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Legislative careers depend on Jindal's pay raise choice

As the legislative pay raise fiasco continues to evolve, political careers come under threat, and it’s interesting to see the different reactions, signaling career implications, lawmakers exhibit in the face of a changing political landscape many obviously didn’t predict and apparently didn’t understand.

First, there are those who don’t care what their constituents think because long ago they anointed themselves as a special political class they see as above their employers, the people. An example is state Rep. Juan LaFonta who whines that recently he has spent little time in his law practice and much more on legislative affairs so he needs more compensation for a “full time” job.

Why he feels this way, at first, is somewhat of a mystery because his district at best has partially recovered from the 2005 hurricane disasters, so there aren’t exactly a lot of constituents at this point for him to be worried about. But therein also lies the answer, among other reasons.

With fewer constituents around, LaFonta has less reason to worry about backlash from them over the raise. In addition, his constituents, judged by their lower turnout (less that 23 percent in 2007) typically in elections, are less likely to be engaged in politics and care about what happens. (These statistics are similar to most majority-black districts in the state and only four of the 29 black legislators votes against the raise. Race of legislator also affects the regional distribution of the vote – remove black legislators from the votes and disproportionately it was the Baton Rouge and New Orleans whites who voted for the raise.)

Also, as an individual he has taken on the leadership of the Legislative Black Caucus which wasn’t necessary, nor, given what government really should be about and doing, should it have that much to do anyway. (Instead, it is expanding.) Finally, LaFonta typically introduces and supports legislation which tries to expand unneeded government interference into people’s lives, which serves to expand the nature of the legislator’s job.

These point out the two obvious fallacies in LaFonta’s complaint. For one, if he spends so much time on the job, it’s because he doesn’t know the real scope and purpose of government and insists on expanding it beyond its legitimate role not because it’s necessary, but because he likes it that way and wants you to pay for him to do what he wants. Additionally, if he doesn’t like the legislative salary, he is perfectly free to spend more time on his law practice to the point of resigning his seat (as did former state Rep. Mike Powell when faced with a similar situation). Nobody is forcing him to be a state legislator, and he ought not to be forcing taxpayers to pay for his hobby.

Such legislators feel no remorse nor pressure and their careers are largely unaffected by this issue. But some legislators are not in the position to ignore their constituents, and a few who voted for the raise now think their careers are in jeopardy. Two, state Reps. Frank Hoffman and John LaBruzzo, publicly have repudiated their votes and, after not turning in a request not to accept the raises by the original Jun. 17 deadline, claim they have taken advantage of an extension of that deadline to refuse the raises (even as they lack evidence to substantiate this disavowal). While they may not admit their actions are based upon electoral considerations, that they both initially defended wholly the raises and then turned against them not because they inherently were bad ideas but because of public reaction speaks volumes as to their true rationales.

State Rep. Tim Burns also joins the late refusniks for the same hidden reason but from a different position. He migrated from the camp of the likes of House Speaker Jim Tucker who voted for the raise but said he would donate it to charity, scholarships, district projects, and the like. Note that this is an entirely unprincipled reaction to the issue that is little more than a con job to make people think the legislator isn’t arrogant and greedy. All it does it creates an extra pot of money for Tucker to use legally to entice votes in the future. Scarcely little more moral authority accrues to lawmakers who have adopted this position but who originally voted against the raise like Sen. Mike Walsworth; if he really meant opposition to the raise, he would refuse it and not use it to further his political career.

To date, 23 of 142 have rejected the raise. While some of that group voted for it, many did not and they – state Reps. Chris Hazel, Tony Ligi, Nick Lorusso, Dee Richard, Clif Richardson, Karen St. Germain, Kirk Talbot, and Don Trahan, and state Sens. Jody Amedee, Bill Cassidy; Don Cravins, Jack Donahue, and Neil Riser (A.G. Crowe voted against it only on the second opportunity, keeping it alive with his first vote) -- have the most moral authority and least electoral worries. Judging from current events, those who voted against and have accepted the raise appear unthreatened electorally.

The most interesting category is the remainder, unapologetic legislators who voted for it and are accepting it from district who have a politically active, involved citizenry. Three – state Reps. Franklin Foil, Joe Lopinto, and Steve Pugh – already have been hit by recall petitions and it will be interesting to see whether they respond as have the late refusniks and even take the step of repudiation. All three are from urban areas and had at least 47 percent turnout in their elections. (Tucker also got an inevitable petition up against him, as he is widely seen as the leader of the raise movement.)

Yet this is a political risk, to repent in turning the raise down late and especially in repudiating a previous affirmative vote. It may not mollify angered constituents who will complain these guys should have (literally) put their money then where their mouths are now and not have voted for the raise. Again, it smacks of political convenience and, if the raise gets vetoed, they are not even left with a higher salary for their trouble.

Which is why these guys need to go to Jindal to talk him into bailing them out, as only LaBruzzo now joined by Hoffman has done (there is evidence that at least some legislators have done or are doing this). A veto means they lose nothing and gain enough respect from the citizenry that their seats probably will not be challenged on that basis.

As Jindal prepares to hurl himself off a political cliff through inaction, legislative careers remain on the line and may also be affected by his ultimate decision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that Robert Adley may find that people are more interested in this than he would like.