LeBlanc is referring to a magic number: 70. That's the constitutionally mandated number of votes (two-thirds) in the House of Representatives that Gov. Kathleen Blanco repeatedly failed to muster for her spending plan, which fluctuated in cost depending on negotiations. It went as low as $800 million during the 10-day session's first half. Republican legislators consistently blocked her move to raise the state's $194 million spending limit and, as a result, Blanco's original proposal went nowhere. The GOP holds 41 of the 105 House seats ' more than enough to prevent Blanco from getting a two-thirds majority on taxes and other tough issues, and frequently enough to give her heartburn on controversial matters that need simple majority votes.
That, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up what happened in the governor's hastily called pre-Christmas session. The real story, however, is how it happened. The holiday session unleashed the nastiest kinds of regional, partisan and underhanded statehouse politics.
Prior to Katrina, the state budget had exploded by nearly $5 billion since 1997. With oil prices still in the stratosphere and recovery money coming in, the state budget continues to soar ' by billions of dollars each quarter, it seems. These and other factors gave the state an estimated $1.6 billion windfall ' and many consider that figure conservative. The special session was a modern-day gold rush, with the governor leading the charge to cash in. Little attention was paid to the notion that this could be Louisiana's second (and last) oil boom, and Blanco's agenda did not seem to reflect the idea that Louisiana could "get it right" this time around.
In many ways, the governor's special session plans were a throwback to the old way of doing things around the Capitol. She resurrected the strong-arm tactics that defined the tenures of former Govs. Mike Foster and Edwin Edwards. Both men would link unpopular taxes to supplemental pay for police, teacher pay raises or kidney dialysis machines for the poor. Such moves backed lawmakers into a corner, casting a "no" vote on taxes as a vote against cops, teachers or kidney patients.
The fiscal dynamics were different for Blanco, however, and she may have misjudged the political dynamic of the House as a result. She started the session by stating she would not stand for any tax credits (the only true consensus builder) unless legislators also adopted her spending proposals. Instead of wrapping taxes in votes for key constituents, Blanco dangled goodies in exchange for a vote to bust the constitutionally imposed spending cap. At the same time, she tried to use the stick on those who didn't go along.
It didn't work.
Rep. Ernest Wooten, a Republican from Belle Chasse, says after he voted against raising the state's spending limit, the governor offered him part of $200 million for coastal restoration in his district. After turning Blanco down, Wooten says an anonymous phone bank blanketed his district, telling voters he was against everything in the administration's package. "I didn't want to come to the special session to be blackmailed," he says.
Instead, the GOP caucus beat back Blanco's spending plans. The House was forced to recess several times as Republicans, Democrats and African-American lawmakers conferred in their respective caucuses. The scene on the House floor was unprecedented and could represent a watermark in state policy making. "It's just been completely insane around here, with everyone meeting with their caucuses," says Rep. Michael Jackson, a Democrat from Baton Rouge and member of the Legislative Black Caucus. "There's so much being put into that."
To top it all off for the swaggering Republicans, last week also brought news that a personal dinner with the governor fetched only $1 at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's annual holiday auction. The GOP's theory ' shared by many outside the party as well ' is that Blanco wanted the session to kick off her re-election bid. Having defeated her efforts to spend upwards of $2 billion on some of her key constituents, Republicans were filled with a holiday cheer all their own. Rep. Jack Smith, a Democrat from Franklin, fired back and referenced the likely GOP gubernatorial frontrunner: "The Republicans just want to wait until [U.S. Rep.] Bobby Jindal gets here to spend the money."
The partisan bickering was bad enough, but the divisions followed other fault lines as well. The Legislature's age-old regional divide resurfaced during debate over how to give people relief from property insurance surcharges imposed after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Given that the storms devastated the southern stretches of the state and spared most interior parishes, it was only a matter of time before geographic divisions reared their ugly head.
Rep. Francis Thompson, a Democrat from Delhi in northeast Louisiana, complained that the state's insurer of last resort, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which took a major financial hit from Katrina and Rita, is now taking an unfair toll on citizens who were not in the path of hurricanes. "It's a bad plan when people in the north are paying a 15 percent fee or surcharge, and they're not getting any benefit from it," Thompson said.
Sen. Joe McPherson, a Democrat from Woodworth, made a similar argument when debating legislation that would allow the state-run insurer to buy reinsurance for future storms. McPherson said too many officials have been "pushing the envelope" on coastal protection, while his constituents are more concerned about roads. "Why should our area be subsidizing people in the coastal zone?" McPherson asked.
Sen. James David Cain, a Dry Creek Republican and author of the Citizens reinsurance measure, offered an answer that may not have addressed McPherson's or Thompson's concerns, but it did serve as a gentle, if understated and little appreciated, reminder:
"I'd hope we're all in Louisiana together," Cain said. "At least I hope."
The political tilt of the Senate during President Barack Obama's final two years in office is likely to hinge on a handful of female contenders in tight and costly races.
A former BP executive will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom later this month while he awaits trial on charges relating to an investigation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
South Koreans defend ramen; special forces had failed to find James Foley; Vegas lures LGBT tourists and more national and international news for Thursday, August 21, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Friends and family will celebrate Spider's life in September.
Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is as healed as doctors believe.
Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, verbally sparred as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.
The start of the three-day qualifying period for November’s elections has so far yielded 10 official bids and one new announcement from candidates seeking a seat on the school board.
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.
A card-carrying member of Lafayette’s “tribe,” Milton “Spider” Guidry died over the weekend. IND music writer Nick Pittman remembers the character and the man.
As tensions continue to escalate in Ferguson, Mo., between law enforcement and residents protesting the shooting death of a local teen by police, we’re reminded of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the in-custody death earlier this year of a New Iberia man.