Archive for category Louisiana Politics

Louisiana’s Budget — The Norquist Wriggle

| NEW ORLEANS | The Economist

EVEN in a place inured to budget trickery, the stratagem was absurd. Louisiana’s treasurer, John Kennedy, called it “nonsense on a stick”. He was referring to the “tax credit” that would apparently balance Louisiana’s budget for the coming fiscal year, closing a deficit gap of $1.6 billion.

This was the plan. The state’s cigarette tax, the third-lowest in the country, would be raised substantially, with the proceeds going to higher education. But rather than declare it as a tax increase, the state would create a phantom fee of about $1,600 applied to each of its 220,000 university students. The students would not actually pay the fee, because it would come with a matching tax credit. This credit would then be handed over to the universities, which would in turn receive the actual money generated by the cigarette-tax increase and a few other things.

Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, who is expected soon to leap into the crowd of Republican presidential hopefuls, is desperate to be among the fiscally untainted. Since April he has been wrestling with the problem of how to close the budget gap without either raising taxes, which would inflame Mr Norquist, or inflicting further damage on programmes like higher education. Louisiana’s colleges, on his watch, have already sustained some of the deepest cuts in the country.

A simple solution might have been to pare back some of the state’s lucrative and questionable tax breaks for business. But Mr Norquist would frown on that. According to his rules of engagement, any legislative change that results in extra revenue—even eliminating a poorly crafted giveaway—is a tax increase. In February (as furious legislators point out, before he had consulted them), Mr Jindal sought advice privately from the guru himself.

As a result, in came the SAVE Act, an acronym for “Student Assessment for a Valuable Education”. (One legislator moved to amend its title to the DUMB Act, for “Don’t Understand Meaning of Bill”.) Mr Norquist has previously blessed tax increases, provided they are paired with offsetting cuts that make the whole package revenue-neutral. He therefore gave the nod to Louisiana’s contrivance.

Even the legislators who backed the bill cringed at it, and admitted it served only to protect Mr Jindal’s anti-tax credentials. A group of ten Republican legislators, including four who had signed the ATR pledge, added their names to a letter to Mr Norquist written by Joel Robideaux, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Louisiana House. The letter, released to the media, tartly noted that the SAVE Act was a “purely fictional, procedural, phantom, paper tax credit”, and asked Mr Norquist whether he really endorsed it. He replied, the next day, by saying that the SAVE Act was Louisiana’s creation, not his. If the conservatives didn’t want to use that workaround to balance the books, he suggested, they should make cuts elsewhere.

In the end, lawmakers held their noses and voted for a budget that included SAVE, after Mr Jindal made it clear that he would veto the package otherwise. It was quite a spectacle. One of the bill’s chief backers, arguing for its adoption, sold it thus: “Our love for higher education is greater than the embarrassment over the instrument.”

Although Messrs Jindal and Norquist won the battle, it is unclear whether they have won the war. The episode has soured many Louisianian lawmakers on ATR for good. Add in resentment at having to please a Washington power-broker, rather than local constituents, and it seems that Mr Norquist may well have pushed his anti-tax crusade too far.

Landrieu, Mayo and Edwards Stand Little Chance in the Runoff

by Scott McKay via The Hayride

It may seem a victory of sorts for the Louisiana Democrat Party that in the three major races extant in this year’s election cycle they still have three candidates alive in a runoff this morning.

But the Democrats, and their candidates, shouldn’t take much joy in that fact. Mary Landrieu, Edwin Edwards and Jamie Mayo should all concede their races today and move on with their lives.

It’s the intelligent, and merciful, thing to do. Admit defeat and bow out gracefully.

For neither Landrieu, nor Edwards, nor Mayo are their races winnable. The margin of defeat awaiting them in December will be humbling. It will damage the Louisiana Democrat Party for years to come. Now is the time to set pride and vanity aside, and do what’s best for their families, their party and the people of Louisiana.

To all three of you, get out of your races.

Mayo was the sole Democrat running in Louisiana’s 5th District congressional race. The Democrats talked a big game about the get-out-the-vote operation they were going to support him with this year and how that 5th District race was going to be competitive, and even winnable, for them.

Mayo garnered a pitiful 28.22 percent. There was a Green Party candidate running in the race who managed 0.69 percent. The other 71 percent went to the seven Republicans and one Libertarian running in the race. There is no reason to believe Mayo will fare any better in the runoff than he did in the primary. With Ralph Abraham, who as of October 15 had managed to fuel his campaign with just under $500,000, now consolidating the Republican vote behind him a beating of gargantuan proportions is in the offing. Abraham is going to stomp Mayo by at least a two-to-one margin on Dec. 6.

There is no particular purpose in running a month-long campaign destined to be doubled-up by a better-funded opponent more in tune with the wishes of the electorate. Mayo has already run his race and been judged by the voters. In getting out he can spare the voters a month of TV and radio ads and political mailers. What’s more, he can get back to doing the job he already has, that being mayor of Monroe. His constituents would assumedly benefit from having a full-time, engaged chief executive rather than some political-hack Don Quixote perpetuating division among the public.

For Edwards, whom we already predicted would retire from the race, Tuesday night’s results had to be seen as a repudiation. Some 70 percent of the public took his measure as a candidate and found him wanting. That includes Democrats; two minor candidates with D’s next to their names combined for 4.39 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 30.12 percent. With 34.5 percent as the total Democrat vote Tuesday, which is a reasonable expectation as a ceiling for what he can do in a runoff, the electoral shellacking so long due the most venal and corrupt politician in Louisiana political history awaits him in 31 days.

Edwards has faced just such a wrath of the voters before. In 1987, after four years spent presiding over a disastrous state economy, a corrupt and dysfunctional state government and what could very well have been a conviction on public corruption charges Edwards faced very similar numbers to those he faces today. He got out of that race and let Buddy Roemer claim victory as the top vote-getter among four reform-minded gubernatorial candidates. Edwards did manage to re-inflict himself on the voters four years later and won the worst election in Louisiana (if not American) history, but his final term in office led to more managerial dysfunction, economic malaise and his own conviction on racketeering charges.

Such a squalid and dishonorable record as a putative public servant is the rightful source of shame and penitence. Not for Edwards, who before Anthony Weiner came along held the title of America’s most notorious political attention whore. Up until last night this vainglorious old man persisted in bragging he was a presidential pardon away from getting elected governor and that if he could run against Bobby Jindal he would win. Such is his hubris.

