November 12, 2003
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
CAN THE GOVERNOR MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
a few days, Louisiana voters will have picked a new governor.
endless rhetoric and promises galore, the bayou state’s
new chief executive will take a few days off, catch her or
his breath, and then begin making a realistic appraisal of
what is doable in the coming months. A front burner question
that needs to be addressed is “Can the next governor
really make any significant difference?” I would suggest
the answer is “Yes”, but with some cautious and
difference, first of all, will be made from the start merely
by who’s elected. If Bobby Jindal wins, international
attention will be given to the fact that a deep southern state
with a history of “parochial and racially laced” politics
has elected a second-generation American with roots half way
around the world. This is major news in itself, and opens up
opportunities to at least get Louisiana noticed. Jindal’s “unique” background
probably makes it a little easier to get his foot in the door
if an effort is made to sell Louisiana nationally and internationally.
same argument of “attention” can be made if
there is a Kathleen Blanco victory. Few women have aspired
to the governorship in the South. In fact, if you lump former
Texas Governor Ann Richards with Western states, the only other
example I can think of is former Governor Lurleen Wallace who
was hand-picked and elected on the strength of her popular
husband who preceded her in that office, George Wallace. So
Blanco could be the first woman from a deep southern state
to be elected by her own efforts. This too makes a strong statement
of a “change” in Louisiana.
with the “perception “of a fresh and different
approach by a new governor comes high expectations for quick
results. The next governor, to be successful, is going to have
to “pick and choose” his battles and is going to
have to seek out high profile issues where she or he can make
a fairly quick impact.
Let’s be realistic. Our state is not going to see overnight
changes is education reform, economic development, coastal
erosion and other environmental problems, or any major revamping
of the highway system. These problems have been festering for
a number of years. If there is a desire to change the direction
of the “ship of state”, it will take major collation-building,
several legislative sessions, and a significant grass roots
effort to build citizen support through out the state. Former
North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, back in the 1960’s,
forcefully and eloquently put out a new agenda that today has
brought the Tar Heel state to the economic forefront of the
south. But he made it clear that a long-range commitment was
needed and that the state would not see major results for some
twenty years. Sanford was right, but he also lost his race
for U. S. Senate by being criticized for “not moving
So it may come down to a question of courage. Does the next
governor have the fortitude to convince the legislature, already
looking towards the next election less than four years away,
that the tangible results bringing major benefits to the state
are twenty years in the making?
So what can the new governor immediately propose that can
be challenging, beneficial, no doubt controversial, that will
allow her or him to make a strong impression and a fairly quick
impact? A few suggestions:
the office of Inspector-General for Efficiency. We have
every candidate for governor in the first primary talked
about “rooting out the waste” and making government
more efficient. And after being in office for the past
thirty years, I can concur that most agencies in state
can be run more efficiently. An Inspector General can set
up a mechanism to monitor state agencies for the purpose
productivity. The audit could be an important tool in working
with state agencies at every level to “get more bang
for the buck”. We used to elect a comptroller in
Louisiana. An appointed position working under the direction
of the governor
could back up the numerous campaign promises eliminating
waste and making the state system more efficient. It may
possible to create such an office by executive order, or
at a minimum, by an act of the legislature. And who would
to oppose such an idea?
the hammer down on Indian casinos that are making outrageous
profits, yet are contributing virtually nothing back
to the state. Louisiana taxpayers are spending millions in
of casinos operated on Indian reservations without any
return. The casinos in the state receive free police and
and taxpayers pay for the highways that bring gamblers
right up to the casino front doors. Yet these Indian casinos
not paying their way. Now I know, Governor, you are going
to hear the argument that the Indian tribes are immune from
enforcement. But do a little creative thinking. There
are certainly some other ways to skin this cat. These tribes
to Louisiana’s criminal and civil laws, and creative
legal minds can find some ways to see that these Indian
casinos pay their fair share. What kinds of taxes are
being paid by
the suppliers of these casinos? Build public roads away
from the casinos, or make the highways in front of the
roads. Heck, there has to be some ways to deal with these
problems. Your strong interest and commitment, if nothing
else may bring
these casinos to the bargaining table, and they will
hopefully pay their fair share voluntarily. But it is
an affront to the
average Louisianan to see tax dollars subsidizing these
casinos, all being run by out-of-state gambling interests.
If they are
going to operate in the state, they need to contribute.
Louisiana grade schools experimental laboratories to see
how we can get better results. Why does every school system
have to operate the same? We are obviously not getting
results for better schools based on the dollars we
are spending. Put Louisiana in the forefront of experimentation
of all, pick several parishes that will convert their large,
factory-styled schools that often have 1,000 students
of more into smaller schools where students have closed contact
with teachers. There are private grants out there to do this
very thing. (Start with the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie
Corporation) Established research indicates that small class
sizes - 15 or fewer – can often make a tremendous difference
in producing higher test scores. Pick some key schools for
experimentation; begin with classes in kindergarten through
third grade. I don’t know what will happen; but let’s
see what results we get.
vouchers a try in several parishes on an experimental basis.
know that the teachers groups are going to go
bananas when you suggest this. But don’t bite the whole
apple. Several parishes could try this on an experimental basis
over the next several years. What do we have to loose?
local school boards be running our schools? Just look at
New Orleans if you want to see a disaster in the making.
Allegations are rampant of millions of dollars being ripped
off with very little accountability. The Mayor of New Orleans,
as are most mayors of cities throughout the state, is charged
with the economic well-being of the city. A key ingredient
in this economic development is the quality of the work force
available. This quality is all based on education. Yet we don’t
bring the mayor into the formula for developing this work force.
