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Dardenne appointment designed to provide fig leaf

Confirming the worst-kept secret of the past month or so, yesterday state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the incoming governor, named Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne his commissioner of administration starting early next year. While perhaps intended to connote “bipartisanship” from the incoming Democrat in selecting a lifelong Republican for the most important appointive job in an administration, it merely provides a fig leaf for his true agenda.

Both men denied the appointment as the culmination of a deal allegedly struck after the general election, or that they even spoke of it specifically, when Dardenne, having finished fourth, without much delay endorsed Edwards against his fellow Republican Sen. David Vitter. This smacked of 1979 when an endorsement by vanquished gubernatorial candidate Democrat House Speaker Bubba Henry of Republican Rep. Dave Treen in the runoff against Democrat Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert preceded Treen naming Henry to the same job after his narrow defeat of Lambert. However, the governors do not hand out this highly-sought position trivially or by extra-sensory perception; let’s just say a fact checker would give them both zero stars for veracity on that assertion.

Departures from the truth, judging by Gov.-elect Honor Code’s campaigning, don’t represent anything different from him, but a lack of forthrightness marks unusual behavior from Dardenne. As a state senator, Dardenne often backed measures for greater accountability and transparency in a state government then in the thrall of populism. As Edwards and others try to resurrect this fully back into policy, with its emphasis on privileging others at the expense of the people as a whole, Dardenne will find himself asked to facilitate this.

Not that Dardenne could prove incapable of serving Edwards in this fashion. The governor-elect and Dardenne both promised tax increases during or after their campaigns, and in the Senate the latter led former Gov. Mike Foster’s successful charge to raise taxes for more spending. Yet there was also the state Sen. Jay Dardenne just a few years later challenging Edwards confidant former Gov. Kathleen Blanco to cut spending in her 2005 budget that implies he would resist the hundreds of millions of dollars of new spending Edwards has pledged on top of hundreds of millions of more dollars short in the projected budget and shortfall left over from the current fiscal year. Which Dardenne will Louisiana get, anti-populist or tool?

Chances are, not the reform version needed now more than ever. Edwards would tab someone who has experience in state government and who knows his way around the Legislature, but not someone who would resist his tax and spend agenda. For this spot, he needs a yes man, and anything but that puts Dardenne out of his new job.

Surely Dardenne knows this after a quarter-century in state government, and thus we must accept that the reform Dardenne either has gotten tossed into the dustbin for the sake of political ambition and convenience or, much like his upcoming gig as a representation of hors party, was a façade. Otherwise, such naïveté disqualifies him from any serious consideration for the post.

So it’s sad to see Dardenne come to this, while at the same time permissible to hope that somehow he can keep his boss in check enough to prevent undoing the fiscal progress made over the past several years in right-sizing state government, better prioritization of spending, and in greater operational efficiencies. He brings expertise to the job, but his use as a symbol displayed to an unsuspecting public of a faux centrism will turn out as his most substantive contribution to the new regime.

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