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Policy failures send NW LA legislators on different paths

It’s a tale of two Northwest Louisiana legislators who pursued similar ends during this year's legisaltive session but whose reactions to it ended very differently.

Former state Rep. Wayne Waddell, among other things, pushed for three pieces of legislation that he claimed would force the governor’s office to open more records without adverse consequences. Opposed by the governor and eventually a majority of his colleagues (at least at the committee level), by contrast one of his successes was passing a resolution commending former legislator Forrest Dunn on his retirement from leading the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport.

Less than a month later, at session’s end Waddell was Dunn’s replacement, chosen by Secretary of State Jay Dardenne for the post. Giving up his seat for this in a way provided tardy justice. As the 2007 election approached, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Waddell had exceeded term limitation requirements, but he could take office because he had no opponent and no challenge had been filed against him within the legally prescribed time.

At this point, the honorable thing would have been for Waddell to resign prior to the organizational session in early 2008 but he did not. Now, better late than never.

His colleague state Sen. Robert Adley was equally as ineffective in pushing similar legislation (rejected by a Senate committee) this year, but rather than accept quietly the decision of his colleagues he became especially riled when he argued that Gov. Bobby Jindal exerted payback for his failed efforts.

When Jindal issued his line item vetoes on members’ amendments, or state tax dollars steered to specific local projects and uses both inside and outside of local government in a legislator’s district commonly referred to as “slush funds,” Adley’s prominently were excised, prompting the one-time minor candidate for governor to remark about the action of the current occupant, “It’s one thing to veto my bill. It’s another thing to veto worthy causes, to hurt other people because you’re mad at me.” Adley got it again when four of his capital budget items also got removed, leading him to whine, “The projects are things people need. They paid their tax money for it.”

These vetoes especially hurt Adley politically because he’s very much a proponent of bringing home the bacon regardless of the good (or lack of) it will do the state as a whole, in part to distract local voters from his penchant from talking out of both sides of his mouth. And his comments go to show how little Adley understands philosophically about these funds and the political process.

It’s not that these vetoes aren’t deserved; one could make a great case every single request should have been. In the case of local governments, Jindal has made the point that by having local governments do the spending themselves improved accountability as citizens could more easily understand where they tax dollars were going and make better judgments on policy. For example, one veto that vexed Adley axed a police car for Sarepta (population under 1,000). If the town so badly needs a police car, why must it go to the state? How much would it cost the citizenry for an installment loan on it? And if the municipality is so broke that it can’t even afford a note of a few hundred bucks a month, doesn’t that beg the question about whether a combination of tax increases or reduction in services should be implemented instead of making taxpayers statewide pay for it? In fact, if this item is too expensive for the town to support, why doesn’t it just disband its police force and depend upon Webster Parish sheriff’s deputies for protection? And why should state taxpayers foot the bill for Plain Dealing's water system?

It’s these hard questions that end up getting avoided. Adley’s reaction shows he has every intention of dodging them. Even so, Jindal’s criteria for member's amendments offer – as either a “state agency need” or as having “substantial regional impact” – a chance to spare some spending. But at the same time, judgment calls left discretionary room that is part of the political process – an aspect Adley is free to lobby to change through constitutional amendment wiping out the line item veto power.

Further, Adley has a solution under this process if he wishes to counter Jindal’s agenda provided for in the Louisiana Constitution: he can urge his colleagues to call a veto override session, and then successfully undo the vetoes (a solution he made half-hearted mention of and really did nothing about). It’s all part of a separation of powers, checks and balances arrangement to maximize the chances of good policy-making at the statewide level. If Adley truly believes that this “worthy cause” is in the best interest of all his constituents and state taxpayers, he would call for this session and welcome the opportunity to argue this position in front of his colleagues and citizens.

Otherwise, he’s just bloviating a lot of hot air And his dyspepsia isn’t even logical as by his worldview it’s his own actions, not the Jindal Administration’s, that “hurt other people.” Being of long tenure in the Legislature and being as suspicious of gubernatorial power as he lets on, he should have known there was a good risk that (if it’s true) his bill would trigger the reaction, then he must blame himself and his own lack of prudence in recklessly pursuing the bill if shoveling money for police cars, tourism efforts, water systems, courthouse annexes, and even no-strings-use of it to towns are so important for the state. After all, if you choose not to get out of the way, leading is more productive than whining.

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