitive and, as far as policy impact over the next four years, they remain substantially influential.

The first part, that candidates and their stated issue preferences carried the day against a presumed GOP onslaught, conceivably could apply only in a limited number of circumstances.


Roemer wishes to be Trojan Horse for Obama reelection?

Tired of banging his head against a wall he thinks doesn’t exists, former Gov. Buddy Roemer has decided to change strategy in his quest to slay his inner demons. But in doing so, in fact ultimately will he end up contributing to the problem he claims that exists of which he has faith he is part of the solution?

Roemer, plying his trade as a banking owner and executive for much of his post-gubernatorial career, has met the enemy and declared they are us, thereby engaging in a quixotic quest to win the Republican 2012 presidential nomination on a platform that moneyed interests have disproportionate power in politics. That campaign has gone nowhere, as polling of those likely to participate in the primary election process have had little appetite for a Roemer candidacy, where his drawing one percent of their support has been a good day.

Reasons for Roemer’s unpopularity have little to do with the reason Roemer fantasizes causes it. He thinks it’s because of his inability to raise much money because he limits donations to his campaign to $100, and if he had more resources the message that so resonated with the public could get out. In reality, it’s because Roemer’s messenger has little credibility and his message stinks, like a guy who’s a financier can deliver a credible conspiracy-driven rap against money or, better yet, can convince the public he’s the guy to put in charge when he can’t even prevent the likes of jailbirds David Duke and Edwin Edwards from denying him reelection to his last executive branch gig.


Campaign finance clarity achieved by eliminating limits

While a Virginia-based public interest group argues for a slight change in Louisiana campaign law that it says would rectify an unconstitutional situation, a different change would moot the whole point and make state and local elections that much more transparent.

The Freedom Through Justice Foundation asked the Louisiana Board of Ethics to issue an advisory opinion that it stop enforcing the state law that limits individual contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures concerning candidacies (meaning that they do not donate money to campaigns nor coordinate activities with them). The Board correctly said it could not do anything regarding this $100,000 limit over a four-year period to a committee since it lacked jurisdiction over the law, it merely enforced it.

This group now could bring suit in state court, where it bases its objection to the decision in v. Federal Election Commission, which involved federal law.


Panel product may provide impetus for needed reform

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and forces sympathetic to beneficial change in Louisiana’s higher education may be getting the upper hand despite previous defeats, as the results coming from a panel dedicated to reviewing higher education policy indicate.

Last year, a bold higher education reform package was proposed by Go. Bobby Jindal, but his legislative allies found it tough sledding. After the failure to merge the worst-performing college campus in the country with another a couple of miles down the road also not performing well, the steam seemed to escape from other efforts such as streamlining the duplicative governance boards and more rational distribution of merit scholarship aid through the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. In the end, tinkering at the margins to shunt a school out of one system and into another and giving temporary, limited authority for schools to set tuition in exchange for promises of more efficient performance constituted the extent of progress.

Establishment of a Governance Commission to study higher education policy came as one of the consolation efforts, and, from the recommendations it has forwarded, helpfully might build momentum to getting going some of those efforts stalled in the last Legislature. Most controversially, it recommended that the Constitution be amended to strengthen the role of the Board of Regents relative to the four system boards, three for baccalaureate-and-above institutions and one for community and technical colleges.


Online education plan has conceptual, symbolic problems

Besides the issue of scope of mission, a question of whether Louisiana resources should support somebody with questionable associations and agendas needs weighing regarding the Southern University System’s request to expand dramatically its online education offerings.

System Pres. Ronald Mason unveiled a proposed partnership involving a company called EOServe, which has assisted several other historically black universities and colleges to establish a national online presence. The idea is that Southern become a “brand” in the area of online education that could compete with for-profit providers that would provide a stream of revenue, even after EOServe takes it cut, especially important for the cash-strapped Baton Rouge campus, which declared financial exigency last month.

