APPEL: Thoughts On A New Orleans Election

I suppose that few in the state paid much attention to the election results in Orleans Parish. That is probably not a good thing because in general they were ugly, and they will have impact upon the whole state.

The voters chose to put into office a new District Attorney whose policies sound very much like those of George Soros. Perhaps over time we will find that, like so many other urban centers DA races, this race was funded by Soros or one of his organizations.

The new DA’s two main policy talking points were a de facto decriminalization of marijuana and a promise to reform the criminal justice system by operating on principles of fairness and equity. Translating that last one, like Soros’ supported DAs all over the country, he will probably reduce or eliminate the demand for cash bail, not prosecute non-violent crimes, and do whatever he can to let convicts out of jail. Amazing, who would have thought that someone could be elected on policies that are antithetical to public safety?

His political message was that NOLA is the incarceration capital of a state, that is the incarceration capital of the nation. Well, that may be so, but NOLA has for decades also had the distinction of the highest national murder rate, a metric that closely parallels also to all crime. So clearly there are two sides to that story, and he has chosen the politically popular version that criminals are the victims of a society stacked against them. That plays well in an urban center but, without admitting to the fundamental reasons that urban crime is so bad, it may well result in a sharp increase in crime against the very people he has sold himself to. The result of an increase in crime will be the further diminishment of economic activity in the city, especially in the only major industry, tourism.

So now New Orleans has a DA that offers a dubious future for the city, but his was not the only ugly outcome of the elections. Not unlike any other declining city in America, New Orleans is suffering from a lack of financial resources. Like most other such cities that are dominated by urban Democratic politics, complicating the problem is that a lot of its scarce resources are dedicated to politically popular non-public safety spending and bloated government bureaucracy.

And like so many others, the sector that could produce the most reliable revenue, the business sector, is burdened by an attitude fomented by leadership that business must be in the city and as a result business owes them so much back. It is the Obama attitude of “You didn’t build that” and the Clinton attitude of “It takes a village”, beliefs that entrepreneurship is a function of government largesse and not of risk and reward.

So, in reaction to such misguided attitudes and driven by the realities of underlying economic principles, for decades business decamped the City and has not been replaced. As business departed so have many higher income folks, along with all the services and shopping that they and business required. The result has been an increasing erosion of the tax base, even as the city’s leadership has poured more resources into social programs and less into public safety.

Accelerated by COVID, the city has reached a tipping point that forced an unwelcome set of choices on its politicians. The easiest reaction to declining revenues by city leaders, the path they opted for, was to convince voters that they should pay more in taxes and/or free up funds that voters had dedicated to public services (in the case of the election the public library system). Had this approach been accepted by voters it could have shored up their favorite spending and avoided layoffs. The other more unsavory option for city leadership would have been to conservatively restructure the budget so that expenses matched revenues, keeping public safety as the primary goal. This last option would have entailed the dreaded layoffs word, to a conservative “cutting the fat”, to a Democrat a slap at their voter base. That is why it was ignored.

The election brought about a somewhat surprising outcome. After weeks of hearing nothing but doom and gloom from city leaders and an inordinate expenditure of political capital by the Mayor the people just said no to renewing and restructuring taxes. The translation of the vote was that voters have demanded that the city live within its means, and that it not eat its seed corn that defunding of libraries would have entailed.

But herein lies the true ugliness of the situation. History tells us that now instead of using logic and principle to reduce superfluous government and bloated government employment, the Mayor and Council will instead opt to reduce public safety and other vital services. This could take the form of Mayor Landrieu’s ill-fated decision, after the realities of the Nagin budget bust became known, to dramatically downsize the police. Instead of restructuring all of government by focusing on public safety and reducing or eliminating non-critical areas he chose to gut the police department. This move convinced taxpayers that he was not going to be a good steward of city finances and his ability to raise taxes even for good purposes was virtually lost. That was the most impactful decision of his regime and the city has yet to fully recover.

If history is prologue, instead of an effort to right size government while emphasizing critical areas, I would expect to see government circle the wagons and try to protect itself by eating away at the very reasons that it should exist in the first place, public safety and the creation of a good foundation for a strong economy. Instead of strategic cuts and good government prioritization to see furloughs, pay cuts, and across the board spending cuts, all signs of big government trying to stave off reality.

The outcomes of the elections on the future of the entire New Orleans region and the state were perilous to say the least. The reaction by city leaders will be telling for the future. The final story will not be written for some time to come, but I am afraid that it will not have a happy ending.

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