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3.11.12

GOP defectors on contract put image before conservatism

It’s a wacky time in the Louisiana Legislature when self-proclaimed Republican conservatives team up with liberal Democrats to try to defeat conservative policy. Yet understand that a vote last week by some Republican House members to push to defeat a money-saving measure does not so much reflect that they have abandoned conservatism but more that they needed to throw a tantrum to save face with constituents and/or to shape a public perception of them – even if it costs them influential positions in the House.


Such happened when the House Appropriations Committee met jointly with the Senate Finance Committee to review a contract negotiated to administer the state’s Preferred Provider Organization health care plan for state employees and retirees. The current state-run operation wastes taxpayer dollars and will produce an estimated $20 million in savings for them as well as lower costs to clients with comparable if not better service.

Trying to stop this contract – for while Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Division of Administration has complete legal authority to remove the state from operating its own insurance business without legislative input, an attorney general’s opinion interpreted that law to mean a contract to do so would have to pass muster of majorities of both committees – has become the latest cause célèbre for Louisiana’s left on the heels of a long string of defeats. Ignoring the taxpayer and ratepayers that preventing privatization represents, they justify this partially out of their love for big government (as a number of inefficient positions would remian), but perhaps more pertinently they wish merely to try to poke Jindal in the eye as he uses a conservative agenda to sweep them aside from policy-making relevance.

But in order to do so, being a House and committee minority, their party would need assistance from some nominal conservatives. And they got it when the time came to request a vote of House members by one of the committee’s liberal Democrats, where a vote for signaled a likely vote against the next motion to decide whether to pass. Seven – state Reps. Tim Burns, Brett Geymann, Cameron Henry, Joe Harrison, Jim Morris, Rogers Pope, and John Schroder – allied with the left to produce a 16-7 vote to call the question.

As both panels separately must approve of things to act together in this instance, a vote would have occurred if the Senate then brought forth the same motion. But, in an interesting role reversal, the Senate, which many consider to be the less conservative branch, refused to allow a vote to proceed not by voting it down, but by no one calling for such a vote. This prompted the backers of the contract then to withdraw it and ask to reschedule with modifications, creating the unusual situation where the presumably less-conservative Senate kept conservative policy alive while presumed House conservatives facilitated the agenda of House Democrat liberals.

It’s unlikely that at least six of the seven, who in five or more years have compiled solidly reform/conservative records (last session, the least of these according to the Louisiana Legislative Log index was Pope at a decidedly liberal/populist 30 but with the other six at 65 or higher), have had epiphanies causing them to renounce their beliefs. Instead, they had the same motivation as their typical opponents – burnishing image by finding a way to get back at Jindal.

At least three policy actions taken within the past few months by the Jindal Administration, in some cases overlapping but all beneficial and conservative, riled these guys. First, educational reforms that irked card-carrying members of the educational establishment of whom Pope and Hoffman were a part; second, undesirably speedy but needed paring of state hospital and correctional facilities that got the goat of the likes of Burns and Schroder because facilities in their areas are to get pared, and third, for reasons of preserving political face more than any genuine merit they supported questionable reductions in state expenditures (ironically, less than the subsequent cuts that would agitate them) that the Jindal Administration got the rest of the Legislature to overrule, as in the cases of Geymann, Henry, and Morris. (The names assigned to each reflect only the most prominent issue; each can be assigned to another category as well.)

The Jindal Administration never thought it would be in this position because its lawyers read the law differently from the attorney general’s, but forced into it probably hoped the conservative beliefs of most of these legislators would not cause any undue interference in the inevitable process. That did not happen because most of the recalcitrant ones figured they could use this to their political advantages, to try to create a little leverage to use in the future to help them create a perception of them as budget-cutters and/or to make it appear they were “fighting” for their constituents as the Jindal Administration continues to roll back the idea that government must be a direct provider of jobs.

Whether they saw what was coming is another matter. Speaker Chuck Kleckley subsequently made sure two of them, Henry and Harrison, had attended their last meeting, as he booted them off the committee, while the pair charged that Kleckley was taking orders from Jindal on this matter. Just as Jindal may not have anticipated conservatives voting as liberals just to spite him, perhaps they did not think they would lose jobs on a high-profile committee.