This has raised concerns among the Board of Regents, with Commissioner of Higher education Jim Purcell questioning the plan.


Black legislator power declines, not black voter opportunity

Even if black voters in Louisiana accept a false premise, this mistaken policy agenda need not relegate them to near-absolute political irrelevancy if sufficiently motivated or open-minded.

As the latest round of state elections confirmed, if we equate power of black interests with the proportion of black legislators and whether their partisan allegiances lie with the majority party, black lawmaker influence in the American South would be low, as pointed out recently by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research center to study public policy as it relates to black Americans. It turns out that most of the 318 black legislators in the south, the highest number in history, belong to parties in the minority in their statehouses.

Yet this does not necessarily condemn interests of black people to the whims of “conservative whites [who] control all the power in the region” who enact “legislation both neglectful of the needs of African Americans and other communities of color (in health care, in education, in criminal justice policy) as well as outright hostile to them,” as the report ignorantly hyperventilates. Such a view entirely misunderstands that all people’s interests, regardless of skin color, at the most basic level are universal and that conservatism addresses them better far than any alternative.


Power gone with shoe on other foot for LA House Democrats

With elections now finished and Louisiana House Democrats finding them in a minority for the first time in over a century as a new Legislature heads towards its organizational session, speculation turns its new leadership. With the biggest question apparently settled, it now is time for Democrats to dream big in the hopes of avoiding the nightmare of their reality when it comes time to handing out committee assignments and chairmanships, and the policy implications that come from that.

With the imprimatur of Gov. Bobby Jindal, state Rep. Chuck Kleckley appears poised to assume the speakership, jumping current Speaker Pro Tem and recent GOP convert (in label only) Joel Robideaux. The latter has complained about his fate but, unless he pushes the speaker’s matter to a vote that would embarrass politically Kleckley and Jindal, he could well hang onto his spot.

Regardless of Robideaux’s fate, created will be a situation to which Democrats seem resigned, the only two full-time jobs in the chamber being in Republican hands.


Thanksgiving Day, 2011

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas or New Year's when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Thursday, Nov. 24 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.


LA Democrats' big spending prevented bigger GOP gains

If Louisiana Republicans are looking for the main reason explaining why they could not grab more legislative seats in the six majority-white House districts that had runoffs this cycle and the eight that allied organizations targeted with some kind of Democrat incumbent running that got resolved in the general election without a GOP win, they only have themselves to blame by letting state Democrat organizations and their officeholders past and present beat them in tactical funding decisions.

The common perception of Louisiana Democrats as a party was it was a joke for being unable to find one serious candidate for statewide executive office this past election cycle. But when it came to the legislative level, its strategy of selecting a handful of seats to protect largely blunted the less precise, more bludgeoning approach Republican leaders expected to prevail.

Given the demographics, in all six runoff contests Republicans should have been favored.


Disingenuous remarks show LA Democrats don't get it

Listening to the legislative leader of Louisiana Democrats reveals all you need to know about the self-inflicted wound the party has perpetrated on itself to place it close to irrelevancy in the state. Besides missing the point and accusing its rival of doing exactly what it did, this silliness also avoids understanding the largest lesson from the recent legislative elections.

Hearing state Rep. John Bel Edwards’ remarks about the election, one would get no sense that the Democrats now trail the Republicans in seats in the House by 58-45 and in the Senate by 24-15 because they are wrong on the issues. No, it’s because influential Republican politicians like Sen. David Vitter campaigned on tactics, designed to tie Democrat candidates to unpopular national policies, of “race baiting and Obama hating” that were rejected by voters past a certain point. Naturally enough, there’s nothing true about this in explaining why some Democrat incumbents were able to hang on to win reelection, as with one exception those who did try for it were defeated.

But the one who lost was not targeted by the GOP, rather defeated by another Democrat in a manner where race as an issue may have made the difference.


