A year ago, Bobby Jindal stood outside of the House chamber and fidgeted with his red tie just moments before his entrance was announced. He sprung from the rear entrance and onto the floor alongside his wife, Supriya, and shook hands, gripped forearms and smiled. It was his first special session, dedicated solely to ethics reform, which was undeniably Jindal’s top campaign promise the prior fall. In the end, Jindal got mostly what he wanted, and he wouldn’t let us or Jay Leno or Fox News forget about it.
But then three months ago, the music died. Jindal put down his ethics fiddle and started concentrating on other priorities, like not running for president. Perhaps coincidentally, that was also when the Center for Public Integrity told Jindal to stop telling journalists that Louisiana had moved “on top of the list” of the group’s annual rankings of ethics laws. Whatever did happen, the governor’s iron fist became a cardboard cutout.
These days, Jindal’s “Gold Standard” looks more like a dissected frog absentmindedly left behind by a school boy than it does a cohesive system that’s leaping to the top of national rankings. Just consider the shape we’re in:
• The new process for judging ethics cases has gutted the state Ethics Board and its revised role is just now beginning to surface.
• Lobbyists begin filing expenditure reports this week, but there are no personnel in place to verify their accuracy.
• Cabinet officials were supposed to file their own disclosure forms in January, but Jindal decided to give them a few more months by issuing an executive order.
It’s no wonder why many folks are expecting a follow-up during the regular session that convenes in April. And if they are, they’ll be fairly disappointed to hear what’s not brewing. Even internally in the Legislature, there aren’t many earth-shattering resolutions (the low-hanging fruit of legislation) to serve as feel-good sequels to 2008’s touted reforms. “There are a few things that we might do internally, but it’s just coming together,” says GOP House Speaker Jim Tucker of Algiers. “I just met with my 16 chairmen, and we’re deciding who’s going to do what.”
Jindal has been touring the state discussing his own legislative priorities, but so far the talks have been confined to his administration’s $2 billion budget deficit, his plan to crack down on sex offenders and a sprinkling of important education priorities, like, eh, discipline in the classroom.
It might be that it’s too early for an ethics follow-up, suggests Jim Brandt, president of the Baton Rouge-based Public Affairs Research Institute. He says it could be another year or so until the state begins seeing any tangible benefits — or drawbacks — from the new laws. “We don’t have a track record yet for modifying or eliminating any of the reforms,” says Brandt.
Nonetheless, it’s always a good time to discuss campaign finance, which Brandt says Jindal skipped over last year. There’s also the possibility of opening up more records to public view in the governor’s office, a concept PAR backed in 2008 and Jindal opposed, leaving Louisiana with the distinction of being amongst the worst states in the nation when it come to accessing the executive branch.
Then there are those proposals that got shot down in last year’s special session on ethics. For instance, Brandt supported a provision that would have prohibited lawmakers from immediately taking certain jobs with the state after leaving office, especially any post that requires close interaction with the Legislature. Instead, presently on the books is a law that bans officials from entering into contracts with the state for one year following their resignation.
Since the law was passed, former Rep. Don Trahan, a Lafayette Republican, vacated his post as chairman of the House Education Committee to shill for the state Department of Education. Former House Speaker Joe Salter, a north Louisiana Dem, made a similar move. More recently, Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Bourg Democrat, announced he would be pursuing the director’s position with a levee district in Terrebonne Parish, which is also a political subdivision of the state.
Dupre says he recognizes that there might be a potential conflict of interest, which is why he plans on filling out one of the new disclosure statements in the Senate that identifies the potential conflict and prohibits him from voting on any legislation related to it, which could include the state’s major budget bills. And based on the law, that’s all he’ll need to do. “If it was a private employer, there would be a prohibition,” says Kathleen Allen, deputy general counsel of the state Ethics Board.
Two weeks ago, Allen said she hadn’t heard any new ideas for the upcoming session come out of the governor’s office. That was around the same time that Jindal was selected to deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s first address to Congress. So it’s possible that his mind was in other places.
Maybe Jindal can throw in a line or two about ethics reform, even if it is a national stage. After all, ethics reform is more than just campaign fodder and stylish rhetoric, especially in a place like Louisiana. Or Illinois. Or in Congress. It’s just like Jindal’s shiny, red tie; it’ll never go out of style.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.