Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to be putting together a powerful political administration, the likes of which Louisiana hasn’t seen since the days of the infamous Gov. Huey P. Long. By the time Jindal is finished forging his masterpiece, even former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards may be envious.
No governor in this century has employed the techniques used by Jindal over the past four years in an effort to take over total domination of the state’s political process. That doesn’t necessarily mean his motives aren’t pure and that he isn’t convinced his programs and actions will make Louisiana a better place to live.
Citizens saw the first major use of Jindal’s newfound power this week when he decided who should be president of the state Senate and speaker of the House. Past governors have always been involved in the process, but none has ventured to call all the shots this early. A new Legislature doesn’t take office until January, and that is when these final decisions are usually made.
One of Jindal’s choices has sparked outrage in some quarters because he wants state Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, to be the next Senate president. Alario is the longest serving member of the Legislature, and also one of its most controversial public figures.
Jindal suffered some major defeats at the spring legislative session, and Alario’s selection makes it clear he doesn’t want it to ever happen again. He praised Alario’s “great ability to work across partisan, ideological and regional lines in order to get things done for the people of Louisiana.”
Alario is a former Democrat, and Jindal will need some members of that party on his side when he wants something requiring a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, is Jindal’s choice for House speaker, and that is welcome news for this corner of the state that has been overlooked far too long when leadership positions are decided. Unlike the Alario selection that other senators seem to have accepted, the governor’s choice of Kleckley is being challenged by Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, a candidate for speaker who is the current speaker pro-tem, the No. 2 job in the House.
You have to admire Robideaux’s willingness to buck the governor, but this is a challenge he is destined to lose. Louisiana’s governors have always been powerful because of their veto pen, and Jindal is coming off one of the largest voter mandates ever enjoyed by any governor.
Gov. Jindal’s campaign has issued numerous emails since Saturday’s primary touting his voter support, his unprecedented legislative and education endorsements and the plaudits he has received from political writers.
One email notes that 87 statewide, legislative and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education candidates endorsed by Jindal won outright in the primary. Another reminds recipients the governor captured 65.8 percent of Saturday’s vote for governor and that he carried all 64 parishes.
Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times is one of those political writers. He said, “Jindal’s commanding victory should remind national observers that he remains a force to be reckoned with.”
Few should be surprised at Jindal’s strength and his decision to take complete charge of the political process. He got to this point by campaigning in and out of the state almost non-stop for the past four years.
When many of us have been casually enjoying our weekends, the governor has been visiting every nook and cranny of this state, speaking at churches and at every event imaginable. And I have heard testimony from some who have heard him. They praise his ability to speak without notes and they like his personal approach.
“He’s awesome,” one church member told me recently.
Legislators created the Louisiana Veterans Honor Medal, but it is Jindal who gained the most public relations benefit by personally handing them out to thousands of veterans all across the state. Also to his credit, Jindal has boosted economic development and handled hurricanes, the BP oil spill and other disasters with on-the-scene professionalism.
Jindal is the engineer of the train now and he has made it clear that anyone who doesn’t go along for the ride will be left at the station. Some legislators, for example, have already been told by the governor that those who aren’t with him are “out.” That means no special privileges, projects or political favors.
Local school officials will apparently be Jindal’s first targets because he has vowed to continue to turn public education on its ear with more charter schools, the loss of tenure and strict accountability for teachers.
Only time will tell whether Jindal’s use of almost unlimited gubernatorial power will result in a better Louisiana. I hope it does, but his overly aggressive approach is a troubling development for those of us who have seen political ambition and controversy retard this state’s progress for too many years.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].