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14.1.10

Jindal request for better reform tips aggressive agenda

If his reaction to a proposed pay plan change for classified state employees is any indication, Gov. Bobby Jindal may be looking to swing for the fences in 2010.

Late last year, the State Civil Service Commission approved a change that would tie specific pay raises to performance levels, with better evaluated performances earning higher pay. It would allow exceptions to those with SCSC approval. The current system gives a flat raise to anybody scoring in the three highest performance categories which in 2008-09 turned out to be 98.4 percent of those rated, if the Legislature and governor authorizes one, although the Director of Civil Service can waive or halt these if budgetary difficulties are demonstrated.

This certainly was better than the prior system as it provided more rewards for higher achievers and provided incentives for lower achievers to improve or to leave the system. But Jindal vetoed this good reform, saying it was not as flexible as another proposal that had failed to gain passage which would set the percentage increase targets as discretionary maximums decided on a case-by-case basis by agencies, and would leave the ability to grant variances in the hands of the director.

The main reason why Jindal found this objectionable was because the adjustment in the scale, where adequate performers automatically would get a three percent, good performers four percent, and outstanding performers six percent, cures only a symptom and not the major disease that inhibits creation of a compensation adjustment regime that truly would reflect merit and encourage more efficient work: that the current distribution of evaluations simply is not credible and biased well to the high side. For 2008-09, about a third of evaluated employees were placed in the middle “meets expectations” category, almost half were in the higher “exceed expectations” category, and about a seventh were in the highest “outstanding” category. The last proportion might be realistic, but it is way too much to believe that four-fifths of the state’s classified work force is in the other two categories to be valid.

The DSCS has discussed with the SCSC reforming the evaluation process to make it more realistic, so this call for the unapproved previous plan is Jindal’s way of putting pressure on them to do so and to have a backup in case they don’t. Simply, if no genuine ratings will occur, agencies (on direction by the governor) would have the option of setting their own, lower levels than the 3/4/6 scheme under the governor-backed plan.

Jindal will get his way, and in time for the 2010 fiscal year. Not only does he appoint all but one of the SCSC members and can threaten not to reappoint if thwarted, but also he can inform them that it the change isn’t made, he’ll veto any legislative attempt to provide a pay raise according to the present four percent flat regime which the Legislature will not override. Raises will be given his way or not at all, and the change will happen.

This signals that Jindal isn’t content to settle for staying inside the park on this issue, but wants to hit a homer. If he brings that attitude to the legislative session this year (as one of his key allies predicts), there could be a lot of dramatic change and fireworks in the offing.

13.1.10

Correctly so, VP interest still hovers around Jindal

Two things seem apparent from a recent entry to Newsweek’s “The Gaggle” by Andrew Romano: that he read this post of mine from a half year ago, and that national interest among the chattering classes has yet to abate concerning the political future of Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The piece speculates about whether Republican Jindal will position himself for a potential vice presidential nomination slot in 2012. He reviews my logic about why Jindal is unlikely to run for president in 2012 – a constrained election calendar, additional benefits of serving two terms as governor, and the chancy nature of running against an incumbent (although he failed to note that this holds true even against a damaged incumbent, which I forecasted about Pres. Barack Obama even before he took office and which is coming to pass) – and also agrees with me that former candidate and governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney might be the guy to hook up with.

Romano takes the Romney angle and runs further with it, showing how Romney appears to favor Jindal and interaction between the two. In fact, given the demographics of various GOP hopefuls for 2012, most are in Jindal’s age range and would have been governors, so they probably would pick a running mate with more national experience and wrinkled craniums than Jindal; besides former candidate and governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee whose economic populism will be in deep disfavor after four years of Obama, only Romney fits the profile of a candidate that would pick someone with Jindal’s profile.

In case Romney does capture the nomination next time, another thing may favor Jindal’s selection even more compellingly: Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is the likeliest winner of the upcoming New Orleans’ mayor’s race and thereby with his exit to take that job probably means a Republican lieutenant governor will be present by the time Jindal would have to jump ship if getting elected in 2012. That’s one less discouragement to keep Jindal from leaving the national sidelines, knowing a Democrat and especially one with the surname of Landrieu won’t be sliding into the Governor’s Mansion as a result.

And yet another contingency works for Jindal on this account: if he can guide Louisiana through some tough budgetary times through his first term, he will gain major credit and maybe even a brighter 2012 economically and fiscally within the state – perhaps by some of his very deeds – could allow him a first year of a second term to spread a little cheer with moves such as tax cuts. The publicity from being able to manage the state without much pain in bad times and delivering on a conservative agenda in the good would make him even more attractive on a ticket.

If elected, it’s obvious where conceivably he could go from there. If not, a piece of historical risk remains for this strategy – only one president in the modern campaign period ever won the office after having participated in a losing vice presidential candidacy, and it took a depression to do it. Still, it’s a risk most politicians would take. From the other side of the equation, a reason that a presidential nominee might not take him would be he does not come from a swing state where a running mate could be used to move some electoral votes into the GOP column.

