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Plodding Cassidy, again by default, wins Senate debate

So you could watch the decisive game of the 2014 World Series, some of us watched the desperation dripping from Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tried to say anything to capitalize during the second and final statewide televised debate among competitive U.S. Senate candidates in Louisiana, and it’s unlikely any of that changed the dynamics of a contest moving decisively against her.

When one has now run behind in the heads-up choice between her and her main rival Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy for the past 11 polls, it gets to the point where there’s less concern about how credible accusations are against opponents, who also include mid-major contender military retiree/middle manager Republican Rob Maness, and more impetus to throw out there anything hoping it sticks. But just like a football defense that, in order to stop a high-flying passing offense, begins to blitz more, it opens itself up to getting burned by big plays. And it happened more than once to Landrieu during this encounter.

Thus, she accused both opponents either by action or stated intention of wanting to reduce Social Security benefits, not wanting to pay women equally, being against adequate Coast Guard funding, and, in the ugliest moment, insinuating they were complicit in an America rent with racism that keeps racial minorities from enjoying equal opportunity to achieve. Each time, with degrees of success varying from lukewarm to embarrassing her, the Republicans parried – and, perhaps surprisingly, Maness did so more effectively.

Numbers show no last minute surge for Landrieu

Registration statistics are in for eligibility to vote on Nov. 4, and early voting has concluded. Do they tell us whether incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has trailed in the last 11 polls heads-up to challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy but who has won three close elections for the office, could do it again?

Both sides of the Senate contest claim there’s something good about the registration numbers. Republicans point to the fact that their numbers keep growing, although not as fast as no-party/other-party voters, as Democrats’ totals continue in free-fall, while Democrats point that among new registrations since July about half of all new registrants are black, who historically vote overwhelmingly Democrat. Heading in to the election, as a whole registered voters in Louisiana proportionally are 63.9 percent white, 31.5 percent black, and 4.6 percent others, while they are 47.1 percent Democrats, 27.5 percent Republicans, and 25.4 percent no-party/other.

Republicans rightly celebrate their increases at the expense of Democrats. With 171,000 fewer of the latter than in 2008, of which 165,000 were white with blacks increasing about 8,000, using a rule of thumb that two-thirds of all white Democrats voted for the incumbent and now running for reelection Democrat Landrieu as did all blacks, she has lost a base of 102,000 voters from when she had a winning margin of 121,000 – in an election that was higher-stimulus for her supporters then than now. Keep in mind also that registration is not the same as self-identification, and as far as that what was a 10-point advantage for Democrats in 2008 is now down to four, among all voters. Further, 45 percent identify as conservatives, as opposed to just 17 percent liberals. Finally, she appears to have only 25 percent of the white vote at present.


Lie of Cassidy liberalism serves both Landrieu, Maness

Republicans, conservatives, and their Senate standard-bearer Rep. Bill Cassidy would rather win that seat sooner than later. Democrats, liberals, and their standard bearer Sen. Mary Landrieu are desperate to keep him from doing so. Mid-major candidate Rob Maness, running as a Republican, and his supporters just want to be relevant. And thus the machinations last week concerning these.

As much as Cassidy, who has led head-to-head compared to Landrieu in every of nine polls since the end of the Tour de France, would like to win outright on Nov. 4, increasingly it appears he will not because of the presence of Maness, who claims he is more and genuinely conservative than Cassidy and not a creature of Washington, D.C., with enough voters buying that to look as if a runoff will be forced between Cassidy and Landrieu on Dec. 6. Except, what if Maness is not what he claims?

That’s the assertion made by his former campaign manager in a note sent to activists but then forwarded by the Louisiana GOP, and denied by his current campaign manager, but nevertheless adding fuel to the rumor that he is a “Maness-churian Candidate” in the race to aid Landrieu. The left’s idea is that his conduct during and after his campaign will be one to impugn Cassidy among conservatives in the hopes that they consider him a Landrieu clone and won’t vote at all, in enough numbers to hand Landrieu the win. The note stated that Maness really was not an anti-big-government advocate but figured he needed to appear that way in order to win support.


