Hurricane Katrina has forced us all to rethink everything we thought we knew before Aug. 29. It should have forced our politicians to do likewise. Some now get it; some still don't. As a result, Louisiana limped to a "win" in the special legislative session that ended last Tuesday by the equivalent of a football game that ends with a score of 2-0 -- a safety being the only score. At the end of the day, too many folks were just playing defense.
In fairness, there were flashes of offensive brilliance here and there, such as Sen. Walter Boasso's bill to consolidate the levee boards in southeast Louisiana. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives' decision to kill Boasso's bill signals that petty parochial politics still trump the greater good in Louisiana. Which means we as a state are still not ready for prime time -- or a congressional bailout.
So, without further ado, let's consider ...
1. The Republican Caucus -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco started out wanting to do "Katrina Lite" this session (dealing more with technical rather than substantive matters), but the GOP forced her to deal with bigger issues, such as deep budget cuts. By refusing to go along with her proposal to borrow up to $1 billion and by forcing her to broaden the special session's call so that individual lawmakers could file far-reaching reform bills, the Republicans (who now hold enough seats in both houses to block any measure that needs a two-thirds vote) established themselves as the alpha males of the Legislature. The proof of that: three Democratic lawmakers switched to the GOP during the session. If that trend continues, the GOP will capture the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 2007 statewide elections.
2. Business Interests -- The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has to be pleased with the special session. Lawmakers cut the current-year operating budget by $600 million and gave businesses major tax cuts as well. It was the right thing to do, of course, but it's not characteristic of Louisiana to do it.
3. Gov. Kathleen Blanco -- She didn't aim very high, but she hit just about every target that she shot at. Probably her biggest win was the bill to take over under-performing New Orleans public schools. She also managed to push through some items that were forced on her -- such as budget cuts. In the long run, she gravitated away from her base among black lawmakers and cozied up to business and GOP interests. It will get her through the next few sessions, but it won't get her re-elected.
4. "The Coup" -- A bi-partisan group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, led by Boasso (a St. Bernard Republican), forced Blanco to deal with the more difficult problem of budget cuts, which she had hoped to postpone until January. When the Governess relented, the group had the good sense to tweak down its rhetoric, allowing those lawmakers and Blanco to get along just fine.
5. Homeowners and Rebuilders -- The new statewide building code will give reassurance not only to insurers and contractors, but also to homeowners and businesses that need to know their homes and offices are sound (and insurable). This legislation, another example of Katrina forcing issues on folks, was way past due. Which brings us to ...
1. The Legislative Black Caucus -- Traditionally the sine qua non of Democratic governors, black lawmakers didn't get much at all this session -- not even respect. The budget cuts hurt their pet programs (especially the urban discretionary or "slush" funds), the throughout the session there was a sense that no one (read: Blanco) was even paying attention to them. Sadly, it's probably true. Much of their constituency is gone, so they were considered empty chairs even though their votes in the House and Senate still count.
2. Real Reform -- On the question of local levee boards, the bad guys won, which means the rest of us all are losers. Blanco's new flood-control "superboard" will likely be the state's next paper tiger, much like the higher education superboard. The balkanized, patronage-riddled and corrupt local levee boards will continue to make the real decisions, which is the worst possible signal to send Washington at this time.