It’s been a week of faux, and not-so-faux, outrage among folks who aren’t on board with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s agenda at the state legislature.
Even here, within the pages of The Hayride this morning, retired Lake Charles American Press editor Jim Beam picked up the standard of the gripers and carried it forward. Jim, who we’ll say isn’t a particular opponent of Jindal’s on education reform but perhaps more of a skeptic, said the fast-track status of the governor’s education reform package is a negative, in that a perceived ramming through of the bills included in that package will cost the governor support from the public.
That’s a general gripe if Jim’s. The more specific gripes include a thousand or more teachers who had come to protest the package being locked out of the building, marathon committee hearings (25 hours’ worth on two bills alone in the House and Senate) which somehow didn’t allow detractors an opportunity to voice their opinion, committee majorities moving Jindal’s amendments and not those of the Democrats and the stripping of Rep. Harold Ritchie’s House Insurance committee vice-chairmanship in retaliation for the Bogalusa Democrat’s vote against part of the package in another committee.
But Beam’s negative verdict on the fast-moving train that is education reform – which has been echoed by much of the state’s legacy media all week after Sen. Mary Landrieu first sounded the “he’s moving too fast” alarm on Wednesday – isn’t the only moaning aimed in the governor’s direction.
Two weeks ago a personnel decision by the Jindal administration – the relief from duty of Office of Elderly Affairs secretary Martha Manuel – e touched off an orgy of tut-tutting from the state’s mainstream media, complete with the usual crocodile tears/faux outrage/complete failure to appreciate how things work in professional managerial settings from the newspapers and others among the chattering class.
Specifically, the governor cashiered his Director of Elderly Affairs for testifying at a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Jindal’s plan to shift her office into the Department of Health and Hospitals. This administrative move is a somewhat controversial one, as some among the state’s senior citizen community don’t like it – and when the local Councils on Aging used to function under DHH it was a mess – though the Jindal administration expects to save money by doing it and believes that it can maintain the current level of service with more efficiency by doing so.
But Manuel, who had the job title of Executive Director of the Office of Elderly Affairs until last week, wasn’t on board. And last Tuesday, she publicly said so. In fact, Manuel’s testimony on the OEA reorganization was basically a hanging of the administration, in which Democrats on the committee were able to score points along the Jindal’s-going-after-the-old-folks-and-senior-citizens-are-going-to-have-the-budget-balanced-on-their-backs track.
One day later, she was the ex-Executive Director of the Office of Elderly Affairs. Jindal’s community programs director Tammy Woods said the administration was going to move in another direction, and Manuel’s $88,000 salary went bye-bye.
From this rather expected event (Manuel actually joked about the fact that she was gone following her testimony), the Lake Charles American Press declared outrage in its Sunday editorial…
Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered a loud, clear, yet frightening message last week.
On Tuesday, Martha Manuel, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the governor’s plan to shift her offices to the state Department of Health and Hospitals would not be in the best interest of elderly residents.
She said Jindal never consulted her about his plan and only learned about it when she saw the office’s budget had been moved in the governor’s budget proposal.
By Wednesday morning, Manuel was unemployed, unceremoniously fired via a phone call from Tammy Woods, Jindal’s community programs director.
Asked later that day about the termination, Jindal said he had decided to go in a different direction.
Bottom line: Manuel, who was appointed to the position by Jindal in February, 2011 and made $88,587, is out of a job.
All appointees like Manuel serve at the pleasure of the governor. It’s always been that way in Louisiana and always will be. But her ouster on the eve of the legislative session’s opening sends a chilling message — dissenting opinions by Jindal’s department heads and undersecretaries will not be tolerated.
That is reminiscent of former Gov. Huey Long. Or maybe better yet, the politburo.
Here’s the commandment issued from the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday: everyone shall sing the same notes from the Bobby Jindal hymnal.
What to make of all this?
Let’s start with Martha Manuel.
Is Jindal right about moving the functions of the Elderly Affairs office into the Department of Health and Hospitals? Maybe so, maybe not. But in any executive organization, decisions are made from the top down. Executives certainly should collect information and wisdom from those of their subordinates closer to ground level, but ultimately the task of an executive is to make decisions and the task of the subordinate is to implement those decisions.
No organization can thrive if the subordinates are allowed to disregard or dissent from the decisions of the executive with impunity. Expressing an opinion in advance of those decisions is one thing; going public in the aftermath of those decisions and trashing the organization and its higher-ups is something else. Nobody should expect to have a job very long after engaging in that kind of activity; not in a corporate setting, not in a small business and certainly not in government.
The honorable thing for Manuel to have done would have been to resign if she couldn’t abide the executive decision in question. And if she wanted to publicly release a resignation letter dissenting from the administration’s decision to move her office into DHH, that would have been unobjectionable as a matter of form. Instead, Manuel waltzed into a committee hearing and assisted several Democrat state representatives in putting on a show, the script of which called for accusations that the state’s senior citizens were in Jindal’s budgetary crosshairs.
No chief executive would tolerate that kind of public hostility from a disgruntled employee – regardless of the merits of the issue at hand. Make a fool out of your boss in such a manner in the private sector and by the time you get back to your desk there’s a nice man from security waiting there for you with a box, and the nice man will instruct you to clear out your desk so that he can escort you from the building.
Manuel managed to last until the next day before she got the heave-ho. She was a lot less surprised about it than many of the media seemed to have been. Maybe she had more real world experience than the pundits at the newspapers.
