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.


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