APPEL: Tiny Little Signs The Louisiana Senate Is Starting To Become An Independent Body

Just a few important nuances from the trenches at the Louisiana Senate this week…

For the first time in my years the Senate has taken small but significant steps to assume a role as an independent legislative body. The defeat on Tuesday of a group of feel-good bills that were the governor’s pets but that presented very real dangers to our fragile economy was a sign of a Senate that has finally moved from being the governor’s backup in the legislature. In this I am not only referring to the current governor, as the Senate has been a safe bet for most governors through our state’s history.

Another subtle tidbit was the politics of these bills. When there is an issue that really must be addressed, the governor or legislators who take the lead in the legislative process reach out to all members in order to try to reach a mutually agreeable solution BEFORE the legislation reaches the floor. In the case of the recent bills a political observer will be astute to note that these bills were drafted along with the governor by the Democrat minority in the Senate, driven by that group through a friendly committee, promoted by a friendly media, and brought to the floor without any discussions with the majority Republicans. That astute political observer will draw the conclusion that the political theater that was the process surrounding these bills was more about using the friendly media to play to the left-wing base and for creating political pitfalls for opponents than it was about trying to address a problem. This legislation, after all, would do nothing but exacerbate the perceived problem of workplace inequality.

Another outcome this week was the defeat of my own bill that would have allowed seniors who are on Medicaid to have the option of staying at home instead of being forced into a nursing home. I knew when I started my effort that I was a doomed to defeat, but the prospect of helping seniors and at the same time saving millions for the taxpayers was too strong to ignore. The ultimate end was as I predicted, my sense that to beat the lobby that, other than trial lawyers, spends more on contributions to the legislature and the governor (north of $750,000 at last count) was a hill too high to climb. I guess since the source of the nursing homes’ largesse is public dollars we should ask how they can afford to spend so much on self-protecting politics? The answer is simple – the Louisiana Hayride rolls on!

My final report this week is a really subtle move by the governor. We all recognize that his efforts to reinforce the Long-era programs that have held us back for so long have been hampered by his lack of a tool that most governors have had. That tool is the ability to use capital outlay funding for his favorites in the legislature and to use those funds to buy votes from reticent legislators. Frankly he is a victim (if that is the word) of two poor circumstances, the first of which is that we just don’t have much in the way of funds. The second problem for the governor was self-inflicted. In one of what was actually his best policies he has applied those scarce capital outlay funds to repairs and maintenance. That good-government policy backfired because he couldn’t buy votes by funding new local projects that politicians love.

But the governor has seen the political cost of good government as he has lost his own support base, especially that of the Black Caucus. Now he seeks to dump good government for political pragmatism. He wants to use excessive funds from this fiscal year to “invest” in local projects. “Invest” can be translated as a Democrat’s effort to spend as much as possible on their base. In other words he wants to trade cash back home for votes in Baton Rouge. This one will be interesting to watch as it develops.

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