Where you stand depends on where you sit turned out reaffirmed by deliberations in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee over the issue of abolishing the office of lieutenant governor and farming out its function.
As state Rep. Cameron Henry’s HB 812 originally proposed, several million dollars a year would be saved by getting rid of an office the only duties of which are to oversee culture recreation, and tourism – which already has a department head to do the significant stuff so the lieutenant governor’s role is really little more than being a salesman – and waiting around in case he needs to assume temporarily or permanently the governorship. The bill was backed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and had a companion constitutional amendment which would require two-thirds of legislators to approve and then a majority of the voters.
However, it was recognized as a tough sell because it also is a chance for somebody to get a political job at $115,000 annual salary, especially desired by legislators facing term limits with a desire to continue political careers and ambitious others. In recognition of this, Henry got the bill amended to keep the office but kept the parceling of functions – just as it had been prior to 1986.
True, that’s not a very efficient use of dollars, but even in this form the bill was better that the current situation. As Jindal representative Stephen Waguespack and Henry argued, the savings from reduction of duplication of services simply were there which should override trepidations about changing practices now 24 years old. Henry also read out a laundry list of $25 million of slush fund money that the office distributed in the name of tourism that, if not under control of the lieutenant governor, could be scrutinized more carefully by the Legislature.
This reality did not deter opponents. While some committee members fretted over transition costs (which cannot be close to the realized savings) or wondered whether culture and tourism activities should be separated as the bill indicates (which is a procedural matter unrelated to the conceptual idea of removing the lieutenant governor’s control over them) or other minutiae, the main defense was hammered out by Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, who long ago announced his desire to run for the office that would exist with nothing to do if the bill passed.
Dardenne claimed the office was vital and necessary in overseeing it present functions, arguing an effective lieutenant governor could exploit what he said was a return of $17 for every $1 spent – which only illuminates the absurdity of such a claim because, if that were true, if the state would just spend $20 million more on tourism, it would wipe out next year’s forecasted $319 million deficit without resorting to other measures. He said efficiencies could be obtained without moving the functions out – but for a politician intent on reelection the temptation to dole out money on the basis of politics rather than efficiency in use surely must be greater than for one not facing the electorate.
When it came time for voting on the bill itself, committee Chairman state Rep. Rick Gallot, who also has been linked to running for the office, objected, and it was defeated 9-8. All votes in favor were Republican, but Republican state Reps. Brett Geymann, Nancy Landry, Erich Ponti, and Wayne Waddell voted against it along with independent state Rep. Dee Richard and all Democrats present. As a result, Henry deferred the constitutional amendment version of the bill; both could return before the session is over.
One could argue some of the votes against it were because the position was retained – except they unanimously voted for that amendment. So, in the end, the vote reflected political ambition over common sense, and