Blueprint's Crossroads

The story usually goes like this: Architect designs dream home for client, who can finally visualize a lifelong ambition becoming a reality. Then client hears from the local office of Planning, Zoning and Codes, which has a few questions about the blueprints. Client's neighbors start grumbling that some of the dream house features are in violation of neighborhood building restrictions. As client tries to simultaneously placate neighbors and navigate the layers of bureaucracy involved with getting permits, charges of favoritism and nepotism start swirling around client and the project. Meanwhile, contractors become gunshy about getting involved with the construction ' but not after telling the client that the project is going to be much more costly and time-consuming than initially estimated.

One house, one client, one neighborhood, one town. Now imagine that you're a new organization trying to institute massive government and legislative reforms for an entire state, and you get a sense of the obstacles and challenges facing Blueprint Louisiana.

That much was evident last week as Blueprint unveiled its first list of legislative and statewide candidates that had signed a pledge supporting the group's plan. Out of the four major gubernatorial candidates, only Independent John Georges signed Blueprint's contract.

Here are the total numbers on Blueprint supporters:

â?¢ 121 candidates for the Louisiana House of Representatives (out of 283 running)
â?¢ 57 candidates (out of 98 running) for the Louisiana State Senate
â?¢ 12 candidates for statewide offices (out of 34 running)

The relatively low numbers shouldn't be surprising. Blueprint's 5-point agenda encompasses ethics reform, early education, workforce training, health care reform and infrastructure repairs and investment ' all worthy goals, and all worthy of support. However, since its inception, Blueprint has held firm on its all-or-nothing challenge to candidates and legislators: Embrace our entire agenda, or we won't embrace you. So a politico who supports the whole agenda but prioritizes coastal restoration over road repairs, for example, has a legitimate reason not to sign the contract.

And what about candidates that wholeheartedly support, say, four out of Blueprint's five mission statements, but have a philosophical difference on the specifics of the fifth item? That's apparently what happened with Democratic gubernatorial candidates Walter Boasso and Foster Campbell, who've said that they fear Blueprint's health care reform plans would endanger the charity hospital system. Lafayette attorney and Blueprint co-founder and steering committee member Clay Allen tells The Independent that isn't the case, and Campbell and Boasso are misrepresenting Blueprint's proposed private/public health-care partnerships ' but there's a clear example where semantic disagreements aren't helping the group's overriding goals.

What to make of the number of candidates who've signed on so far? Blueprint naysayers surely see the glass as half-empty, while supporters say it's half-full; privately, some of the group's founders are probably angry enough to throw the glass at the wall ' especially after Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal didn't sign Blueprint's contract. Adding insult to injury, Jindal's spokeswoman plainly told The Advocate, "Bobby is focused on releasing his own detailed policy plans and is not signing onto the plans of any other groups."

While Blueprint Louisiana's research, policy initiatives and diverse backing confirm the organization's non-partisan pledge, a number of steering committee members including Allen and Lafayette's Bill Fenstermaker have made personal contributions to Jindal's campaign. "I've contributed to Georges, too," says Allen. "I contributed to Jindal before we launched Blueprint. At this point, there's no candidate I'd support who doesn't support Blueprint. It's more important to me than any individual candidate or relationship I've had with a candidate." (Allen notes that he's "disappointed" that Independent Lafayette State Rep. Joel Robideaux doesn't intend to sign Blueprint's contract.)

"By not signing, candidates are saying that they have a vested interest in the status quo, or they're not interested in accountability," says Allen.

This is where it should get interesting. Blueprint has already spent $415,000 for its first round of media buys, which were largely aimed at creating awareness of the group and its goals. Now Blueprint is gearing up to spend $400,000 on its second wave of advertising, which will ostensibly highlight which candidates are or aren't in Blueprint's corner. Earlier this year, Blueprint co-founder Matt Stuller said the group intended to be "very punitive" toward non-Blueprint candidates. If that's the case, then at the very least, in the hugely important governor's race, will voters start seeing TV and radio ads trumpeting Blueprint's endorsement of Georges for governor?

"With TV and radio, we're going to try and drive people back to the [Blueprint] Web site," says spokesman Brad Lambert. "Our approach on the second phase of the media buy is to draw attention to the candidates who are supporting the agenda. The space of a print ad allows us to say, 'Here are the candidates that support the agenda.' We simply don't have time to do that in a 30-second TV or radio spot."

Only time and specific ad content will tell, but that overall strategy feels toothless. After investing so much time and money into its efforts, it seems strange that Blueprint wouldn't be taking more of a forceful shouting-from-every-rooftop approach to promote its candidates.

The ultimate test of Blueprint's effectiveness ' and the power of the group's founders and supporters shouldn't be underestimated ' will be post-election. And that raises the biggest question of all: How will the group measure legislators' commitment to its agenda if its supporters wind up working under a governor that never signed Blueprint's pledge in the first place?