LA should reduce amendments allowed per election

Yes, voters are getting plenty of rest ahead of Nov. 4, in order to complete the sprint that will be required of them to get through the ballot in the state-law-allotted time, while dreaming about how there has to be a better way of doing this – and there is.

When I hit my precinct sometime that day, I’ll have 24 items on which to make a selection. State law gives you exactly 3 minutes to make your marks (if not disabled), or for me a grand total of 7.5 seconds each. Some jurisdictions may have as few as six seconds apiece.

The real inflator here is the 14 constitutional amendments (voting recommendations here), the most since 2003 but still shy of the Oct. 3, 1998 record of 18 (and two more were considered on Nov. 3 of that year). That election featured only amendments, but three others with partisan contests on theirs had as many as 15 propositions to amend (these records set relevant to the latest 1974 Constitution). With the fourth longest constitution among the states, the element of distrust of government and politicians within Louisiana’s political culture encouraged throwing everything possible into the Constitution rather than by accomplishing these things by statute, and thus picayunish things often have to be addressed by the voters if they wish to make policy changes.


Data confirm increased teacher evaluation rigor needed

As the state continues to review accountability measures for teachers and schools, new data out last week confirms that greater, not reduced, objectivity in measurements shows the way forward to genuine improvement in Louisiana’s delivery of elementary and secondary education.

COMPASS scores came out for schools and teachers, allowing for comparisons of changes from last year in evaluations of these and to other data indicating student progress, as measured by performance on standardized tests. These data, comparing teachers to students, showed that teacher performance rose at a faster rate than did student achievement (and administrators’ performances even more in many cases), and in comparing teachers to schools, that higher performing schools on the basis of student scores that used more objective data in assessments of teachers tended to grade theirs more harshly.

The explanation was that, because of transitioning to new curricula statewide, districts were given latitude to increase the input of subjective measures. Higher-rated teachers were more prevalent at schools that used more subjective measuring, even as student performance at these schools tended to be lower. This lead state superintendent John White to call for schools to increase standards and rigor in teacher evaluation, noting the inverse relationship between teacher scoring and student growth.


Kennedy demagoguery raises questions for his future

Readers interested in Louisiana politics got another reminder recently of the maddening inconsistency of state Treasurer John Kennedy’s thinking, and why, should he decide to pursue the matter, any attempt he makes to be elected governor in 2015 should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Sometimes on issues he hits the nail square on the head, as he did recently concerning a hastily-considered law that had the effect of expanding substantially state retirement benefits for two individuals. He correctly understood that the law passed unconstitutionally and that legal action should be taken to have the courts invalidate it. Further, he continually agitated for that until, in effect, that was the outcome.

But on other issues at times he goes into full demagoguery mode that shreds facts bound by illogical inferences. He displayed that recently in an opinion piece concerning the changes coming in the state’s employee and retiree (and for some school employees) health benefits. Generally, while some will see these lowered, many clients will see higher insurance costs when taking all of premiums, co-payments, and deductibles into account as a result of those changes.


Will PSC race signal end of liberal populism in LA?

Human nature dictates that we often don’t recognize qualitative change at its very beginning, but only when observing the obviousness of it as it near completion. Depending on outcome, the Public Service Commission District 5 contest, with north Louisiana as its entire battlefield, could serve as the latter.

That features as its incumbent the last of Louisiana’s significant populists, Democrat Foster Campbell. He started his political career during the second gubernatorial administration of Prisoner #03128-095, who currently is running for Congress under his given name Edwin Edwards, with election to the state Senate. While entirely different in personal comportment, one thing they do share is Manichean political rhetoric, blaming the state’s problems on the alleged ability of certain bogeymen to get too much power and wealth at the expense of the larger public, necessitating redistributive policy to right the reputed wrong.

