Monday, December 18, 2006

A House divided cannot serve

There are lots of support groups around the country, and more are popping up every day. Apparently there’s room for others, and one is screaming for a well-intended psychotherapist to step into the breach. Right here in our little piece of America, we’d like to suggest another program to deal with addictive behavior displayed by some elected officials.
Symptoms seem most pronounced when certain of the aforementioned gather in groups of, say, 105 or a few less, depending on whose schedule conflicts with the public’s business. Observers of the group tell us addictions fall into distinct categories (with, of course, sub-categories a'plenty) including, but not exclusive of: (1) an intolerance of individuals whose name is oft followed by one of two specific non-vowels, i.e., R or D, (2) a compulsive need to travel and vote in a pack and (3) an obsession with finding someone to blame, other than those with matching consonantic suffix, of course.
The recently adjourned anything-but-special session of our Legislature shows just how necessary this support mechanism will be over the next few months. A defining time in our state’s political history most certainly will be that period beginning with the adjournment of the recently completed get together and concluding with the opening gavel of the Legislature’s next regular session scheduled — quite appropriately — to kick off in the Spring of ‘07. Both Mother Nature and the houses of legislation in Baton Rouge will be just itching to shoot forth all things new for our observation.
If this past session taught us anything, it’s that Louisiana is definitely a two-party state, and that the party often just begins when folks gang up with their own to stand in the corner and confab. Forget that Democrats still maintain a significant lead in the lower chamber — 41 Republicans occupy seats in the House — and pencil into your consciousness that some pieces of legislation require a super majority or two-thirds vote for approval.
"We have arrived," House Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Tucker of Algiers said. "I think we showed the governor that we are a force she will have to deal with."
Indeed. Tucker and his loyal troops (including a couple of newcomers to the Republican fold) managed to turn back on three occasions Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s floor leaders and followers in their efforts to uncap the state’s constitutionally imposed spending ceiling. A force to reckon with? Absolutely, and the governor may be forced to use force in dealing with her fiesty opponents. Were the Republican slapdowns a display of fiscal responsibility? Perhaps. Did the R-types unveil even more cracks in the armor of an already wounded governor? Most certainly.
And, least some should forget...this is the second time in the last couple of years that Repubs in the House have managed to snuff out a Blanco plan which required the vote of a super-majority. Remember the cigarette tax hike plan of ‘05? So should have Blanco when considering her proposed spending programs with last fiscal year’s surplus and Republican body language heading into the session. A bemused spectator may wonder if the governor’s advisors were caught napping.
Republicans have returned to their safehouse districts with the unified message that Blanco’s “10 days of Christmas” session failed because of their solid stance for fiscal responsibility. One must remember, however, that claiming credit often is like picking a rose: thorns can be involved. Some of that fiscal restraint may have put teachers, state employees and a wide assortment of public safety employees in near riot mode. What some view as being responsible may be viewed by others as being responsible for failing to realize just how important five months can be when it comes to a larger pay envelope.
Some observers are saying Democrats bemoan the partisan nature of the session. Former speaker, now chairman of the Appropriations Committee Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, complained of something brand new.
"We've always looked at issues, not decided things along party lines,” Alario said following adjournment. Sorry, chairman, that won’t wash. Everything was pretty cool in Red Stick when those pesky Republicans couldn’t muster the numbers to qualify as a super minority. Can you say bipartisan negotiations, boys and girls?
Speaking of negotiations, other observers in the Capitol are hinting that Republicans came into the session (a) as folks who wanted to be anywhere else and (b) with a laundry list of tax breaks which they declared essential if removing the spending cap were to be considered. No negotiations, just OK the tax relief (mostly for business, some say) or watch the cap remain firmly in place. To date, Republicans we’ve heard say this isn’t true. Fortunately, results of the de-fib-orator are not admissible in court.
Several commentators and news outlets throughout the state have declared this session of the special Legislature a complete failure. Both parties can take either credit or blame. There’s plenty to go around, and it’s bipartisan. With Campaign ‘07 looming, lots of folks are saying the next regular legislative session will be equally, if not more, contentious. If so, one must wonder if it’s a purposeful thing with Republicans seeking to further damage the governor and Democrats attempting to show the honorable opposition as nothing but a block of “aginners.”
We remind our Republican friends that shooting cripples can be easy, unless the cripple can shoot back. Remember: not every vote that comes along will require a super majority, and not all legislation makes it through committee.
Our Democrat buddies should also consider: paying back payback doesn’t set well, especially among those who do the paying. Even getting even ain’t what it used to be.

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