Monday, June 30, 2008

The Political Re-Education of Bobby Jindal

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



You have to wonder who has been advising Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on the pay raise albatross around his neck these past few weeks. The controversy against any raise took off like wildfire, and never slowed down. If Jindal had not vetoed the raise as he did, a number of new recall petitions would have joined some 10 already underway. So what made the difference? Did common sense prevail, or did the dam of public opinion just overwhelm the new guy in charge?

The Governor apparently has a staff of bright but young and inexperienced workers that put to much credence in their abilities to run the Bayou Ship of State based primarily on a successful gubernatorial campaign. But the election turned out to be a cakewalk with few major stumbling blocks along the way. Jindal sewed up the election two years out by his crisscrossing the state post Katrina, and, simply by the stout of hard work, won going away. Whatever the competency of his key advisers, the campaign allowed then Congressman Jindal, for all practical purposes, to coast into in the Governor's mansion with few real challenges along the way. It's an understatement to say that it has all changed now.

When Lyndon Johnson became vice president on the Kennedy ticket in 1960, he apparently was impressed with the new group of whiz kids surrounding the popular president. He shared his admiration of the Kennedy team with his mentor and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, also from Texas. After rambling on and on about the competency and intelligence of the new staff, Speaker Rayburn cut him to the quick by simply stating: "Yeah Lyndon, but not a damn one of them ever got elected anything or have actually governed."

It is obvious that Jindal has been getting some advice without much experience behind it, and sometimes not much common sense. And not just on the pay raise debacle. The mass resignation of Board of Ethics members and staff has raised troubling concerns of just why a number of questionable changes were needed in the ethics law. As political analyst Elliott Stonecipher said on my Sunday radio show: ‘Ethics reform in Louisiana has been given a political mugging and the blame is at the feet of not just the legislature, but also the Governor and his staff.”

So just what does the new Governor do now? Is simply vetoing the legislative pay raise enough to get his reformist image back on track? Or is he a wounded deer caught in the headlights who needs to make an about face and go back to square one? Well, maybe not back to square one, but some backtracking certainly is in order. And Jindal needs to decide on his list of priorities, and stick with them. Right now, his agenda sees to be all over the board.

First, he needs to back away from the national scene, and get more involved in the nitty-gritty of the state he governs. Jindal has been all over the country in recent weeks, and despite his protestations, he would grab in a New York second the chance to be vice president. With his delay in acting on the pay raise issue, that has been covered in newspapers worldwide, this option is not realistic. He could and should be offered a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention. But that should come without more national touring.

Second, he needs to seize the mantle of being the Louisiana governor, and spend the next few months hitting the speaking circuit again. Let people see him throughout the state, both north and south, and reinvigorate his base. A little smoothing over and general schmoozing with average Louisianians in the weeks to come should put the still seething pay raise animosity behind him.

A number of legislators are obviously not going to be happy with the Governor's veto decision. A few quotes. "Our faith in his word has certainly been shaken," said Senator Bob Kostelka of West Monroe. "The Governor showed no leadership on the issue." And this from Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro: "He made a lot of promises to a lot of legislators, and any time you tell someone something and don't stick to it -- right or wrong -- it's going to create a problem with trust."

Sure he has made some legislators mad. But so what. As I wrote in last week's column, the state just does not need that many new laws. In a number of states much larger than Louisiana, the legislature’s role is to appropriate the money, and be sure it is spent properly. And when you consider that some two thirds of the Louisiana budget is dedicated in some way, the governor holds the cards. Legislators need the governor more than he needs them. It may be time to quit playing footsie.

The Ethics Board, and how it is allowed to govern, will be a continuing thorn in the Governor’s side, and he need to address the damage done. Then he needs to refocus on his constituents, be a regular guest on the various talk radio and TV shows, and just generally get back in touch.

Bobby Jindal started out in his new roll as a ball of fire. He got misdirected along the way. He still can be a great Louisiana governor. But it’s time to let the flames subside, get himself refocused, and, most importantly, listen to the voices of the average citizen out there he was elected to serve.