Still, what Romano wrote recently is as plausible as when I wrote it six months ago. Jindal may have this as an ultimate middle-term strategy that will hinge on his (very likely) reelection in 2011, and having the party pick the right guy to lead the way in 2012. If so, in the near-term look for him to continue with party-building efforts on his trips out of state, a prominent role in an upcoming Republican meeting in April (already listed as an invited speaker), and continued interaction with Romney.

12.1.10

Panel's uneven choices need fixing before conclusion

Louisiana’s Postsecondary Education Review Commission, assigned to find ways to make the state’s higher education work more efficiently, made some more decisions about recommendations for policy changes that are more uneven than the good work it has done to this point, with undesirable consequences unless fixed.

It produced two notable suggestions, which will be forwarded next month for disposition by the Legislature, from its latest meeting. First, it argued that the state should merge its several higher education governance boards into three, one for community and technical colleges, one for baccalaureate-and-above institutions, and the Board of Regents where the latter would provide overall policy coordination while the others concentrated on operational aspects. However, it said this should occur only if certain benchmarks were not achieved by 2014.

This was disappointing because the benefits of consolidation stand independently of any timeframe or other goals. Why have three different systems for baccalaureate-and-above schools (with a community college thrown into one of them) when their tasks essentially are the same? Perhaps it was a bow to political expediency because the constituencies built up behind the different systems would make difficult the merger, and some kind of signal of failure to create an imperative may have been thought necessary to have any chance of getting this through a majority of the Legislature, and with two-thirds voting approval by the public (as this necessitates a constitutional amendment).

11.1.10

LA GOP rightly censures group devaluing party ID

Internecine war to a degree broke out at the latest meeting of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee meeting. The question is whether the conflict helped or hindered the party’s chance at propagating its ideas.

Last year, a groups of GOP registrants but which has no formal affiliation with the party from New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans Republicans, had voted as a group to endorse state Sen. Edwin Murray’s bid to be the city’s next mayor. The problem was, Murray was a Democrat in a contest which had multiple Republican candidates, one of which, businessman Rob Couhig, had run respectably in 2006 gaining a double-digit share of the votes in a fragmented field.

This brought expressions of disapproval from the Committee, which meets quarterly to make broad governance decisions about the state party. It passed a resolution specifically censuring the group and generally calling on any state organization of Republicans to refrain from endorsements of non-Republicans when a GOP candidate was in a race. Mike Bayham, a Committee member who also is a member of the group, explained a majority of the group felt Couhig could not win. Ryan Booth, another Committee member, said he could understand the move as Murray was the best available candidate to defeat Democrat Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu “and the Democratic machine.” (Although the resolutions carry no enforcement, embarrassment on the group was increased when Murray subsequently dropped out of contest.)

But one wonders where Booth has been from the past several decades as political machines have come and gone in New Orleans no matter who was mayor. They’ve all had one thing in common – they’ve been of the Democrats, so what difference does it make which Democrat ends up leading whichever faction can gain ascendancy in the coming months as a result of this election?

And he and the group didn’t seem to understand that Murray would appear to have little to do with their presumed agendas – in the past five years as measured by my legislative scorecard at the Louisiana Legislature Log, on a scale where low scores represent extreme liberalism/populism, Murray has scored 42, 37, 35, 25, and (most recently), 5. In 2006 you might have been able to argue Murray wasn’t too far off being moderate, perhaps even more than Landrieu, but not now.

Bayham argued the specific mention of the group was a move of damaging inter-party strife that should be avoided. But that smacks more of acquiescence than understanding the purpose of a political party. To use the definition I give my American Government students, a political party seeks to organize and operate government for the purposes of making public policy by supplying candidates for offices with a label. That does mean if you are a group that deliberately adopts a party label in its name, you should be in the business of supporting candidates using that label or at least not supporting others with a different one when one or more of your own runs.

No, a Republican has little chance of winning citywide Feb. 6 or in any runoff. Yet to write off completely support of one of your own damages the very label and thereby the causes associated with it that those choosing to do so say they value. Like any attitude, party identification and thus the strong correlation it has with subsequent behavior like voting for the party’s candidates erodes when it is devalued by deliberately setting it aside in these situations, And the more often that is done, the chances of that party’s candidates winning become even longer as fewer people stay enthusiastic about the party’s candidates and attitudes become more complacent in accepting an agenda further and further from what was once believed. Such an environment, for example, would have made the election of the area’s Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao – himself a recent GOP convert that likely could not have won otherwise –impossible.

The state party entirely was correct to word the censure motion as it did and pass it. If this group’s majority feels this way which is more indicative of an interest group than of an organization claiming affiliation with a political party, it either should change its name or change its behavior. Otherwise, its disingenuousness will cause it to lose credibility among those in the area truly interested in wanting to offer a choice, not an echo, to the Democrats which is the only way the Republicans have a chance to succeed.