Does Louisiana Have an “ETHIC BOARD?”

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WHEN “JUST POLITICS” TRIPS THE SWITCH OF, DARE WE SAY IT, RIGHT AND WRONG

by Elliott Stonecipher

My good friend C. B. Forgotston referred to the news as “chilling.”  As more details of Martha Manuel’s firing by her handlers within the Jindal Administration came into focus, the chill deepened.  The relative silence in reaction was no surprise, in a way.  In our world in which such actions are typically written-off by far too many as “just politics,” reacting to this one required a relative bit of quiet thought.

For those who may not know the details of this notable event in our state capital, here is solid reporting from Michelle Millhollon at the Morning Advocate.

I’d bet that most of us in and around Louisiana politics do not know Ms. Manuel.  I do not, and neither did I know when Governor Jindal hired her last year.  On the other hand, I’ve long known of the Office of Elderly Affairs she headed until she offended the governor.  For those involved in local councils on aging, the work of that office is well known and almost always strongly supported.

Some of the quiet in the reaction to this event is no doubt traceable to whether or not a person really understands what being an unclassified employee in government means.  There is no need to belabor:  it means, as it is often and politely put by politicos, that the subject employee “serves at the pleasure of” the politico who hires them.  Not so politely put, it means that these appointees – typically favored with nowadays very sweet salaries and/or benefits – serve at the pure whim of he or she who favors them with the job in the first place.  Years ago, I was one of those hired (for $19,500) hands, and it’s no fun.  It is a “what price my soul” kind of spot in which to work each day.  As one example of that too frequent employee dilemma, if the boss is crooked, you have a problem, and the only safe resolution of it is to find work elsewhere, post haste.

This firing, none of those facts withstanding, flipped a switch within a lot of us.  The switch, I believe, each of us was born with, regardless of whether or not it long since stopped working for some of us.  Somewhere in the mix of morality and faith and character and integrity, we have a God-given ability to know when something is, well, just wrong.

This one flipped my switch to “Off,” which is to say, to some inner warning that what just happened went too far, somehow.

After a while, I sorted it out.  This firing – as justified as it is in the awful world of “just politics” – has a stream of hypocrisy running through it which removes its justification at a human level.  If Governor Jindal openly practiced the dark political arts without apology – like Rahm Emanuel, for example – this one would not have stopped me in my tracks.  In that case, Ms. Manuel would be a victim of one of the oldest rules, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” meaning don’t take the job in the first place.  This, though, is Governor Jindal, carefully positioned as something better than that.  That image is hugely invested in and nurtured and marketed and hawked, in all things he does.

The Ethics Board

Since before the governor’s inauguration, I have worked hard to explain that the “old” ethics board was being put out of business, with cold calculation, by the governor and his team, and a handful of legislators with ethics complaints in the pipeline at the time.  I was working, pro bono, with the “old” Board then, and we knew very well that Jindal, at the request of those legislators and a few others, had targeted the Board for extinction, though he has never admitted that to the public.  Not only did it work, but it worked without any meetings with Ethics Board members to discuss the impact, much less alternatives.  Ms. Manuel is reported to have been just as wounded by the absence of any pre-firing discussion about her opposition to the governor’s position.

Jindal replaced the Ethics Board with ethics adjudicators hired and supervised by an unclassified state employee … like Ms. Manuel.  Jindal apologists have many legal-technical arguments to lobby us into believing that such is not the case, but it is:  if a friend of Jindal gets sideways with state ethics laws, we should all know and understand that the lady running that political op paid close attention to this story this week.  If that lady knows the governor is wrong, she must choose between the price of her soul and keeping her job … it’s just that simple.

‘Truth is, too much of “just politics” is nasty and unjust and in many cases corrupt and something we should never, ever just accept, no matter how much the media and politicians do exactly that.

We have that switch inside us for a reason.  It is my hope we will use it – attached as it is to our noggins and hearts – much more quickly and resolutely in our judgments of politicians and what they do, versus what they say.  If so, we will know something’s not right in all of this, and maybe in a while, we’ll start voting and reacting accordingly.

Elliott Stonecipher

Elliott Stonecipher’s reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest.  No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

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