Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Difference of opinion

Funny how different people can watch the same events and come to such different conclusions: Yesterday's Times Pic editorial on the special legislative session. Today's Times Pic report on the special legislative session. Today's Shreveport Times on the special legislative session. John Maginnis on the special legislative session. My column on the special legislative session:

Is it possible for a state to be in denial? Louisiana sure makes it look that way. It took almost two months to create and populate the Louisiana Recovery Authority – a board the Baton Rouge Advocate derided as “another advisory committee.” The committee approach has been tried and found lacking on a variety of issues critical to the state in recent years. What led the administration to roll it out again? It suggests denial about the need for decisive leadership in the state’s continuing time of crisis. The governor says, "I can't imagine how a state could help itself more than we're helping ourselves." But as one commentator noted, the “savings” heralded by the governor and state legislature during the special session amounted to less than half of the total budget increase between the last regular session and the one preceding it. Not refilling vacant state jobs as a cost-saving measure is a start, but it isn’t much of a disaster-driven recovery plan. It suggests denial about the magnitude of Louisiana’s addiction to state spending as lubricant for the state’s political machine. Before Katrina, a member of the state’s congressional delegation was under investigation by the FBI. Then a parish-level official was caught in an FBI sting. Meanwhile, Louisiana hasn’t complied with Congressional requests for documentation of the state response to Katrina. But that hasn’t stopped a state from requesting $250 billion in federal monies while at the same time complaining about expectations for repayment of that money. This suggests denial about the impact of Louisiana’s track record on the state’s efforts to earn post-hurricane sympathy and dollars. As the special legislative session was about to start two weeks ago, the Times Picayune ran an editorial saying “Our state’s elected leaders need to show, in word and deed, that they understand the scale of the state’s current plight – and will make the tough choices necessary to get out of it.” But granting immunity to political interests and protecting sources of legislator income from public disclosure suggest something other than an understanding of the state’s plight. With the long overdue special session now over, the results suggest continued denial. To quote Mark Twain’s famous line, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Denial is alive and well in Louisiana, from Shreveport to Baton Rouge, from Lake Charles to Monroe. Denial helps disguise the need for an overhaul of the state’s political system. Denial provides cover to those who fear the inevitable restructuring of state funding priorities. Denial allows complaints about failures at the federal level without acknowledging failures closer to home. Denial permits meaningless quips like “watch my results” in response to observations about serious leadership shortcomings. Louisiana can no longer afford its old political system and the rest of the country knows it. But until Louisiana faces that reality with leadership ready to tackle it, no real recovery can begin. Everything else is just a continued denial of reality.