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Cassidy reelection to extend GOP dominance

Welcome to the norm in Louisiana U.S. Senate elections as the state transitions fully into Republican majority-party rule.

This week, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy announced his entirely expected reelection bid for this fall. So far, he has but one announced opponent, a Democrat with little name recognition and few resources.

Possibly a bigger name among Democrats could enter, but even among the party’s most prominent politicians none likely could come within 10 points of Cassidy in the general election. Simply and especially because national issues come into play in consideration of this seat, no state Democrat is close enough to the median center-right voter in Louisiana on the entire scope of issues to triumph against a solid conservative like Cassidy (American Conservative Union rating voting score: 83).


No permit good for LA concealed carry

There’s no reason to oppose having Louisiana joining the 16 states at present that allow carrying of concealed handguns without having to go through a permitting process.

HB 72 by Republican state Rep. Danny McCormick would eliminate the need to qualify and pay for costs associated with a permit, making where allowed by law concealed carry legal for any legal state resident with a handgun legally obtained unless they don’t meet a long list of conditions associated with prior criminal behavior, mental instability, certain discharges from the armed forces, or drug use, or who have violated federal guns laws. It would eliminate the education requirement or a display of firearm competency, or an application statement vouching that training has occurred and that the applicant is not ineligible for the permit by virtue of one of the legally disqualifying conditions..

McCormick calls the fees connected with obtaining an existing permit a tax triggered merely by concealing the weapon. If carried openly, no permit or fee is necessary. He argues that the state shouldn’t put unnecessary impediments in the way of exercising a constitutional right.


LA budget contains intriguing storylines

Earlier this month, Louisiana mainstream media covered the release of the state’s faux executive budget by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Lots of surface details emerged, but they all glossed over, if not missed entirely, the deeper and more substantive stories.

Primary among these in the pretend budget – a sham because it contained revenues unrecognized by the state’s panel empowered to do so, the Revenue Estimating Conference – was without its fake revenue Edwards essentially couldn’t make any new spending commitments. The reason: Medicaid expansion expenses are eating the state out of house and home, despite over $300 million in tax increases for the program Edwards falsely alleged would save the state money.

Other consequences followed. You couldn’t swing a dead cat during last year’s gubernatorial campaign without Edwards pledging to raise salaries for educators, but even with the unauthorized money included his spending plan had no room for these. With a half-normal-sized increase in the Minimum Foundation Program Edwards suggested districts individually approve raises with that bounty.


Bad bills address gubernatorial succession

Some pre-filed bills for the 2020 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature take the wrong approach to dealing with the state’s most useless elective office.

Last year, lawmakers rejected a bill to amend the Constitution to tie the election of the lieutenant governor to that of the governor. This year, identical bills HB 42 by Democrat state Rep. Kyle Green and HB 50 by Republican state Rep. Mark Wright seek to do the same.

It’s still a bad idea, at two levels. It obscures accountability for both offices, especially in a blanket primary system that already devalues the important policy stand-in cue of party identification, by promoting personalistic and geographic characteristics for both candidates.


LDH head hire reflects Edwards uneasiness

One way of looking at the appointment of Courtney Phillips as the new head of Louisiana’s Department of Health – which swallows nearly half of all money spent by the state – is that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has realized the serious spot into which he has put himself.

Phillips comes from Texas, where she ran an operation over twice the size of Louisiana’s, and prior to that headed up Nebraska’s similar agency, which isn’t quite he size of Louisiana’s. However, she spent many years moving up the ranks at LDH before decamping to Nebraska in 2015, and headed to Texas in 2018. A Louisiana native with family in the state, she will take a pay cut when she starts Mar. 13.

Significantly, two conservative Republican governors appointed Phillips and she loyally carried out policies that reflected an appreciation for right-sizing government – an attitude foreign to the Edwards Administration. Both resisted Medicaid expansion (although a majority of Nebraska voters drank the Flavor Aid and imposed it on the state after she left), although she took over a similar kind of program for lower-income women for family planning and health services that Texas instituted.