Judge Landrieu not on deceptive rhetoric, but his actions

No sooner was the body of 2011 state elections getting buried than Democrat New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu began his 2015 campaign for governor, launching the first iteration of a strategy he hopes will break the Republican stranglehold they now enjoy on the statewide executive offices.

If any lesson in electoral politics has become clear over the past two election cycles in Louisiana, it is that, unless your constituency is in a poor urban area or a backwater, you cannot run and win office as a liberal Democrat for a state office, especially of the statewide executive kind. Landrieu realizes this and so has commenced testing a theme that tries to promote him as a centrist through a kind of misdirection, by offering extreme interpretations of what both major political parties stand for and then positing that he rejects both in favor of consensus and the practical. He launched this in a speech at a New Orleans meeting aptly enough sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

By doing so, he practices two different kinds of deception.


GOP wins small, education reform big, in 2011 LA elections

If you’re a Republican reformer in Louisiana, the end of this state election cycle ought to elicit from you two cheers.

Reviewing results from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, it’s conceivable that results for reformers could have gone better, but not that much over what actually did transpire. With a sweep of the runoffs by reform-friendly candidates, including the most aggressive of them all, incumbent Chas Roemer in the Sixth District, over the most retrogressive reform opponent running, the eleven-member board, which includes three gubernatorial appointees, now has an overwhelming reform majority with eight solid votes. Two others can be counted upon to lend a hand from time to time, leaving just one isolated establishmentarian representative after having dispatched three such incumbents and one retired.

In the short run, this means it makes likely the hiring of Recovery School District chief John White as the permanent state superintendent.


Fairness asks benefit recipients to pay taxes in support

The leftist Center for the Budget and Policy Priorities, in a study reported by its affiliate the Louisiana Budget Project, identifies Louisiana as one of a minority of states where households whose reported income falls below the poverty line pay state income taxes. Which should elicit a huge collective yawn from citizens and policy-makers considering the report’s incomplete picture and lack of context with larger policy concerns, but should generate concern if then used to justify having fewer people pull the wagon while more jump on it.

The report notes that, while the majority of states create no tax burden on households defined as poor and in some of these, through an earned income tax credit, they actually receive money from the state for not paying state income tax, in Louisiana the cutoff for not owing tax is slightly below that of the poverty level, although slightly above it for earners of the minimum wage (which comprise a very small proportion of all adult earners in the state). The same holds true for families at the 125 percent of poverty level, a small amount of tax due.

The national group generally, and the state group specifically, express concern that the “poor” (who in many cases, in comparative perspective, are anything but) must pay any income tax at all, and worry that a trend may develop where more states extend that taxation to lower income households.


Roemer sees rejection as chance to stroke ego more

While Louisiana has had more than its share of oversized personalities inhabit the world of politics, a run to demonstrate the biggest ego and need for relevance of them is coming from a surprising source whose personality otherwise pales in comparison to those others.

By now, one would have thought that former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s crisis to be someone and to achieve at a level he believes commensurate with his ability in politics would have become satiated, if not permanently altered to a more realistic appraisal of himself and his place in the world, by his quixotic sojourn for the presidency. The Republican running generally on a reform, anti-Washington/big government platform, his main campaign plank touts that too much money goes into elections, and, as such, he accepts no more than $100 donations from individuals and none from political action committee.

Thus, this explains partly why, as of the end of 2011’s third quarter, he had raised only about $233,000 – less than another Republican with no PAC donations Fred Karger’s $356,000 or so, although this candidate has largely self-financed his.


Caldwell suit faces Constitutional, political problems

Maybe Louisiana Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell read this space a couple of years back and decided after he got reelected it was time to go for it. But his suit to redo the apportionment of the House of Representatives based upon the 2010 Census not just is a huge long shot on constitutional grounds, it’s impossible practically to achieve a remedy.

The suit asks that Louisiana be restored a seventh congressional district, on the basis that if citizens only were counted in the census, because of relatively low numbers of non-citizens living in the state compared to others, it would have not lost one of those seats in recent reapportionment. Caldwell insists data collected in this census exists to provide this relief.

