Governor Jindal Stirring Unrest among Louisiana Conservatives

Even though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal just won re-election in a landslide victory, there is a growing rumbling of discontent statewide among conservatives.  While Jindal is being touted nationwide as the next great hope for the Republican Party, there are folks in Louisiana who would beg to differ.  How can that be with such an overwhelming mandate?  In last week's election, Jindal carried all 64 of Louisiana's parishes.  What could be wrong?


Conservative discontent with Jindal centers around several issues including his bungled handling of a legislative pay raise in 2008; his sham ethics reform; and now his alignment with 37-year Democrat (and recent Republican) John Alario, whom Jindal has endorsed for President of the State Senate, to name a few.


When Bobby Jindal ran for his first term in 2007, he issued this promise:


Prohibit Legislators from giving themselves pay raises that take effect before the subsequent elections.

Any increase in salary approved by the Legislature should take effect after the next election so the public can decide who deserves that compensation.


That promise quickly crumbled in 2008, when the Louisiana legislature voted itself a huge pay raise from $16,800 a year to $37,500.  The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana called the pay raise "absurd":


The $34,000 proposed pay raise for legislators is absurd. The increase would bring Louisiana legislators' compensation to $70,000, which is 198 percent of the average pay for part-time legislatures across the nation and 102 percent of the average pay for full-time legislatures - including per diem amounts and expense allowances. 


Not bad money for a part-time job.  The Louisiana legislature meets for only about three months a year.  To make matters worse, the bill would grant automatic pay raises in the future without legislative or voter approval.


Once the raise was passed by the Legislature, Governor Jindal crawfished on his campaign promise and indicated that he would not veto the legislation because he needed their support to push his agenda through.  No need to alienate them, he thought -- "I don't want to give anybody any excuse to slow down any of the important reforms going through the Legislature[.]"


The populace was outraged.  Outraged!  A grassroots campaign began in which people were ripping off their Jindal bumper stickers and sending them back to him.  The secretary of state's office received over 30 requests for recall kits.


In the end, Governor Jindal caved to the pressure and vetoed the legislation, but only after a recall petition was filed against him.  In addition, some of the legislators who voted for the bill urged him to veto it.


Voters have not forgotten that outrage despite Jindal's overwhelming re-election victory.


Another reason Jindal has lost fans in the state is his sham ethics reform.  While Louisiana has come a long way in ethics reform under Jindal, many in state leadership would suggest that the "gold standard" Jindal says we've achieved has been gutted.   (Of course, when you're at the bottom of the list, the only way to go is up.)


Earlier this year, The New York Times targeted a foundation started by Jindal's wife that gives technology, such as high-tech whiteboards, to schools.  The complaint was that while contributions to Governor Jindal's campaign might be limited or restricted, the door to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana's Children is wide open.  While the Foundation certainly supports a good cause, and education is Mrs. Jindal's pet project, would Jindal be more favorable in business decisions to a company who had made a large donation?


The Public Affairs Research Council and the Citizens For a Better Louisiana, both non-partisan, find fault with Jindal's failure to uphold a promise that would reduce the occurrence of nepotism and conflict of interest.  In fact, Jindal has signed exceptions around the conflict of interest laws when it suits him.


Jindal promised to prohibit elected officials from lobbying, consulting, or representing clients before state agencies, but there are exceptions to that as well.  There are also exceptions to the law that prohibits candidates from paying family members with campaign dollars.  Jindal also promised to make all ethics filings available on the internet, but as of yet, this has not happened. 


The "gold standard" Jindal boasts about in Louisiana is merely tin, it seems.  Aluminum, maybe.


Finally, the most recent faux pas by Jindal is his announcement this week of his support for John Alario as president of the Louisiana State Senate.  Alario was elected to the House in 1972, was term-limited in 2007, and decided to run for the Senate.  His primary goal was to serve as Senate president.  As Alario said:


"Whether I'm a Democrat or Republican or the Whig party, I'd like to be president of the Senate," Alario said. Switching parties "certainly plays into the politics of the situation ... it doesn't hurt to be in that party."


If this happens, Alario will become the second politician in Louisiana history to be president of both chambers, but to attain that objective, he needed to change parties, after 37 years, from Democrat to Republican.


Only in the tangled web of Louisiana politics would this even float. 


Alario was House speaker for Governor Edwin Edwards (D) from 1992-1996; even folks outside Louisiana are familiar with Governor Edwards.  He was indicted 1998 and finally convicted in 2001 on 17 of 26 charges including racketeering, extortion, and money-laundering, among other things.  Edwards was released from prison this year, just in time to marry his prison pen pal and third wife, Trina Grimes.  Edwards and John Alario remain close, and Alario recently participated in a birthday bash/roast event for Edwards. 


The sins of Edwards are not, however, the sins of Alario, but it is this connection with the old time, good-ole-boy Louisiana political machine that has conservatives up in arms.


The Louisiana Republican party campaigned hard against Alario in 2007 when he ran for the State Senate.  Now they are, for the most part, quiet on Alario's apparent rise to assume presidency of that body.  This has sparked another Jindal-outrage on the state's conservative blogs and talk radio programs.


If Governor Jindal wants to tout ethics reform and a new way of doing things in Louisiana as his mark of achievement, then his alignment with Alario is a bad call.  Although Alario, unlike Edwards, has not been charged or convicted of anything, it is well-known that Alario "has been brought before grand juries and courtrooms, had records subpoenaed and in 2000 he was named an 'unindicted co-conspirator' in the [Edwards] trial."


It is this series of events combined with other controversial blips that have some Louisianans now seething over Governor Jindal.  His constant traveling around the country on fundraising jaunts drew so much ire that an entire line of "Where in the World is Bobby?" merchandise was developed.  Jindal's funding cuts to higher education sparked student protests around the state.  Basic funding to the public schools has been stagnant for three years causing a hardship on many local school districts.


Make no mistake: Jindal has done some good things for the state.  He has brought in some jobs, and the unemployment rate (despite the moratorium in the Gulf after the BP oil spill) is below the national average.  He was just re-elected with 66% of the vote, after all.  However, the growing discontent among conservatives is a concern Jindal and his followers might note.  Louisiana is no longer a blue state, and endorsing John Alario for State Senate president might be the final straw for voters who have been willing to give the governor that second chance.


Pat Austin lives in Louisiana and blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

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