LA Democrats helpless to avoid Sanders

It’s official: Louisiana will play no role in the selection of major party candidates for the presidency in 2020, absent bizarre circumstances.

Obviously, Republican Pres. Donald Trump will sweep to a nomination victory and should have things wrapped up a month prior to the state’s Apr. 4 elections. Republicans may stay home in mass because, due to the state likely having to concede the unconstitutionality of its selection method for major political party governance, for many only that election will appear on the ballot.

But Democrats may not have a reason at the top to come and vote either. As a result of strong showings in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders – who doesn’t even call himself a Democrat, but who in the past accepted the label of communist, then recently recanted the label even as he continues to express issue preferences consistent with that failed ideology to approving noises from the Communist Party of America while calling it “democratic socialism” – now finds himself in a commanding position to win the nomination.


Edwards budget avoids taking responsibility

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards said his reelection would result in continued pay raises for education employees. He also alleged that Medicaid expansion and criminal justice changes (termed “reinvestment”) would produce cost savings for Louisiana. That these claims didn’t pan out explains why Edwards will keep fighting tooth-and-nail to inflate the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget, the faux version of which he released last week.

The spending plan put forward is not the version required legally because he didn’t use existing revenue forecasts, including $103 million extra dollars in the general fund forecast as well as $25 million of individual citizens’ unclaimed assets that follows past practice now in legal dispute with Republican Treasurer John Schroder. Taking that as it comes, it calls for $128 million more in new general fund commitments and $285 million across that, federal funds, self-generated revenues and statutory dedications, and interagency transfers.

Put another way, Edwards wants to increase general fund spending by nearly 3.5 percent, or half again higher than the 2.3 percent increase in inflation for 2019. Over the course of his term, such spending has increased from $9.118 billion to the requested $10.147 billion, or 11.1 percent, while inflation has gone up only 6.8 percent – which doesn’t even include the fact that millions more disappeared from this budget’s general fund total when reclassified as statutory dedications that understate the actual increase. Overall spending has risen from $29.589 billion to the projected $32.165 billion, an increase of 8.7 percent.


Unclaimed property suit reveals Edwards fibs

With Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards suing Republican Treas. John Schroder, he managed to validate a lie of his, flub an opportunity to keep a promise, and speak out of both sides of his mouth.

Edwards’ falsehood involves his suit over Schroder refusing to allow a funds sweep of unclaimed cash escheated to the state, an amount from 1973 through fiscal year 2019 totaling $882 million (another $237 million in unclaimed securities external entities hold and are unaffected by the suit). This running total moves up and down by tens of millions of dollars each year as claims are paid and escheats received.

But Treasury coffers actually hold a far smaller amount, thanks largely to the practice of the state taking $635 million over that span to spend on current operations. Another $50 million over the years went to administrative costs, and $180 million by separate appropriation authorized by law went to fund Interstate 49 bonding. Only a $17 million buffer actually remains, after Schroder rejected a transfer in FY 2018 of $12 million to bump up cash on hand. This he did when improved dissemination practices caused such a run that the amount returned to owners exceeded by more than $5 million the escheats collected, delaying payments.


Conservative execution critics deceive selves

Abandoning conservative principles, a group of people terming themselves conservatives have organized in Louisiana to oppose its death penalty.

The Louisiana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty have taken this position because, according to the group’s national manager Heather Cox, “Millions [of dollars] … are not going toward programs that actually could work to deter crimes in the first place, which we know that the death penalty does not. The death penalty is a failed, broken, big government program marked by all the error, corruption, and fallibility that we see in so many other government programs.”

It’s never a good sign when a group’s leader speaks, if not disingenuously, ignorantly about the very premise behind the effort. In reality, nearly a half century of high-quality, nonpartisan research demonstrates capital punishment does absolutely deter crime. It saves lives, and for the group’s leader to deny that makes the entire group seem fraudulent.


