Everybody can’t win an election, but you wouldn’t know that if you heard some of the comments and read the press releases coming from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Democratic Party. Both camps claimed victory after Saturday’s general election.
Jindal talked about 96 of 110 candidates who were endorsed by the governor being “victorious this election cycle.” And those are definitely impressive numbers, even considering that about half of the 110 were legislators who were elected without opposition.
Buddy Leach, chairman of the state Democratic Party, called the 45 seats his party held in the House of Representatives a turning point for his party.
“Today’s victories are the first step in rebuilding the Louisiana Democratic Party,” Leach said.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said, “Voters sent a clear message to the GOP tonight that putting Louisiana jobs and families first is what they want, not empty rhetoric and partisan attacks.”
Edwards, who is chairman of the Legislative Democratic Caucus, notes that Jindal and U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-La., raised nearly $4 million to target as many Democrats as possible, but they still weren’t able to get the two-thirds majority (26 in the Senate and 70 in the House) they wanted.
Maybe so, but Vitter is just as confident as Jindal and the Democrats. He told The Advocate his Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority started work in 2005 when there were 40 Republicans in the state House and 16 members of the GOP in the state Senate. Those numbers have now climbed to 58 and 24, respectively.
“I’m personally very enthusiastic about the results,” Vitter said.
Democrats have 45 representatives and 15 senators. Those numbers won’t stop majority votes (53 and 20), but they can make it difficult to get the two-thirds vote needed for constitutional amendments and other issues. The House has two independents.
The most powerful political stroke for Republicans came even before the first primary Oct. 22. It was a foregone conclusion before anyone ever cast a vote that Jindal was going to be elected to a second term. That enabled the governor to get a head start on cementing his gains and taking complete control of the political process.
Jindal selected John Alario, RWestwego, as his Senate president and Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, as his House speaker. Senators bowed to his wishes. The only public resistance in the House came from Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, who insists he wants the House to vote for speaker before handing the job over to Kleckley. Robideaux currently holds down the No. 2 position in the House.
Jindal didn’t stop with his leadership selections. He made it clear he’s going to have major input into the makeup of Senate and House committee chairmen and members. The governor is determined he isn’t going to lose any major battles like he did at the last legislative session.
Legislative control isn’t his only goal. Jindal has now been assured after two elections that he will have a firm grip on the decisions made by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. No governor in recent Louisiana political history has gotten so deeply involved in the state’s public education system.
BESE sets policy for the state’s public schools. Jindal wants John White as the next state superintendent of education, more school choices for parents and strict accountability from teachers. White is currently director of the Recovery School District that has taken over failing schools in New Orleans and elsewhere.
A couple of new members on the board that Jindal is counting on for support said they aren’t ready to commit to White just yet. Like legislators before them, BESE members who were supported by the governor will soon learn that Jindal “takes no prisoners.” Just ask anyone who has crossed him in the past. You are either with him or against him. There is no in between.
Jindal is super confident he is on the right track where education reform is concerned.
“We are moving in the right direction but we have to move much, much more quickly,” he said. “Saturday’s results are a signal to parents and educators that help is on the way.”
It appears that people who don’t like education reform are going to get a bigger dose of it than they have ever had to swallow, and that may be what Louisiana’s public education system needs. However, there should be enough Democrats in the Legislature to maintain some semblance of independence in order to protect the people’s best interests. Most Republican legislators have already handed the lawmaking reins over to Jindal.
While we are waiting for the next big push from the governor’s office, have an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend.
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].