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For LA, quadrennial winter will pass, leaving better future

I recommend reading the series of seven articles at The Hayride by site publisher Scott McKay (perhaps easiest would be to start here and then find links to the remainder of these as “related links”). While perhaps too pessimistic, a broad review of their general themes and fine-tuning the their implications indicates that the pain and suffering most of Louisiana seems set to undergo to enrich a few in the end likely will produce something positive and enduring for all.

McKay correctly worries that the ascent of Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards to the Governor’s Mansion early next year constitutes a clear step backwards for those interested in a better quality of life, greater prosperity, and safeguarding individual liberty for Louisianans. Edwards’ cornfield liberalism directly descends from the state’s horror show history with populism, which for decades made it the laughingstock of the country, ranked near the bottom in almost positive indicator for a person’s life prospects and towards the top of almost every negative indicator of such. Not only do he and his cronies think along the lines that produced this agonizing waste of human potential and happiness, some of them actually aided and abetted in the operation of this fiefdom, and show either indifference to the wages of their foolishness or revel in it as they attempt to extend their command and control over society to their benefit and society’s detriment.

No doubt that as governor Edwards can do considerable harm to the people. I noted in a recent Advocate column just some of the negative policy decisions he has a chance unilaterally to produce, given the powers of the office. Forcing the public regardless of its rights to religious freedom to act in ways that validates homosexual behavior as normative, raising the state’s minimum wage paid out by contractors that kills jobs, engaging in sue-and-settle tactics to impose policy bypassing democratic means (although, as McKay points out in general terms, incoming Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry might have the capability to restrict that exercise of executive power), condemning more families and children to substandard education by defunding some school choice options, all Edwards can inflict through use of administrative discretion, executive orders, and line item veto decisions.

But he only can roll back beyond a minimal level most reforms instituted by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, nowhere more evidently than in education now with a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at odds with those kinds of plans. Only actual laws, requiring cooperation with the Legislature, can change these, and even the Minimum Foundation Program, which funds most educational activities, is off limits to the governor and, thanks to a court decision of recent provenance, even restricts what the Legislature can do to it. With a present formula favoring funding that supports choice, which becomes the default if the Legislature does not approve the BESE-crafted formula, Edwards would have to promote a sea change in a Legislature composed largely of those individuals who instituted the reforms in the first place for any movement to occur in this policy area.

Edwards only can tinker at the margins with health care provision, with the exception of expanding Medicaid. Bayou Health moving indigent care from a fee-for-service to a managed capitation model and the dismantled charity hospital system have gone too far for him to reverse in any meaningful way. He also can’t go back on privatization of benefits administration. It’s so much harder to reinstitute bureaucracy than to clear it away – especially when a tight budget leaves no room for the extra startup expenses involved.

Of course, Edwards will wish to engineer the opposite, government expansion, to build up  bureaucracy to perform more of what government does now, to ladle more money onto the bureaucrats involved doing it, or to expand the tasks of government under the existing framework. But the problem is, because of budgetary troubles, he cannot do much to express more of the mother’s milk of liberalism: money. You can’t redistribute the people’s wealth to special interests inside and outside of government if you don’t have that wealth in the first place. That means increasing taxation for at least the next couple of years.

McKay gets it right when he notes Edwards can create some mischief because, even with healthy majorities in each legislative chambers, on a few issues here and there he can pick off enough Republicans-In-Name-Only to score a victory. However, that’s not possible on taxes as to raise these or to reduce anything having to do with them except on the most temporary basis they require supermajority votes. And, to explain the infeasibility, he’s just not going to get 70 House votes or 26 Senate votes, meaning defection of at least a third of Republicans in each chamber, to accomplish these.

He does have his Holy Grail to solve miraculously what allegedly ills the state fiscally, following the lead of the Legislature this past year, of trying to wipe out tax exceptions. But to skirt the Constitution, this tactic involves temporary solutions that run counter to Edwards’s assertion that he would tackle with permanent resolution the “structural deficit,” which alludes to a fiscal setup that allows revenues for operating expenses chronically to escape capture. To work, this requires sophistry that maintains any reduction, not elimination, of an exception that has a time limit does not need a two-thirds vote to enact. (Of course, an adverse court decision on the challenged legality of the reductions would moot the entire strategy.)

