Cluelessness does not qualify one to sit on an important state board, so Gov. Bobby Jindal does Louisiana a service by refusing to reappoint a pair of hapless members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East
Its current President Tim Doody and Vice President John Barry will not be reappointed by Jindal. Both supported (even as Doody, an accountant, abstained on the formal vote he said because the matter might involve his law firm) a lawsuit filed by the SLPAE in order to milk potentially billions of dollars from companies alleged to have violated agreements and knowingly caused environmental destruction that may have eroded the state’s coastline. Their terms expired, the governor must appoint individuals to serve from choices provided by professional and political groups, and the Jindal Administration has said even if these guys are recommended as part of that, he will pass them over.
That the pair was instrumental in bringing about the suit is more than enough reason to let their service lapse, as it is of questionable legality and its chances of success are dubious, but perhaps most consequentially is an attempt to arrogate state policy-making power to a local/regional subdivision of the state. But in remarks made by Barry since then and most recently in response to his non-reappointment, he shows he has no understanding about how public policy gets made and its consequences – hardly qualifications for service on it in the first place.
As does Jindal’s predecessor, he labors under the myth that the board is “nonpolitical,” simply because the process by which it acquires members is designed to be as depoliticized as possible, and therefore all of its decisions are above politics. This view shows tremendous ignorance about government and the public policy-making process, where, by definition, every decision made, from the governor on down to the lowliest bureaucrat with the absolute minimum of discretion in job performance, makes policy that is based upon political considerations.
Barry seems to believe that the board automatically is inoculated from acting politically because of the intention that it be as nonpolitical as possible through its appointment procedure. But those procedures do not completely insulate the board’s decision-making from political agendas, for nominating authorities may have their own agendas when they pick individuals for the governor’s consideration. Even if they do not, once somebody lands on this or similar boards, they do not go through a machine that strips them of their personal political agendas and there is nothing in the board decision-making process that filters out political motives.
Nothing provided a better example of this than this decision. As Barry admitted early on, the board felt it didn’t have enough money for its plans, so it decided to pursue a jackpot justice solution by going around democratic processes in the hopes of finding a sympathetic court to siphon money from convenient repositories of private funds. This is an entirely political response. Just because the board can make decisions that seemingly don’t have politics involved – for example, wanting to build this certain level of protection because science shows it produces that probability of failure is sufficiently low – doesn’t mean all its decisions acquire this cloak of protection from political motivations when it involves making choices about how government will acquire and use the public’s resources, because all such decisions by definition involve politics, or, in the terms of political scientist Harold Laswell, “who gets what, when, and how.”
So one doesn’t know whether it’s ignorant, arrogant, or laughable – perhaps all – when Barry seemingly seriously asserts that “We’re supposed to be an independent and non-political board – a reform board – unless we do something the politicians don’t want us to do. They are saying explicitly this has nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominees. It’s all about politics.” Note the misunderstanding of board “independence” – when the law makes clear it is the highest democratically-elected official in the state acting on behalf of the people, and ratified by their elected senators, who populates the board – and the continued confusion that this process connotes that all board actions therefore become “non-political.” This conceptual error creates the fantastic logic that, as long as political considerations are not involved in appointments, then as if by magic all the biases and agendas of the individual members suddenly disappear from their decisions. It is not only an immature understanding of politics specifically and human beings generally, but also a dangerous one as well that ultimately justifies antidemocratic creeds that do not posit rule by the people, but by “experts” or some other kind of power elite.
But Barry got one thing right in his statement – it was all about politics, because he and others made a politicized and poor decision against the best interests of the state. That he seems oblivious to the facts that the decision was both poor and political demonstrate why he and other who share that attitude are unqualified to sit on a board that makes political decisions, and Jindal does the state a service by ensuring that ineptitude from the likes of Barry and others will not continue to disserve its people.