"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one 
thinks of changing himself."
                         Leo Tolstoy

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published in a number of newspapers and on websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm. It is streamed live, world-wide at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pick a Fight Governor!

Thursday, June 25th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



You can talk about everything else the Louisiana Legislature did in its just completed session. But when all is said and done, it comes down to the pay raise. "But what about all the other good things we have accomplished in the past five months?" protested Governor Bobby Jindal. Maybe a little more wisdom comes with age. It’s perception, not substance Governor. And the overwhelming public perception is that when all was said and done, the legislature opted to look out for themselves rather than the people who elected them.

Jindal seem to agree at his press conference on the lawn of the Governor's mansion the day after the legislative session shutdown. "I've learned my lesson," he said. "Going forward, we're certainly going to keep a much tighter rein on the legislature in future sessions." But it's not really the job of any governor to keep a "tighter rein" on the legislature. As Jindal has said repeatedly, there are three branches of government and each should act independently.

What Jindal seems to be missing is his authority within the constitutional mix. Yes, there are three branches of government. And each has their own final decision-making power. But the Louisiana Constitution specifically gives the Governor a limited veto power over actions of the legislative branch. The veto power is not complete. By a two thirds vote, the legislators have the constitutional authority to call themselves back into a special session, and override any veto exercised by the Governor. Nothing in the Constitution about "keeping a tight rein."

Having served in the executive branch of government for almost 20 years myself, I'm not bothered by the fact that Jindal has allowed a number of legislative proposals to become law without his signature. That's his prerogative, and what difference does it make whether or not the Governor actually signs a law making the Sazerac the official cocktail of the city New Orleans. No, it's not the signing that matters. It's the specific constitutional authority to keep government in balance by exercising his veto power.

How about Jindal’s argument that he does not want to spark a battle with the legislature? ""I don't want to give the legislature an excuse to slow down the reforms we've started. I don't want to give them any excuse to throw sand in the gears," he admonished. But just what are the reforms that, at this stage, an irritated legislative body could slow down? The legislative session has ended. It's over. Done. Are there new proposed laws that the Governor did not include this time around? What is there left to do, and just what is he waiting on?

This brings up the question of just how sine qua non many of the proposed laws really are. Is it necessary for the legislature to debate and pass laws, ballyhooed by the current administration, to create the Financial Literacy and Educational Commission, or change the way the state handles workforce training? Any number of these new acts could have and should have been done by Executive Order. The “full time job” argument by many legislators means thinking up new proposals just to stay busy. Dos the state really need that mindset? Texas is able to get the job done once every two years with five times the budget and population as compared to Louisiana.

And how about the Governor’s concern that some legislators may use a pay raise veto as a reason to undermine his future reforms? He should be so lucky. Jindal got off to a good start from day one, and his popularity ratings were high before his failure to address a pay raise veto. But, assuming his poll numbers had stayed high, inevitably they come down for any governor. Having a few legislators obstruct the Governor's positive efforts would raise his stature considerably.

That's the problem he faces right now. He has lost the aura of being a fighter. He needs a few bad guys to challenge his programs. His election campaign for Governor turned out to be a cakewalk. Jindal needs to show his metal, and pick a few fights. It's in his political interest and it's also in the state's interest.

There is still time for the Governor to veto the legislative pay raise. The deadline is July 8th. But judging from his press conference statements the day after the legislature adjourned, he seems to be digging in with little thought of changing his mind. Unfortunately, after getting off to such a good start, the Louisiana fair-haired wonder could well carry the albatross of failing to act on his convictions for years to come.


Stand up to crises. Don't let them throw you! Fight no matter what Then you can stand up to crises, with calm and courage, refusing to buckle; then you will not fall.