Schexnayder homers with committee choices

Some Louisiana conservatives thought new GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder would take three strikes. Instead, he hit three homers.

When Schexnayder nailed down the speakership with a majority of Democrats (all in the chamber) supporting him, doubts grew about how much fidelity he could maintain with a conservative agenda in the chamber he would lead. Recent actions of his should erase those.

First, he stacked the two most important, fiscally-related, committees in the House with enough Republicans and conservatives that not only will the tax-and-spend agenda of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards find no traction, but also a real chance exists for tax relief. Next, he backed that up by trying to induce caution and prudence into the revenue estimating process. He (as well as Republican state Sen. Pres. Page Cortez) lost that battle when thwarted by Edwards’ mouthpiece Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, but are winning the war to date because no additional revenue became recognized at this time, which to some degree accomplished the same purpose.


Confused Dardenne obstructs forecast

Who’s obstructing now, Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne?

At the close of 2018, Dardenne, who works for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, had unkind words for the state House of Representatives majority Republican leadership that, like he, served on the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. The panel, which additionally has representation from the current state Senate Republican leadership and an independent economist, determines the amount of revenue the state legally may use in budgeting and requires unanimity to set a new target.

Back then, House leaders refused to assent to higher figures predicted by economists from the executive and legislative branches. They would do so several more times over the next few months before finally accepting a figure lower than the initial one not long before the budget came due. This, Dardenne said at the outset, amounted to obstruction of the budgeting process for political reasons.


Pro-life LA Democrats face bleak natl futures

The answer is, no, there isn’t room for the Katrina Jacksons among national Democrats. Nor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, now that he had made his bed on the issue of abortion.

A bill, which sensibly imposes regulations on abortuaries similar to those facilities pertaining to surgical centers, that the Democrat state senator sponsored six years ago that became law will come up for adjudication this spring in the U.S. Supreme Court. It became a matter of litigation because of its similarity to a Texas law declared unconstitutional, but differs enough that likely the country’s highest court will uphold it later this year.

This and an appearance at the Washington, DC March for Life last month has put Jackson in the spotlight as an anomaly among national Democrats: pro-life. Several laudatory pieces in national opinion media (obviously from the political right) over the past couple of weeks in different ways pose the question about whether room exists in the national party for a politician like Jackson.


Schexnayder money panel picks calm concerns

It’s one thumb up so far for Louisiana House Republican Speaker Clay Schexnayder, with the possibility of more to come.

Schexnayder courted controversy by nabbing the speakership by picking up every non-Republican vote in the chamber but a minority of his own party. Also, his GOP supporters, while conservative on fiscal issues, tended to be less so than those who voted against him. This led to questioning just how much support he would give to conservative issue preferences in cobbling together committees.

He began answering that question earlier today by releasing the compositions of the two most important committees in the chamber: Appropriations, which makes budgetary decisions; and Ways and Means, which deals with tax matters. He installed on them as chairmen two strong fiscal conservatives, Republican state Reps. Stuart Bishop and Zee Zeringue, respectively. Moreover, he placed Republican majorities on each about reflecting the nearly two-to-one advantage the GOP has in the chamber.


Sketchy report reveals duping LA taxpayers

It might a snow job, but a special committee established by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards today laid bare an inconvenient truth Edwards would rather not see the light of day.

Outmaneuvered last year when the Republican-led Legislature passed a bill that addressed what would happen if the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) dissolved at the hands of the federal judiciary, after initially opposing it Edwards swallowed his pride and signed it. But to save face, he created using taxpayer dollars a task force stacked with his appointees to try to make the effort look as bad as possible.

