Gov. Bobby Jindal has used his veto pen to protect the secrecy of his administration’s operations and to punish his enemies. We have seen examples of both after the Legislature ended its session.
Two Jindal programs proved extremely controversial during the session. One would privatize a health insurance system for state workers and their families. The other involves creation of a new health care system for two-thirds of the state’s 1.2 million Medicaid recipients.
The health insurance system is managed by the Office of Group Benefits. Medicaid is a federal-state program for low-income citizens.
Jindal fired the OGB administrator when he refused to go along with a plan to turn that job over to a private company. The man named to replace him held the job only a short time before running into credibility problems during a Senate committee hearing. He resigned shortly thereafter.
The privatization effort doesn’t need the approval of the full Legislature, and its fate is still undecided. Meanwhile, those whose health care needs are handled by OGB are left hanging in the wind.
The governor wants to turn a big chunk of the Medicaid program over to private insurance companies. The creation of “coordinated care networks” would be a radical departure from the current system managed by the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Legislators believed they should have a system for checking the efficiency of the new operation. They said its creation was disguised in amendments to last year’s budget.
More controversy erupted when it was learned a former employer of Bruce Greenstein, secretary of DHH, got a major state contract for the CCN program.
You can see why legislators believed they had a stake in overseeing the CCN operations.
State Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, and Rep. Brett Geymann, R- Moss Bluff, figured prominently in efforts to give legislators that check and balance.
Mount sponsored a bill calling for regular reports on how many people were being served by the CCN system, how well their claims were being settled and how many claims had been denied. The main purpose, she said, was to protect the interests of the people back home.
The House restored part of the original bill that would end the program at the end of 2014 unless it was renewed by the Legislature. Geymann offered the amendment, saying it would give legislators more oversight.
Senators approved the Mount bill 34-0, and the House vote was 100-0.
Despite that overwhelming support, Jindal vetoed the Mount bill last week.
“Inserting a termination date for this important reform and preventing Louisiana from improving the performance of outcomes in our current Medicaid system sends the wrong message,” Jindal said in his veto message.
What the governor is really saying is, “We don’t want anyone looking over our shoulders.”
Few should be surprised at that attitude because it has prevailed since the first day Jindal took office. The socalled “transparency governor” is anything but open in many of his administration’s operations.
Legislators are left with few ways to protect the people they serve when they aren’t treated by the administration as a co-equal branch of government. And part of that, of course, is their own fault for failing to exercise their independence.
Jindal’s veto of a retirement bill by Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, is a perfect example of how the governor punishes his enemies even when others get hurt in the process.
Gautreaux lashed out at Jindal during a speech in the Senate. He accused the governor and his administration of abusing public resources, rigging contracts and indiscriminate firing of some state officials.
“I did it because of all the cloak-anddagger activity within the governor’s office,” Gautreaux told HoumaToday. com. “They’re always trying to shield everything. I just can’t understand it.”
Veto of the Gautreaux bill killed three other retirement bills Jindal had already signed into law. McNeese State and other universities were counting on one of those bills to help them rehire retired professors in hard-to-fill positions.
Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, sponsor of that bill, said, “It’s very short-sighted to veto it. It was very good legislation and very much needed for the financial solvency of the (teachers) retirement system.”
Jindal also vetoed a National Guard bill by another foe, Sen. Robert Adley, RBenton. Adley for the last three years has been unsuccessful in getting his colleagues to go along with getting greater public access to the records of the governor’s office.
The governor paid him back by signing a similar National Guard bill by Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans. Like Adley’s, it gives financial benefits to members of the Guard who were killed or permanently disabled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“At the end of the day, I know who started this bill,” he told The Advocate. “It’s more important to me that we did the right thing for these veterans.”
Jindal should be above this kind of petty politics, but it has become a characteristic of his administration. You would think a public official with the popular support the governor enjoys would be more open in his operations and more magnanimous toward his critics.