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.


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