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Chaisson realistic hope for leader from obstinate Senate

Of those persons who have presented themselves as potential leaders for the Louisiana Senate starting next year, the question of who would best serve the state in this positions is juxtaposed with who politically can win, meaning some compromise may have to occur in the hopes of getting this balky institution moving in the right direction.

Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal has stated that, unlike almost every previous governor, that he will not dictate the process of choosing legislative leaders. Traditionally, governors would impose leadership on the bodies by dangling out the threat of line-item vetoes and the ability of the governor to organize too many capital budget requests making claim on too little money. Jindal says he will eschew this past practice, in all likelihood because he plans to depoliticize to a large degree the capital outlay process – to move items through not on the basis of political expedience, but on genuine need.

However, deferring in this way risks his reform agenda, for, of the declared candidates for Senate President, some hostile to his agenda definitely have put themselves into the running. Two such obstacles to progress in Louisiana would be Democrat state Sens. Joe McPherson and Robert Adley.

Not only does McPherson have a fairly liberal/populist voting record (as a check of voting scorecard postings on the Louisiana Legislature Log will show), but he also is a major shill for the industry in which he has a financial interest, nursing homes. Probably the biggest area of savings in the budget that Jindal has pledged to scrub is in health care which, thanks to the influence of legislators like McPherson, has a heavy tilt towards institutionalized rather than community- or individual-based care. This has led to, as studies and Legislative Auditor reports have shown, one of the most expensive and least efficient long-term health care systems in the nation, and one of the least efficient and worst-performing indigent care systems in the country.

Unfortunately, McPherson probably has done more to prevent meaningful reform in this area than any other legislator. His actions have particularly been at odds with Jindal’s emphasis of shifting health care away from a government-run, one-size-fits-all operation to maximizing individual autonomy and choice, a stance just re-articulated by Jindal over the weekend. Further, Jindal’s ethics reforms also likely would restrict McPherson’s activities in the nursing home sector, giving McPherson another reason to be as obstinate as possible with helping Jindal change the state. Few choices could be worse as Senate leader.

Adley would represent minor improvement. His voting record is better but, if Jindal’s premier issue is ethics reform, few legislators have proven themselves more of an impediment to this than him. Last session, with current Sen. Pres. Don Hines, Adley derailed an ethics reform bill much like favored by Jindal despite it having virtually unanimous support in the Legislature. Adley claims he had to kill the bill to save it, while less amused observers believe he never wanted any reform. So Adley either is too incompetent to get a widely-supported bill through the legislative process, which does not commend his leadership skills well, or he’s an opponent to Jindal on the incoming governor’s biggest issue. Either way, that’s not the guy to be running the Senate.

Further, he’s shown himself to oppose meaningful tax reduction or willing to pursue tax and spending reduction solutions that Jindal will want to enhance the state’s economic development. He’s also been a past advocate of wasteful health care spending. Like McPherson, Adley simply is unacceptable as a leader to move the state forward.

This leaves state Sens. Joel Chaisson, a Democrat, Willie Mount, also a Democrat, and Mike Michot, a Republican, as remaining contenders. The best of the lot by voting record is Michot (although he has warts here, principally his supporting the 2005 sick tax) but with a likely solid Democrat majority in the Senate, without Jindal intervention a Democrat seems the more probable choice. Mount’s voting record is worse than even McPherson’s, so Chaisson, who has been slightly left of center and is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, could end up, given political considerations, the best Louisianans can hope for from the institution that will put up the most resistance to changing the state for the better over the next four years.

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