Maxwell Maltz quote

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published on a number of newspapers and websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thursday, June 19th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



When the Speaker of the House of Representatives took the microphone last week in support of a 300% pay raise for legislators in Louisiana, one of his arguments was that the job had become full time. "It is a misconception that this is a part-time job," he told his colleagues. So the question is simply this. Should Louisiana, or for that matter any state, have a full-time state legislature? I say no.

The list of reasons is long, particularly in Louisiana. But let's simply start with a clear prohibition that exists under the state's constitution. Article X, Section 29.1 says indubitably: …”the following elected…officials are hereby deemed to be part-time public servants…: (1) Any legislator.” You can not get more clarity than that.

So should the Constitution be changed? After all, say some legislators, they have a long list of problems to deal with, and the post Katrina and Rita recovery seems to keep them busy around-the-clock. And they often make the point that other states have full-time legislatures, so Louisiana needs to follow suit if it's going to be progressive and bring the state fully into the 21st century.

Actually, there are only four states that presently have full-time legislatures, California
Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. And in each of these states, there is a major push to revert back to part-time lawmakers.

Our next door neighbors in Texas meet once every two years, and there is no major push to change. Texas Gov. Rick Perry observes: “There are people who always think, 'Let's have a full-time legislature.' I happen to think that's just asking for trouble. When you have a full-time legislature, they just feel pretty inclined to be doing something. So they are going to dream up new laws, new regulations and new statutes -- and generally all of those cost money," Perry says

Historically, America's founding fathers were distrustful of people seeking political power.” Whenever a man has at a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct," observed Thomas Jefferson. The future president's view was that those elected should be temporary public servants, using common sense to serve for a short time, then return to live and work with their neighbors under the regulations they had enacted.

I remember a few years ago listening to a lecture by Ed Meese, the former attorney general to President Ronald Reagan. He said Reagan had concluded that he had made a big mistake in supporting the full-time legislature when he first ran for governor back in 1966. Present California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees with Reagan, and feels California should return to a part-time legislature. "Spending so much time at the state Capitol, these legislators come out with strange bills. I like them when they are scrambling and they really have to work hard. Give them a short part of time. Then good work gets done, rather than hanging. That's when they start getting creative with things

(I wonder how the California governor would react to a whole list of new laws passed by the current Louisiana legislature including making the Sazerac the official state cocktail?)

So ignoring present constitutional prohibitions, what are the arguments being made to give the current legislature a 300% raise, and have them spend a lot more time at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge?

We hear about the huge growth in the state budget, now more than $30 billion, and therefore many more working hours are involved by legislators in reviewing spending priorities. But in actuality, much of the money to be appropriated has been dedicated. Almost one third of the present budget comes from federal funds, much of it related to Katrina and Rita recovery. More than half of the overall budget has been locked in by the legislature to spend on specific purposes like highways. So in actuality, there is not been that much growth to oversee.

We also hear abut the need for new legislation to “keep up” with other states. But realistically, why is it so important to propose a litany of new legislation? Are there any new laws out there the state really needs? The major problems facing Louisiana today are in the areas of education, health care, job development and affordable insurance. And virtually every new program can be put in place by the executive branch under present Louisiana law. It would be hard to point to any newly passed law during this current legislative session that really is deemed to be necessary to solve some immediate problem.

Many feel the legislature should act as the Board of Directors, reviewing the budgets of various state agencies, and building in performance quotients to see that services are performed with it effectively and efficiently. But isn't that the same job undertaken by boards of directors of many of the countries large corporations that often deal with a much bigger budget than Louisiana’s? Such boards meet monthly, and are certainly not full time.

If lawmakers are going to follow the spirit of the Constitution and be responsive to the needs of the majority of citizens in Louisiana, they will serve best by coming to the state capital for several months a year. Then return to their community and spend the next 10 months working and living under laws they have created. There is an ivory tower around the state capital, and a legislator’s self-importance grows and becomes infectious. Being back home on a regular basis, over most of the year, is the best way to share an open perspective, and obtain a sense of balance of what it will take to move the state forward in the years to come.

