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Jindal motives set for revelation by fates of key bills

So why doesn’t Gov. Bobby Jindal make himself a very visible presence in hectoring the Louisiana Legislature to do his bidding? Some clues exist, but decisive ones will have come our way by the end of the session in less than two weeks.

Those observers who are lukewarm or less on Jindal and/or those who fall prey to conspiracy theories (such one who likes to see his name in print, to hear his own voice, and to make unsubstantiated allegations about those involved in politics who if supportive calls about Jindal are made to talk radio programs accuses them of being orchestrated by the Administration) claim Jindal’s aloofness allows him to be out and about raising his profile while simultaneously dodging controversial issues in order to further his political career. Others argue it’s just not Jindal’s style to take a visible, forceful approach to getting laws made and that he would rather his subordinates work out the details when he does feel it necessary to intervene.

His campaign rhetoric supports the latter interpretation. To some bemusement, Jindal said during his campaign that he really didn’t want to exercise a lot of power over the legislature, such as in picking officers and using line-item veto powers of legislators’ pet projects to influence votes (in part because he never has been thrilled with the existence of those earmarks in the first place). He ended up backtracking somewhat to sort out leadership struggles in both chambers, but his seemingly-casual involvement in big legislative matters, has been consistent with this expressed past sentiment. So far, the one visible interjection he made into the process on a big issue could go either way in interpretation – on SB 87, providing tax cuts primarily to middle-class filers, where either he hung back too much to avoid negative fallout and almost lost control of the issue, or his behind-the-scenes tactics proved ineffective and he had to express a public position to match the public mood.

But the real tests are coming, when legislative choices concerning legislation nearer to Jindal’s heart come. If Jindal truly wants to give the Legislature an unfettered option to make up its own mind and he does not object to the end product, he will allow certain pieces of legislation through. If not, we may assume that Jindal, rather than being aloof for whatever reason, instead prefers working behind the scenes.

One set of markers deals with pay raises for legislators (SB 672) and for Public Service Commissioners (HB 939). After initial progress, both have been hung up in the lesser compatible of the two chambers to Jindal’s conservatism, the Senate. These will not move if Jindal has spread the word they will be vetoed and it is unlikely he would keep this a secret. But if Jindal really doesn’t care about salaries of other elected officials and goes against the impression he thinks this would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, they will appear on his desk.

Even larger as evidence is the fate of HB 582 and SB 808 which do almost identical things in capital outlay budget reform which Jindal has said is a priority. The only real differences are that HB 582 allows for legislative choices of projects to fund after the bill has been signed and SB 808 requires a feasibility study for all projects. Jindal prefers the latter and if that is intimated that bill will go through. But if HB 582 instead makes it way to him, again it is doubtful that it would get there if he privately threatened a veto so that would indicate he truly does want the Legislature to assert itself in matters even at the expense of his own preferences if they are not that different.

Finally, bills involving disclosure requirements of the governor’s office offer one that is more comprehensive (HB 1100) and one that is less so (SB 629). Even as neither bill is ideal, the uninvolved-and-dodging-bad-publicity interpretation would have the stronger go through, while the behind-the-scenes-maestro interpretation would have the weaker win out.

The debate over Jindal’s style – involved only when it can aid his political career, or involved but hidden – might finally be resolved only at the session’s end. Or maybe not even then, if the signals from the dispositions of these bills come in mixed.

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