This is a tough argument to make.


Another gubernatorial try for Jindal likelier than Senate run

So Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former chief of staff Timmy Teepell heads out into the private sector world of political consulting and about the first thing that comes out of his mouth is he thinks Jindal will run again for governor of Louisiana, after sitting out at least a term. Do not write this statement off as mere intrigue or wishful thinking.

Teepell has been with Jindal since the beginning of the latter’s political career and should read the political calculus of his former boss better than anybody. Or maybe he’s just stirring the pot in league with Jindal, to confuse potential future rivals for other offices available within a year either way of the end of this second term as governor. But an understanding of Jindal’s career specifically and of progressive ambition in politicians generally suggests much earnestness in Teepell’s statement.

In figuring out what successful political figures foresee for themselves one must consider the opportunities available for the individual in question and where that will get him.


Rejecting govt empowerment trumps flexibility on change

Especially given the presence of Amendment 1 on the previous statewide ballot, the presence of the upcoming Amendment 1 on the next statewide ballot raises interesting principled questions about how specific should taxes, taxing powers, and spending discretion be rendered in the state’s constitution, with the answers providing a guide to the approaching vote.

This Amendment 1 would prevent a local governing authority from imposing a tax on real estate transfers, grandfathering in the Orleans Parish version as it will be in place prior to Nov. 30. 2011 (and apparently giving Livingston Parish the opportunity to do so under state law if it acts prior to that date). Most states permit them, but Louisiana’s constitution currently makes no mention of them.

It also stands philosophically the opposite from the previous Amendment 1, which wrote into the Constitution a tax of 1/20th a cigarette sold with an affirmative popular vote last month.


Politicized meeting no help in broadband funding quest

If one had hoped that discussion about the state’s recent loss of a federal government grant opportunity at the recent Public Service Commission meeting could produce positive activity to produce more widely available broadband capability, that got dashed with the spinning of wild conspiracy theories that entirely lack credibility, contractors and agencies trying to cover themselves, and a state government that only too late realized it had headed in the wrong direction and then ran up against partisan political realities when it tried to salvage the situation.

Although the PSC has no jurisdiction over the matter, Commissioner Foster Campbell wanted it discussed. Almost two years ago the state, using the Board of Regents as the lead agency, was awarded a grant to link broadband access off of a high capacity line connecting the state’s northern universities that would have expanded access to public state and local agencies as far west as the Texas border and as far east as Baton Rouge. It was hoped that the lowered costs would encourage private sector providers to latch on and lower provision costs so more households and businesses could get this kind of service, supplementing slower current networks.

But as the project fell way behind, months ago the Division of Administration stepped in with, compared to the original, a very different plan that removed the state in large part from building and operating the network to a leasing arrangement.


Uncompetitive assessors' races deserved more scrutiny

While higher profile races may have gotten more attention, voters in Caddo and Bossier Parishes delivered a verdict on an intriguing question in the contests for the same minor office – do they care about what a parish assessor does or can do?

Democrat Incumbent Caddo Assessor Charles Henington got his first challenge in a dozen years from Republican attorney Royal Alexander, a past state Attorney General candidate and who worked on Capitol Hill. Alexander made as his main issue the fact that Caddo residents paid the most in property taxes and declared that, generally speaking, comparable properties in Caddo were assessed at a higher value than elsewhere.

Henington responded by saying Caddo never had been cited by the state for having values out of line with what assessments ought to be.


Dardenne policy should focus on taxpayers, not ambitions

So Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne breathes a sign of relief, after two statewide elections in two years, and four in the past five, now that he appears to have plenty of time to govern rather than campaign. Mind you, the campaigning part was his own choice – he didn’t have to run for Secretary of State in a special 2006 election, then run for the regular job, only to seek successfully to abandon it in 2010 for this job. And now this progressive ambition threatens unwise prioritization of Louisiana tax dollars.

