Earlier this week, the non-partisan and non-profit Center for Public Integrity (info about the Center here) released its State Integrity Investigation. To say the least, the searing appraisal of how corruption-prone each state in America is has caught the attention of many, likely boosted by it use of letter grades for each of the various aspects of governmental integrity (read more here).
As the Center and its partners Global Integrity and Public Radio International specifically note, there are no winners among American states in this context. That’s no surprise. It’s what humans, Americans specifically included, do, especially in places where the welcome mat to the corrupt is never rolled-up and put away.
‘Speaking of …
No one in Louisiana should be surprised that in the areas most easily understood and most critical to good government, we stink. (Details of our fetor here.)
To summarize, here are our grades that count …
… F in Public Access to Information
… F in Judicial Accountability
… D- in Political Financing
… D+ in Lobbying Disclosure
… D+ in Ethics Enforcement Agencies
Lest anyone accuse me of hiding the “good news” – as if there is any – in that selective list, I inoculate myself against the charge by noting our “A” – the only one – in Internal Auditing.
Any way a truth-teller cuts it on this matter, here’s where that truth lands us: much of the damage done to Louisiana in these critical areas of public, governmental business has been done by Team Jindal. It isn’t just that this group has turned out to be anything but reformers, it’s that they backed Louisiana up so far.
How do we reconcile the grades above with the deafening cry since our governor’s 2007 election of our new “Ethics Gold Standard?” And it isn’t only that this administration carefully and maliciously guided a team of dark artists in killing what ethics enforcement we did have – which this group absolutely has done … killed it – it’s that so very many continue to peddle the original lie.
When a group of 4 or 5 of us discovered immediately after Jindal’s election in 2007 that his mighty mites were drafting bills to effectively kill enforcement of ethics laws, we did everything we could to get the state – and notably its news media – to listen, and to respond. With few exceptions – the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, (Alison Bath at) the Shreveport Times, Gambit, Lafayette’s The Independent Weekly, and Jeremy Alford notable among them – we were not only ignored, but in many cases attacked. Yes, attacked: for making the mistake of knowing and telling Louisiana what their governor was really – factually – up to. Even after the “old” Louisiana Ethics Board resigned (all but one member) in protest – for which those members, too, were attacked by the Jindalistas and their legion of adorers – a couple of dozen folks in a state population of four-and-a-half million stood in opposition to Louisiana’s own big lie.
Now that the Center of Public Integrity makes the death of ethics enforcement in Louisiana official, can we expect a chorus of mea culpas from the Louisiana news media? Hell no. What we are hearing instead is the reeking claim from Team Jindal and their legislative puppets that a package of bills in the current session will set everything straight. These folks have no shame: they know those bills are only the latest bad joke on the subject, changing nothing – nothing – that really matters. Joining in with them are a host of inside-the-Capital-bubble “reform” mouthpieces – with media support out the wazoo – who shudder at the mere idea of life after public opposition to anything our governor does.
To dramatically underscore the accuracy and veracity of our 2007 claims and warnings, consider the recent case of Louisiana’s former Executive Director of the Office of Elderly Affairs, Martha Manuel (Michelle Millhollon’s story here). What I’ve proclaimed and explained on this subject since 2007 was that putting an unclassified employee in charge of the new ethics enforcement adjudicators was just plain stupid … unless you’re the governor who crafted the stinky new ethics regime. The state employee in charge serves at the whim and fancy of the governor, and will therefore do precisely as the governor says – no matter who has been caught in unethical behavior and the governor wants to protect. The test score from the Center for Public Integrity on this precise aspect of our ethics enforcement “gold standard” via Gov. Jindal is 52%. Team Jindal was, of course, completely unruffled by this big, red and awful failing grade.
Ethics? What Ethics?!
While we have this little chat, our state capital is in the midst of a god-awful display of some of the most unethical behavior to come from any administration in our history. Ethics evaluations and rankings aside, this outrageous display of heavy-handedness by a governor is where the ethics rubber meets the where-it-counts road.
In the name of “good government” – defined by the Jindal administration as whatever it likes, will accept, and demands – our governor is intimidating opponents in ways not seen since Huey and Earl. Far past “just politics” is sending top officials to intimidate opponents at their news conferences, firing the administration’s rare public truth tellers, or filing public records requests for opponent legislator’s e-mails. Soon we will hear that Team Jindal, a la Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, is ordering-up audits of opponents’ tax returns, and monitoring their bedroom activity. Public comparisons to Brown Shirts in Nazi Germany thus arise, along with musing about when and how political spin morphs into the Big Lie.
What we are observing, in fact, is a dramatic connecting of the dots between this administration’s political hit on Louisiana’s governmental ethics regime – now powerfully and independently confirmed – and the ethicslessness of those who fired that kill shot.
What it takes for a governor and team to knowingly and maliciously kill ethics enforcement is team members who aren’t ethical. I don’t know about anyone else, but I deserve much, much better from those I elect and pay to lead this state.
But, hey, what are ya gonna do … file an ethics complaint?
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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