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Jindal needs to emulate Strain to get successful staff

Incoming Agriculture Secretary Mike Strain appears to have rebuffed calls from some to keep a large portion of outgoing commissioner Bob Odom’s senior staff. It is a pattern incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal would do well to emulate.

Strain was an unrelenting critic of Odom’s management during his campaign so it would have made little sense for him to keep a large portion of the senior appointees, despite the wishes of some who argued many appointees were doing a good job (which Strain did not seem to agree with in his campaign rhetoric). But Strain’s complaint was as much, if not moreso, the governing philosophy of the department – even if the top officials seem competent enough, only those that Strain can be assured share his philosophy should be retained.

There were some murmurs when Jindal revealed that in collecting advice about his transition that he was consulting people who may be very experienced in state government but who do not share his stated campaign ideas. One must consider, however, that the worth of advice doesn’t have to be more than its cost – nothing, so if Jindal wants to hear from longtime good-old-boy state Rep. Charlie DeWitt, whatever DeWitt has to say easily can go in one ear and right out the other if Jindal doesn’t like it.

But key appointees are another matter. They must translate the Jindal agenda into policy and thereby must very faithfully reflect that agenda in their own personal ideologies. Otherwise, they begin to substitute their own, different ideas into the process, diluting what Jindal has stated he wants to do.

So far, as the Jindal transition teams work on recommendations, only close personal staff that won’t really deal with the nuances of shepherding things through the policy process have been tapped by Jindal. These panels and Jindal will be besieged (online at first) by folks for positions, some of whom may be personable and some even may know Jindal well, but who may not be willing to fight with sufficient ardor for the campaign items around which the public rallied.

Jindal has to realize that expectations are high, perhaps undeservedly so given the constraints both constitutionally and politically on his new office, and he has no room for error on key appointees, particularly with his commissioner of administration who will serve as the chief liaison between himself and the Legislature. For some in the electorate, even Jindal’s delivering half of what he stumped for might still brand him a failure in their eyes. Only reliable appointees that believe in his agenda can maximize his chances of its success, which will lead to continued electoral success in four years.

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