As a grassroots movement begins to gain steam to prevent the naming of state Sen. John Alario, assured of reelection, any hope that this succeeds may rest upon intervention by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Technically, jockeying for the position only begins officially after elections to the Legislature which likely will end in November, because only then will all Senate members be known with certainty, but unofficially it has gone on for months with Alario emerging as the frontrunner. He is not without qualification, having served as Speaker of the House when in that body over two decades ago, is considered quite knowledgeable given he is completing is 40th year of elected legislative service, and, as the chamber has trended more conservatively in producing what appears to be a sure Republican majority for next term, so has Alario increasingly been voting in a more conservative direction, which now makes him on the issues a slightly moderate conservative.
But public detractors point out that placing Alario in this position signals acquiescence to displaying an image of the state that runs against the grain of the promise of Louisiana government as efficient and not ethically challenged.
Alario is known as one of the truest of the good old boys, in the past cozy with Prisoner #03128-095 particularly with the events surrounding why former Gov. Edwin Edwards took on that new identity, which featured Alario in a prominent way (although Alario was never charged with a crime). He also appears unrepentant when it comes to endorsing the use of government as a mechanism to favor special interests.
One of those special interests seems to be Alario himself. Because of his legislative service, not only did he take advantage of a loophole closed constitutionally recently that allows legislators, defined constitutionally as part-time state employees except for the two top officers in each chamber, to be treated as full-time employees for retirement purposes, but also besides drawing his legislative remuneration (salary plus per diem and other payments afforded to legislators) of over $36,000 this year, he drew about $30,000 in retirement pay from that simultaneously, able to do so given his age and years in the Legislature.
Further, he apparently used the buy-in provision in R.S. 24:36 to leverage his single year of full-time employment as a teacher into a plush pension as well, to the tune of over $37,000 annually. To put it another way, Alario, a part-time employee of the state past retirement age, who has worked exactly nine years (one as a teacher, eight as Speaker of the House) as a full-time employee for the state and its political subdivisions, gets paid by the state approximately $103,000 annually, a small portion derived from his own contribution, the rest courtesy of taxpayers.
That is the worst possible advertisement for Louisiana as it struggles to move away from the appearance that politicians feather their own nests while letting far more important priorities go unfunded. Thus, to those who fear that Alario’s past as the best of the good-old-boys in state government would, if Senate president, presage dilution of reform efforts and sacrifice of policy to encourage economic development at the altar of special interests and redistributive pandering to constituencies, add a perception problem as well.
Alario looks the best bet to assume the leadership post, given his personal connections (he and about a third of the present Senate served together in the House also) and crossover appeal, with some Democrats thinking he’s the closest thing they could get as president to their own policy preferences. Barring a number of upsets of incumbents (a third are running unopposed, and a few more are either running against each other or a former legislator), the die seems cast. Besides, for most voters this issue by which to evaluate a senatorial candidate not just is way off the radar, it never would get on it, meaning public opinion on an Alario presidential election will not sway the decision-making of next term’s senators in their bids for elected office.
In reality, only Gov. Bobby Jindal can stop an Alario presidency now. The governor in Louisiana has no formal power over leadership decisions made by the Legislature. But by the promises he makes to support, oppose, or do nothing about pet projects and legislation by senators, he can shape the outcome of this contest. He can’t make the chamber pick somebody a significant portion of it doesn’t want, but he can get prevent it from picking somebody many otherwise would support.
Jindal may believe he can use Alario as an effective instrument for his own agenda. Even if that would turn out accurately, the perception it sends to the public does not advance that agenda. Surely other senators could do a good job for Jindal’s purposes in that position, and therefore Jindal should cast this informal veto on Alario’s leadership aspirations.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:30