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Milkovich hopes meritless suit distracts from record

After northwest Louisiana’s Republican state senator afflicted with political schizophrenia had a rough go of it by proxy this spring, his Democrat counterpart upped the ante in wackiness.

Senate District 36’s Republican Ryan Gatti found himself covered by the spotlight shone on his brother when Robbie Gatti made a failed bid for state representative. Ryan Gatti squeaked into office in 2015 by emphasizing social conservatism, deeming education reform overreaching, and alleging adherence to “true conservative principles of fiscal responsibility.” Apparently, he understood that to entail voting for a raft of tax increases and increased regulation on business, and as a result in 2016 earned a score of 22 out of 100 on the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s business-oriented legislator scorecard.

Fairly or not, that pro-government, anti-growth reputation blew back on Robbie Gatti, but he lost more over doubts about his espoused social conservatism than on whatever sins Ryan Gatti was thought to have committed in office by his voting. Still, his brother’s unsuccessful run highlighted Ryan Gatti’s as a catspaw for big government advocate Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, a personal friend of the Gattis whom they assisted in his campaign.

Yet that difficulty on social issues Ryan Gatti has avoided for now, lending hope that his brother’s defeat might not serve as a canary on a coal mine regarding his 2019 reelection. Even as LABI awarded him the most liberal score of any Republican in the Senate, he scored a high-average 78 out of 100 from the Louisiana Family Forum, where higher scores denote more congruence with traditional social values in voting choices.

However, topping LFF’s list (along with five Republicans) was Senate District 38’s Democrat John Milkovich, scoring 100 out of 100 there. Milkovich also narrowly won in 2015 with a platform similar to Gatti’s: social conservatism, skepticism for education reform, and pledges to “reduce the size of state government” and “cut taxes.” And, just like Gatti, upon heading to Baton Rouge he immediately voted for higher taxes that enabled expansion of state government spending along with supporting increased government regulation of business, meriting a score of 30 from LABI.

Perhaps as he faced scrutiny due to his brother’s electoral attempt, Ryan Gatti otherwise has laid low this year. Not so Milkovich, who outside his legislative role sued Education Superintendent John White over White’s ability to hold that office.

Milkovich and the plaintiffs assert the move comes from a constitutional question. The Constitution states that if by statute statewide election for this office does not occur – and statute does cancel this to leave the matter in the hands of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education – that the BESE appointee must have Senate confirmation. When BESE selected White – which takes 8 of 11 affirmative votes, the same to remove an appointee – and gave him the maximum contract allowed by law, to the end of its four-year term, he won such confirmation.

But after 2015 it took advantage of the law to continue his contract on a monthly basis without giving him another long-term one, because Edwards’ election allowed the new governor, who had said he would fire White if he could, to place three of his allies on BESE, enough to deny a new contract. At the same time, neither did the infusion of new blood give opponents on BESE the eight votes to oust White.

Pointing to a provision in the Constitution that notes that appointments not made during the regular session of the Legislature must have Senate confirmation by the end of the next regular session or these expire, Milkovich claims this means BESE must submit White as appointee for confirmation by Jun. 8 or the office becomes vacant. The problem is that Milkovich misreads the Constitution, which ties that limitation into gubernatorial appointments; the Constitution does not extend this to BESE’s extending a superintendent’s contract.

Still, this shot-in-the-dark case produces publicity for Milkovich, who admits he faults White for the superintendent’s advocacy of the Common Core State Standards Initiative implemented in Louisiana under White’s leadership. The suit itself mentions that as a reason to dump White.

While his action combines anti-reform sentiment along with skepticism some social conservatives have with Common Core, institution of the reform already has occurred and has generated little controversy since. At best, this useless gesture serves as a distraction designed to boost his shot at reelection by discouraging Milkovich’s constituents from digging deeper into his tax-and-spend voting behavior.

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