Monday, June 18, 2007

Robo calls make nasty automatic

The campaign to propel Republicans into the majority in Louisiana’s House of Representatives apparently began with a vengeance last week. One message to voters across the state who happen to reside in legislative districts where Republican challengers are taking on Democrats — especially incumbent Dems — targeted what robo-callers said was a “vote to raise taxes,” insinuating Democrats had determined that neither tax breaks, cuts or credits would pass their voting machines.
In our little sanctuary in Minden, the call registered Wednesday on our answering machine and declared incumbent Democrat Jean Doerge (who is being challenged by Republican school board member Ronny Broughton) had “just three hours ago” turned thumbs down on tax relief and specifically mentioned the dreaded Stelly word, designed to create gnashed teeth and a vote against perpetrators of that tax-neutral generator of additional millions for the state. Doerge, the automated call claimed, had voted to raise taxes on the citizens of Louisiana.
We thought it a bit odd that anti-tax relief votes would have preceded the third — and this time successful — legislative ballot on HB3 which had languished short of its needed 70 votes twice prior on the House floor. The robo-calls which apparently hit many districts in the state had a very short lag time, so the script must have been delivered earlier in the day.
Checking with some legislative bill watchers, we learned indeed that no negative votes on tax bills were registered Wednesday prior to the HB3 presentation. Instead, according to Speaker of the House Joe Salter (a Democrat, if that makes any needle fluctuation on the truthometer), only two bills concerning taxes were presented and both passed by large margins. One of those, the long-suffering HB3, passed 104-0 — with no changes — and created more than a few raised eyebrows. But, more on that later.
Perhaps the calls referenced several procedural votes where state Rep. Hunter Greene, a Baton Rouge Republican, and a couple of other Republicans tried to move some tax-cut bills which had been tied up in the House Ways and Means Committee onto the floor. Those motions, perhaps five or so, were all voted down principally along party lines. Those votes, according to more than one experienced follower of legislative activities, had absolutely nothing to do with voting against tax relief as claimed in the calls.
Some believe those calls were originated by a new political action committee, Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM), the reported brain child of Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter and the money child of such notables as Boysie Bollinger, Joe Canizaro, Paul Dickson, T.A. Barfield and Michael Polito. Also included among the speculated list of involvees in Houston, Texas millionaire Bob Perry, he of Swiftboat fame from the 2004 presidential election. (Hopefully, this Louisiana model is run more carefully than it’s Texas cousin which was created by former U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay.)
It’s said the LCRM intends to raise between $2.3 and $2.5 million in targeted districts across the state in campaigns under the catchy “Operation Clean House” theme to replace Democrats. More than one campaign watcher said the robo-calls most likely are just the beginning, and some Democrats believe misrepresentation, distortion or flat-out lie will be a common thread in Campaign ‘07.
“The calls that went out Wednesday were absolutely misrepresenting what happened on the House floor,” said one long-time Democrat campaigner and activist. “If this is an indication of what’s to come, it won’t be pretty in several districts across the state.”
But, according to our source, the misinformation won’t go unchallenged when the facts are either ignored or twisted to make good campaign fodder.
“We do not intend to let (Republicans and the LCRM) go merrily along their way using the Internet, phone banks, advertising...whatever, to spread false information and outright lies,” the source said. “It’s one thing to lay someone’s record out in the open for everyone to see...that’s to be expected if you’re an incumbent at any level. But, just because you happen to be a Democrat, that does not mean you have to put up with the distortion we saw in these phone calls. Anyone doing this will be held accountable, and they should be prepared for what happens.”
What this all means, fellow voters, is that Louisiana politics won’t change just because some politicians are wrapping it all in a neat package called reform. Nothing about many of the campaigns will see reform except the manner in which the “messages” are delivered. One person’s truth is another’s distorted facts. The trick will be telling the difference.
And, back to the final passage of HB3. Word is that nothing changed in the language, nor in the dollar amounts presented in the original bill which failed twice to get it’s needed 70 votes. Our question: What moral victory was won by the Republican super minority, and what message went out to both voters and countless officials who saw their projects twisting in the political winds?