In Garret Graves, Edwin Edwards faces the nemesis to that hubris. Graves, who raised well over a million dollars in coming from bureaucratic obscurity to finish with 27 percent of the 65.5 percent non-Democrat share of the vote last night, might well match his primary fundraising figure by Friday. Raising campaign cash to banish Edwin Edwards into political oblivion might well become a national pastime by the end of this week; one can easily imagine Graves’ coffers overflowing with donations from Maine to Hawaii once the national public sees an attractive young Republican reformer and fighter for Louisiana’s coast matched against so embarrassing a figure.

And for the next month, Graves will delight in putting Edwards on trial before a 6th District public which has demonstrated itself to be a jury not of Edwards’ liking. The mailers and TV commercials and radio ads Graves’ campaign team can light off against him will set fire to whatever he thinks is left of his reputation. Graves himself has already offered up Edwards’ marriage to a 30-something trophy wife as an item of fun, referring to his wife Trina as one of his children, and when he does it he always gets a laugh out of the crowd. It’s only going to get worse, and Edwards, who at 86 years old no longer has the energy and drive of his younger years, has nothing left to offer to the voters, his party or his own ego.

And for Landrieu, Tuesday was an ignominious disaster. Her entire election strategy depended on stealing a march to 50 percent plus one last night. Not only didn’t she meet that goal, she wasn’t close. In fact, until the Orleans Parish vote came in toward the end of the vote-counting she was not only behind Bill Cassidy but under 40 percent. Only when the last 120 or so precincts in Orleans bore their usual Democrat fruit did Landrieu manage to barely inch ahead of Cassidy. She managed just 42 percent.

Where is the ceiling for Landrieu in what is sure to be a more Republican electorate in December? Add the other Democrat votes, those for Wayne Ables, Val Senegal and William Waymire, to her total and she’s just above 43 percent – of last night’s electorate.

Mary Landrieu spent (just as of October 15; certainly the true figure is considerably higher) some $13.6 million on this race. To finish with 10 percent less in November of 2014 than she earned in November of 2008.

Despite the ludicrous statements last night about how the runoff is “the race we always wanted” in what should have been her concession speech, Landrieu has no path to victory in 31 days. What she has in front of her is a trail of tears, and a repudiation by the voters which will destroy her family’s supposed electoral strength in this state.

Bill Cassidy nearly beat her outright last night. Cassidy fell just 16,000 votes shy of placing ahead of her. Meanwhile, Cassidy can count on the vast majority of the 202,000 votes Rob Maness amassed last night, and add to his figure the 27,000 votes fellow Republican Thomas Clements and Libertarian Brannon McMorris brought in. As of right now Landrieu is staring a 57-43 tsunami in the face – with the electorate as it was last night.

We know the electorate will not be what it was last night on Dec. 6. We know that it will be more Republican, and whiter. We know that Landrieu’s incomprehensibly irresponsible and stupid remarks about how Louisiana and the rest of the South are racist and sexist will live in infamy for the next 31 days, and that whiter electorate will offer her its wrath next month. And no, she won’t be saved by an influx of Democrat money and union shoe leather; the national Left isn’t riding to her aid. Not when it has been so thoroughly destroyed across the country. There is no rescue, there is no cavalry, there is no salvation.

There is only defeat, and ignominious defeat, at that.

It’s time for Landrieu, and Edwards and Mayo, to have the humility and the intelligence, and the dignity, to spare themselves and their voters the spectacle of the lost cause playing out to its denouement. It’s time for the three of them to concede their races so Louisiana can join the nation in moving on from this year’s election cycle.

Conservatives’ Suicidal Impulses Are Slowing Cassidy Down

by Jeff Sadow via The Hayride

So Rep. Bill Cassidy a quarter-century ago expressed skepticism about the Strategic Defense Initiative and more defense spending in general. That these remarks of the then-Democrat, now leading Republican candidate for the Senate in Louisiana got reported at all underscores a phenomenon about the propensity for Democrats to make themselves into a ring and fire outwards at their political enemies, while Republicans do a 180 and fire at each other.

Since then, Cassidy has become considerably older and wiser, as his lifetime American Conservative Union voting record of nearly 87 attests, higher than the chamber’s GOP member average of around 84. Yet among some conservatives, he still remains suspect with all sorts of convoluted and unconvincing efforts to paint his as the same as the incumbent that he challenges Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, no doubt rooted on by the Landrieu campaign that hopes this results in discouraging enough of the conservative vote to fail to turn out to vote in Cassidy and/or has his campaign waste resources by feeling it must respond to the baseless charge that he is not conservative enough.

Only this past week another presumed answer for the small cabal calling Cassidy impure, state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, passed on a candidacy and then endorsed Cassidy, while new Louisiana resident Rob Maness picked up the first substantial endorsement from conservatives that Cassidy has not gotten, which gives him a chance to pull in third-party spending of about 10 percent of what Cassidy has on hand. And don’t be surprised if it wasn’t Landrieu opposition research that found the 1988 letter to the editor now being publicized.

If so, it’s because Landrieu instinctively understands what David Horowitz recently and brilliantly laid out as to why Democrats can win campaigns despite having a message contrary to the reality majorities perceive, precisely because lberalism is not built on reality but appeals to emotion. Horowitz, who began his political life as a committed Marxist, understands well that the political left is built on faith, not reason, with a true belief that it is on the side of history’s inevitable path, and that apostasy to that faith is a sign of immorality whose adherents must be crushed. This panting need to affiliate behind the use of government to bring this transformation provides exceptional unitary impetus.

By contrast, conservatives don’t see themselves as part of a transformational movement simply because they see government not as something to alter human nature (which is immutable and therefore this attempt brings tyranny), but as a necessary evil to temper the worst aspects of human nature. There’s no call to collective action rallying around faith that dislodges reason and unites as in the case of liberals, but instead engages in critical appraisal of government-as-Prometheus, precisely because when unbound it can produce collective action that threatens freedom. This rejection of sublimation of individuality to pursue the collective in favor of equipping individuals to fight sublimation by the collective makes it naturally harder for conservatives to pursue a unified agenda and arouses suspicions that real or imagined “backsliders” already have submitted to sublimation.

