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Political conflict necessary for LA to advance

At the very end of a recent piece by my Advocate colleague Mark Ballard comes an interesting quote, summing up exactly why Louisiana over several decades dug itself such a deep policy hole.

Said by former House of Representatives Speaker, Commissioner of Administration, and chairman of the 1973 constitutional convention Democrat Bubba Henry, in reference to the late former Republican state Rep. and state Sen. Tom Casey’s passing and his role in bringing about institutional reform: “But then, we were interested in the subject matter. They [today’s legislators] seem to be more interested in ideology.” Here, he made reference to battles in the past two years over general appropriations and capital outlay budgets, and tax policy related to that.

This echoed his remarks last year at a CC 73 reunion. When asked about having a new convention, he said, “If legislators can’t agree on the legislation to eradicate the debt [i.e. budget deficit] that we have, I don’t know what they could do in the constitutional convention that would be helpful to the state.”

Putting it another way, compromise must take precedence over principle in order to get things done – budgeting, tax policy, or ground rules – for the good of the polity. There’s truth to that – but only if you make a massive assumption that the product of the things, based upon some core beliefs, that get done are in fact good for the polity.

That wasn’t a problem in the get-along-go-along days of Henry’s career when government was seen first and foremost as an instrument of redistribution, a consensus then challenged only by a minority so small that Henry’s camp could steamroll it without any concessions. And that consensus was Louisiana should spend on some nonessential tasks best left to individual initiative and overregulate in a way to maintain that, through a progressive tax regime that leaned heaviest on business.

This ethos permitted less ethical policy-makers to deliver sweetheart, wasteful deals enriching, too often illegally, special interests that included favored individuals, corporations, and local politicians. Meanwhile, lawmakers pledged fealty to expansive gun rights and devotion to God’s natural laws (and additionally for too many for too long a regrettable odious belief in Jim Crow) to distract the voting public from understanding the fleecing it received from too much taxes for too few services.

That legacy, the correction of which started during Henry’s halcyon days but only in earnest picked up within the last 20 years, is why Louisiana ranks so poorly in so many areas. That was the product of his and other elites’ governing philosophy.

A philosophy now opposed by a substantial minority of senators and a core of representatives that, if they don’t comprise a majority, can veto significant tax increases if not restrain spending beyond what Henry’s ideological heir, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, wants. The critique that being “more interested in ideology” than in governing rings hollow when that entails abandoning ideology to acquiesce in governing that disserves the state’s people as a whole.

In other words Henry, like Edwards, brands any opposition based on that philosophy as obstructionist and bad for the state, because its very oppositional principles themselves are illegitimate in their ideology. That thinking is the last refuge of scoundrels who know they lose the policy battle when the public enjoys dissemination of full information about and robust debate over the issues. They must avoid any discussion of appropriate size of government and citizenry willingness to pay by casting aspersions and name-calling.

Conflict, even if intense, that prevents bad policy from enactment is good. Even the intellectually inferior side of the debate, presently as orchestrated by Edwards, causing contention brings the polity benefits by forcing the superior side to formulate even better policy in response.

For so long being on that philosophically inferior but, until recently, numerically superior side apparently has blinded Henry to this reality. And, unfortunately, it makes him unable to understand the conflict that upsets him, because the consensus around what then was the dominant side has unraveled, indicates passage through the necessary stage that Louisiana must endure to elevate itself from the lows to which he and his ilk and their political descendants have condemned it.

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