Perhaps a robo-call or two could answer those questions for us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fairness is in the ear of the listener

There’s plenty of hot airtime on several political talk shows over this “Fairness Doctrine” thing. Apparently, some of the more conservative hosts are just a tad miffed that a move seems to be afoot in the Congress to demand of major media outlets that equal time be given “all points of view” which, naturally, means those on the left side of the political spectrum aren’t happy with the popularity of shows which tilt to the political right.
If there’s a real problem with fairness, we must believe — in all fairness — that those who take to the airwaves with political philosophies which lean left just don’t seem to be able to attract a sizeable audience. Air America, that great progressive radio experiment, has dipped its wings before dropping like bomb, and to the great consternation of progressives, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and a number of others seem to be merrily soaring on the updraft of the political right.
One is hopefully forgiven for believing that the major difference is that most Americans — politically speaking — seem to be more conservative and moderate than liberal. We know that’s a bitter pill for George Soros to swallow, but the primary backer of and left enough candidates needs to understand that fact. Even we who claim the Democrat donkey as a part of our logo life often find ourselves at odds with the party leadership which wants us all to believe that “moderate” is the most acceptable political tag in this country.
Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, one individual whose voting record speaks for itself, continues to dispute the “liberal” tag when applied to her. During an interview with Tim Russert, Pelosi was quick to discount the dreaded L-word, claiming she is a “moderate” in the classical sense. We admire Ms. Pelosi (forget the cards and letters, please), but the classical sense of which the good lady speaks is classically off base.
Returning to the fairness question...our little radio talk show has apparently stepped on the nerve of some listeners who don’t believe fairness is extended to all. The irony of that claim is evident by a couple which we would love to mention (names withheld to protect the guilty).
One, from a Republican friend, points out that we “...seem to take great pleasure in bashing our President and any other member of his administration. Don’t you find it a bit strange that Democrats can find nothing good about Republicans and nothing bad about their own. Even when discussing the Louisiana legislature, it’s apparent that you Democrats believe Republicans are the problem even though they are not the majority which has given us poor roads, high taxes, an educational system that’s in disarray, a healthcare system that’s unhealthy and insurance problems no other state ever dreamed of.”
Then, we have this from a fellow Democrat. “I wonder if you really are a Democrat when I hear all the things you say about you own party. If I hear correctly, the national party has no conscience and the state party has neither a plan nor the guts to try and find one.”
Apparently we’re doing something right if both sides believe we’re picking on them. Now that’s what we consider a Fairness Doctrine.
Seriously, though, we’re watching with caution what’s coming from the national scene where talk radio is concerned. It would be a really nasty thing, indeed, if talk radio found its voice censored to the point that independent thought and natural disagreement found itself the baby which happened to be thrown out with the wash.
Liberals and conservatives need to be heard. It’s no one’s fault but their own if marketability is more attainable for one than another. Maybe some talkers should listen as much as they move their lips. Those who want a genuinely honest discourse on the major issues facing our states and nation are the ones who should be making the noise if “fairness” is disappearing from the airwaves.
We find it more than a little ironic that it’s those who listen least to the people are the ones who are attempting to take steps to mandate what the people hear.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This legislature: reform minded or reelection driven?

There’s more than a little talk of reform now that the fiscal session of Louisiana’s legislature is in high gear, but some around the state are wondering whether the reform is genuine or if it’s more likely fodder for the cannons of lawmakers who will soon find themselves embroiled in reelection campaigns.
As of Friday, more than 900 bills had been introduced in the House, while Senators had marched to the calendar to mark 328 pieces of legislation. That’s a hefty number to be sure, but so many more will be coming that the previously mentioned numbers will soon seem insignificant. So far — the dreaded Stelly Plan excluded — few have been targeting what some good government types might consider real reform.
Speaking of Stelly, it seems a slight bit ironic that the bill’s originator — former state Rep. Vic Stelly of Lake Charles — apparently has been heard denying his “plan” was ever designed to be revenue neutral. That, of course, has caused some who remember the drumbeat of the 2002 stump campaign across the state hyping the “nothing but neutral” constitutional amendment. Even a larger dose of irony — Stelly was an alleged tax-hating Republican when he authored, advanced and actively campaigned for the “tax exchange.”