Thus, the left tries to exploit these divisions for its own gain, and some are more than willing to be the useful idiots being played. There’s nothing wrong when there is healthy debate and dissent within the right, because this is the strength of conservatism in America in that its ideas are tested and proven through this process, whereas the left hangs on to its bromides regardless of the facts and logic that expose their invalidity, with its preferred method of debate being to shout down opponents by indulging in name-calling, shifting to non sequiturs, and proclaiming inconvenient truths as illegitimate. But at the same time, among Republicans creation of false controversies (egged on by Democrats) and elevating trivial differences over issues into schismatic ruptures only plays into Democrats’ hands.

The Maness campaign is a classic example of this tendency, highlighting a few narrow differences between him and Cassidy, then using this as the basis to declare Cassidy and Landrieu as largely indistinguishable. No serious or studied observer would buy this. In this particular race, with credibility one can campaign on conservative credentials, ability to influence policy, electability, and candidate image, but there’s none with proclaiming Cassidy a RINO.

But the likes of Maness continue to peddle this, Landrieu operatives amplify it, and the media is more than happy to report on it to gain audiences and in the minds of many within it to facilitate liberalism. So do not expect the “challenger to the right of Cassidy” narrative to go away from months to come, because it serves the interests of both certain conservatives and liberals.

Is Holder Starting To Realize What A Mess The Voucher Suit Is?

By Scott McKay via The Hayride

Yesterday, an announcement by the Department of Justice appeared to signal “an end” to its lawsuit against the state of Louisiana over the desegregation implications of the latter’s school voucher program. This item appeared at the Washington Post’s site

Under the supervision of a federal court, Louisiana has agreed to supply the Justice Department with data about its controversial school voucher program and to analyze whether the vouchers are re-segregating schools that are under federal orders to achieve a balance between white and black students.

In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik called the agreement a “significant breakthrough” in the standoff between Louisiana and the Justice Department over the voucher program.

Except the Jindal administration seized upon the DOJ’s media initiative and hammered it mercilessly…

Governor Bobby Jindal blasted the U.S. Department of Justice’s P.R. stunt today when the department sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner citing a legal motion that attempts to rebrand the Obama Administration’s legal challenge to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, but continues to seek to impede the scholarship program.

Governor Jindal said that despite the Obama Administration’s claims today that it is backing down from their opposition to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, the U.S. Department of Justice has not with withdrawn its request for an injunction prohibiting the Louisiana Scholarship Program from granting scholarships for next school year unless a federal court first approves parents’ decisions about where they want to send their children to school.

Governor Jindal said, “The Obama Administration’s latest maneuver is nothing more than a P.R. stunt. While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration’s real motive still stands – forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school.

“The Obama Administration’s letter is disingenuous. The administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality, the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist yet. And they know it.

“The federal government is attempting to retreat in name only, but is not backing off its attack on Louisiana parents. The Obama Administration is doubling down on its belief that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. know better than Louisiana parents.

“The only real retreat is to drop the lawsuit entirely and move on from this backwards lawsuit that is trying to deny equal opportunity for Louisiana children.”

Jindal’s rhetoric was perhaps needlessly combative, but it’s clear that DOJ has gone from declaring the voucher program violative of desegregation orders and seeking an injunction stopping its implementation in 22 parishes for the next academic year to seeking…something else. Exactly what that is, at this point, isn’t clear.

The letter to Boehner came in response to a letter the Speaker had sent to Holder suggesting that he drop the suit. The Baton Rouge Advocate covers what was in DOJ’s response…

In its letter Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department reiterated it is not opposing the voucher program and is only trying to determine if desegregation orders apply to the program and whether the vouchers are harming desegregation efforts.

“To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana’s school voucher program nor seeking to revoke any vouchers from any students,” the letter stated. “When properly run, state and local voucher programs need not conflict with legal requirements to desegregate schools.”

The letter also added to Boehner and others that, “You should be aware that it is not clear that all of the new schools for which children are receiving vouchers in Louisiana provide opportunities that are better than or even equal to those in their old schools.”

The Justice letter specifically noted the case of New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish that initially had about 300 vouchers approved — ultimately receiving about 100 — and the school had no teachers or classrooms and only showed students educational videos.

The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders.

In court papers, the department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to almost 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.

The department cited the example of an elementary school losing five white students because of the voucher program, reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.

In another example, the lawsuit said a majority-white school in a majority-black district lost six black students because of vouchers, reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school.

What’s at stake here, clearly, is DOJ’s interest in desegregation orders which have no relevance in the 21st century in Louisiana. The fact is that most of the 22 parishes under desegregation orders are no less segregated now than they were when those orders were installed – not because of any racist motive by school boards or politicians, but because the desegregation orders have generally so impeded the proper function of those school systems that anyone who could escape the end product of those systems by fleeing to other systems or private schools, leaving the poor to wallow in what remains.

Which the voucher program seeks to address for those parents and children who want it.

It’s an absurd situation, and the optics of it – the DOJ is suing to keep mostly poor black kids trapped in failed public schools, in places where failed public schools are largely the product of desegregation orders the DOJ helped create, because DOJ thinks the desegregation orders are more important than the freedom to attend the school you think best for you and your child – couldn’t be worse.

To Jindal’s credit, he has worked the politics of the lawsuit to his and Louisiana’s advantage by going on every TV show and op-ed page he can in order to slam the Justice Department. John Maginnis notes, though with a too-dismissive take on the import of the voucher system, the benefit the governor has derived from the suit…

Gov. Bobby Jindal may call the lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s administration against the state’s voucher program “cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more,” but he’s got to love the big guy for it. Had the U.S. Justice Department not intervened, Jindal’s already-embattled scholarship program may have shriveled and faded in years to come, under funding pressure from the Legislature and legal challenges from school boards and teacher unions. Instead, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder snatched it from oblivion with the high-profile lawsuit that the governor is turning into a higher-profile political issue.

That Maginnis piece was written even before the DOJ’s strange pivot to an information-gathering posture. Now it looks obvious that, having created a firestorm on its own estate, Holder and his goons are seeking a way out.

They’ll never admit it, of course, but it’s hard to see the recent developments in the case any other way.

