The latest justification by allies of the Governor for the failure of tax bills in the Louisiana Legislature is that in their view clearly we are descending into Washington style politics. That term is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of our citizens that there is some kind of an effort to block the Administration just because the Governor has a “”D behind his name.
Perhaps in the context of Washington, this form of politics is a sign of failure, but in fact there is no relationship in our situation. Actually I believe that what is happening in Louisiana are two undercurrents that are just manifesting themselves in a manner not seen before.
First, at least in case of many legislators, there is for the first time in our modern history a desire to break away from the tradition that the Legislature act blindly in accord with the Governor’s wishes.
Separation of powers is a basic tenet of American political philosophy, but in our state for as long as anyone can remember, it has been subsumed to the will of the Administration.
Let me make very clear that though there was much discussion of legislative freedom under the last Administration, we failed miserably to take the initiative. In part the result is the mess that we are in today. I accept that we dropped the ball but that does not mean that we should not learn from our mistakes and make the changes necessary to do a far better job. There is nothing that mandates that we should keep doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome!
The Governor should absolutely present his vision and draft legislation to achieve his goals. But, in good faith and with careful consideration and challenge, the Legislature is not obligated to just accept his plan. Equally as important, though it has always been done in the past, the Governor should not interfere with the leadership of the Legislature.
Finally, if the Governor elects to enact in the Washington practice of sustentative executive orders, such as Medicaid expansion, the Legislature is just and right to challenge him. Though I don’t blame the Governor for acting as his predecessors have done, these types of unilateral decisions by the Governor are justifiably perceived by the Legislature as a manifestation of contempt for separation of powers principles.
The other sea change in political thinking that has led to the failure of the tax bills is a nascent realization within the Legislature that, though one of the richest states in resources Louisiana remains mired in the bottom of 21st century success, we hang on to a century-old populist political philosophy.
The Governor has presented a vision that is clearly a maintenance of, even a growth of, the status quo. Big government, state centric control, transfer of wealth, a chicken in every pot; all part of the definition of Louisiana’s historic populism and an anathema to the philosophy of the growth of the peoples’ wealth and happiness through the free market.
There are two views of the duty of legislators; there is one in which the legislator sticks a finger in the wind and votes strictly in accord with his sense of the peoples’ desires at that instant, the other view derives from the basis of a republic, a legislator is sent to a legislative body to serve as a leader in political thought and to vote in accord of what is the best interest of the whole.
In contrast to the apologists who scream Washington-style politics, I view the legislature as finally taking baby steps toward acting in the best interest of the state as a whole. That belief may be tempered by our next steps. If, in the next years, we demonstrate that as legislators we vote no to maintaining the status quo, not as a slap to the Governor, but as a first step toward real reform, reform not only in tax policy but also in much more fundamental state policies, then we may all see a brighter future for our state.