In 2002, he successfully made the natural move to the PSC, where he could be one of five regulators of an industry he regularly singled out as a villain, oil insofar as pipeline regulation. It also gave him an opportunity to rail against other regulated industries such as utilities, often carping that they were allowed too much profit at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers (even as roughly half of his political contributions since 2009 have come from regulated industries and interested parties). At the same time, he has championed certain special interests in decisions that actually cost ratepayers and taxpayers more, such as in favoring solar energy and energy efficiency concerns.


Caddo/Bossier voters need to reject new taxes

Voters on both Caddo and Bossier Parishes, but especially the latter, face some Trojan Horse proposals that likely will raise their taxes come late this year and early next year if they approve these.

In both parishes, a new 2 percent tax would be levied on hotel rooms and camping sites, with proceeds going to the Shreveport-Bossier Conventions and Tourist Bureau’s Sports Commission to attract sports events, the Independence Bowl Foundation for it to beef up payouts for the bowl game and to get Division I schools to play neutral site games at Independence Stadium, and essentially to subsidize Shreveport Regional Airport so that it can pay carriers to provide added service. It is estimated it would bring in over $2 million a year.

As usual, supporters argue this only can bring benefits to the area because “others” will be paying the extra fee, not area residents. And, just as typically, this ignores that the added cost to lodging will discourage. So maybe bribing events, teams, and airlines might get more of them to come to the area – only then to jack up lodging costs for teams, fans, and other area visitors that drives up their lodging costs, which serves as a disincentive to want to come. There’s no evidence to suggest that the cost of lost jobs and negative spillover effects on local businesses by an artificial increase in lodging prices will be less than any presumed gains from increased visitation on the tax coffers of local governments.


Policy-makers roll dice on factoring in bonus bucks

So the state lost track of around $320 million starting in 2002, and it’s out there available to be spent. Whether that means the state won’t need to reduce services over the next few months is another matter.

By Aug. 15, the state knows its funds inflows and outflows from the previous fiscal year ending Jun. 30, and reports these results in early October. Part of the revenue side of the picture is money taken from dedicated funds transferred to another agency for use and self-generated monies by agencies assigned to specified uses. But apparently since 2002 if any excesses existed after transfers or generation, unused for their intended purposes, they lay fallow. Now the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wishes to put them to work, especially as without those leftovers fiscal year 2014 resulted in about $141.5 million of outflows over inflows.

Constitutionally, after Oct. 15 the administration reports to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on the status of the previous year’s actual figures. If a deficit is declared and the JLCB concurs, this allows the governor to impose mid-year budget cuts to make up the previous year’s difference. It’s something policy-makers rather would avoid, which has seen since 2008 $1.122 billion in such cuts, with FY 2014 being the first since then not to have any.


After court confirmation, take next education reform step

As expected, the Louisiana Supreme Court flushed home the slam dunk on the state’s 2012 revolutionary education reforms, and having resolved that leads to the next question of how to progress further in improving education in the state.

Last week, the Court essentially laughed away a challenge to the law. Its reforms addressed a number of different facets about education, and the suit was based upon the very fact of diversity in the law. Having already warned an obstinate lower court judge that the law should not be taken to violate the single object constitutional standard for legislation, only to have him stubbornly insist that it did, the Court conclusively decided otherwise unanimously. The legal tactic by the plaintiffs, a motley collection of American Federation of Teachers state and local units, was a cover to try to cancel policy they didn’t like, most controversially for them making teacher tenure more difficult to attain and basing that decision for about 35 percent of all teachers on a value-added measure anchored on standardized testing.

In the short term, this changes nothing. Given the wrenching changes from implementation of and the debate ongoing about the Common Core State Standards, the use of a VAM, defined as changes in student scores from one year to another on standardized tests, as an input into tenure and retention decisions was delayed for the last and this school year. Even as CCSS is expected to increase the profile of standardized testing and expand it to be able to include more teachers (assuming state policy-makers don’t pull the plug on it, as some will attempt next year), education leaders, including Louisiana’s, are wondering whether testing needs to be more selectively applied.