And the lesson for states like Louisiana who find themselves beset by thuggish legal actions from DOJ aimed at derailing policies the Obama administration doesn’t favor is to fight DOJ tooth and nail, and make the biggest political stink possible over the suits.

In Louisiana’s case, the fight could produce real benefits – namely, that there is a real chance the voucher suit could result in a lifting of some or all of the desegregation orders. Their effects at this point are as absurd as the DOJ’s suit to enforce them against voucher parents.

 

Obama’s DOJ Destroys all Semblance of Decency with Attack on Louisiana’s Voucher Program

The judicial assault by President Obama’s Justice Department on Louisiana’s school voucher initiative makes me shake with anger and sick with sadness at the Administration’s absurd contention that the program violates decades-old desegregation plans.

As Clint Bolick writes in his Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, “The statewide program provides tuition vouchers to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line whose children otherwise would attend public schools that the state has graded C, D or F. This year, roughly 8,000 children are using vouchers to attend private schools. Among those, 91% are minority and 86% would have attended public schools with D or F grades.”

Ninety-one percent are minority — that statistic bears repeating because by definition, the federal desegregation programs of the ’70s and ’80s were expressly designed to integrate minorities and whites in public schools. What possible difference could it make if the Louisiana program — or any other state’s program for that matter — accomplishes the same goal utilizing private, parochial, or charter schools?

Teachers unions and liberal lawmakers would say the answer is rooted in money. If public money leaves a public school, then teachers will have fewer resources and the schools will surely fail. Um, hello? The schools were already failing! That’s the very reason the voucher program was created.

Justice Department regulators say the answer is the resulting disproportionate ratio in those public schools as defined in the various desegregation decrees. What a bunch of malarkey.

The real answer is politics. Justice’s move isn’t based on any education goal or principle; instead the Department’s liberal lawyers are attempting to inject race into Louisiana’s program for the express purpose of scoring a political victory over a Republican governor who garnered bipartisan legislative support to take on the failing public school morass and provide opportunity for all of Louisiana’s children, regardless of their race or socio-economic status.

Let’s face it: Louisiana’s school-age children need any and all options available, given the deplorable condition of the state’s public education system. In 2012, 464 schools received a D or F grade by the Louisiana Department of Education. The children in those schools deserve the chance to attend better programs.

Ironically, as Mr. Bolick points out, desegregation and school choice should have the same goal. “Properly understood, desegregation and school choice share a common aim: educational opportunity. In its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court made that paramount goal clear, recognizing ‘it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.'”

Despite these words of wisdom from the high court, the verdict is clear — the liberals prefer racial ratios over educational opportunity for the very children they purport to champion.

#numbersoverknowledge
#decreesoverdiplomas
#lawyersoverlearning

Republican Lawmakers Retaliate Against Heritage Foundation

Scalise, RSC Take a Big Stand
by Tim Alberta, National Journal

Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, conservative outside groups have executed a relentless pressure campaign aimed at pushing the House majority further toward the base, and impressing upon lawmakers the risks of voting against the recommendation of these right-wing rainmakers.

But after a summertime spat over agriculture policy, GOP lawmakers decided to push back.

According to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members—has barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol. The conservative think tank has been a presence at RSC meetings for decades and enjoys a close working relationship with the committee and its members. But that relationship is now stretched thin, sources say, due to a series of policy disputes that culminated with a blowup over last month’s vote on the the farm bill.

RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., told Heritage officials of his decision last month.

“The Heritage Foundation and the RSC have a longstanding relationship in developing and promoting conservative solutions to the problems facing our nation, and we are proud to continue that tradition to this day through regular joint events and briefings,” said Stephen Bell, spokesman for Scalise and the RSC.

Still, the move to effectively kick Heritage out of the weekly RSC meeting represents “a seismic shift” in the relationship between the two institutions, according to one high-ranking Capitol Hill aide.

The acrimony can be traced to a pair of summer showdowns over agriculture policy.

In June, as the House prepared to vote on an extension of the farm bill—an enormous legislative package that governs everything from crop subsidies to food-stamp policy—conservative lawmakers and outside groups rallied in opposition. Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the right-wing think tank, called for the bill to be split into two pieces—one dealing specifically with agriculture policy (called a “farm-only bill”) and another legislating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food-stamp program known as SNAP.

Members of the RSC agreed. In fact, Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana sponsored an amendment that would accomplish exactly what Heritage Action and other outside groups were advocating: splitting the farm bill. Stutzman’s amendment failed, however, and Heritage Action issued a key vote alert warning lawmakers to vote “no” on the farm bill. (If they voted “yes,” members faced consequences, anything from a demerit on their Heritage Action “scorecard” to a 30-second radio ad launched back in their districts.)

The vast majority of GOP lawmakers, including many conservatives from rural districts, ignored the outcry from the right and voted for the bill. But in the end, 62 House Republicans sided with Heritage Action, enough to help Democrats defeat a bill that they denounced for its steep cuts to safety-net programs.

For Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had publicly endorsed the farm bill, the defeat was a black eye. Within hours, members of his leadership team were conferring with leading RSC members who had opposed the legislation, and soliciting suggestions on how to pass a revised farm bill. Their response: Split the agriculture policy into a separate bill—just as the outside groups have been advocating—and we’ll vote yes.

Boehner and his team eventually agreed, and three weeks later a farm-only bill came to the House floor. Of the 62 Republicans who voted against the first farm bill, 48 supported this second iteration, which passed by a narrow margin. Leadership had its farm bill victory, and RSC members congratulated each other on achieving an ideological goal that had been discussed for decades: separating agriculture policy from food stamps.

But not all conservatives were celebrating. The new farm bill had passed over the objections of Heritage Action, which, to the astonishment of some RSC members, had issued another alert, telling conservatives to vote against the split bill—despite having spent years agitating for exactly that. In its warning, Heritage Action said the revised legislation “would make permanent farm policies—like the sugar program—that harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”

MOVING GOALPOSTS

To some conservative members, this was Heritage Action moving the goalposts, plain and simple. And they were furious about it. Members mumbled to each other about how it had become impossible to please these powerful outside groups, which are known to raise more money off Democratic victories than Republican ones. There was, as one Hill aide put it, “enormous discontent” among conservative members who were tired of feeling threatened by an outside group that existed as a parasite living off the Republican members of Congress.