Mayors are directly involved in picking superintendents and
directing policy in public schools in New York, Los Angeles,
Philadelphia and Chicago. Why not give it a try, on an experimental
basis, in a few key cities here in Louisiana?
of these education suggestions are controversial and will
with opposition. But pushing them on an “experimental” basis
in a few parishes so that you can have some tangible results
to evaluate just makes common sense. And the cost of all of
these suggestions is minimal.
a mini-constitutional convention to re-write
the state tax laws. A number of gubernatorial candidates
pushed for constitutional
reform over the past decade. It was a major plank
in my 1987 race for governor. But little has been done. All
of your good
government groups feel that major tax reform is
necessary. Hit the ground running by making this the first
piece of legislation
you sponsor. Put everything on the table. Obvious
detrimental taxes (inventory tax, sales tax) need to be re-worked.
don’t shy away from the homestead exemption
and other sacred cows. This could be a strong signal
that by revamping
the tax structure, you are offering a better climate
for business development.
a commitment to wipe out adult illiteracy. We rarely hear
up to one-fifth of our population is functionaly
illerate. Our emphasis has been on elementary and secondary
education, but thousands of adults find it difficult to function
because they just can’t read. The new governor can be
an inspiration to show adult illerates that you care, and you
want to work with them to overcome their problem. At least
once a month, on a regular basis, you and your spouse could
commit to teach classes for adult illiteracy throughout the
state. You could receive tremendous and positive publicity
and could accomplish a great deal towards encouraging our large
illerate population to deal with this serious problem. The
cost would be marginal, yet you would make a important symbolic
step in dealing with a major barrier in our workforce.
open warfare on the cost of prescription drugs. Louisiana
has a high portion of its population using prescription drugs.
We’re just not as healthy, and have a high proportion
of older adults. Yet the cost of prescription drugs is unaffordable
to many of these citizens. Governor, you can do something about
it. Maine has negotiated group discounts for its medicaid population.
The new governor of Illinois is making an effort to buy prescription
drugs for state employees from Canada. If he is able to do
this, the state will save 100 million dollars a year. Louisiana
has a tremendous group to use collectively. State employees,
both current and retired, as well as those citizens using the
Charity hospital system give you a large group for negotiations.
There are a number of ideas floating around right now. This
is definitely a “good fight” to take on.
waste your time chasing smoke stacks. Articles are appearing
in the press that the next governor should travel
the world to bring in outside industry. Be careful here, Governor.
It could be a loosing proposition. Alabama and Mississippi
paid hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to “buy” new
jobs. If your talk to economists in those states, it really
hasn’t been cost effective. Taxpayers in those states
will, in some instances, be paying off bonds for the next fifty
years. It’s just not worth the price. Mitch Landrieu
said it well during his successful campaign for Lieutenant
Governor. You grow jobs from within. We need more Louisiana
Technology Parks similair to the one just formed in Baton Rouge.
We have the natural resources. You are the key to developing
the technology that will create these new jobs within our own
borders. It’s much more cost effective.
Governor, I’m just getting started. You will have
your own agenda and priorities, but you get my drift. There
is some early symbolic buttons to push. Keep fresh ideas on
the front burner, and your momentum will carry you for many
months to come.
is a marvelous story about former French President Charles
He asked his gardener to plant trees to create a
certain shade effect. “But General”, the gardener
protested, “the effect you have in mind cannot be achieved
for forty years.” To which DeGaulle replied “well,
you better start this afternoon.”
Enjoy this coming Sunday, Governor. You have your work cut
out for you Monday morning. We will talk some more. Good Luck!
my column posted September 18, I listed a series of books
be beneficial for the next governor to read. If
you followed my columns during my six-month “sabbatical” in
the spring, you will note that I am a James Lee Burke fan.
He writes from New Iberia, and has a stack of novels featuring
Louisiana Cop Dave Robicheaux. I recently finished Jolie
Bounce, a gothic crime novel about a Cajun blues singer accused
of a pair of murders.
James Lee Burke loves Louisiana. His twenty-first novel offers
food for thought to the next governor.
“A love affair with Louisiana is in some ways like
falling in love with the biblical whore of Babylon. We try
to smile at its carnival-like politics, its sweaty, whiskey-soaked
demagogues, the ignorance bred by its poverty and the insularity
of its Cajun and Afro-Caribbean culture. But our self-deprecating
manner is a poor disguise for the realities that hover on the
edges of one’s vision like dirty smudges on a family
state roadsides and parking lots of discount stores are strewn,
if not actually layered, with mind-numbing amounts
of litter, thrown there by the poor and the uneducated and
the revelers for whom a self-congratulatory hedonism is a way
of life. With regularity, land developers who are accountable
to no one bulldoze out stands of virgin cypress and two-hundred-year-old
live oaks, often at night, so the irrevocable nature of their
work cannot be seen until daylight, when it is too late to
stop it. The petrochemical industry poisons waterways with
impurity and even trucks in waste from out of state and dumps
it in open sludge pits, usually in rural black communities.
“Rather than fight monied interests, most of the state’s
politicians give their constituency casinos and Powerball lotteries
and drive-by daiquiri windows, along with low income taxes
for the wealthy and an eight and one quarter percent sales
tax on food for the poor.”
worry Governor, all this is nothing but fiction. Hummm! You
have your work cut out for you.
“We revolt at the idea of so much government power
being brought to bear against one individual with a statute
so vague they could drag you and me in for fudging on our United
Way contributions. The crime Martha Steward now is charged
with is trying to explain her side. The government’s
prosecutors say Ms. Stewart should go to prison for that – after
they failed to establish she did anything else wrong. And that
could happen to any of us, bud!”
The Dallas Morning News
September 21, 2003
Peace and Justice to you and your family.
Brown’s column on Louisiana Political Life appears
bi-monthly, and can be read along with previous columns and
other Louisiana political news at www.politicsla.com.