Putting on it individuals representing organizations that benefit from the estimated $128 billion in extra federal taxpayer spending nationally on coverage for 2019, joining a couple of legislative Edwards allies Democrat state Sen. Regina Barrow and Republican state Rep. Joe Stagni, they approved the final report, after hearing almost exclusively from Obamacare advocates in its compilation. Unsurprisingly, it alleged an alarmist scenario of nearly 500,000 people losing insurance coverage with $536 million needed to continued subsidization of existing individual coverage and much more to continue Medicaid expansion (which it claims would cost $3.5 billion, which perhaps runs a bit a high as 2018 data suggest a total closer to $3.1 billion).


Self-inflicted CA loss provides lesson for LA

Want another cautionary tale about how state and local government regulation kills quality of life and economic development that Louisiana needs to avoid? We were warned.

Last week, official professional road cycling at its highest level commenced for 2020 with the Santos Tour Down Under. Traipsing around South Australia’s wine country and breathtaking coastline, the American team Trek-Segafredo won the six-day race with Australian Richie Porte. Not only did the event provide entertainment to locals and tourists, but also through television broadcasting to nearly 200 countries it showed off the area as a tourist destination.

The stage race closest to the TDU in the world in many was the Amgen Tour of California. The vineyards and coastal views match, although the TOC also featured much higher mountain crossings as opposed to the short but sharp and few climbs available in South Australia. The TDU and TOC were the only stage races at the highest level that took place outside of Europe and Asia.


Column shows thinking that holds back LA

Part of the reason why Louisiana politics have struggled to evolve from a government-centric focus to a people-centric focus is an old-school mentality. One such example from the media came into view recently.

For a couple of decades the late John Maginnis purveyed a column on state politics to several print media outlets. Eventually, he brought in Jeremy Alford to assist, and Alford took over the effort upon the unfortunate demise of Maginnis.

Maginnis wrote and Alford writes from the left side of the political spectrum, although typically in watered-down, even obscurant fashion in order to make the column more sellable to a wider audience. Still, sometimes that bias comes out, as it did in Alford’s piece that went out last week.


Case study shows wisdom of term limits

And this is why term limits are a good idea. And why the time had come for two longtime Louisiana legislative employees to go out the door.

In 2000, my wife took a position at the University of Illinois Springfield and I took leave at Louisiana State University Shreveport to go with her. The UIS folks cobbled something together for me for what would be a trial period of a year: to see if I would leave my LSUS tenured position while she embarked on a potential tenure-track career with them.

Part of my duties included serving as faculty adviser to Model Illinois Government. This program allows students from across the state to participate in a mock legislative session of the Illinois Legislature, right at the Capitol not long after the real thing’s regular session ended. As the representative of the host institution, the advisor had to delve into not only a lot of logistical matters but also have a good working knowledge of the legislative process.


Between the Lines +15: then and now

I’m not going to say that the time has flown by, but something should be said now that this blog has surpassed its 15th birthday.

That makes it the oldest blog on Louisiana politics out there, or at the very least the oldest that has published continuously and regularly (if anybody thinks I missed something here, let me know). Not that there were many out there 15 years ago; the only two that were with any frequency of publishing were John Copes’ Deduct Box and C.B. Forgotston’s (both of whose authors sadly have gone onto their rewards).

Circumstance more than anything else led to establishing Between the Lines, which is the moniker I long have used for my columns. In 2002 I published under that every other week for FaxNet Update, which didn’t have a real Internet presence but largely circulated by e-mail. This roundup of political news and commentary lasted until the beginning of 2018, when its proprietor Lou Gehrig Burnett unfortunately cashed in.


Scurrying to leave LA's Medicaid sinking ship

The crew knows the ship is sinking, so they’re jumping overboard while Louisiana Medicaid’s clients and taxpayers will find themselves taken in the undertow unless the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration makes a change from politicized ideology to practicality.

At the end of the month, Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee will leave her job, undoubtedly for one where the consequences of her preference for statist solutions won’t redound as they have in Louisiana (as well as give her greater license to support propagation of abortion as she did prior to her stint at LDH). Long-time director of Medicaid for the state Jen Steele already has decamped.

Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid turned out as the most consequential policy enacted in his first term. It committed the state eventually to spend an extra $3 billion annually –in one fell swoop adding 10 percent to the operating budget – of which Louisiana taxpayers now directly contribute an extra over $300 million a year they didn’t pay before, essentially raised by increased taxes on insurance policies.


Cortez choices neuter Edwards agenda

The week may not have started great for Louisiana conservatives, but it ended with a bang.

Republican Sen. Pres. Page Cortez announced his committee selections, both members and leaders. He said he tried to balance assignments given the demographic composition of the body, as well as adhering to the tradition of giving some influence to the minority party.

However, with the GOP holding down 27 of the 39 seats — and only a few of those in the majority not identified with the clearly conservative wing of the party — his final product has an unambiguous conservative bias. Start with the three most important panels: Finance, Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, and Senate and Governmental Affairs. They all have overwhelming Republican majorities and staunch conservatives — respectively, state Sens. Bodi White, Bret Allain, and Sharon Hewitt — in charge. This stands in great contrast to the previous four years.


LA should scrap unlawful party restrictions

While political party weakness reverberates throughout Louisiana’s immature political system – witness the House speaker election – the majority Republicans in the Legislature can reduce the self-infliction in how parties govern themselves.

At present, the state creates a two-tier system for a recognized party’s governance. If a party can claim at least 30 percent of the state’s registrants, it must elect to the governing state central committee one male and female member for each House district, or 210 total. Otherwise, it can set up the composition of the SCC however it likes (except that if it is the party of the governor, he or his designee has a seat).

The change to the law that released all but Democrats out of this straitjacket came over three decades ago, when Democrats held a solid majority of registrants and Republicans not many. Two decades ago, the GOP only claimed 22 percent, but now have 31 percent.


Schexnayder can choose fiscal conservatism

Many conservatives in Louisiana may have felt disappointment of the victory of state Rep. Clay Schexnayder over state Rep. Sherman Mack, both Republicans, for the position of House speaker. Whether that puts a significantly moderate stamp on the chamber for the next four years, dimming the already-dusky chances of significant reform legislation, tax relief, and spending restraint until 2024, as previously noted depends upon the raw material Schexnayder has for committee assignments and chairmanships.

Mack gained backing from a number of unapologetic conservatives in the chamber, which would have guaranteed the most important committees have conservatives helm them and almost all committees would have unambiguously conservative majorities. Whether Schexnayder wishes to pursue the same course, if he largely sticks to the ones that brought him to the dance he won’t quite have the same resources.

Not that it’s impossible. For all the hand-wringing the political right may engage in over the outcome, where Schexnayder’s winning coalition contains a majority of Democrats, among the GOP members who have served through at least a couple of regular sessions in the past four years, there’s not a vast difference between the blocs.


Edwards address encourages LA exodus

If you probe even a little into issues behind Louisiana government today – and especially if you are an informed, motivated person who looks to get ahead in life – Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwardssecond inaugural speech was, in a word, depressing.

Not so much because it contained the ever-growing litany of half-truths and outright lies Louisianans have heard Edwards repeat over the years. There were plenty, but the most prominent examples will suffice:

·       “There’s no denying we are in a much better place now than we have been in many years.” Horse hockey. A net nearly 100,000 people have fled Louisiana since the middle of 2015, and since Edwards took office it has had a worse business climate, worse fiscal health, and has fallen compared to other states in almost every category of economic health from unemployment to number of jobs to personal income growth to state gross domestic product. Meanwhile, taxes are higher and so is poverty.


Schexnayder win may prompt lame repeat

Protector of conservatism or wolf in sheep’s clothing? Louisiana will find out upon the election of Republican state Rep. Clay Schexnayder as Speaker of the House.