Unsatisfied with the opportunities provided by the secretary of state’s job, when assuming his current position after the special election in 2010, Dardenne must have felt even less fulfilled. Given this job-hopping pattern, it’s unlikely that Dardenne does not aspire to something even higher and with far more policy-making importance than this or his previous job. And to parlay his current position into that future, he must depend upon a historical fluke that without would make the leveraging power of his position virtually nil.

The Louisiana Constitution provides the lieutenant governor with no power. This was as the guiding force behind the 1974 (the latest) Constitution, then (before becoming Prisoner #03128-095) Gov. Edwin Edwards, intended.


Songy record problematic in achievement, legal issues

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 6 runoff between Republican incumbent Chas Roemer and Democrat challenger Donald Songy has taken the most ideological tone of the remaining undecided contests. But also the “professional” vs. “outsider” theme needs reviewing to judge the qualifications of the candidates.

Roemer, a businessman, has argued that his approach, promoting school choice such as by facilitating charter school operation and dismantling counterproductive institutions and processes by means such as tying teacher evaluation more closely to performance, will move the state out of dwelling at or close to the bottom of educational achievement statistics. Songy opposes many of these reform efforts and contends that his three decades of working in public schools, the last four year before retirement as superintendent of Ascension Parish schools, makes him more capable of creating improvement.

Songy, of course, must address the obvious question of using his career and approach as examples of qualifications when they took part in an educational system that has performed poorly; was he and his outlook then not part of the problem?


Grant discussion wise to resist politicization, find solutions

While perhaps the request by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell does not really fit the mission of his governmental body, it does provide an opportunity to help chart a course to salvage a federal government grant awarded to the state, now revoked, by avoiding politicization of the issue.

Campbell asked that at the Nov. 9 meeting of the PSC it discuss the matter, even though the regulatory purview of the PSC makes it questionable whether it has any legal input at all regarding the issue of build out of telecommunications infrastructure by the public sector before it operates. It concerns a statement from Washington that the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s grant office has told the state it had serious reservations about whether the state could come up with a plan it deems workable for a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant by its deadline.

The BTOP program, created by the initial Pres. Barack Obama spending bill known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, funds in three areas, two of which Louisiana pursued:


Backwards step on state pay plan invites Jindal veto

Once more, the third time in the past three years, the State Civil Service Commission has come up a pay plan to change from the current blunt, mostly useless current instrument. And, once again, past history suggests that, despite Gov. Bobby Jindal now having most members of it appointed by him, that he will veto the measure.

The current system sets five gradations for evaluation of classified employees, where anyone scoring in the top three merits a four percent pay raise, no more, no less. Supervisors perform evaluations just prior to the employee’s hiring anniversary. Historically, around 99 percent of employees who outside of their first year of employment have gotten placed in the top three categories, but any raise occurs only when funded through the budget process, which it has not been for the past two years.

Past criticisms of the system, among them levied by Jindal, include that the rolling, ongoing evaluation process created confusion, the fixed amount allowed no flexibility, and that all agencies had to accept the same amount.


Analysis shows Jindal did get 2011 electoral mandate

Observers of the recently-conducted Louisiana state elections have wondered whether Gov. Bobby Jindal’s victory constitutes a mandate. Some have suggested, by pointing out that Jindal actually drew several thousand votes fewer than in his similar 2007 general election win, and that overall turnout for the contest was lower by about a fifth, that his win did not. Statistical analysis, however, proves otherwise.

One method that could reveal definitively that 2011’s results did not produce a mandate, or an overwhelming agreement to back Jindal’s agenda, is to look at the comparative change in turnout among all statewide elective single executive office contests. According to the logic of no mandate, increased nonvoting signals a lack of interest in the contest and, by implication, tepid endorsement by the entire public of the winner’s platform.

If that is the case, then the comparative loss to turnout in the governor’s race should be greater than for other executive offices.


