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In retrospect: Top political stories of 2012

26th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

For the past 87 years, The Louisiana Weekly has been providing to its readers the “News that Matters” to them, so it is in that spirit, that we have assembled a list of the top ten political stories of 2012 that we believe matters deeply to our readers.

1) The Rise and Acceptance of Early Voting.

In the enthusiasm of the 2012 elections, most of the media ignored the increasing popularity of early voting here in the Pelican State.
For something comparatively new, showing up to vote at a Registrar’s office a week early has earned a faithful following.

In 2008, 15 percent (or 292,000 members) of the electorate choose to early vote. By the 2011 primary, that percentage jumped to 16 percent of voters (though overall numbers were less at 168,000).

Both of those figures paled in comparison to 2012. Eighteen percent of the vote was cast before Election Day, while early voting volume itself was 356,000, or a 22 percent increase over an already massive 2008 volume. Despite this increasing reality, many politicians remain oblivious to the fact that increasingly Louisiana is experiencing a “seven-day Election Day.”

2) Obama’s coattails boosted the Numbers of local African-American Politicians.

The President won Orleans Parish this year by a margin of almost 75,000 votes, and that margin played a direct role in the surprise primary victories in several white-Black Orleans contests, notably the Second District Court battles for Clerk and Constable. Darren Lombard rode higher.

African-American turnout to a 51 percent total, denying a much expected runoff position for Clerk of Court aspirant Adam Lambert. And, longtime Algiers Constable Ennis Grundmeyer lost his job narrowly to newcomer Edwin Shorty by just over 200 votes or 49-51%. The Louisiana surge in the African-American vote defeated long-time School Board member Lourdes Moran 52-48% or nearly 800 votes. The victory of educational consultant Leslie Ellison, can be traced to larger turnout in the challenger’s African-American home precincts in Algiers.

And, Thomas Robichaux, the first openly gay member of the Orleans School Board and its President, went down to defeat as the Ninth Ward-Centered Seventh District reasserted its African-American majority, electing Nolan Marshall.

3) U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany’s Victory Indicates that at least some Black voters will vote Republican.

In the Republican-on-Republican statewide races in 2011, there was direct evidence that a large minority of African-American voters decided to skip races where there was no Democratic candidate on the ballot. This year, however, many of those voters opted to not only support the president, but actually cast a ballot in a GOP-on-GOP contest, providing much of the margin of Charles Boustany’s 61 percent runoff victory over fellow Republican Con­gressman Jeff Landry.

Perhaps it was Landry’s self avowed Tea Party conservatism, or Boustany’s admission that he would break his “No Taxes” pledge in order to negotiate with Obama on deficit reduction, but the later managed to pull at least some Black voters to swell his margin in the newly merged 3rd District.

Blacks could provide the margins of victory in tight GOP races, making the African-American state­wide vote potentially more influential that it has been in years. Imagine the Republican politicians wooing the Black middle class to play tiebreaker against their fellow Republicans.

4) The Victory of Latoya Cantrell.

Conversely, the December 8 runoff proved white voters would also cross the racial divide for a Black candidate over a fellow Caucasian.

In a December election where the numbers were supposed to benefit a Caucasian candidate, Juvenile Justice Advocate and Establish­ment white Democrat Dana Kaplan lost to Broadmoor’s Latoya Cantrell for the District “B” City Council seat.

Cantrell’s strength against Kaplan in precincts like 13/2 on Dec. 8 seems historically shocking. This area of Uptown lies just down from the mansions of Exposition Boulevard and Nash­ville, and is not known for its automatic embrace of Black candidates. Yet, that did not stop Cantrell from tying Kaplan 50/50 in this Audubon Park-area neighborhood that white politicians usually easily win.

The same conclusion could be drawn on Precinct 13/5, bordered by Magazine Street, Coliseum, and Upperline. Cantrell lost here to Kaplan, but only 48/52. It is a precinct that routinely votes GOP in presidential elections and should be out of reach for a Black Democrat. Yet, Cantrell all but tied the vote here as well.

When matched with Cantrell’s overwhelming returns in Black majority precincts of Uptown (with some white residents) like 11/5 and 11/8, where she earned 69 percent and 67 percent respectively, the new City Councilwoman built an electoral alliance that proved impossible to beat. This is best demonstrated by her strength in early voting. It tends to favor white candidates as Caucasians usually demonstrate a greater willingness to show up to vote a week early, but Cantrell surprised here as well. She won early voting decisively, 58 percent to Kaplan’s 42 percent. And, though Black voters constituted a majority of the vote citywide, whites held a slight advantage on election day in District B, underlining the extent of Cantrell’s feat.

With a post-Katrina electorate in Orleans Parish that has more whites registered than Blacks, being able to bring across GOP white voters to a Black candidate may be the road for many African Americans to gain office over establishment white challengers. And, Latoya Cantrell showed it was possible.