And then we come to last week’s affairs, starting with Ritchie’s fate on the House Insurance Committee.
The fact is that Ritchie was no favorite of either the administration or the Republican majority on that committee. In last year’s session he fought Jindal tooth and nail on cigarette taxes, engaging in a failed attempt to impose punitive taxes on them and then managing to engineer a bit of legislative powerlifting to make the then-expiring cigarette tax permanent by attaching it to the governor’s education funding legislation.
At the time, Jindal appeared to capitulate, signing the bill with Ritchie’s cigarette tax in it and letting it go to the voters as a constitutional amendment (it ultimately passed). But many of the more conservative Republicans in the House, with Kleckley among their leaders, saw that as a terrible result and an affront to principle – namely that they were being forced to make a temporary tax permanent through less-than-upfront means.
Kleckley says Ritchie is a personal friend, but it’s clear he’s a political enemy not just of the conservative wing of the Republicans in the House but of the administration Kleckley is allied with. And in politics, you punish your enemies whenever you can – because they’ll do the same thing to you.
Speaking of political enemies, a day after Ritchie paid his price public school systems in the two most populous parishes in the state – East Baton Rouge and Jefferson – were shut down because teachers’ unions engineered what amounted to sickouts so they could descend on the Capitol to protest the education reform package. Some 2,000 teachers, bus drivers and other union members showed up in the expectation of mobbing the committee hearing, and they bragged about turning Louisiana into Wisconsin.
Let’s remember what happened in Wisconsin. Not only did Democrat legislators abandon their posts and alight across the border into Illinois in an attempt to deny a quorum to pass reform, but union workers stormed the state capitol building and staged a takeover of the building which lasted for weeks.
In Baton Rouge, the House’s largest hearing room was opened for the Education Committee to have its forum, and several overflow rooms were opened up. Allowing people into the building for whom there was no space was something the state police and the fire marshall weren’t interested in, so it didn’t happen.
To the extent this has something to do with Jindal, one wonders why he should be in favor of giving the same people who created a three-ring circus in Wisconsin an opportunity to do the same here. Sure, Louisiana’s union strength is incredibly paltry compared to Wisconsin’s – but as we know, left-wing protestors cross state lines all the time. Why take a chance the unions would get a foothold in that building and put in a call for demonstrators from the Occupy movement and Lord-knows-where else to serve as reinforcements?
Maybe that’s an irrational fear. But then again, Jindal is responsible as the state’s governor for keeping order, and that means he has to consider possibilities ink-stained wretches in newsrooms don’t. If he sought to deny his enemies an opportunity to turn the committee markups of the reform bills into chaos, it’s hard to objectively fault him for it.
And then there were the committee hearings themselves, which despite going 16 hours in the House and nine hours in the Senate, the significant majority of which time was spent on a parade of speakers from school boards and teachers’ unions wailing about how the governor’s package would destroy an education system which is in the bottom five in the country despite ranking 22nd nationally in per-student spending. Even the critics of Jindal’s package don’t dispute the poor quality of the testimony against it in those committee hearings. Is that somehow the governor’s fault? Should he have sought more articulate critics before attempting to pass his plan?
Finally, there is the gripe that the governor is attempting to move his package too quickly through the legislature, rather than have it drag through the legislature.
This seems to be a rather poorly-disguised attempt at attacking the package itself, frankly. We have a long history of education reform in this state which was watered down in the legislature and ultimately came to grief as a result. Mindful of that history, mindful of the fact that the longer the debate drags out the better the opportunities for the unions to sow chaos Wisconsin-style and mindful of the fact that when education reform is over we still have what promises to be a bloody fight on pension reform on tap, Jindal has opted to push this program through as fast as possible.
This is one of, if not the, most important structural changes to state government in a generation or more. Jindal ran on it last fall and got two-thirds of the vote. In a series of BESE elections during that election cycle the advocates of the changes Jindal is pushing won all but one race, with huge margins. And after two months since Jindal debuted his package the state’s voters decidedly – perhaps even overwhelmingly – favor it.
And he has the votes in both houses of the legislature to pass the plan.
Under such circumstances, Jindal would be a fool not to push this package as hard as he can. He’s also not alone in this effort – there are legislators in both houses like Steve Carter and Kirk Talbot in the House and Conrad Appel in the Senate who passionately believe in school choice and are pushing just as hard for this package as Jindal is. The state’s business community is overwhelmingly behind it, there is a significant portion of the black community which supports it, the Catholic Church is behind it and it’s quite popular among several other constituencies as well. The iron is hot, and in striking the governor is only doing what any good politician should.
Of course, he’s getting savaged for doing so. Most – if not all – of those doing the criticizing, of course, are either skeptics or opponents of the plan. Rather than attacking the plan on its merits, which they won’t do for fear of having to defend the many inane statements made by members of the teachers’ unions last week in opposition of it, they attack the process and the “heavy-handed” approach Jindal is taking to governance after winning an almost-uncontested election last year.
Strangely, many of those same critics were a lot more comfortable when Jindal’s predecessor Kathleen Blanco bribed legislators by the dozen with pork in getting her policies passed, and few of those critics had much trouble with the heavy-handed tactics “colorful” Edwin Edwards used to pass his agenda during four terms in office.
But Jindal isn’t a Democrat, and as such he’s entitled to neither the use of typical management style available to all strong executives nor the employment of raw political power. His critics demand an ineffective approach; anything else will brand him “controversial,” “dictatorial” and “extreme.”
It’s good that the governor isn’t in the mood to be swayed by such advice.