When adopted by the state’s voters in ‘02, the plan eliminated the state’s 3.9 percent sales tax on groceries for the masses and residential utilities. Certain tax filers also saw the rate drop on the first $25,000 of their reported income. Taxes were raised by reducing the following tax bracket to cover more income at six percent rather than four, and it stopped excess itemized deductions on state income tax forms. Hardest hit by the “revenue neutral” plan were those families with more than $50,000 gross income and a mortgage with interest payments.
Several polls have indicated that state voters are more than a little miffed about the Stelly Plan, and would love to see major provisions, including the “tax swap” features, eliminated or seriously overhauled. In fact, some of those who voted for Stelly reportedly have been targeted by prospective challengers. In our little corner of the world, Billy Montgomery has been identified in both political ads and by one columnist as “the deciding vote” in moving the Stelly Plan into law.
One may be forgiven for reminding some that Montgomery’s vote was only one of the two-thirds needed in the House to allow the voters to decide in November, 2002. One truth, however, is that the largest majority of that two-thirds told constituents that Stelly would benefit the largest percentage of the state’s households. Today, that story is changing as campaigns for the Legislature begin to take shape.
Bills to alter Stelly have been filed and will soon be hitting Taylor Townsend’s committee (Ways and Means) where the the chairman (Townsend) has promised to make sure the baby isn’t thrown out with the wash. Translation: We may overhaul the taxing structure, but not at the expense of all that nice revenue which has found its way into the state’s funding mechanisms.
And, it will be interesting to listen to debate on the revised Stelly as legislators attempt to strike a balance between cutting into the surplus (estimated around $2 billion in some circles) and giving something back to those who give most...the great unwashed who will soon be casting those dirty ballots.
It is, also, a shame that Stelly’s parts are now undergoing a scrubbing only because of the aforementioned surplus. One would hope that plans by several Republicans which have been seeing a goodly portion of ink would have been offered simply because Stelly wasn’t exactly all it was hyped to be. If it’s a little bad now that we have lots of money, wonder how it would be at all bad if our budget was “revenue neutral.”
The giving back is significant in some of the bills filed. A pair of Republicans (Michael Walsworth and Jim Tucker) suggest allowing itemized deductions on state income tax forms to the tune of a $270 million give-back to state filers. Another piece by (Republicans, again) Tim Burns and Gordon Dove would revert to pre-Stelly tax brackets at a return-to-giver windfall of $320 million. And, legislation offered by new Republican Billy Montgomery would make both changes at a return to the state taxpayers of $546 million. Tidy sums, all. Mayhaps the authors are trying to make up for the sins of one former Republican lawmaker.
Whether the legislature goes along with the public’s wish for “reform” will be determined by the shape of the Stelly give-backs. And, we can watch the campaign ads of the future to determine just who we can thank for getting us a little of our money back...for now.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lions tremble when the mouse roars

Does anyone find it the slightest bit unusual that in a state where, among registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans and other registrants by a substantial margin yet it’s the Republicans who have Democrats on the run?
We won’t bore you beyond tears with the numerology, but stats as of April show Louisiana with more than 1.5 million registered Democrats, 691,000 and some Republicans and 612,000-plus registered as “other.” Yes, Virginia, Democrats outnumber Repubs more than two to one and maintain a fairly healthy margin over the combined totals of all those registered.
And still, it’s Republicans who have put the Democrats on the run with a mixture of attack ads, attackier web sites and editorials plus a mixture of news stories which show the state’s majority party in — what one might kindly call — the state of confusion. It would not be inaccurate to say Republicans are feeling their oats and are flexing muscle which ordinarily might be shown by a party healthily in the majority.
This steroidian push derailed the infant campaign of the Democrats’ “formidable candidate” John Breaux, considered by many in the party as the premier roadblock to Bobby Jindal’s steamroller to Baton Rouge. With a series of ads targeting “Lobbyist” and “Maryland resident” John Breaux, complete with satirical songs and videos, Republicans put the bite on the leading Dem contender even before his campaign could choose an appropriate bumper sticker. The heat was turned up on Attorney General Charles Foti, resulting in a non-opinion on Breaux’s eligibility and a Breaux withdrawal from contention.
