Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Bobby One Term'

You've got to hand it to Governor Bobby Jindal. The man has exceeded all expectations in office.

Deep in the throes of a credibility crisis brought on, first, by his refusal to lead (the Legislature) and then his decision to follow (the right-wing blowhards who paid for his election), Jindal this week turned to pandering to what he must think is his base by issuing a round of budget vetoes that targeted the only Louisiana citizens in deeper trouble than he is — the poor, the elderly, young people in need of mentoring, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, rural communities, African Americans, museums, community centers. Here's the full list (PDF).

As Kathleen Blanco pointed out in 2003, the man was then all about numbers but not recognizing that there were people behind those numbers when it came to state budgets.

This week Jindal seemed intent on proving his predecessor prescient.

Even Republicans were outraged. Public talk by legislators of "distrust" of Jindal hardly gets to the depth of the animosity he has generated.

Let's summarize what Bobby One Term has accomplished in half a year in office:

Claiming the mantel of 'The Ethics Governor', Jindal has managed to completely shut down the ethics enforcement process in this state by neutering the State Board of Ethics for Elected Officials, then hiding the process from the public in the name of transparency.

Then, his financial disclosure reform forced hundreds of his public-scrutiny shy Republican supporters to flee public boards and commissions less their conflicts — er, uh, — financial interests be disclosed to the whole wide world.

With those two steps alone, Jindal had accomplished more than Edwin Edwards would never have even dreamt of trying.

But, in the Regular Session, Jindal hit his stride right about the time he started getting mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain. The Legislature moved to give itself a pay raise and it passed a budget.

Channeling Earl Long (apologies up front to Uncle Earl, his family and friends) with his "tell 'em I lied" positions on the legislative pay raise, Jindal got caught talking out of both sides of his mouth. He promised legislators he would not veto a pay raise they wanted. Only problem was that he had promised voters he'd veto a raise just like the Legislature gave itself.

Right up until the day before he vetoed the pay raise, Jindal insisted that he would not veto it. When his
legislative liaison, veteran lobbyist Tommy Williams, quit, it was clear just how much trouble Jindal was getting into with legislators. Williams had been around the Capitol for decades. Williams experience must have convinced him that, with trust being the oil of cooperation, that Jindal had torched his own well.

But, it's the line item vetoes of elements of the General Fund Budget that may well have sealed Jindal's fate with the Legislature. Regardless of what else is happening in a Regular Session of the Legislature, the budget (HB 1) is really the main item of business and concern for the governor, his administration and legislators.

With good reason: that's where the money is. This year, there were almost $30 billion in that budget.

Regular Sessions, then, are a three-month long haggling session over the content of the budget. It gets talked about every day, regardless of the formal agenda of the day.

What has angered so many legislators about not just this latest round of vetoes, but others as well, is that the administration never mentioned its opposition to some of the bills that were vetoed. The line item vetoes in the budget bill were insult to injury, coming as they did on the heels of the pay raise veto.

So, Jindal may have sucked up to his supposed base with these vetoes. But, the damage to the intended recipients of the dollars in those vetoed segments is real. So, too, is the damage to Jindal's credibility.

If saving money was the real reason for this performance, Jindal could have started way back in the special sessions when he and his economic development head finagled a way to get GOP heavy hitter Gary Chouest (part owner of the New Orleans Hornets, $100,000 in a day man for the LCRM) $10 million in state money to build a facility so he could build boats that he could sell to another of his companies.

In Jindal Land, welfare is for big contributors. Maybe he did learn something in Washington, after all!

If the Senior Center folks should have cut Jindal a big check in 2007, things would be just fine now.

Ask Gary Chouest.

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