In past years at this time I have offered "wacky predictions" for the coming year. The problem was that some of those predictions, which were intended to be tongue-in-cheek, actually starting happening. It was too scary.
This year I'm playing it straight. Herewith a look at what I think will be the biggest (foreseeable) stories of 2011:
1. The Cliff Budget — Lawmakers convene in late April to begin the ugliest session in memory. Colleges and health care are on the bubble as Gov. Bobby Jindal guards his tax virginity. UNO will struggle to free itself from LSU's iron grip as lawmakers consider (once again) a move to abolish the four systems and five boards running post-secondary education in Louisiana.
2. Ongoing Federal Investigations — From NOPD to Mose Jefferson to the Jefferson Parish scandals to the Ray Nagin administration, there will be lots of news coming out of federal court (again) this year. And those are just the ones we know about.
3. Redistricting — Lawmakers will gather in a special session to redraw their own districts as well as those of judges, Public Service Commission members and the congressional delegation. Locally, the City Council must redraw district lines as well. This will mark Hurricane Katrina's final political impact as new district lines reflect major population shifts (and losses).
4. Statewide Elections — Right now it appears no one will challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal for re-election, but a lot could change if Jindal's numbers keep falling. Meanwhile, look for the GOP to go after (or recruit) Democratic Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to complete the party's sweep of statewide offices.
5. GOP Legislative Majorities — Republicans now control the Louisiana House and may soon own the Senate. Will that make things easier for Jindal? Will it mark a change in state policies, or just move the Democratic hogs away from the trough so the Republican hogs can move in and get their fill?
6. Bobby's Ambitions — Governor Talking Points isn't about to shed his national ambitions; they drive his every move. He will, however, have to appear to tamp them down, at least until he gets re-elected in the fall. Then he'll go full-bore in time for the presidential primaries. This time next year, my prediction for the biggest story of 2012 could well be Louisiana in Bobby Jindal's rear-view mirror.
7. Jefferson Parish Elections — At a minimum, voters will choose a new assessor and several new council members. The autumn election cycle also will present parish voters with their first chance to weigh in on all parish posts after the scandals of the Broussard Era. No one in office is completely safe.
8. NOPD Reforms — Local and federal efforts to clean up the city's troubled police department should take hold in 2011. This will be the first major effort since the 1950s to institutionalize reform at NOPD. The new chief, the new mayor and the citizens cannot afford failure on this front.
9. Reassessments — New Orleans' new Assessor Erroll Williams takes office this week and must immediately begin the process of equalizing — and updating — all property assessments citywide. All other assessors also must reassess property this year, triggering the quadrennial "roll back, roll forward" debates.
10. The Jail Size Debate — Sheriff Marlin Gusman is building the new jail he wants, but the debate continues over how many people the city should incarcerate. The final decision will determine how many additional jail facilities the city will build — and how big each will be.
While we're following these stories, we'll undoubtedly see some surprising new storylines as well. It's always a wild ride.
Happy New Year.