Looking down the gun barrel, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu shifted dramatically from a “will if Breaux doesn’t” candidate to a “finish what I started four years ago” candidate for reelection. Of course there are potential Dem candidates Chris “I’m Considering It” John (who has suddenly found himself carrying the dreaded lobbyist tag in some news stories) and Richard “Looking At It” Ieyoub, but both men seem to be as much seeking a reasonable way out as they are looking out for a sudden barrage from Republicans who are poised to go for the jugular.
And, the remaining statewide Democrat with name appeal — state Treasurer John “Waiting for Mary” Kennedy — removed any speculation early on when he announced his bid for reelection in ‘07.
And, while Republicans are gnawing on the Democrat rump roast, a couple of their own are finding a place on the mutilate menu. Democrat-turned-Republican-about to turn Democrat Walter Boasso received a pretty good smackdown when his candidacy was ignored when the state Republican Party decided to break with a tradition which reserved endorsement when more than one candidate was in the field and hand the “favored by” tag to Jindal.
Then, in response to a Verne Kennedy poll commissioned by potential Republican candidate John Georges, party leadership led the charge to discount both the pollster and the potential candidate. In a statement, Republican Party of Louisiana chairman Roger Villere noted, “I have to seriously question any poll that shows Bobby Jindal losing ground, specifically when the results were commissioned and paid for by one of his opponents.”
More pointedly, on a Republican leaning web site, Georges was painted as a “New Orleans millionaire insider” who had pulled “another business-as-usual, sleazy political trick on the people of Louisiana.” Further commenting on the Georges poll, the site believes, “The status quo in our state capitol appears to be in panic mode about the prospect of having new leadership.”
If Republicans are so anxious to devour their own, Democrats should be more than a little prepared to take intense heat (translated: dirt and mud under the guise of “exposing” one’s record).
Then there’s poor Foster Campbell. For some reason, Campbell — the only announced Democrat with a modicum of name recognition — has received less than a cordial welcome into the race from his party leadership. Even with the withdrawal of Breaux, and the apparent foot-dragging of John and Ieyoub, Campbell gets little applause from his party. In a news conference, head of the state Democrats — Chris Whittington — called Campbell “the only strong announced candidate.”
At some point, Democrats statewide are going to have to accept the fact that Campbell is in the race and is running to win. A little help would, most likely, be appreciated. That little help, however, would take more than a handful of old fashioned guts, and that seems to be one thing lacking among Democrats in leadership right not.
Someone, at least, thinks Campbell may be the leading Democrat in the race and the same old, tiresome, “typical Democrat” labels are already being attached to the Public Service Commission member.
In an article in The Times Picayune, Campbell was described by the writer as “left leaning.” Later in the same news story, Southern Media pollster Bernie Pinsonat said of Campbell, “he's the worst guy they could send out there against Jindal," because of what he said is Campbell’s image as a “tax-and-spend Democrat.”
There you have it. Campbell leans to the left and never met a tax he didn’t like. Seems someone needs to recheck the records of his time in the state Senate. Campbell made more noise on behalf of the average Louisiana resident than Republicans care to remember.
Another label which Campbell cannot shake is “populist.” He is, in some circles, referred to as a “Huey Long-type” lawmaker, a label that is sure to scare the heck outta any potential voter. Maybe...maybe not. Campbell just may be thinking that a populist has a chance with Louisiana voters who believe too many of their candidates give only lip service to the average citizen and hip service to those who finance campaigns.
One thing Campbell hasn’t forgotten...Democrats still outnumber all other registrants, and a key piece of that Democrat advantage are black voters. Black Democrats number 838,000, and that means Republicans would have to turn out around 70 percent of their registrants (and all would have to pull the R lever) to offset roughly 55 percent turnout by blacks who would, most likely, go overwhelmingly to the Democrat. Can’t happen? That’s what they said in Shreveport.
Jindal continues to lead by a huge margin in the polls. Consider, however, that state legislators go into session in one week. How the Rs and Ds get along in Baton Rouge could shape future numbers. The mouse may have chased the cat into a hole in April, but it’s still a long time ‘til October.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Democrats: Third and goal from the 50

John Breaux doesn't want the gubernatorial campaign to be about citizenship, and he likewise doesn't want to be in court just weeks prior to the election. He ain't running for governor.