That’s when Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., decided to do something about it. An ambitious conservative elected in the tea-party wave of 2010, Mulvaney was perfectly positioned to spearhead an offensive aimed at undermining the influence of these outside groups. At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Heritage Action named Mulvaney one of its “sentinels” for his ultraconservative voting record, which had earned him a 95 percent rating on the organization’s scorecard for the 112th Congress.

Now, some six months later, Mulvaney was determined to send a message to Heritage Action. “I wanted to take them to task for their inconsistency,” Mulvaney recalls. “I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before.”

(Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler said Mulvaney was well aware that they would reject any farm bill that did not make substantial reforms to crop subsidies and other programs, and therefore should not have been surprised by their opposition.)

To do this, Mulvaney needed strength in numbers. A single conservative lawmaker rebuking a like-minded outside group wouldn’t mean much, he decided, but a posse of tea-party types criticizing the very organization that has been lauding their defense of liberty—now that would grab Washington’s attention.

Mulvaney’s idea was to pen a joint op-ed from conservative lawmakers, published in The Wall Street Journal, slapping the wrist of Heritage Action. Mulvaney began drafting a list of recruits that met specific criteria: They had voted against the first farm bill; they had voted for the second farm bill; and they had a strong scorecard rating with Heritage Action.

Mulvaney reached out to roughly two dozen colleagues who fit the bill. His star recruit, sources say, was Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, a freshman tea-party favorite who enjoys a 95 percent rating from Heritage Action—among the highest marks in the House. Bridenstine acknowledged that he agreed to join Mulvaney, but downplayed his displeasure with any outside group. “The only reason I was interested in the op-ed was to explain my votes—why I voted against the first farm bill and for the second farm bill,” Bridenstine said. “It was not about going on the offensive against Heritage Action, because I think that would be very counterproductive.”

BAD BLOOD

According to Mulvaney, “between six and 10” of the lawmakers he contacted agreed to join him. They began preparing their WSJ piece, and, according to sources, had reached an agreement with the newspaper on when to run it. As they were putting on the finishing touches, however, Mulvaney said he received an e-mail from one Heritage official. They knew what the members were up to, the official said, and asked them not to follow through. “We get the point,” the e-mail read.

After several days of deliberation, Mulvaney and his crew decided to stand down. “There was frustration there,” Bridenstine recalls, speaking of other members involved. “But ultimately we made a decision that creating any kind of daylight between them and us was not really in our best interest. So we decided not to do the op-ed.”

Days later, The Wall Street Journal published a story in its print edition—”Think Tank Becomes a Handful for GOP”—detailing the displeasure GOP lawmakers felt with Heritage Action. The first quote of the story belongs to Mulvaney. “We went into battle thinking they were on our side, and we find out they’re shooting at us,” he said of Heritage Action’s opposition to the revised farm bill, which he said “undermines the credibility of the organization.”

The story spawned a new wave of murmurings within the conservative community on Capitol Hill, where RSC members and their staffers had already begun hearing rumors of a coordinated reprimand of Heritage Action.

That’s when Scalise stepped in. The RSC chairman was among the members Mulvaney had recruited for the op-ed, but had not committed to joining. Now, with the WSJ story circulating and members growing more vocal in their displeasure with Heritage Action—one staffer described it as “an insurrection” brewing within the RSC—Scalise knew something had to be done.

After consulting with senior members of the RSC, Scalise reached a decision: Heritage employees would no longer be welcome to attend RSC meetings.

“Scalise was working on a way to quell the rebellion, to let members know he was handling it,” said one source, who is not affiliated with Scalise or the RSC. After the farm-bill incident, the source said, “There was a lot of mistrust in that RSC meeting room.”

One GOP lawmaker familiar with Scalise’s decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that the RSC chairman had long been considering the Heritage ouster, and insisted that the timing of Scalise’s decision was “entirely coincidental.” Other sources disputed that assertion, arguing that the farm bill episode was certainly the galvanizing incident that caused Heritage to be removed—regardless of how long Scalise had been entertaining the idea.

Whatever the cause, many conservative Hill aides say the move was long overdue, arguing that if the RSC really is a “member-driven organization” it should not allow outside forces to influence its internal deliberations. “These are closed meetings for a reason,” one aide said. “It’s one member, and one staffer allowed per member. No press. No guests. So why are they (Heritage) different?”

Heritage officials would not comment on their removal from RSC meetings. “Since its founding, the Heritage Foundation has maintained a strong relationship with the Republican Study Committee, one that continues to this day,” said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications for the Heritage Foundation.

As for the Action side, Holler said simply, “Heritage Action does not comment on member meetings.”

PRIVILEGED STATUS

Heritage was allowed unique access because of its historical bond with the RSC.

The two groups were formed in the same year by some of the same people, and worked side-by-side for decades focusing on policy research rather than political strategy. That changed in 2010, when Republicans won back the House and the Heritage Foundation spawned Heritage Action.

There were promises of legal separation between the two entities, of course, but Republicans had little doubt that the line would eventually blur between policy shop and political outfit. And in the 113th Congress, according to Hill aides, the “wall” that Heritage employees refer to—separating the Action side from the Foundation side—has come crashing down.

This time frame coincides with the arrival of former Sen. Jim DeMint, who in January resigned his seat to take over as president of the Heritage Foundation.

DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund had previously raised huge sums of money by picking on establishment Republicans, many of whom had conservative voting records. This relentless pursuit of ideological purity, financed by fat checks from conservative donors, alienated lawmakers from DeMint and his organization.

With DeMint now at the reins of Heritage, Republicans on Capitol Hill see that pattern repeating itself.

(Ironically, it was DeMint’s predecessor, Ed Feulner, who in 1973 was instrumental in establishing both the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee. A former House aide, Feulner was a founding father to both organizations. That shared ancestry was critical to maintaining the powerful coalition between Heritage and the RSC for the past 40 years. Now, mere months after Feulner relinquished power at Heritage, the organization has been dismissed from the RSC meetings it has attended for decades.)

If nothing else, the schism is symbolic, representing an emerging divide between some conservatives in Congress who argue for amassing small policy victories, and the conservative outside groups that will settle for nothing less than outright ideological purity.

As one conservative House aide put it, “We can’t score touchdowns on every play; our job is to put points on the board. But all they want us to do is throw Hail Marys.”

