AS DEMOCRACY INVADES THE CAPITOLby Elliott Stonecipher
In Louisiana’s world of politics and government, and particularly during our Jindal years, the citizenry is rarely offered a reason to admire and praise legislative goings-on. Today, though, we have such reason.
Good ol’ down-home democracy broke out in our state capitol yesterday. Our Louisiana House of Representatives lifted a page or two from America’s and Louisiana’s constitutions to demonstrate what a balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches looks like, and what such balance may yield and promise. It is marvelous and fascinating stuff to see again from our state government, missing as it has been since Bobby Jindal was elected governor, and so much of our money is routinely used to incentivize (legally, we hope) abject gutlessness from and by a solid majority in our legislature.
For any who care to read the details of the action by the House of Representatives, here is Michelle Millhollon’s strong reporting from the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. No matter that Jindal has knowingly muddied all such important considerations on his march to national office, for me, the issue was and is crystal clear: the state constitution forbids the use of one-time money in the state operating budget. Jindal, after an epic flip-flop on the issue, now simply ignores that fact. Yesterday, a majority of those voting in the House finally got around to doing their jobs, and called his hand. The House voted to tell the governor it wanted a different budget than the one he dictated and intends to once again strong-arm through the House and Senate.
Of course, this House vote should not be any big deal, but in today’s Jindal-led Louisiana, the people must take any such victory anywhere we can get it. The point is, we now know that our state House understands that it can draw a line – a clear one – in reminding our governor, from time to time, that dictators are not elected … governors are. It the responsibility of the House of Representatives to draw up a budget, NOT to rubber-stamp one drawn up by any governor, and for good reason: Gov. Jindal’s motives are astoundingly of the personal, political kind. Thus, the people of Louisiana – whose votes will likely never be needed by him again – only rarely come first in his thinking and official acting. Whatever it is he and his team want national pundits and political bosses in his party to say and write, we have been taught, is almost always his motive. A legislature which follows blindly our governor’s personal, political agenda has forgotten – as has the governor – what words each spoke as oaths were taken to serve the people of this state.
Yes, I understand, for those who are reading this and wonder, our celebration may well be brief. Our governor’s “own” Senate majority will put things back where he wants them when these bills move to that chamber. The Senate, we know, is his home field. We can hope, nevertheless, that gaining House concurrence with any Senate changes will be a spirited fight. A resulting conference committee might take this important tussle into extra innings. The longer this push-back from the legislature goes on, the more good is done for a state struggling as is ours. The executive vs. legislative branch balance of power is an absolute key to healthy and vibrant government and political function, no matter how little use our governor finds for such.
Make no mistake about it: we all can also expect Gov. Jindal and his team to intimate, punish and otherwise (relatively) abuse those who oppose him. Team Jindal has certainly and repeatedly demonstrated that such is their heart. We are told a threatening letter from him has already gone out to those who did – or even consider doing – the right thing by the people who elect them. Regardless, we thank each of those who provided leadership, including Senator David Vitter, State Treasurer John Kennedy, C. B. Forgotston, and Reps. Cameron Henry, Brett Geymann and John Schroder.
For those of you in this readership who are in the national media, please take note: a very real crack in Gov. Jindal’s armor is now visible for all to see. Not unusually, he was doing the wrong thing. Very unusually, he was told “No.”
It never happens in Gov. Jindal’s Louisiana …
… until it happened.
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.