Mitch Landrieu wants to "finish the job he started four years ago," and will run for a second term as Lt. Governor. He ain't running for governor.
Now what, Democrats? Who carries the party's mail against the juggernaut that is becoming Bobby Jindal? Choices are gettin' fewer, and so are the prospects of a united party in the upcoming '07 chase for the mansion.
With Breaux and Landrieu sitting on the sidelines, that leaves only Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and New Orleans "activist" Rev. Raymond Brown as the only announced Democrats firmly in the race. And, with the party's self-imposed rule of not endorsing a single candidate if multiples are in the contest, it looks like the rudder has not only come off the ship, the wheel's been ripped off and tossed overboard.
There are alternatives in the netherworld of Louisiana politics, ala Democratic, but those are singularly unattractive. Perhaps the second most sought-after candidate (behind Breaux and ahead of Landrieu) was U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon. He reportedly was approached in Washington during Mardi Gras season, but gracefully declined. We say gracefully but, if the truth is known, he most likely was muscularly influenced by the national party. You see, Democrat Melancon was elected in a district which has favored Republicans for many year. Billy Tauzin had represented the district, and it was thought his son would continue the name and party tradition. But, up popped the devil in the form of Melancon, and that was a single seat the national party cherished. In all liklihood, a successful Melancon run for the governor's seat in his home state would have opened the door for another Republican to move into the D.C. pool of Republicans on the House side, and that was something Pelosi and Party could not tolerate.
Suffice it to say, Melancon's out and staying that way.
Other hopefuls with more than a pitance of name recognition who would certainly consider a state party courting are former U.S. Rep. Chris John and former state attorney general Richard Iyeoub. To run under the auspices of the party, though, would be sorta stretching the field even more. John, in his last campaign, failed to push now-Sen. David Vitter into a runoff. Ieyoub's last try turned sour when he failed to edge past Kathleen Blanco into a runoff with the same Jindal he would be tackling in a race which is beginning to show an amazing lack of Democratic enthusiasm.
Like it or not, Democrats are going to have to take a long, hard look at Campbell. The oft-described populist has a solid record on the PSC, and some of his issues have rung well with the overwhelmingly rural constituency across his large district which covers north Louisiana from the Texas to Mississippi lines. Yeah, we's that pesky oil processing tax that seems to throw up the wall between powers that want to be and powers that are, but Democrats have to do more than scratch their watch and wind their behinds if they are to keep Jindal in sight.
State Democrats are facing third and goal from midfield, and it's only April. Imagine where they'll be if July rolls around and there's still no party favorite who has something close to a winning record to place before the voters. Talking to many long-time, hard line Dems, we hear more and more talk of offering up more a sacrifice than a candidate. The question, though, is are the money-givers interested in roast lamb?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Love those informative websites

Two websites, each slamming the perceived leader of opposing parties in the governor's race, are up and running with yummy tidbits a’plenty.
If you’re looking for anything dirty on John Breaux, type in and there’s just what you’re after.
If, on the other hand, Bobby Jindal is the target of your non-affections, visit and there you are.
At the bottom of the home page on the Jindal site is a line which says the site is "paid for by the Louisiana Democratic Party — not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee." Likewise, Breaux’s slamfest contains a similar claim — "paid for by the Republican Party of Louisiana."
At least there’s honesty in disclosure, if not content.
Voters who believe they’ll be educated by either site also believe in the tooth fairy. If there's anything better than watching a couple of kindergarteners fight over a crayon, it's watching sophisticated political parties give us "facts" we should know about the opposition.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Play nice, boys and girls

With three weeks remaining before our hired hands head off to Baton Rouge for the final legislative session leading up to election ‘07, one might expect Larry the Cable Guy’s “get’er done” attitude to be high on everyone’s agenda.
After all, it’s legacy time for a governor who isn’t running for election and roughly 60 legislators who can’t run again (that pesky term limits thing). Toss into the mix the 20-somethings — those term limited in one chamber who are seeking to cross over into another — and one might led to believe worthwhile legislation and a friendly, bi-partisan session just could be possible.