That sentiment echoes the frustration of some members, but not all of them. There were 12 Republicans who voted against both farm bills, and additionally, some members, such as Bridenstine, who say they still trust the Heritage brand—despite being on the opposing side of the farm-bill fight.

“I think they’re a great group; I think they help us as legislators make good decisions,” Bridenstine said. “I don’t have any problem with what Heritage Action is doing.”

It’s unclear whether this breach in relations will extend beyond Heritage’s removal from the RSC meetings. The two entities have long worked closely together on legislative research and event planning, and Heritage pays for a variety of junkets enjoyed by RSC members. (For example, the three-day RSC retreat back in February was financed entirely by Heritage.) Should a more lasting schism emerge between the two, the RSC could be forced to look elsewhere for financial support for some of its traditional endeavors.

So far there is no sign of escalation to that effect. In fact, according to paperwork filed with the House Ethics Committee, Heritage recently paid for RSC Executive Director Paul Teller to attend a one-day trip—along with dozens of other conservative House aides—to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg.

The Jedi Council’s Debt-Ceiling Plan

They got the sequencing they wanted; now we’ll see if they can get the budget reforms through.

By Jonathan Strong, National Review

Every week on Representative Steve Scalise’s calendar, there’s a meeting with an unusual name: “Jedi Council.” Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), is the newest member of a group of House Republicans who are helping to craft the GOP’s strategy on budget fights.

About two-and-a-half years ago, representatives Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price, and Jim Jordan began meeting once a week when Congress was in session, usually in Hensarling’s Capitol office — he was then No. 4 in the House leadership — and usually first thing in the morning. When Scalise was elected RSC chairman in November, they asked him to join the Jedi Council.

This was right after Obama’s reelection, and in the following weeks the GOP conference nearly collapsed entirely, as Democrats handed Republicans their hats in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Looking ahead to the debt-ceiling increase, the Jedi Council worried that taking on Obama at the apex of his political power could end in disaster.

“There was a feeling from the five of them that if they had a debt-limit fight in February, it was inevitable that they were going to lose,” says a prominent conservative with knowledge of their deliberations.

The group formed a plan to “re-sequence” the budget fights to give the GOP more leverage. The idea was to punt on the debt ceiling for a while, let the automatic sequester cuts go into effect, pass the GOP’s budget, and then gear up for a big debt-ceiling brawl in the summer.

On the morning of the last day of the GOP’s January retreat in Williamsburg, Va., the Jedi Council met with Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House leadership and struck a deal. The agreement, which rank-and-file Republicans reverently describe as the “Williamsburg Accord,” began with re-sequencing: In exchange for allowing a short-term debt-ceiling increase, House Republicans would make the modest demand that the Senate pass a budget for the first time in four years.

But the accord also included a promise from leadership to pass a budget that would come into balance within ten years, and to make enacting the reforms in that budget a goal of the debt-ceiling fight — priorities that had just been laid out in an open letter 40 conservative leaders had sent to House leadership. What has not been understood is that the Williamsburg Accord was as much an agreement between the Jedi Council and Boehner as it was between the Jedi Council and the conservative movement.

On January 15, the day before the Williamsburg retreat, Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, and Chris Chocola, a former congressman and now president of the Club for Growth, attended the Jedi Council’s weekly meeting on behalf of outside conservative groups. (Needham was physically present; Chocola was listening on speakerphone.) Ryan did most of the talking, explaining how starting a debt-ceiling fight in February would be suicide. Needham and Chocola weren’t thrilled, but they were willing to trust him. They wanted a push to balance the budget in ten years. The Jedi Council agreed, and, with the blessing of the outside groups, took the proposal to Boehner.

According to Wookieepedia, an online encyclopedia of the mythology of the Star Wars films, the Jedi Council is “a group of twelve wise and powerful Jedi Masters who were elected to guide the Order” — the Order being, of course, the Jedi Order, an “ancient monastic peacekeeping organization unified by its belief [in] and observance of the Force.” If the fact that the five lawmakers named their group after a piece of Star Wars trivia doesn’t convince you they are nerds, you may be interested to learn that they once posed for a photograph wielding toy lightsabers. (The author’s efforts to obtain this image, which is in the possession of petrified Jordan aides, were unsuccessful — for now.)

The House’s Jedi Council is unusually secretive. No aides are permitted to attend their meetings. At their June 13 meeting, they decided not to give interviews about the group, amid concerns that doing so could interfere with delicate negotiations, after which they did not provide any assistance for this article. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the topic at all. In its first two years, almost no one knew the group existed, and nobody could identify anything it had done. In the last Congress, both Hensarling and Price were part of the House leadership team, and Jordan was RSC chairman; their formal positions of power may have helped obscure any coordination among them.

This Congress, Price and Hensarling are out of the leadership team. Price lost a bid for conference chairman to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was backed by leadership, and Hensarling became chairman of the financial-services committee. At one point, Boehner offered Price a largely ceremonial spot at the leadership table if he would drop his candidacy and pledge not to publicly break with Boehner for two years. Price declined.

Price’s ambition in particular provokes a great deal of suspicion from Boehner and leadership. The two essentially have no relationship, sources close to both men say, and there are perceptions of a broader distrust between the speaker and the Council. Some leadership aides ask whether the Jedi Council is designing the next debt-ceiling fight to culminate in a challenge to Boehner’s speakership; one rank-and-file House member told me in March that the Jedi Council pitched re-sequencing to him as a way of giving Boehner the rope he needed to hang himself. A Jedi Council member told me — before the Council’s decision not to speak to National Review Online — that this isn’t their plan, and several knowledgeable sources agreed that a coup doesn’t sound like them. (For one thing, trying to take out Boehner in the middle of a Congress could have adverse effects on the 2014 elections.)

As for the other members of the Council, Ryan has forged a closer relationship with Boehner since being picked for the Romney presidential ticket. Scalise and Jordan retain good working relationships with the leadership, but Hensarling, out of leadership, has drifted away.

Each of the five members of the Jedi Council brings a different strength and reaches a different part of the GOP conference, supporters say. Ryan has star power and deep credibility on budget issues. Hensarling is the elder statesman of the RSC, a longstanding conservative House caucus. Price, a physician, has expertise on health care. Jordan enjoys friendships with some of the most stubborn conservative members of the GOP conference. Scalise, elected in 2008, is coming into his own and has relationships with some cliques that the others know less well.

