So I Attended Lance Harris’ Fateful Speech Yesterday…

…that both Kevin Boyd and Jeff Sadow have commented about here at the site today.

What Kevin and Jeff have taken particular exception to was this, which the Advocate’s Mark Ballard took down at the event…

House Republicans will be particularly under pressure to accept the SAVE fund to avoid having to approve measures during a veto override session that would increase the tax burden. That pressure was on display Tuesday when state Rep. Lance Harris was questioned sharply at a luncheon sponsored by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish about why lawmakers hadn’t made deeper cuts in programs that conservatives dislike.

A burly Republican businessman from Alexandria, Harris said legislators are doing the best they can in a difficult situation.

“You don’t have the LGBT agenda this year,” he said. “You don’t have the pro-choice (abortion) agenda this year. You don’t have the expansion of Medicaid this year. You have gotten everything you wanted as a conservative on the social issues you want. Period. But we still have to govern as the Republican Party when it comes to the finances of the state of Louisiana. And to call some of us liberals because we have to make that tough choice…”

Harris stopped mid-sentence.

“We have taken care of 90 percent of what conservatives want taken care of,” he added.

But there was a whole lot more said by Harris that Ballard didn’t include in his article, and frankly most of it is a lot more interesting than the quote he pulled.

First of all, the reason Harris was “questioned sharply” by the conservative activists at the Reagan Newsmaker luncheon yesterday was that he couldn’t name a single thing the legislature had agreed on cutting.

Nothing.

He said there would be cuts in the executive budget, but he couldn’t point to any specifics. He assured the crowd there would be cuts, but if he was serious about that you’d think that he’d be equipped to speak to a crowd of conservatives who would applaud the announcement of actual diminution in the size of government.

Instead, he tried to sell the audience on how devastating it would be if LSU-Alexandria took a big budget hit. It didn’t particularly make much of an impact. Asked “What about SUNO?” his initial reaction was to agree that it would be devastating if SUNO got cut. But when it was explained that SUNO is the worst public college in America and that it would be a good thing if it and its 11 percent six-year graduation rate were to disappear from the scene, and that if SUNO can’t be done away with in a year there’s a $1.6 billion deficit it’ll never be done, he didn’t have much to say.

Asked about the fact most of the tax increase bills the House passed didn’t have a two-thirds vote, and are therefore unconstitutional, and rather than pay those tax increases their victims will likely sue on that basis and win, what the budget impact would be, Harris had a peculiar answer. He said he relies on House Speaker Chuck Kleckley’s judgement as to what majority is required to pass which bill, and Kleckley said they didn’t need a two-thirds vote.

Kleckley, of course, isn’t on the state Supreme Court, which has already ruled on the two-thirds question and not in a way favorable to what the House did this session. Nor is Kleckley an attorney. To say this inspired confidence wouldn’t be an accurate reading of the crowd.

He was asked about the failure of the paycheck protection bill, and he said they didn’t have the votes and the author pulled it. That’s correct, of course, but as the leader of the House delegation his role is very similar to that of a majority whip in the U.S. Congress. But Harris didn’t whip the vote on paycheck protection, at least not in any way folks would be impressed with. In fact, that was a specific complaint we heard from the advocates of the bill both inside and outside the legislature. Harris blamed the failure on the unions unleashing lobbyists and pressure on Republican members, which begs the question why the leader of the Republican delegation has less influence over Republican legislators than Democrats working for the unions do.

And he spent a lot of time talking about all the dedicated money in both the state constitution and in statutes, but didn’t offer any deliverables in terms of success in reforms to that problem. We agree, as everybody seems to, that there is far too much money dedicated to this cause or that and not enough in the general fund that the legislature can use to prioritize spending – but you get elected to fix problems like that. Asked what’s being done on that score, he mentioned a couple of bills that didn’t pass…last year.

But the piece de resistance was when he decided he would dedicate a sizable chunk of the conversation to a diatribe about Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform.

Harris made a big issue of Norquist’s no-tax pledge, and declared that he has no proper role in determining how Louisiana is governed. He was one of the authors of that dopey letter to Norquist demanding to know whether the SAVE Act would be considered revenue-neutral last week, and took umbrage at Kevin’s characterization of the letter as “groveling” (sorry, but Kevin was right about that), and didn’t lose any steam at all when I asked him why, if Norquist isn’t important to Louisiana Harris and Joel Robideaux and the rest are wasting their time writing him letters with time running out in the session.

The fact is, as Norquist noted in his response to Harris and the gang he’s not their problem. Their problem is that (1) they haven’t had the will or the imagination to reform state government to make it smaller and less wasteful when it’s obvious that must be done, and (2) they’ve failed to coordinate with Gov. Bobby Jindal in producing a viable balanced budget. The latter isn’t easy, of course; Jindal is a terrible budgeter as a governor. But in the case of the SAVE Act and Harris’ screaming about it, Jindal looks more and more like the adult in the room.

The reason Grover Norquist is supposed to be important where the SAVE Act is concerned is that Norquist apparently has magical powers to control whether Jindal will veto tax increases or not, and unless Norquist signs off on the SAVE Act (he’s told Harris and company that he’s not doing any such thing) Jindal is purportedly going to veto all the tax increases.

Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. The SAVE Act was Bobby Jindal’s idea. He’s all of a sudden going to veto it unless Norquist signs off on it in advance? This is what passes for the analysis of the House Republican delegation?

The diatribe didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

One wants to sympathize with Harris, because he has a tough job in leading that delegation – and he has a large number of absolutely awful state legislators on his roster. To a degree he’s engaged in cat-herding, and so if he can’t consistently deliver legislative outcomes that look like conservatives are running the place it’s understandable.

But what’s not understandable is the enthusiasm Mr. Conservative Harris has all of a sudden developed for tax increases and bashing of Jindal and Norquist, as opposed to some reticence about leading on creating structural change at that capitol. He went on and on about how Republicans have to govern or the voters will remove them from the majority, while equating tax increases as governance.

That’s not what we voted for, and it’s not what we were promised. One gets the impression Harris is oblivious to the alienation he and his pals in the leadership are engendering among their own voters.

It won’t be Democrats eliminating the folks who see things as Harris does from their positions of power. It will be the people who sent them to the capitol in the first place.



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