It’s been six years, so in case anybody needed a reminder of how unsuited former Gov. Kathleen Blanco was for that job, they got it courtesy of her remarks concerning the jackpot justice lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East.
The suit, dubious both as to whether it was filed legally and whether there is any legal merit to it, wants to extract from about a hundred companies potentially billions of dollars in purported tort damages in order to fill the coffers of the agency to pursue an ambitious agenda decided solely by itself, which far exceeds its statutory resources. All of Gov. Bobby Jindal, apparently legislative majorities, and a number of other state and local agencies have expressed opposition to the suit on the basis of its merits and in how it subverts statewide coastal restoration and protection policy.
Yet some observers have praised its action, seemingly unperturbed that an agency with little accountability is trying to stretch its power to exercise that in ways never intended by the legislative majorities and in all likelihood Blanco herself when it was drafted into law seven years ago. Its members are selected by the governor for fixed terms from nominations provided by professional and political interests that may be removed only through impeachment, serving with confirmation of the Senate.
Insulation of this nature was inserted by lawmakers in order to decrease the chances of politicization of the agency, but was not the end goal itself, which was to maximize depoliticization. Thus, impeachment power and the ability of the governor to appoint with Senate confirmation are checks against members who would take the agency in directions that the representatives of the majority public did not favor. As it is, since a majority of the board now serving is under terms expiring now or soon, Jindal seems poised not to reappoint these members.
But this seems to disturb Blanco. Referring to previous times when local levee boards often had members, through their actions, seem appointed less for nonpolitical flood protection agendas than for political ends, she opines that “Instead of going forward, we’re going backward.” Also, she stated that “Those boards have constitutional authority and they are created to be independent and run independently” in explaining why she is hesitant about lack of reappointment of those that agitated for the suit. The problem here, she asserts is that this would mean “we’ll go back to the old way of doing business and having people that are not independent thinkers.”
In these digressions, Blanco is making two errors. First, she seems to have confused board independence as the ends, not the means to the ends of encouragement of depoliticized policy-making, as if board independence in and of itself guarantees any decisions made by it are nonpolitical and therefore optimal policy in this area. In fact, she fails to understand that by definition one cannot depoliticize even the most trivial decisions made by government. No matter how slight the amount or obscure its area, the exercise of power by government creates policy winners and losers. The only question then is, who decides?
In this system of government, that determination made long ago was that majorities through a fair and impartial democratic process would govern policy-making through their representatives elected fairly and freely according to basic rules (recorded in a charter) assented to, even if implicitly, by the citizenry. While they may assign to unelected others the exercise of this power, they still exercise authority over those agents who they have given contingently that power. Unelected policy-makers require oversight to ensure that they remain accountable to majorities that govern by the rules.
Thus, when they use their relative insulation to move in ways to which that majority objects, in that they have made a decision the politics of which runs counter to the majority to which they are accountable, it is entirely appropriate that this deviance be corrected if necessary by their removal. Yet Blanco would take the odd view that the merits of decisions made by an insulated body, even if they featured grasping at power over policy beyond what it is entitled to have, are unimpeachable regardless of the content of that policy. She stupidly seems to believe that a depoliticized appointment process automatically equals nonpolitical and optimal policy.
If she does, she knows nothing about how governments make policy. However, this probably does not inspire her thinking on this issue, relating to her second error in thinking that the depoliticized process of necessity puts “independent thinkers” into positions of power where this tendency to think “independently” creates optimal policy. In fact, “independence” lacking accountability can allow decision-making to veer off into extremely bad policy. It makes it that much easier for cabals that desire to follow their own agenda – one that can be completely independent of what best policy the public desires – to form in these agencies that can use their insulation to subvert the will of the people and optimal policy.
Unfortunately, this attitude of hers smacks of one of the political left’s basic tenets, that there exists a small strata of nomenklatura – who have superior wisdom and knowledge, defined as strict adherence to a body of suppositions based upon ideology, not fact – whose Manichean faith backwardly declares opposition to it is ideological, if not ahistorical and thereby it must lead the masses, who generally are captive to false consciousness. Here, Blanco assumes the board, through its purity established by appointment method, is the vanguard group of right and good in this policy area while others therefore must be enemies of those – completely discounting that the merits of policy stand on their own terms, not as a product of an appointment process.
By her comments, Blanco ratifies a notion that governing to produce good policy should be nothing more than government by experts, without any understanding that “experts,” especially the more insulated they are made from democratic checks and balances, can be driven by ideologies both contrary to the public’s preferences and to the production of beneficial public policy. In this case, she would abrogate her responsibility to assume informed oversight of an otherwise unaccountable agency. Her immature understanding of this issue only reminds us of why she, given the alternatives available, never should have been governor of Louisiana.