In the view of some conservative groups, the Williamsburg Accord has been a mixed bag, and Ryan in particular is in danger of losing his sheen because of his role, even if few observers realize it. Some prominent conservatives were shocked, for example, to learn that the Ryan budget achieves balance in ten years in part because it assumes that tax revenues will remain at their current level, 19 percent of GDP, which includes the fiscal-cliff and Obamacare tax increases. Officially, this revenue level will be achieved by a reformed tax system with lower rates and the resultant economic growth. But the assumed tax revenues as a percentage of GDP are higher than their historic average, which the outside groups find problematic. Both Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have nonetheless stayed neutral on the proposal, avoiding a fight and giving Ryan more room to maneuver.

House conservatives are also concerned that the improving economy has made it possible to postpone the debt-ceiling fight again and again: As more tax revenue comes in, the Treasury Department can fund the government longer with its existing borrowing authority. Ryan said in a recent radio interview that debt-ceiling D-Day will now come in November, much later than the summer battle originally anticipated.

The building angst about the strategy is partly why Senate conservatives, led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, began calling for using the upcoming continuing-resolution (CR) bill to defund Obamacare, a departure from the path laid out at Williamsburg. Cruz in particular has been quite successful at driving the debate in the media, even while the Jedi Council and other House Republicans have rejected his approach.

Boehner announced yesterday during a conference call with rank-and-file members that he will push for a short-term CR — a strong hint that a do-or-die Obamacare fight isn’t in the mix during the CR debate. Instead, leadership will follow the original plan to force a debt-ceiling brawl. That plan, however, prompts questions about the fine print of the Williamsburg Accord — what, that is, the brawl should be about. A source familiar with the deal recently told me, “The agreement was that it would include cuts or reforms that put us ‘on the path to balance’ in ten years. The bill wouldn’t necessarily have to achieve balance in ten years all by itself.”

What does putting the budget on a “path to balance” mean? “You can drive a truck through that loophole,” says one senior GOP aide. Scalise has talked about trading parts of the Ryan budget for increases in the debt ceiling — small tax and spending reforms for small debt-ceiling increases, and big reforms for bigger increases. Boehner would negotiate the details with President Obama, in theory producing some middle-ground deal.

How closely will House leaders stick to the Williamsburg Accord once tensions rise and the debt ceiling approaches? In public remarks, Boehner has said several different things, including promising a debt-ceiling increase only in return for the same amount in cuts and saying that “our goal here is to get this country on a path to balance the budget over ten years.” A spokesman clarified to NRO that no decisions have been made.

House majority leader Eric Cantor says he is on board with tying the debt-ceiling increase to reforms that balance the budget in ten years, calling such an approach “sensible.” He adds, underscoring his desire for urgent reform, “We have a demographic reality of 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and a programmatic reality of Medicare being almost 50 percent underfunded.”

Although Boehner and Cantor will be making the final decisions about the debt-ceiling fight, it’s Ryan for whom the expectations are high. “I think the whole episode puts a lot of burden on Ryan — and the rest of the gang, but especially Paul, who got the exact sequencing he wanted to have,” Needham says.

It’s not quite fate of the universe, but when the debt-ceiling fight arrives this fall, much will be riding on the wisdom of Ryan and his allies.

State Senator Elbert Guillory Switches to the Republican Party…

I’ve been amazed (although I shouldn’t be) at the vitriolic comments associated with Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory’s switch to the Republican Party. To emphasize the switch Senator Guillory created a four and a half minute video for YouTube explaining his change. Take a look at the video.

He’s African American and unfortunately, therefore all the reaction is centered on race. It is probable that if a white person made the same comments, he or she would be branded a racist, but that doesn’t mean Guillory’s comments aren’t true.

If one cuts through the speech to the core message, it’s simple:

“At the heart of liberalism is the idea that only a great and powerful and big government can be the benefactor of social justice for all Americans.”

“The idea that blacks, or anyone for that matter, needs the government to get ahead in life is despicable.”

“And even more important, this idea (of big government) is a failure. Our communities are just as poor as they have always been. Our schools continue to fail children.”

How can one not be inspired?

The Most Contested Turf in Congress Isn’t Where You Think

The Congressional Baseball Game stands as a key battleground for members of Congress each year. The game dates to the early 1900s and includes full-on, intense practices for two or three months in advance of the contest. Sponsored by the Roll Call Newspaper and many other organizations, the game raises money for various not-for-profits.

The past couple of contests have prominently featured two Louisiana Congressmen — Steve Scalise for the Republicans and Cedric Richmond for the Democrats. Congressman Richmond, after only two years playing, has been described as perhaps the best player to ever play in this storied game. He was the starting pitcher in 2011 and 2012, pitching complete games and striking out a total of 29 hitters in those Democratic victories. However, Congressman Scalise points out he is one of the few Republicans to get a hit off of his friend and colleague.

National Journal recently wrote a feature on the game and Congressman Richmond. Below is an excerpt.

——————
Democrats have spent recent years thrashing Republicans on the baseball diamond. Now the GOP thinks it found its secret weapon.

Ron DeSantis dug into the batter’s box, his shadow stretching to the backstop in the morning light.

The first pitch was a fastball, although that’s a generous description. Even through his sun-squinted eyes, it must have resembled a beach ball as it floated to the plate. With an almost casual flick of the wrist and a twist of the hips, DeSantis sent it soaring. It traced a spectacular arc before landing over the fence—a good 320 feet from home plate—and coming to rest beside a sign that boasted “Home of the Titans.”

The sign referred to the high school baseball team that plays at the Alexandria, Va., field—but to the Republican onlookers, scrimmaging a month before their annual congressional game against the Democrats, it felt like a portent. To this clutch of lawmakers in ill-fitting baseball pants and gut-hugging T-shirts, DeSantis wasn’t just a 5-foot-11 first-term House member from Florida, a man who in suit and tie looks like any of a thousand lawyer-lobbyists who clog the capital. He became a Titan of their very own.

And he has much to bear. His teammates view DeSantis as a solution to the problem that is Rep. Cedric Richmond, the young Democratic pitcher from Louisiana who is universally considered the best congressional baseball player in memory, and the reason the Republicans have been completely embarrassed in the past two contests at Nationals Park.


