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Jindal's imprudence on pay raise imperils his agenda

Like zombies they seem to awake from the torpor of extended isolation (109 out of the last 135 days in session) in an artificial environment that bears no relationship to reality (the Capitol building, Pentagon Barracks, and a few Baton Rouge watering holes). But the one that hunkers down on the fourth floor who matters the most apparently still hasn’t cleared his head.

State Rep. John LaBruzzo has now recanted his support for the pay raise for legislators sitting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk, adding to the printed pledge of state Rep. Frank Hoffman. Assuming no other changes that leaves just two votes over the minimum to have passed the bill in the House (and a single Senate defection would lose the majority in that chamber) and provides increased justification for a Jindal veto.

Yet Jindal repeated he will not veto it because he thinks it would endanger his future program. This goes to show Jindal continues to have a serious blind spot on some matters leading him to misjudge the political consequences of some of his decisions. We know this because we’ve seen it before – Jindal was way slow getting onboard the Stelly income tax reversal train and it nearly ran him over.

Jindal himself even is starting grasp this, indicated when he told an audience that next year he would keep closer watch over the Legislature. But this cannot help him in the near term in resolving this issue. And there seem to be a fantastic disconnection in his head if on the one hand he says he has "learned my lesson" but on the other is doing nothing tto stop what he has called consistently bad legislation. Why would he deliberately want to inflict bad policy on the state when he has the power to stop it?

What Jindal fails to realize is reminders about a failure to act are going to keep coming at least over the next couple of weeks, and maybe several months now that one conservative activist has said he will challenge the measure if it becomes law on the basis that Art. X Sec. 29.1 of the Louisiana Constitution defines legislators as “part-time public servants.” Meanwhile, he seems to underestimate the penalties by not vetoing and to overestimate the costs of vetoing.

He has to recognize that the greatest strength he can bring to bear to favor his program is public opinion. No matter how many muscles legislative leaders may try to flex, they cannot hold back a wildly popular governor, and that’s what he will return to if he vetoes. So when Jindal states that popularity is at loggerheads with his ability to pass his program, it reveals a shocking ignorance about how the political world works.

Added to the strength conveyed by popularity are a good minority of legislators who will back him on this whose numbers seem to be growing as they better detect the public’s revulsion at the size and scope of the raise – many of whom also support his ideas. His only cost is to break one promise to leaders at the expense of another he made to voters not to support a raise concurrent with the existing term in office, which this one does. And, he should make no mistake, not vetoing will be seen by the public as tacit support no matter how many times he says he really is against it.

Not vetoing destroys this public legitimacy he could have earned by keeping a promise and doing what was popular to voters, and forfeits support he could derive from opponents of the raise in the Legislature. Many in the Legislature may like him as a result but whether this would aid his agenda is debatable. He will be seen as a weakling and treated as such by them and, unless he can get it all through in the next three years, at this point it is uncertain whether he’ll be allowed by the voters to have four more years to finish, perhaps primarily because of a failure to veto. Penalties don’t get much higher than that.

The potentially fatal political miscalculations Jindal is making are he does not understand the ability to push his program is unlikely to be significantly improved by letting the bill go into law whereas his agenda likely will be by vetoing it. Why he does not get that he will come out weaker without a veto may be explained only either by some misguided belief in the absolute good of legislative independence, or just sheer ineptitude maybe hoisted on his own petard by keeping himself too insulated during this legislative session.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for a political figure to learn is prudence, figuring out when a minor retreat in upholding a lesser principle will lead to greater gains in implementing policy based on greater principles. If Jindal has not figured this out, his administration will go down in flames, and deservedly so.

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