The election made history as for the first time the body nominated only Republicans for the job, with Republican state Rep. Sherman Mack also having his named entered.  But it displayed continuity with the past when the winning candidate secured more voted from Democrats than from Republicans.

Schexnayder prevailed 60 to 45, with all Democrats on his side. Two-thirds of Republicans voted for Mack, including about all of the party members with well-known conservative credentials. Mack also had drawn public support from two highly-placed GOP elected officials also viewed as solid conservatives, Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry and Sen. John Kennedy, the leaders of a conservative PAC that had donated to the campaigns of many of the Republicans present at the vote.


Tepid response to flouting better than nothing

Today the Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education emulated academia when its mandarins encounter a substantial decision that will trigger controversial change – it punted.

Sounding like students who didn’t realize the gravity of an assignment and so didn’t start working on it until too late, enough members of the Board said they wanted more time to complete the task. By consent, they put off dealing with changes to the implementation and enforcement of admission by exception rules until next month.

This started a couple of years ago when unilateral changes made by Louisiana State University Baton Rouge saw the proportion of its admitted students not meeting entrance standards promulgated by the Board go above its permitted four percent limit. The exceptions cohort graduated at a significantly lower rate, bolstering the argument that they should have attended other state universities with lower admissions bars.


White leaves impressive LA education legacy

Louisiana looks set to lose a key actor in its struggle to provide a quality education to its children.

State Superintendent of Education John White will resign after just over eight years on the job. He has served longer than any appointed superintendent, and the longest since the four elected terms of Shelby Jackson that ended in 1964.

White has earned his departure, since he found turbulence in his job almost from the start. Actually already part of the state’s educational scene as superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District which then existed only in New Orleans when given the state’s top job, he had a mission to implement long-reaching reforms passed into law only months into his tenure, changes bitterly opposed by many in an educational establishment and its allies who had overseen over the decades Louisiana’s plunge to the bottom.


LA needs to deregulate energy sales soon

Louisiana has a chance to correct a mistake it made two decades that could rein in electricity price increases.

Last month, the state’s Public Service Commission voted to study the impact of forthcoming rate increases. These appear guaranteed as the generating infrastructure of investor-owned utilities, specifically the state’s largest supplier Entergy, has aged, necessitating large-scale replacement. Legally, utilities may pass these costs over time to consumers, from residential to industrial.

A consortium of two dozen large industrial users, which altogether use a substantial amount of the state’s power, maintain that the conversion would increase rates by 50 percent. They have argued they should have the choice to leave the monopoly system historically favored by the PSC, which locks in a provider to a customer. Entergy in 2018 provided 79 percent of all power for industrial use.


Future reprieve from LA seat loss unlikely

It looks like Louisiana won’t drop any more congressional seats this time around on the census. But the way things are going, expect that to change in 2030.

That’s the conclusion you can draw from how reapportionments appear a year out from digestion of census data to be collected Apr. 1. Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia look poised to lose at least one seat in the House of Representatives, while states seeming ready to gain at least one include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas.

On a per capita basis, Louisiana has been the biggest loser since 1990. It has shrunk from eight to six seats, although states with much larger populations have lost more seats. And there’s a reason for shrinking populations, a review of fiscal data shows: policies that damage state economies, which consequentially puts state finances under stress, discourage residency compared to states with sounder economic agendas.


Maximum legal carry needed in LA churches

As recent tragic events remind, some spiritual leaders in Louisiana must act to increase the safety of their congregations.

At last year’s end, a gunman opened fire inside a church in the Metroplex area. In a few seconds, those bullets killed two worshippers. But that was all, because armed members visited the like on the shooter.

Texas recently relaxed requirements to enable churches to provide their own security. In essence, any individual with a concealed carry permit may take a handgun into a house of worship, unless the organization with responsibility over the church explicitly bans these. Not only does this event punctuate that broad Second Amendment rights can save lives, but it also signals to other malevolent people that in states with such laws houses of worship may not offer soft targeting, thereby discouraging these acts of violence.