Both banishments made sense, for different reasons. Morris already had found himself ousted from a previous leadership role and Pope never had been reliable, so they really could not be made symbols over this. Geymann is a close pal of Kleckley’s and got immunity for that reason. Burns and Schroder had been very helpful to the Kleckley/Jindal agenda leading on other matters and thereby had enough leeway to escape censuring.

But Harrison never had been that useful to the conservative leadership and unreliable on more than one issue, and if the leadership had wanted only to make a pro forma statement on the matter, his ouster only would have been it. Instead, by lumping in Henry, one of the most consistent conservative/reform votes in the House over the past five years, it put down a marker that will not be forgotten by others who have behaved as fairly consistent conservatives who think they might get a pass on crossing up the leadership on an important issue.

Henry will make the best of it, long and loudly assigning himself victim status in order to make lemonade of lemons in an attempt to pass himself off as a “rebel” reformer, even as he fails to  understand it takes more than words to be what you say you are and that he, along with Geymann and some others who aspire to be thought of in this way, to date have shown precious little genuine effort to get at the real reforms necessary to bring sanity to Louisiana’s fiscal policy. This image creation, admittedly, might have been the whole intention of his act and that of at least some of the others’ and made him and them willing to suffer such a penalty.

For the next pass at getting a contract approved. expect a couple of supporters truant this last time to show up, a couple of the GOP defectors to return home, and a couple of new members to vote to approve a slightly-altered contract in the near future. While Democrats scored a miniscule public relations and ideological win with the delay, for the defecting Republicans it had much more to do with public relations than with ideology. They are politicians, after all.

(NOTE: This post has been changed  from its original publication, where inadvertantly and inexplicably state Rep. Frank Hoffman's name appeared instead of Harrison's. Hoffman has not served on the Appropriations Committee. The editing error is regretted.)

4 comments:

NOTAROBOT said...

Another total head fake (away from the Governor's actions)and an apology for the Administration.

Why would anyone who is rational be loyal to Jindal?

What do you get in return? Steamrolled if you ever, even just once, disagree with him on an important issue?

Does this Governor, and you, Professor, think he is always unquestionably, absolutely right about every issue?

No one is ever always right!

My admiration for Cameron Henry, Jim Morris and Joe Harrison continues to grow, while that for the Governor continues to plummet.

Anonymous said...

Herr Jindal is having trouble with his citizens.

Surprise, surprise!!!!!!

His great reform ideas and persuasive brilliance does not appear to be enough to keep them is line. My, my, I wonder why?????

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

When I read these stupid tantrums from Jeff Sadow, coupled by slavish hero-worship of Jindal, it makes me embarrassed for the whole state. But there's a lot of humor, too. Nobody loves wasteful spending like Jindal. Conservatives love wasteful spending - remember when Rumsfeld promised that the Iraq war would only set us back $50b? You stupid conservatives have added trillions of debt, and now propose budget deficit measures without any real demonstrable benefit (huge increases in defense spending that the pentagon hasn't even asked for; lavish tax breaks for the wealthy without any offsetting measures to fund them, etc.). Who could forget Jindal's $260m sand berm boondoggle that Sadow gave us such teary-eyed praise for? The great tantrum of Jeff, suggesting that Obama caused the pre-Obama administration economic crisis, is total garbage, as is the stupid lashing out at the moratorium. Some people, like Jeff, are perpetually outraged and indignant no matter what is happening. But his hatred is even more pronounced when his own policies took the economy into the gutter, and now his opponents are getting the economy back on its feet.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what happened to that sand-berm?

I think it has returned to the ocean, as all predicted it would before Mr. Bobby spent $260 million with his friends at the Shaw Group (who, since, have sold out to a foreign group - so much for economic development).

Wonder what we could use that $260 million for now???????

Hospitals, universities, teacher salaries, retirement costs, etc.

Not interested, are you, Mr. Bobby!!

Let's take a peak at really what is happening, instead of what the good professor is attempting to have us chase.

It's called "lame-duck"[ness]!!! And, it is setting in hard and fast. Oh no, Mr. Bobby!!!!