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|Big decision for Jindal|
Gov. Bobby Jindal heads into this election weekend of 2011 with his re-election in the bag, but a decision he will make in the near future could have a big impact on how he is judged long after he's no longer governor.
That decision concerns who Jindal will support in the race for president of the Senate.
Not decided by the electorate, the president is chosen among colleagues in the Senate, who seldom are faced with openly choosing between two or more members of the body in a formal gathering of the Senate as a whole. The same scenario plays out in the House of Representatives in picking the Speaker of the House.
Usually the outcome of the Senate president's race as well as the one for Speaker of the House is decided long before lawmakers gather for the first time in Baton Rouge in January following an election cycle. It's then that lawmakers take their oaths of office to begin their four-year terms, and it's also then that they choose the Senate president and the Speaker.
The outcome of those legislative leadership races usually are determined well in advance because the governor gets involved and lets lawmakers know who he or she desires to hold those positions. Governors dabble in the legislative leadership elections because governors want those positions filled by lawmakers who share their political philosophies. That's not always the case, but it usually is.
Accordingly, Jindal is expected to announce in the coming weeks (days maybe) who he's backing to serve as the next Senate president and Speaker of the House.
In the House, the Speaker's race is between Reps. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette. At this stage in the race, Robideaux has the edge because he's got a broad base of support among members of the House from Acadiana and north Louisiana. North Louisiana lawmakers are lining up with Robideaux in hopes of helping Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro retain chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. In other words, Robideaux is expected to keep Fannin, a Democrat, in place as chairman of Appropriations in exchange for north Louisiana lawmakers voting for him for Speaker.
The race for president of the Senate, though, is not as clear-cut as the one in the House.
When Sen. John Alario switched parties from Democrat to Republican in the not-too-distant past he acknowledged he made the switch because he wanted to become Senate president. He made no bones about it either.
A wise politician who has served in the Legislature since Dick Nixon was president of the United States, Alario has forgotten more about politics than I'll ever know. And it should not surprise anyone that Alario recognized his path to become Senate president would be much easier if he joined the party that's gaining ground in Louisiana politics, not losing it like Democrats have been doing for the past decade.
Alario has baggage, though, if you're a tried and true Republican who expects Jindal to continue moving Louisiana away from its checkered past.
An old-school Democrat for years, Alario served as Speaker of the House from 1984-88 during Gov. Edwin Edwards' third term in office. Prior to and after his stint as House Speaker, Alario could be counted on to carry the mantra for House Democrats, who respected him and looked to him for leadership. They still do.
That's no knock on Alario. That's simply the way it was and is.
Yet, Alario changed a bit over the past four years. He's voted more conservatively since taking his seat in the Senate in 2008, and along the way, he's become a go-to man for the Jindal administration when the administration needed one.
Is that enough for Alario to garner Jindal's support in his bid to serve as Senate president?
Only Jindal and his right-hand man Timmy Teepell can answer that question, for it's Jindal and Teepell who will have to deal with the blow back from conservative Republicans who won't be happy if Alario gets the governor's blessing in the Senate president's race. Furthermore, does Jindal want to spend the next six months to two years defending his decision in supporting Alario for Senate president?
And that raises the question.
Who is Alario's primary challenger for the top job in the Senate?
That would be Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, who has been driving all over the state of late meeting with members of the Senate, drumming up support for his bid to be named president.
A Republican from long before it was chic to be a Republican, Walsworth may be Jindal's biggest supporter in the Legislature. He's a team player from the get-go. The word loyal comes to mind.
Walsworth's track record in the Legislature – dating to his stint in the House of Representatives – also better reflects Jindal's politics. They're both conservatives who have advocated conservative causes throughout their political careers. Besides, everybody likes Mike.
Still, it's Jindal's call on who will serve as Senate president.
Does he back the master of all political operators or does he stand by a like-minded conservative?
That's the question Jindal (and Teepell) need to contemplate.