‘Who You Know’ Remains State Norm

The more things change in politics, the more they stay the same. Public officials are continuing to take care of their own. If you can get elected to office, the odds are you could be set for life.

I have seen so many former public officials get jobs in government after they were term-limited or lost an election, it’s difficult to keep count. And that covers a span of over 50 years. Here are some examples:

The state Board of Ethics issued an opinion last week saying there would be no problem with state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, becoming executive director of the Lower Mississippi River Port-wide Strategic Security Council, according to a report in The Advocate. The council is an association of five ports located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Marionneaux, a successful attorney, just happens to be term-limited in the Senate. He could be appointed to the port job on a part-time consulting contract basis on Jan. 10, the day after he leaves office.

Rep. Noble Ellington, R-Winnsboro, decided not to seek another term in the House in the last election after serving since 1988 in the House and Senate. Next up could be the chief deputy’s job in the state Department of Insurance, according to the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon will make that decision. Donelon is also a former legislator who first got the top insurance job after serving as chief deputy insurance commissioner. The commissioner resigned, and Donelon took his place. He subsequently won the post in an election.

Gov. Bobby Jindal recently appointed Kevin Davis, St. Tammany Parish president, as the state’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Davis couldn’t run for a fourth term as parish president because of term limits, and he was an unsuccessful candidate in the race for lieutenant governor last year. Davis will be paid $165,000 a year.

Craig Taffaro, who lost his bid for another term as St. Bernard Parish president, has been appointed by the Jindal administration to direct the hazard mitigation programs for the state. His salary will be $150,000 a year.

Some of this sounds an awful lot like events that happened four years ago when Gov. Kathleen Blanco left office and Jindal became governor.

Dale Sittig, a former member of the state Public Service Commission and the Legislature, was named director of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port in 2008. Terry Gee, who was director of LOOP from 1996 to 2004, was a former legislator from the New Orleans area.

A number of officials with the Blanco administration got lucrative government jobs after Jindal’s election.

Joe Salter, a former speaker of the House, became director of governmental affairs for the state Department of Education at an annual salary of $120,000. Jerry Luke LeBlanc, Blanco’s commissioner of administration, is now vice president, administration and fi nance, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Fred Cerise, former secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals under Blanco, became LSU System vice president in charge of the university’s hospital and medical education operations.

This list only scratches the surface, but there is enough here to see how the system works to give former public officials the upper hand when cushy jobs are handed out.

Don’t get me wrong. The issue here isn’t whether these people are qualified for the new jobs they received. Most are probably well-qualified because of their backgrounds in government.

Jindal, for example, defended the appointments of Davis and Taffaro. He said both men have experience in handling disasters and in dealing with the federal government.

However, like others mentioned here, were they the best candidates out there when the positions were filled? Or did they get preferential treatment? And do the full-time jobs enhance the retirement benefi ts for some who previously were part-time public officials?

I know some of these people, and it isn’t easy to be critical of the process by which they received better government jobs. However, ask average citizens what they think, and the odds are they will tell you something here doesn’t look right.

Getting elected to public office is a different situation. We may not like the man or woman the voters elected, but it was their choice. They weren’t hand-picked by other public officials.

Jindal said when he took office in 2008 he wanted to end the widely held view that who you know is more important in Louisiana state government than what you know. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the situation has changed that much.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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