So Edwards out of the gate either must renege on a campaign promise to fix the fiscal situation if he follows this strategy or find another way to raise revenues. McKay hints that the relative disorganization and lack of fortitude among Republicans courtesy of RINOs in their midst may allow for the necessary two-thirds majorities to jack up taxes permanently (and constitutionally) and thereby create this abominable solution. But while he has plenty of (deserved) criticism to heap on Republican runoff candidate Sen. David Vitter for opening the door to an Edwards win, he must thank Vitter in one respect for making this tax hiking doomsday scenario unlikely.

Granted, the state GOP’s sorry state also contributed to this mess. It came to power not so much because of a set of elected leaders articulating consistently a consistent conservative message, but because state Democrat elites began to articulate consistently a consistent liberal message, so therefore by default. And it took the efforts of two individuals, ironically at odds with each other and working separately, to drag it into the end zone to score majority status: Jindal and Vitter. Jindal became the first major politician at the state level to make a clear and consistent argument for conservatism, a choice rather than an echo, which resonated resoundingly with the electorate in 2007 and 2011 (and even in 2003). Vitter took a conservative message to Washington but back in Louisiana organized and funded recruitment efforts and campaign organizations that led to the GOP capturing majorities in the Legislature.

Despite its attaining majority status, Louisiana’s Republicans still govern poorly because too many of their elected officials insufficiently are committed to conservatism, with RINOs still basing their political machinations on a personalistic politics more suited to the state’s populist heritage. Deriving and utilizing power more on the basis of presenting yourself as a good guy who can battle the enemies of the people for the people to make sure the former get what they deserve and the latter the goodies (even if those are not so much tangible material benefits as they are intangible goods, such as reduced waste and corruption), rather than following a broader ideology that notes efficient government is good but on top of that not using it primarily as a redistributive device and having less of it in people’s lives is better, just doesn’t make it. This clash of visions where there should have been conservative consensus sabotaged some of Jindal’s desirable reform efforts and likely discouraged him from attempting more of them.

Fortunately, the 2015 class of Republicans ideologically are light years different from that of 2003, and we have Vitter to thank for that. Not everyone he coaxed and assisted into the Legislature are genuine conservatives as opposed to RINOs, but a lot were. And where I part company with Scott on this assessment is that there is enough of a core of genuine conservatives within the legislative party – 35 in the House, 13 in the Senate – to stop the tax increases necessary for Edwards to allow his inner liberal to go postal on Louisiana. This core can ameliorate upcoming tax increases and force spending cuts to and efficiencies into government beyond what Edwards otherwise would want.

By starving the beast, it can be controlled. It can threaten and keep us on our toes to prevent its release to wreak destruction, but its damages can be minimized and the commitment seems there to do that. Certainly government will grow and become more powerful under another Edwards, but whereas McKay posits a more apocalyptic scenario I argue vigilance can and will make the next four years considerably less corrosive.

This is not to downplay what is to come. The progress of the last several years that has put the state in its best place in its history while giving its people the greatest chance to advance their life prospects will come to a complete halt, and reverse to a degree (I argue some, McKay argues a lot). Consider this period akin to the beginning of winter: little of value grows, the weather causes problems in your daily life – but just endure it and it will end. It will end, as Scott so surely diagnoses, because the yokels restored to executive branch power will do exactly what they did in the past that crashed and burned so spectacularly.

Unless he has pulled a magnificent con job in posing as an unrepentant liberal in the House through his legislative choices, votes, and speeches, Edwards and his cronies will act insanely. They will pursue policies, demonstrated by fact and logic, historically and analytically, uninformed by any valid understanding of the human condition, that will fail while they expect these to do otherwise.

And putting up with this coming attempted assault directed by Edwards on your property and liberty will become worth it because the totality of the policy immolation that results has the potential to function as the cathartic event that finally wrings out populism as an acceptable part of Louisiana’s political culture. The product of their actions will do what complete implementation of their antithesis would have done: discredit among the state’s majority liberalism for a generation, exposing its intellectual bankruptcy in full. It’s a shame that the incomplete nature of the reformation cure over the past several years, for reasons described above, prevented a comeback of the disease, but that’s where we are.

So, hang on. They will try to violate you because you want to keep what you earn, because they want you to pull harder on the wagon while more of them pile into it, because you insist on acting as a free being who takes responsibility for your actions and expect others to do the same, because you refuse the bargain that the state acts as a sow to be suckled in exchange for more control over your life, because to them your mind isn’t right and that makes you a threat to their power and privilege. Resist, for in doing so spring becomes inevitable with a more secure future lying ahead.

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