Simply put, if current members of the legislature, in their wisdom, feel like they have undertaken a full-time job, then that in itself may be the problem. If they quickly shut things down in Baton Rouge and come back home to the real world, perhaps a little common sense will prevail when it comes to major salary increases, and passing new laws that when you get right down to it, are really not that necessary.

After the pay raise fiasco, a large number of voters feel their new legislature is out of touch. It will continue to be viewed in this light if legislators maintain the position that their only paycheck should come from the state capitol. Voters just aren’t buying it.


"No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

Mark Twain

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published in a number of newspapers and on websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm. It is streamed live, world-wide at


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

J:indal and the Prime Minister

Thursday, June 12th, 2008
Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Is Governor Bobby Jindal “missing in action” from the daily give and take in the current session of the Louisiana legislature? Observers around the state capital express what they see as a sharp contrast from former governors when it comes to dealing with state legislators. No public arm twisting going on. This seems to be the new Governor’s style. But is it in the public interest for any governor to have a direct “give and take” with the legislative branch? Here’s a good idea Jindal might want to seize.

So far, Jindal has announced his legislative agenda through press conferences, and has left the lobbying with legislators to his key staff members. House Speaker Jim Tucker has no problem with Jindal’s lack of presence. “The Governor proposes and we legislate. Louisiana is not used to having an equal branch of government.” He called Jindal’s style “refreshing” and says the Governor is active behind the scenes.

But perhaps now is the time for Jindal to become much more publicly involved with the legislature. Senator John McCain, who has Jindal on his short list as a potential running mate, told the Reuters’ new service last week that if he is elected president, he would like to adopt the hallowed British tradition of the Prime Minister weekly facing questions in Parliament.

The British practice of regularly asking the Prime Minister questions is a tradition that dates back to the 1950s. Every Wednesday, when the House of Commons is sitting, the Prime Minister spends an hour answering questions from various members of Parliament (“MPs”). In actuality, the questions are generally known in advance and answers are certainly scripted. But there is an active and competitive give-and-take by the members and the country's leader that turns out to be informative, often funny, and a solid marketplace of ideas for debate. Many of us here in the US regularly watch the tradition, known as Prime Ministers Questions, on C-Span.

A number of countries have a similar “Question Period” that applies both to the head of the country, as well as in provincial legislatures. You can find such give-and-take debate in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, India, Israel, and Sweden. Not just in the country's legislative body, but at the state government level as well.

If Senator John McCain is proposing the notion, Jindal has an opportunity to seize the mantle, and put this creative idea in place right here in Louisiana. Once a week during a legislative session, Jindal could come down to the floor of the House of Representatives to have a face-off with members of both the House and Senate. The Governor has proven to be quick and effective on his feet while speaking extemporaneously, and could do quite well facing both tough questions and softballs that he should be able handle with candor and wit.

The House gallery would be packed, he would dominate the evening news, and YouTube would place his more candid comments on the internet for the whole world to see. It would be a gutsy call for the new Louisiana Governor, and just might impress the Republican standard-bearer enough to make the difference in putting Jindal on the ticket.

And speaking of YouTube, how about the Governor taking questions via direct internet links to the public? Louisianans could submit questions, and Jindal could answer via YouTube each week to a regular number of participants. No, it’s not another original Brown idea. Well actually it is. The current British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, began just this month answering questions from the public via YouTube. If Jindal is the politics of the future, he needs to be perceptive enough to access the newly created tools in order to communicate in new and different ways.

So go for it Governor. If John McCain wants to institute such a procedure nationally, you have a window; an opportunity to "show your stuff" and let the nation see you in action. Start the experiment in Louisiana. You will do well, and it just might get you a ticket on the Straight Talk Express this fall.


"If you can't convince them, confuse them." Harry Truman

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly, and is published in a number of newspapers and websites throughout Louisiana. You can read past columns by going to Jim’s website at Jim’s regular radio show on WRNO, 995fm out of New Orleans can be heard each Sunday from 11:00 am till 1:00 pm.