Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THIS is how Democratic Activism Can Work

Republicans in the Louisiana House of Representatives got a glimpse at how Democratic grassroots activism can work when weeks of posturing and preening "on principle" caved into the reality of the needs of communities across the state.

Here's how the Associated Press reported it via The Lafayette Daily Advertiser:

BATON ROUGE - As senators approved next year's $29.7 billion budget proposal, a partisan logjam over spending ended in the House, with more than a dozen Republican lawmakers agreeing Tuesday to break a spending cap and tap into a pool of state surplus cash.

The 84-20 vote ended a long- running stalemate in the House between Democrats and Republicans over spending proposals sought by Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration and advanced plans to spend $1.9 billion in extra state money from this year and last year. The money would be spent on road repairs, hurricane recovery, coastal restoration, university research and more.

Snip:

Sixteen lawmakers in the House, all Republicans except one, switched their votes from a day earlier to support the surplus spending plan after money was earmarked for interstate repairs and a military project in North Louisiana.

The Times Picayune reported it this way:

It follows weeks of high-stakes brinkmanship and closed-door meetings between Blanco's legislative allies and upstart Republicans, who had successfully blocked several spending measures that required a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Republicans have been hoping to reduce the level of overall spending and create more room in the various budget bills for tax cuts and insurance rebates.

Education stays in

GOP leaders presented several alternative plans, which would have reduced the amount of money going to new "recurring" programs, such as higher education. Democrats countered with offers to double the amount of money set aside for tax cuts, to $300 million, from the $150 million proposed by Blanco.

But they refused to engage in talks about reducing the spending increases included in the operating budget.

Snip:

"There was tremendous pressure coming from the universities and the administration," [House Republican Caucus Chairman Jim] Tucker said.

Teacher pay raises

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, criticized House leaders for loading up the most popular spending items -- such as money for the Road Home and transportation projects -- in the bill that requires raising the spending cap, instead of including them in the operating budget.

"I would just hope that next year, the next Legislature, the next administration stops playing this game," Scalise said.

Once the cap was raised, the House voted 104-0 to approve the supplemental budget, House Bill 765 by Alario, which sets up a $23 million revolving loan fund that the city of New Orleans can tap for hurricane-related infrastructure repairs.

The pressure came not just from universities. On Tuesday morning, New Orleans civic activist Deborah Langhoff sent out a Legislative Action Alert on the LAROOTs email list that she and her husband Alan administer. Pointing out that hurricane recovery money was included in the supplemental funding bill, the email blast read:

How can Louisiana expect to receive more recovery money from the United States Congress when some of south Louisiana's own legislators in Baton Rouge won't spend the state's surplus?

Simply stated, we can bring almost $1 billion of the State's surplus to New Orleans. On Monday, 68 legislators (of the needed 70) voted in favor of raising the state spending limits in HCR 10. Unbelievably, while other Republicans crossed the political party line to help New Orleans, a few of our own area's legislators, (who are listed below) did not!

Legislators representing damaged neighborhoods in Greater New Orleans should not vote against their own constituents, should not vote against securing some of Louisiana's surplus funds for our recovery?

The email included the legislative email addresses for New Orleans-area representatives Nick Larusso, John LaBruzzo, Steve Scalise, Diane Winston and Alex Heaton.

The LAROOTS email was picked up on a list operated by New Orleans activist Cheron Brylski, and sent statewide. It then appeared on the US Democrats Louisiana Yahoo! Groups list.

By the time the votes were counted, on Tuesday afternoon, Republican opposition had crumbled. Larusso switched his earlier "No" votes to "Yes." Alex Heaton was absent. Winston, Scalise and LaBruzzo remained locked in die hard opposition to meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

Larusso was one of 15 Republicans who switched from "No" to "Yes," meaning that it was a matter of principle all along — until it wasn't. Call it a 'flip-flop' or call it an encounter with reality; neither one is going to sit well with the rabid Republican base.

All brought about by Democrats in the Legislature and in the grassroots making the connections clear between policy and people.

1 comment:

Deborah Langhoff said...

Thanks for this documentation Mike!

As the day wore on and the targeted Republican representatives wrote to their constituents to explain their vote, the letters sounded very similar. Winston's came first and said that the spending could "wait until next year." Since she's term limited, I'm not sure what she plans on doing next year. Then Scalise and Lorusso wrote very similar letters, questioning the same three examples of budget items that are listed on Rep.Tim Burns(R) blog.

Their partisan strategy was to attempt to hinder our government at a time when we most need government to work for us, and to do it at the expense of their own constituents. People across the entire state recognized that.

I heard from two people who identified themselves as Republican voters in their letter to targeted legislators and said "Cut it out - raise the ceiling to help New Orleans!"

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