Voters may not see luck on their side with new casino

Bossier City voters may be forgiven if they feel as if they are staring down the barrel of a .44 magnum, held by their city government snarling, “You’ve got to ask yourself a question: do you feel lucky?” The answer either can lead to adding a little economic boost to the underperforming suburb, or end up being yet another economic development mistake in a city that has made a habit of unwise spending and frittering away genuine opportunity.

Because, in reality, it’s multiple questions needing answers as a result of the state deciding to allow transfer of a casino license to a projected operation in Bossier City, which would make it the fourth riverboat docked at least partially in the city. State law requires an affirmative local option vote in the parish of the berthing.

The antecedent question for voters addresses the moral aspect of the decision, whether increased gambling opportunities make, in the aggregate, the parish a better place in which to live.


Jindal pick shows he should stay, will aim very high

Now that Gov. Bobby Jindal won a second term in historic fashion, creating a mandate if a nebulous one, does his backing of state Sen. John Alario signify renewed emphasis in creating a record in office worthy of higher things, and then pursuing them?

As observers vent and exercise over the choice of the increasingly conservative, obviously skilled, but very baggage-laden good-old-boy for Senate president, one view to understand the choice (besides the fact that the master politician Alario had made his election an accomplished fate that only substantial Jindal exertion might have stopped) is that Jindal recognizes in a body where perhaps half the members can be counted upon to vote for conservative principles most of the time, he needs an experienced hand to guide his agenda through. And, it is asserted, this agenda at the very least aims to leave a lasting imprint on the state, and perhaps promotes Jindal as ready for high office at the national level.

It’s a logical thesis, and, given that conservative policy is good for what ails Louisiana, its people will be better off for it.


Huge money advantages aided Democrat incumbent wins

Much has been made about the fact that Republican operatives, statewide officeholders, and interest groups hoped to target and knock off several Democrat incumbents with strategic infusions of money into Republican challengers’ campaigns, and none of these attempts succeeded. Yet nothing has been made about the real reason only one such race ended up with the challenger close to the incumbent – because of the vast disparity of resources in favor of the Democrats.

Any, but in many cases all, of organizations led by Republicans Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter, the state Republican Party, and organizations sympathetic to conservative policy, sent resources, in some instances totaling as much as five figures, to GOP candidates challenging incumbent Democrat state Sens. Eric LaFleur and Ben Nevers, incumbent state Rep. Gary Smith vying for an open Senate seat, and incumbent state Reps. Robert Johnson, James Armes, Bernard LeBas, Jack Montoucet, and Neil Abramson. Only Nevers faced a squeaker to win reelection, while the others won with much more breathing room.

While some observers cite these results due to the races being local in nature and thus more resistant to outside resources swaying them, or that incumbency delivers an extra resource, in reality these incumbents enjoyed significant, if not monstrous, money advantages in the final three weeks of the campaign, enabling them to outspend enormously their challengers in the most crucial segment of the contest. In the majority of instances, the advantage was overwhelming.


Long political winter seems in offing for Nungesser, Tucker

Awhile back, I made some observations about the future of major candidates for statewide office, all Republicans, and where they might be in the political universe after the elections if winners. For the winners, being that they did win and potentially thereby take another step in their political careers, the remarks obviously stand. But what of the losers?

The losing duo are Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser, who lost to incumbent Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and House Speaker Jim Tucker, who lost to incumbent (if prior to it unelected) Sec. of State Tom Schedler. In the previous piece, I noted that a win by either would embolden them to seek higher office eventually, perhaps even to run for governor at the end of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second term. But they didn’t.

Nungesser could have tried to get there by tapping into the retreating but still present strain of populism that has served as a hallmark of Louisiana’s political culture – but in a conservative version, railing against big government and career politicians.


Jindal chooses well on speaker, stands aside for president

Election dust really hadn’t settled before Gov. Bobby Jindal announced who he backed to become the next leaders of the Louisiana House and Senate, in part to catch a wave, in part to create one, with the risks and rewards all that entails.

