Monday, April 02, 2007

Blueprint Bears Watching

John Hill of Gannett's state bureau reports in today with a story that focuses on "Blueprint Louisiana." Blueprint Louisiana is an organization of business leaders with a $50,000 buy-in fee that aims to effect reforms in Louisiana. The Lafayette hook is that the organization is reported to be the brainchild of Matt Stuller of Lafayette and his first powerhouse allies were associates Fenstermaker and Allen of the city.

The hook for readers committed to the success of Lafayette's telecommunications utility is that both Cox and AT&T/BS have bought into the organization. Jaqui Vines of Cox Baton Rouge/Acadiana and Bill Oliver of AT&T Louisiana have had memberships purchased for them. And that's worth worrying about.

Most of the members listed in the Gannetts' story sidebar are Louisiana business owners. They can legitimately be said to be representing themselves regardless of whether they paid for their membership out of their own pockets or the resources of businesses which they own. The same is not necessarily true of members drawn from the banking and the telecommunications industry. Their membership is paid for by the organizations of which they are employees and their participation is reasonably construed to be as a representative of their businesses rather than themselves.

The most visible cause of the group is a worthy one: ethics reform. Businesses as well as citizens can be for good government. Long-time denizens of Louisiana will be forgiven for recalling the unhappy path that business reform movements in Louisiana have sometimes taken: one need only refer to PAR (Public Affairs Research council) for a lesson in how a strong reform organization can lose its punch and be reduced to churning out reports that simply oppose any and all taxes after its capture by a purely business-oriented board. It's been a long time since PAR was viewed as an independent force--and Louisiana (and PAR) is weaker for that. This issue is raised forcefully in a recent Advocate article:

The emergence of one more business group to engage in politics raises at least two questions:

  • Are Louisiana residents mad enough — do they want to be saved from old-style Louisiana politics?
  • Is this the kind of salvation they want — an agenda written by business leaders?...

To win mass support for its list, Blueprint Louisiana might have to prove it’s out to help everybody, not just its members.

Blueprint is not limiting itself to ethics reform, even if that is what animates core members. But several reports (1, 2) assert that it will limit itself to good government and quality of life issues like education. That would be wise.

An organization like Blueprint, which intends to support candidates, write legislation, and support a cadre of lobbyists is ripe with potential for fudging the line to support the interests of its members over the interests of the state as whole.

The most immediate cause for concern is Cox and AT&T/BS who have shown that, without any doubt, they are willing to support measures which damage the best interests of Louisiana communities if there is advantage in it for them. The so-called "Local Government Fair Competition Act" which attempted to stop or at least cripple Lafayette's project is one. Those corporations were unwilling to compromise on that law even after Katrina and Rita demonstrated the inadequacy of their own networks to serve the public good. Their (ultimately) joint advocacy of a state-wide video franchise law that shifts control over locally-owned rights-of-way essential to their businesses to a complaisant state legistlature is a textbook example of bad policy.

Blueprint would be smart to avoid any "development" issue, and especially any telecom-related issue if it wants to be a credible force for reform in Louisiana. With Cox and BellSouth on board Blueprint bears watching.


Anonymous said...

You are so ANTI-corporate success I find it funny.

John said...

Courageous anono,

You are wrong. I've owned a successful corporation myself--admittedly small but quite real.

That, I am willing to bet, is more than Jaqui Vines or Bill Oliver can say.

I am not hostile to business success, far from it.

If you'll read the article more carefully what you will discover is that I have no problem with successful Louisiana business leaders trying to help get our state out of its current mess.

What I do have a problem with is out-of-state corporations who have vividly demonstrated their lack of concern for Louisiana communities buying a position for a couple of their middle-tier bureaucrats in this organization at $50,000 a pop. Vines and Oliver are, at the end of the day, representing Cox and AT&T. (I strongly suspect the same is true of banking representatives on the panel.)

At worst they have purchased a position from which to promote clearly anti-community corporate policy (like state video franchises). At "best" they are able to eliminate or "shape" legislation which effects their companies interests. (How much do you want to bet that "insurance" and its ties to banking interests ARE NOT one of the causes that this organization takes up--regardless of its primary importance among small businesses trying to recover from the storms.)

It doesn't bode well for this organization's declared purpose that its first expansion beyond Louisiana business leadership was not community, academic or religious leadership but mid-level bureaucrats from huge, out-of-state corporations with dubious Louisiana agendas. LaPlante's story in the Advocate is based on a real history of Louisiana "reform" business groups turning about to be more about business than reform.

I does bear watching.