5) Cedric Richmond’s Weak Re-Election Result

The incumbent Second District Congressman won with only 56 percent of the vote in an election where Black candidates surged on the ballot in Orleans, and Kip Holden won re-election comfortably in the Baton Rouge part of the district.

6) Judicial Ruling Declaring Funding of Vouchers Uncon­stitutional.

Interesting how a technicality in the way a law was written can doom large portions of a legislative agenda. Bobby Jindal argued badly written provision of the Affordable Care Act should doom President Obama’s business healthcare mandates, but a local Judge applied similar logic—and that might doom the governor’s landmark school voucher proposal.

By stating that Jindal cannot use monies from the Minimum Found­ation Formula because the constitution mandates that the funds can only be allocated to “public” education, the entire need based private scholarship program is in danger of collapse, and thousands of predominantly African-American students could be denied continuing their parochial educations next year.

Jindal does enjoy majority support in the legislative branch, however.

It is just not clear if he has the 2/3 support to amend the constitution, though.

7) A Canal Street Neighbor-hood may have died in vain.

The recent shortfall in the state budget came with it an admission that the $120 million extra needed to finish the University Medical Center on Tulane Avenue might not be found. That would leave a wasteland on Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street, and mean the dozens of residents chased from their homes losing their 19th-century neighborhood for no reason.

It was the fine print in the latest round of healthcare and higher ed cuts, brought about by the $165 million shortfall announced last week. The news comes on top of the revelation that of the 80 shotgun double historic homes that were moved, and supposed to be saved, only less than 30 survive unscathed. And, many became uninhabitable because the city government funding mechanisms that promised to pay for their relocation to NORA-owned properties stopped payment as the homes roofs were scheduled to be reattached. The 19th-century shot­guns’ innards rotted from the elements.

8) For the first time, an elected official seriously challenged rolling forward milliages once they have been rolled back.

This has been a means for municipal and parish politicians to enact stealth property tax increases in recent years without a vote of the public.

In negotiations over the city budget this year, though, New Orleans City Council President Stacy Head warned that the city was to reap an illegal property tax windfall, and she urged her fellow council members to voluntarily forgo it.

She was out-voted, and so the city will enjoy $9.5 million in additional property tax revenue thanks to a citywide reassessment that Assessor Erroll Williams began last year per a constitutional requirement that such assessments occur at least once every four years.

The Louisiana Constitution also provides a specific protocol for municipalities that want to collect on any resulting increase in property values. That is, the City Council must vote with two-thirds approval not to adjust the millage rate, thereby increasing revenue. Such a vote can occur only after a public hearing that is advertised 30 days in advance.

Neither a hearing nor a vote occurred before the mayor proposed his 2013 budget with the new revenue. Nor was any effort made for the public to be allowed to vote on whether the higher revenues made from maintaining the original milliage rate of properties with more taxable value—should be put before the voters.

Head’s vocal stand, however, means that the issue will grow larger in public debate in the coming election cycles.

9) Louisiana’s Pension Liabilities are Hurtling the State Towards Bankruptcy

As LSU-S Political Science Professor Dr. Jeff Sadow noted to the Weekly, “A new report highlight[s] the precarious state of a Louisiana pension system, in this case the state’s largest Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

And while it’s never too often to be told that TRSL has astronomically-high unfunded accrued liabilities – at the recent $10.8 billion this will cost every Louisiana resident nearly $2,400 and that mark makes the entirely unrealistic assumption that the UAL will go no higher—it’s another matter whether the state will do anything meaningful about this very soon, if ever.

“That Louisiana ranks 11th-worst-funded in dollar terms, 11th-worst in per capita terms, and fifth-worst in funded ratio, and that given the constitutional imperative that the unfunded status of this and all statewide systems must end by 2029 it means—again, making the entirely unrealistic assumption that the UAL will go no higher—an average annual cost of $636 million extra to the state, you would think there might be some policy-maker urgency to address the conditions creating over half of the state’s entire UAL, if not all of it.

“Think again. Last year, exactly nothing was done about this except for the relatively small portion of TRSL that constitutes coverage of university instructors, where beginning July 1 new hires go into a cash balance program (already some higher education employees can participate in a related defined contribution program). This only prevents future hires from adding to the UAL and does not address the current crisis.”

10) Jim Letten’s Resigns

The once-hailed U.S. Attorney gave up his job last week amidst charges of prosecutorial misconduct by his staff. Almost immediately, the latest politician target of his office, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard called for the US Attorney’s office to be dismissed from prosecuting his public corruption case due to the ongoing investigation.

Letten gained an “Untouchable” reputation of cleaning up Louisi­ana politicians. The not so anonymous blogging of Sal Perri­conne and the subsequent botched investigation threatens to undermine the several recent convictions of once powerful local politicians turned bad.

Even more critically, Letten’s inglorious resignation may have helped harm the renewed bit of faith that locals had raised some hope in local hearts that our politics could be clean and effective.

This article was originally published in the December 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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