Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bad Leadership, Bad Politics

I've been thinking more about the Louisiana legislative pay raise debate and Bobby Jindal's spineless non-stance on the issue.

Our elected representatives in Baton Rouge have voted in favor of a pay raise for themselves from roughly $16,000 a year to roughly $38,000 a year. Governor Bobby Jindal has said that he opposes the pay raise but will not veto it.

Yesterday I thought that while this was clearly cowardly waffling on the part of the Governor, I talked myself into the non-stance being the correct political play.

My reasoning was that, at heart, this pay raise is good policy and should be enacted. A salary of under $20k per year ensures that elected representatives must have a level independent wealth that automatically is unrepresentative of the population they are charged with leading. To me, this is ethics reform. Working in the State House and State Senate should be a full time job and should pay a full time salary. I want my representatives to be professional. It makes sense to ensure that they can support their family without additional private incomes or bases of wealth from sources that often create the appearance of conflicting interest.

I thought that by speaking out against the pay raise but refusing to veto it, Bobby Jindal would be preserving some sort of populist high ground given the sudden voter anger over the bill while the act of actually signing it would be putting a halfway decent bill into law and earning some bipartisan capital amongst legislative colleagues.

(But in the end, I really had to talk myself into that rationale.)

Today, my analysis completely fell apart as Jindal took a hammering. Instead of anger remaining focused on the legislators that actually voted for the bill, it shifted to Jindal's blatant cowardice. Why, if he opposes the pay raise, won't he stand up to the legislature and veto it?

I hadn't realized that the governor straight-up promised that he'd refuse to allow pay raises to boost salaries within the same session. So now Jindal looks like a coward and a liar. And it's not a partisan criticism.

Jindal is now trying to put the controversy back into the laps of the legislature by calling on them to pass a new bill recalling the pay raise even though there are only five days left in the session and no new bills are permitted on the floor.

This was the dumbest play of all. He has now alienated his own base and hung members of his own party out to dry.

"I don't know why he is trying to antagonize the Legislature," House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, said of Jindal's request.

"I'll leave it in his hands," Tucker said.

"I did the right thing for the Legislature," Tucker said.

So what would have been the right political play here?


The right political play would have been to provide brave leadership.

There are some things that I would change about the bill. For one, it would be a better piece of legislation if it automatically tied future pay increases to inflation or rises in the median state family income level. It would be a better bill if the raise didn't take effect until 2010 or if it exempted currently sitting legislators.

Why didn't Jindal fight to ensure that the pay raise included some of those caveats?

Why didn't Jindal work with the Legislature to make the bill part of the ethics reform package?

I'm glad Jindal will not veto the pay raise, I think it is generally well-intentioned and will ultimately lead to better, more ethical, and more representative governance in the legislature.

It should be a better bill. And it could have been.

And it could have avoided all the controversy.


oyster said...

When you're analyzing the politics of this, I think it's useful to consider the strong likelihood that this pay raise deal was part of a deal involving other legislation that is near and dear to the Jindal administration. He won't veto it because it is part of a quid pro quo arrangement with other key legislators who will support (or already supported) his other b.s. plans.

Of course he told them he needed the flexibility to publicly "disapprove" if things got heated, but he told them he wouldn't veto a payraise. So he can't go back on it now and veto it, without making some powerful, lifelong legislative enemies. He's only 6 months into his term, so he's totally f-cked himself on this. When the heat became intolerable, he tried to publicly put the blame back on the Legislature, and, as you noted, his former allies like Jim Tucker felt "antagonized". It was the worst possible play, but Jindal and Teepell had no good options.

Now, I don't know all the different things that might've been promised or subtly hinted at during these backroom negotiations, but now everything that happens subsequent to the payraise kerfuffle should be regarded with suspicion, as a potential part of the deal.

Give him a chance said...

Apart from this pay raise crap, can you name one thing that he has done thus far as governor that is detrimental to the people of Louisiana?

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