Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
Story Archives: The governor who didn't care to play
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|The governor who didn't care to play|
If lawmakers can divine any consistency in Gov. Bobby Jindal's vetoes of their local government projects in the state budget, it's best summed up as, "All work and no play."
What stayed in the bill were public works like sewer systems, water towers and firetrucks. Lined out was nearly everything to do with sports and leisure, whether playgrounds, recreation centers or theaters.
Since in his approach to local government grants the governor offered no guidance beforehand or much explanation afterward, one can only guess his attitude derives from a youth not wasted on Little League.
Yet what really bugs legislators is not the lost projects but the lack of communication from the governor's office. Had legislators known the governor's predisposition against fun they would have addressed other local priorities and not gone home empty-handed. Two sentences of gubernatorial guidelines on funding local government items would have spared 90 percent of the angst. But full clarity, apparently, was not the administration's goal.
As with the funding for non-profit groups, he left enough ambiguity to cloak rewards to allies--such as $550,000 requested for a community organization by Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who sponsored his top priority education voucher bill--and punishment to dissidents--such as Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, who passed a disclosure bill linking the governor's campaign contributors to subsequent job appointments. The governor vetoed that bill and, for good measure, Abramson's amendment of $50,000 to a non-profit group that is actually doing something about homelessness.
What addles legislators is a governor who very selectively plays quid-pro-quo politics when it suits him, but not enough for more than a handful to join the game. That's why he and his top aides don't return phone calls or mix much with politicians outside of very controlled circumstances, usually in which any substantial communication is one way. Legislators rarely want to talk to the governor about what they can do for him; he doesn't have to say no to their entreaties if he can avoid being asked.
Though they are hot over the vetoes, the problem for legislators seeking payback is that the majority of them agree with Jindal on most major issues. Few lawmakers will oppose an overdue revamp of the public healthcare system--whenever it is offered--just because the governor nixed a boat ramp.
The next time they meet, likely in a special session early next year, the governor will offer a plan to spend a $1 billion surplus. How mad can you stay at a guy like that?
But legislators don't have to get mad to get even or, rather, equal. After the legislative pay raise debacle, Jindal promised to "tighten the reins" on lawmakers in future sessions. Actually, the situation could and should be the other way around. The governor can veto as he pleases but he can't spend a dollar if lawmakers don't let him.
Going forward, Jindal will find a Legislature less willing to accept his policy and spending initiatives unchallenged as they largely were this year. That's a good thing, for any proposal is strengthened by debate and critical analysis. Legislative officers who act like leaders and not intermediaries can take greater charge in fashioning budgets and crafting major policies, with input from the governor but not on his marching orders.
Though Jindal talks about getting more involved in the legislative process, he doesn't seem interested in the necessary care and feeding of lawmakers--returning their calls, stroking their egos, trading favors--that comes with taking ownership of the legislative branch. Now that legislators realize that Jindal doesn't want to promise them much or to keep all the promises he makes, they are free to change the power game by which governors have long dominated the Capitol.
On the other hand, the game would have ended already were not legislators so anxious to keep it going. Too many would rather be rewarded for having an agreeable relationship with the governor--even if slave and master--than to take their chances among their peers. But they need to get over that and to come up with new rules of engagement, since it seems the governor, as with his recreation vetoes, doesn't care much to play.