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Whining legislators remind of need for LA ethics reform

Just as some opponents of Gov. Bobby Jindal have been using scare tactics to try to paint the governor as a hypocrite on the issue of ethics reform, as the special session devoted to the issue moves along, some legislators are beginning to scare people to dilute the whole effort surrounding reform.

While some (careful) carping has come from obvious suspects, such as state Sen. Joe McPherson who earns much of his livelihood from government, other complaints have registered from lawmakers who typically have shown a much better grasp of what is the real purpose of government and the role of elected officials within it. For example, state Sen. Mike Walsworth rapidly seems to be earning a solid reputation of speaking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue thereby demonstrating he doesn’t seem very connected to the typical citizen.

In one venue, we hear Walsworth saying of the ethics package “I think most of what I've seen is common sense,” and “I think the elected officials want it, too. We want to get this monkey off our backs.” But when it comes to the actual debate over the package, Walsworth’s rhetoric has illustrated one of the secondary goals the package seeks to accomplish, bringing elected officials back to reality and in touch with the people.

We witness Walsworth whining that the proposal to eliminate free tickets for officials to anything will hurt his ability to be a legislator and “I don’t want to get so far into ethics that we can’t do our jobs.” Next, in what appears to be a poison pill strategy to water down provisions against legislators he laments that another proposal that would limit spending on a public employee to $50 an occasion will mean a “mom and dad couldn't take their child's teacher out to say 'thank you' if her bill comes to over $50,” no doubt knowing that there’s no way a workable law can be created that would impose that limit on some government employees and not on others.

My advice to Walsworth is that he just suck it up and learn to live like the rest of us, both those or are or are not employed by government in some capacity. Does Walsworth seriously think it’s part of his job to get offered free passes to every baseball game, car and boat show, boudin festival, and back-slapping, flesh-pressing event? You know, if he really wants to attend these, if they are really so crucial to his being a legislator, he could just buy a ticket like everybody else. And if that’s too much of a strain on his bank account (which is what he implies), I’d recommend he find another way to serve the public.

And is Walsworth so dense that he doesn’t understand you can show appreciation to a public servant without on the behalf of the celebrant ordering every course at Don’s, Ruth’s Chris, or Commander’s Palace? During testimony on that bill, Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson put in their places Walsworth and those who think a $50 limit is an intolerable burden by which to limit government employees by remarking “Legislators were going out and buying $100 to $150 bottles of wine. Unlimited expense is simply not acceptable.”

While the ethics package will have the very obvious and salutary effect of reducing opportunities for corruption, it also will have the benefit of reminding officials that government service isn’t about getting perks. And that’s why we can expect to hear more trivial sniping about it from some legislators over the next couple of weeks.


Anonymous said...

I am interested to hear your opinion on Bobby Jindal's objection to HB27, by Republican Wayne Waddell, that would open agencies under the Governor (with the exception of the executive office of the Governor) to the public records law.

I personally believe that the legislation doesn't go far enough and that the office of the Governor should also be subject to the public records law.

Waddell though, in putting this bill forward, has stated that transparency should start at the top. Do you agree with Waddell (increase transparency in the administration), with me (completely open the Governor's office to the public records law), or with Jindal (increase transparency in all areas of government except in agencies that fall under the governor).

Jeff Sadow said...

I talked a little bit about this on "Inside New Orleans" today on WIST in New Orleans. You're being a little inexact in your description, the issue being to what degree should there by openness (it's not all or nothing), in terms of the tradeoff between the need for confidentiality in negotiation and advice.

Both sides are being lazy here. There probably are records that are not that crucial which the governor could have open for public consumption, and the bill does not take enough care to prevent information that really needs to be left confidential from being opened. I predict that in one chamber or another amendments will be introduced that specify exact, greater exemptions that what the bill currently allows, yet as a result the records of some interactions with the governor will be opened up compared to now. They will be at the behest of the governor and that's the form in which the bill will become law.

Anonymous said...

Jeff: Being inexact? I am stating my opinion on the legislation. The only way I could have been "exact" on stating what the legislation said was to state it verbatim.

The fact of the matter is that Bobby Jindal's office has stated it rejects the legislation as worded. That legislation requires the governors administration to be more transparent. I have yet to see them state how much transparency they would be comfortable with. So until they do state how transparent they are willing to be, I think we are completely justified in questioning their lack of consistency.

Now, we both know that government cannot be 100% transparent. For example, should citizens know which police officers are on the undercover drug enforcement teams? Absolutely not. However, I don't think that the bill goes that far.

All I can say is this. When the governor does say how much transparency he feels his office should operate under, he better have a good explanation for each exemption to the public records law.

Jeff Sadow said...

OK, I understand, it's what you see on view of the legislation. What I thought you were arguing was that Jindal was against transparency period from the governor's office. That emphatically is not so.

Anonymous said...

I would not argue that he is against transparency on the governors office period. However, he seems to want to dictate what transparency should exist on his office, and that seems to be counterintuitive (and counterproductive) to the goals of transparency. What level of transparency would you find appropriate on the governors office? What exemptions should exist? Do you think the argument that investors will be prohibited from meeting in private with the governor is a valid argument?

Jeff Sadow said...

I think they're starting to get there as iterations of the bill go forward, and I do buy the economic development exception argument. The real problem is in fixed definitions of what gets covered. You can't do who gets covered because job titles and duties can change (a problem acknowledged during the HB 1 debate). Some areas are probably pretty easy calls and those should be opened up. At the same time, I would give latitude to the governor's office on the matter, i.e. if there's some question whether confidentiality serves an important goal, probably it should be granted. Now, how to make a bill reflect that is going to be tough.

Anonymous said...

What you could do is write the law to require all of the governors office to be subject to the public records law. And then you can set up some commission/committee with the authority to approve exceptions. This way you have checks and balances.