His House preference was the more productive and understandable for his agenda, even as a slightly better candidate might have been disregarded for fans of conservatism and reform. State Rep. Chuck Kleckley got the nod, with a Louisiana Legislature Log voting index score of just under 74 (higher scores denote greater conservative and reformism) over the past term, over state Rep. Joel Robideaux, the present Speaker pro-Tem and who scored over 77 on the LLL index. Both are Republicans, although Robideaux only recently switched from no party, and both exceeded the average LLL score for chamber Republicans of just over 70.

Besides good conservative credentials, Kleckley showed wisdom in voting against House Rule 7.19 last session, a counterproductive internal chamber rule for Republicans, which disallows unless reaching a two-thirds majority, among other things, use of money deposited in most state funds for current operations if this pushes total spending above forecasted total revenue available.


Election results point to big reformer gains on BESE

As its members sift through election returns, Louisiana’s education establishment should become increasingly nervous as reform forces are favored to exercise considerable power on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over the next four years.

Already, reform forces have captured a BESE majority. Combined with the three gubernatorial appointees of freshly-reelected Gov. Bobby Jindal, who will ensure on his watch that they will align with the reform efforts, three members elected last weekend, incumbent Jim Garvey and newcomers Jay Guillot and Holly Boffy comprise six of the eleven members. Reform forces suffered a setback when incumbent Democrat Glenny Lee Buquet got defeated by Republican establishmentarian candidate Lottie Beebe.

Add to the mix the only candidate who ran unopposed, Walter Lee, who in the past aligned with the establishment but has hinted that blowing winds might make him less reliably so, and the lineup looks 6-2 favoring reform. But in the three undecided contests, odds favor in each candidates who express mild to wild enthusiasm for reform.


LA GOP success strengthens incumbency advantage

Unless you had a seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Louisiana’s fall general election was a great time to be an incumbent. These results have implication for the partisan balance and composition of the Legislature in the future.

At the statewide level, while three BESE incumbents lost, two Democrats and a recent switcher from that party, all other statewide office incumbents, Republicans, won, even though only two faced quality competition and those challengers also shared the GOP label. Two other BESE incumbents faced a runoff, with the Democrat of the two vulnerable (to another Democrat). Most significantly, Sec. of State Tom Schedler, considered the weakest of the seven statewide officials because he has never run a statewide campaign before (having taken over the office when its previous occupant Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne took that job, and who successfully defended his spot in the other competitive challenge this election), held onto to his against a better financed opponent.

Incumbent near-invulnerability applied to the legislative level as well.


Meaning of 'R' and of endorsements in LA state elections

So what are the largest implications of the Oct. 23 Louisiana election results?

Sen. David Vitter misfires. Vitter backed candidates in the two competitive statewide contests, Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser for lieutenant governor and House Speaker Jim Tucker for Secretary of State. Neither won.

Gov. Bobby Jindal wins in more ways than one.


Most fall LA constitutional amendments deserve rejection

This election season, voters face unusually arcane yet important decisions on constitutional amendments. As always, this space is here to help provide clarity.

Most discussed on the October ballot, Amendment 1 does two things (which is a problem, as noted below). It caps the Millennium Trust Fund, with investment income from it continued to be used by a health care fund, education fund, and one for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars, but any settlement funds incoming from the state’s agreement with tobacco manufacturers that currently goes to the MTF to flow to the TOPS fund. That pot would build up over the next three decades or so with the intent of making TOPS close to if not totally self-sustaining.

It also places in the Constitution a permanent four cent per cigarette tax that would flow into the health fund, there because a standalone bill was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature failed to override with a two-thirds vote, but it could muster a majority to tack this onto the language above, that, as an amendment, is not subject to a veto. Unfortunately, this appears to violate Art. XIII Sec. 1 of the Constitution, which states that amendments must have a single purpose.