“I think we’ll call him the ‘Ced-ric Slayer,’ ” said Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, as DeSantis trotted around the bases of the freshly manicured field. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, also impressed, turned to one of his colleagues. “I wanted to play the Darth Vader theme song when I came up to bat. But after that hit, I think maybe Ron should use it.”

It’s been a while since Republicans on Capitol Hill have had much to be excited about. Under the direction of Rep. Joe Barton of Texas—a manager who has been accused of abandoning free-market competition in favor of giving everyone playing time—the team has suffered a four-year losing streak. It hasn’t been fun. Most members of Congress already endure being backbenchers in the least productive and most despised institution in America. Add four humiliating defeats on a professional baseball field, and even the most self-assured members of society begin to doubt themselves.

Morale reached a nadir in 2011, a year that had looked good on paper. The tea party had swept dozens of new members into office, and the Democrats managed to elect only nine new faces to the House of Representatives. Unfortunately for the GOP, one of those rookies was the fearsome Richmond, a former starting pitcher for Morehouse College. In his first outing for the Dems, he pitched a complete-game one-hitter with 13 strikeouts. Last year, he fanned 16. The Republicans saw no end to that streak in sight.

To see the full story, click here.

The Mayor of New Orleans Has the Wind at His Back

Mitch Landrieu is presiding over a major economic turnaround.
by Adam Kuschner for National Journal

NEW ORLEANS—Among the many other changes unfurling in this town, its chief executive is another kind of break from the past. Mitch Landrieu is the first white mayor since his father left that office in 1978; to get the job, which he began in 2009, he had to assemble a broad-based, multiracial political coalition. The Landrieus may be a political dynasty in Louisiana (the mayor’s sister, Mary, is a three-term U.S. senator), but these are tough times for political machines in New Orleans, and Mitch has been able to slough off patronage awardees from city posts and contracts, inching closer to a meritocratic administration. He talked with National Journal’s Adam B. Kushner, a New Orleans native, about how the city’s economy is transforming, and how to make it last. Edited excerpts follow.

NJ There’s a sense of optimism I’ve felt in my reporting that I don’t remember from growing up here.

LANDRIEU Anybody who comes to New Orleans right now feels a palpable spirit of energy and hopefulness. They see physical manifestations of that transformation taking place in front of their eyes. You can see the medical complex going up, designed not just to take care of people’s health care needs or train doctors or do research, but also as a fairly aggressive step toward information and economic development. You take the smart thing coming out of the research and turn it into a product; we’re going to take the technology and transform it into a industry sector. The second thing is that we now have a working system of schools. We’ve redesigned the governing mechanism, and consequently you’ve seen the scores—which are what counts—begin to grow exponentially from the inner city. The achievement gap between kids here and in the [rest of the] state is closing rapidly. Graduation rates are now better than the national average, and that’s a structural change.

The people in New Orleans are not just deciding to build the city back the way it was. They’re accepting responsibility to build it the way they always wanted it to be. It’s amazing how many young people we have from around the country who are starting to create stuff.

NJ How do you build a knowledge economy? And how does it serve upwardly mobile New Orleanians who don’t have elite educations?

LANDRIEU Generally, we’ve been a place with a lot of raw material and talent and intellectual capital, and we’ve extracted it and exported it. Think of Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center. So if you want to have a knowledge-based economy, you’ve got to create the kind of jobs. GE Capital basically said, “I like what you’re doing down there.” They put 300 jobs downtown. Gameloft [which develops smartphone games] did the same. Pre- and postproduction film work is happening here now. All of a sudden, you’re attracting these industries, and then you’ve got to supply them with workers. Kids are coming to New Orleans and don’t want to live in the suburbs; they want to live downtown, so we have a construction boom, restaurants opening up.

NJ Are the young people who move here staying?

LANDRIEU Yes, they’re becoming citizens and leaders of New Orleans. I have a bunch working in my office right now. They’re moving into government, running for office, starting businesses. And because those jobs are here now, there’s a pathway to prosperity, a pipeline to success, through primary and secondary education, from college and tech schools to [knowledge-economy] jobs. You want to train people so that an older, African-American woman living in [a new, mixed-income development downtown] can walk down the street and have the job as phlebotomist at the new health center. You’ve got to train workers on the low scale, the medium scale, and the high scale. The same thing can be true about high schools and colleges.

NJ Violent crime here is 80 percent worse than the national average. Does that put a ceiling on economic growth?

LANDRIEU You have to know the difference between the crime rate and the murder rate. For the crime rate, we’re number 73 in the nation, meaning that major American cities are much less safe than New Orleans is. But the murder rate is 10 times the national average. Both those things are depressors, which is why we’re spending so much time working on that. Who’s killing, who’s being killed, where they are, and how to change that—it’s a complicated problem that has provided no easy answers for a long time. We hope, as the police department and the school system get better, and culturally we identify where the problems are, we can change it. But there’s no question that it has a negative impact. It should not be a ceiling. It is absolutely possible to change that trajectory. New York City did it; Chicago did it to a certain extent, though they’re having trouble now.

NJ How can you tell whether the gains in the tech and entrepreneur sector are lasting and will take deep root? These haven’t really begun to represent a major share of growth yet.

LANDRIEU When Forbes says we’re the most improved and best for jobs, when The Wall Street Journal says we’re best for business, something’s happening. [New Orleans was the most improved metro on The Journal’s “Best for Business” list last year, up 44 places from 2010. Forbes ranked Louisiana most improved on its “Best States for Business” and gave New Orleans the top spot for “America’s Brain Magnets,” attracting college graduates under 25.] They’re looking at objective data on a sea change of how a place operates. U.S. News & World Report says Tulane is the most popular school. All this stuff has nothing to do with culture and tourism and food. Now, seven years on, they’re beginning to see how change works.

NJ How can the improvements outlast your tenure?

LANDRIEU There’s probably no more important structural change for the future of the city than how the schools work. At some point, the governance of the school system has got to come back to local control [it is now administered by the state]—but not until we have absolute stability. We don’t have that back yet. When it comes back, the new school board must be designed as an oversight board of schools that are run at the site, where the principal has autonomy, where he can fire and hire based on merit, students are accountable, and parents have choices. Those are the kinds of inputs that will close the achievement gap.

This article appeared in the May 4, 2013, edition of National Journal.