Won’t happen. Already, there are clouds building on the horizon which indicate things could be as contentious during this regular session as was witnessed during the not-so-special session of last year.
Just a few examples:
• There’s roughly $2 billion (depending on who you believe) in surplus allegedly hanging around in the state treasury, and there are plans for how to spend it “wisely” coming from both sides of the aisle. At the top of the list is raises for the state’s teachers and support personnel, increases in supplemental pay for public safety workers (police, fire fighters, EMT, etc.), state employees and higher education personnel. Gov. Kathleen Blanco has proposed a $600 million-plus education package, but that will hinge on whether or not everyone who casts a vote believes there really is that large a surplus.
If there is, you’d better believe legislators will support raises of sorts (one must consider the large voting blocks which would be impacted), but there will be plenty of competition to get collective hands on chunks of dollars to be delivered back home (into individual districts) and some of the proposed spending packages will be unique, to say the least.
Watch for someone to point out that Blanco’s proposal, which would mean about $2,400 extra for teachers, comes on top of a teacher raise of another $1,200 which would come from a predicted increase in the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the vehicle which drives educational spending. That little double hit is surely to draw attention from some legislators with special constituencies to appease.
• Tax cuts are the subject of numerous pre-filed bills, and coupled with those proposals are plans to overhaul the dreaded Stelly plan. In fact, some Stelly adjusters are coming from legislators who cast favorable votes to put the idea to the voters. High on the revamp list is the portion which deals with income tax deductions. Some polls indicate voters are inclined to be a little miffed at their electees who thought the plan was a good idea, and the heat could be on whether a remodeled version emerges from this session or not.
Some believe certain legislative delegations are using the tax cuts to assist specific areas and constituents, which would dilute the impact of savings for every Louisiana resident (as opposed to citizen) and could even result in no benefit at all to a large portion of the electorate. Even a measure to increase the Homestead Exemption from $75,000 to as high as $150,000 is on the table. That would certainly put someone in an enviable position if, say, someone was seeking another four years at the government trough.
• Health care is a critical area of need, but there’s no specific plan coming from either Democrats or Republicans which covers all the state’s un- or under-insured. Republicans reportedly are offering an idea which would private sectorize health plans, but would still leave hundreds of thousands of Louisianians without or woefully short on benefits.
Blanco received the support of U.S. Senator David Vitter to spend more than $70 million to buy land and hire architects to begin planning for a teaching hospital (definition: charity) in downtown New Orleans. The Blanco plan would also deliver $226 million in federal money to LSU, contingent on the university developing a business plan of how to run the facility. It’s a move which could face a major challenge, however, since — in another measure addressing the perceived need — the state senate rejected a proposal which would have given LSU a $300 million federal block grant.
Vitter reportedly does not favor giving LSU the $226 million, and the debate has yet to begin in earnest. For her part, Blanco believes the new hospital will significantly help in efforts to “redesign” Louisiana’s healthcare system. Perhaps the legislature will tackle the issue head-on, but don’t bet on it.
Undercurrents are already picking up speed as the session approaches. From both Republicans and Democrats, we’re hearing tones which leave us to believe contention will be the cornerstone of the upcoming meet. Republicans reportedly still do not favor any raising of the spending cap, while Democrats are sounding like a majority which cannot effectively deal with the new super minority. Republicans are convinced they can become the majority party in the House after 2007, and Democrats seem to be struggling to find a strategy to fight off that challenge.
Caught in the middle is the governor. While sounding like a politician who is stepping aside “for the good of the state,” she finds herself about to face a legislative session without the power of a presence with which the opposition must deal and behind which the majority must rally. With the governor’s mansion in the balance, don’t expect a harmonious couple of months in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana voters will most certainly be paying attention to the games when the regular session gets underway. If we expect our boys and girls to play nice, we’re expecting more than this session can deliver. There’ll be rhetoric enough for two campaign seasons, and spin machines will be working overtime. Most likely, the best we can hope for is minimum damage.
If change is in the air politically in Louisiana, it needs to begin the last day of April. Surely, it’s not too much to ask.