WHAT A TANGLED WEB HE WEAVES

For the entire three months that comprised the 2010 legislative session, House Speaker JIM TUCKER held weekly news “briefings” on policy issues he chose to discuss. Senate President JOEL CHIASSON held none. Tucker craved and solicited media attention on his agenda, seeking not only to outdo the Senate president, but to “out Right” Gov. BOBBY JINDAL on issues. He was quoted routinely in major daily newspapers on a myriad of topics, particularly his desire to decrease funding to universities and charity hospitals in Louisiana. Chiasson, a moderate and low key Democrat, remained silent through it all. After stalling for weeks, Tucker finally moved a “Pontius Pilate” version of the state budget, which shirked the legislative responsibility of funding or cutting specific budget items by simply inserting language in the budget bill that “instructs the commissioner of administration to implement $65 million in cuts.” This move allowed him to continue to proclaim his fiscal conservative virginity, while dumping the responsibility of balancing the budget on the commissioner of administration. No confusion with Profiles In Courage here, folks.

At the Revenue Estimating Conference meeting (which officially recognizes how much money the state has to spend annually and which Tucker and Chiasson both sit on), Tucker committed himself to flying into the web; economists estimated that the state would experience a deficit approximately $260 million in excess of what was previously anticipated. Tucker, caught off balance and committed to his plan of balancing the budget by delegating cutting authority, was now flatfooted. In a moment of panic, he discounted the projections of the economists and vetoed the recognition of the additional shortfall in revenue — blocking the Legislature from officially acting on it. The fly was now approaching the web. Chiasson argued vehemently that it was fiscally prudent to recognize and deal with the projected deficit now, rather than push it off into a new budget year. Capital Media and even Tucker’s own true blood neo-cons found themselves philosophically on Chiasson’s side. The Senate Finance Committee then crafted a budget under the direction of Sen. MIKE MICHOT of Lafayette, a strong Chiasson ally, without the harmful and reckless cuts to health care and higher education the House had recommended in the Tucker-led version of the bill.

Then came the most critical 72 hours. The last Friday of the session, Jindal came in from directing the oil spill response to meet with Tucker, Chiasson and other House and Senate leaders and announced that he was urging the House to concur and adopt the Senate version. The Advocate editorialized that the Senate had been the responsible and statesmanlike party in the budget process, compared to the House. The fly was now tangled and wrestling with his entrapment in the web, becoming more desperate by the hour.

Seizing on this fact, Chiasson called for an all-out blitz on the House, to urge its membership to adopt the Senate version. He brokered a deal with House Appropriations Chairman JIM FANNIN to address House members’ local district funding needs in a separate bill on the final day of the session, Monday, June 21 — but only if the House concurred with the Senate version. Fannin was sold — and Tucker had now lost his appropriations chairman.

Next, Michot called in the chips on Sunday with his entire Acadiana House delegation, Speaker Pro Tempore JOEL ROBIDEAUX, PAGE CORTEZ AND NANCY LANDRY — in whom Michot had invested political capital to help elect — and all three of whom were predictable Tucker loyalists. According to a source with first-hand knowledge, Michot simply called all three in and delivered the same three-word message to each: “I need you.” Robideaux reportedly replied, “I understand.” And with that, the three Lafayette representatives, and then ultimately most all of the Acadiana delegation, joined in support of the Senate version.
  
Now the fly was desperate and moved into a frantic survival mode. Seeing the erosion of his Republican support, Tucker reached out to Democrats (whom he hardly even acknowledges in normal times), promising them additional seats on the powerful House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will redraw reapportionment lines statewide, if they simply voted with him to reject the Senate version of the bill. But the Democrats, long disenfranchised by Tucker, and still bitter about his heavy handedness and punishments from the Speaker pro tem election on the first day of session, would have no part of it. Plus, they knew that by adopting the Senate version, it kept the bill out of the six-person conference committee, where Tucker wielded far more power on their projects of interest.

In the end, Tucker was able to muster only 34 votes to oppose concurrence with the Senate version recommended by Jindal, with 68 of his members (including more than a dozen Republicans who broke rank) opposing his plea to reject the Senate version. Media outlets commended Chiasson and the Senate on their responsible handling of the budget.
 
A brimming Chiasson high-fived Michot, and on the floor of the Senate Chiasson publicly praised the courage and spirit of compromise shown by House Appropriations Chairman Fannin, which was integral in crafting a solution — all  without mentioning the speaker of the House once in his remarks. Once again, the spider saw no need to gloat over the prey he had snared and consumed.

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