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It Has to Be More than Perception

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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PERCEPTION AND REALITY IN

LOUISIANA POLITICS


In 2008, Louisiana rode the bubble.  A new Governor and a cadre of other new public officials were ready to put the Katrina mentality behind, and begin the process of bringing Louisiana fully into the 21st century.  There was a perception, stirred by continuing editorials in the state’s daily newspapers, that major changes were on the way. The word “change” was a bellwether in the Bayou state well in advance of the new president making this his mantra in his quest for the White House.  But in Louisiana, the perception of reality is often not reality itself, but our own version of it.

Few governors have come into office with the momentum of Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.  He followed a lackluster Governor damaged by her handling of Hurricane Katrina.  Jindal effused with energy and new ideas on the state level that corresponded to the same image gushed by our new President on the national front.  He was the young, ethic alternative in the GOP that was made up of older white guys with few new ideas. Bobby Jindal’s timing was just right.

But that was then.  Louisiana was initially considered insulated form the national financial crisis due to high oil process and the billions being poured into the state for Katrina rebuilding.  But the price of oil has plummeted from one hundred fifty dollars a barrel to a current thirty four dollar low.    And the flow of hurricane recovery money has dwindled considerably.   If there is any doubt about the state’s precarious economic condition, one only has to scan the daily newspaper headlines.

“Our Oil Drunk, Our Hangover (Jindal’s Folly)” Morning Advocate-Dec. 28th.

“Greed Came Home to Roost for La. Public Officials” The American Press- Dec, 29th

Higher Ed. Ranking predict Dismal Future in La.  Shreveport Times-Dec. 28th

Tax breaks Worsen budget Shortfalls in La.  The Associated Press-Dec. 29th

The financial problems are compounded by just released census figures showing Louisiana to be in last place nationally in population gain.  Not only is the state in last place among all states including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in population gain, Louisiana is only one of two of the 52 states and territories to lose population.

So the bubble has burst, the rosy view of perception is in the tank, and reality has set in.  Reasonable projections show a $1.2 billon drop in revenue in the coming year, with well over $2 billion dollars needed just to keep the current ship of state a float.  This is the best case scenario and does not take into consideration further drops in oil prices (this has been predicted) and possibly more plant closings and further layoffs (some 20,000 jobs lost in the past year.)

Ethics reform has been the selling point ballyhooed by conservative columnists nationwide in pitching accolades at the Governor.  But the consensus by knowledgeable observers her at home is that, at best, any changes were cosmetic and amounted to “ethics lite.” Legislators continue to be wined and dined at top restaurants. The only ethics opinion of note to come out in the past six months is to prohibit an assistant librarian in St. Tammany Parish from receiving Christmas cookies form a student who uses the library.

The Governor and the legislature are at a crossroads.  There are a host of real, not perceived problems out there that have festered for years.  Revamping the healthcare system, making tough decisions to consolidate the huge overlap in higher education, rebuilding a crumbling highway infrastructure. And realistic job training in areas that have potential.  Spending $600, 000 to study building an auto manufacturing plant in the state, a contract that was just awarded by the Dept. of Economic Development, makes little sense when similar plants are closing down in other parts of the country.

Jindal will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina on Feb. 4th to speak to the John Locke Foundation’s 19th anniversary celebration.  It’s a prestigious event for conservatives, with former speakers that include conservative columnists George Will and Peggy Noonan, former independent counsel Ken Starr and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.  The announcement came in this week’s Raleigh newspaper. In an adjoining column, there was a lengthy article about the successes of recent North Carolina Governors in developing new industry and creating new jobs.  The point was made as to how hard the present and former governors were working to create these successes.  They had tangible results.

If the Governor wants to consider a presidential bid in the future, the best thing he can do is show tangible results at home.  Not perceptions, but a concrete game plan with specific, definable and obtainable goals.  He can take all the credit, and if his national stature continues to rise then the national ambitions will come.  But he and the legislature have a big, no an overwhelming job, to do right here in Louisiana.

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Some people see the cup as half empty.  Some people see the cup as half full. I see the cup as too large.”        George Carlin   

  Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana.  You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana.  You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .

Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.

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