Patronage Is Still With Us

You can’t help but be amused at the political favoritism that has become routine procedure in state government. Gov. Bobby Jindal said in 2008 it wouldn’t happen during his administration, but we have seen one example after another of politically connected people moving into choice government jobs.

We talked a month ago about Jindal hiring Kevin Davis as state director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and Craig Taffaro to direct hazard mitigation programs in the state. Davis is making $165,000 a year, $20,000 more than he was paid as president of St. Tammany Parish. Taffaro receives $150,000 annually, which is $72,300 more than he was paid as president of St. Bernard Parish.

Jindal came to the rescue for both men, ensuring their government service could continue despite roadblocks that kept them out of local office. Term limits prevented Davis from running for a fourth term as St. Tammany Parish president. Taffaro was defeated in his bid for a new term in St. Bernard Parish.

Former state Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, was the next beneficiary of the governor’s penchant for keeping fellow politicians in the fold. Smith has been named deputy secretary of the state Department of Revenue to assist with administrative and legislative matters. Term limits brought her House service to an end, and she was defeated in a bid for a seat in the state Senate.

Smith will make $107,500 in her new job, which is a giant leap from the some $37,000 a year she was paid as a state representative. However, she was doing OK before the new position, receiving annual teacher retirement pay totaling $64,392. Smith is a former superintendent of the Bossier Parish School System.

I have known Smith for years, and she is intelligent, capable and qualified for her new position. However, we will never know whether other applicants even came close because that door apparently wasn’t opened. What we do know is Smith was a staunch ally of the governor and helped him get some of his major bills through the legislative process.

Friends and relatives of Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s political consultant and former chief of staff, are also doing well, according to news reports in The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Taylor Teepell, Timmy’s brother, is the governor’s deputy legislative affairs director. Matt Parker, Teepell’s brotherin-law, is Jindal’s intergovernmental affairs director. Both paid their political dues. Taylor Teepell directed the Victory Fund for the state Republican Party that helped elect legislators favorable to Jindal and his causes. Parker directed the governor’s 2011 re-election effort.

Melissa Henderson Mann, who worked for Timmy Teepell, is the new legislative liaison for the state Department of Transportation and Development. She will deal with legislators’ road concerns. Mann was Teepell’s assistant during legislative sessions. He told the newspaper she kept track of bills, counted votes and made vital contacts in the Legislature.

Mark Ballard, editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau, in a recent column said, “Mann’s salary rate has increased nearly ten-fold — $7,956 to $84,000 — during her three and a half years in state government.” Ballard added that Mann started out as a student worker in the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

Roy Quezaire, who was paid $89,960 annually, held the job Mann received. He said he “was somewhat blind-sided” when he heard the news. Quezaire shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, because it’s a political job.

Quezaire resigned from the House in 2007 to take the position before being term-limited in 2008. Juba Diez of Gonzales had the job before Quezaire. Both had served as chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works.

The two politicians are great examples of “living by the sword and dying by the sword.” Political appointive jobs that come easily can evaporate just as quickly, and finding sympathetic ears for the losers is almost nonexistent.

Jindal gets personally involved to help his political friends survive to fight another day. Many were surprised recently when the governor held a $5,000 per contributor fund-raiser to help Billy Nungesser recoup the $1.3 million in personal funds he spent in an unsuccessful — and dirty — campaign to become lieutenant governor. Nungesser, who is president of Plaquemines Parish, said he wants to be ready in the event he gets another shot at higher office.

An Advocate reader cut to the quick with comments about Jindal helping Nungesser.

“I also have a million dollars in debt,” the reader said. “Can Bobby Jindal show up at my house and help me raise money to pay off my personal debt too? I will charge only $2,500 a plate. Bobby, if you are reading — call me — we need to get together for lunch. Thanks.”

The people of Louisiana aren’t being fooled by the political favoritism they see taking place in Baton Rouge. However, I suppose we were foolish enough to think the days when governors and other officials took care of their friends and political supporters was a thing of the past.

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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