Picture this: Jindal and Edwards
Speaking of bounties, I have one: a lifetime (mine, not yours) subscription to LaPolitics Weekly for a photograph of Bobby Jindal and Edwin Edwards shaking hands. No Photoshop, the real thing.
The two were no more than 10 yards apart Friday night at the VFW Hall in Baton Rouge, scene of the 61st annual Gridiron Show, where the governor sat at a front-row table facing the stage. In the pre-opener skit, the Jindal character discussed with aides what monumental, groundbreaking pledge he could make at his second inauguration. They ran through a few jokes before the curtains parted and out stepped Edwin and Trina Edwards. Looking to the Jindal character, the former governor suggested, "You should campaign in Louisiana more."
The governor laughed. The audience roared. On with the show. As for the photo op, maybe next year.
The picture of those two would be the Louisiana equivalent of Nixon meeting Mao. The latter-day pair not only contrasts in philosophy but also represents different eras, personalities and styles of leadership. Where they compare is results, in their total control of state government, unmatched by any governor in between.
Edwards thrived on the give-and-take of interpersonal politics, whether he liked with whom he dealt or not. He made a point of returning every legislator's phone call, even most reporters'. Supplicants arriving at the mansion were ushered to various rooms near his den office, so he could make his rounds like a doctor.
Most came away with most of what they wanted, after giving Edwards what he wanted. If he could not help you, he would tell you, but would remember to try to help next time. All this took up a lot of time, but what else was there to do? Read briefing papers?
During Edwards' first two terms—his apex of power—discipline, especially public rebuke, rarely was necessary. The few Republicans or killjoy Democrats around were not put in leadership positions where they could do harm to themselves or others. Bipartisanship meant dividing the spoils between friends in north and south Louisiana.
These days, Gov. Jindal treats phone calls from legislators equally, by returning practically none of them. Lawmakers are summoned to hear what he has to say; or, if they are asked to speak, it usually is on a subject he chooses.
Trading projects and other favors for legislative support still occurs when the administration needs it, according to lawmakers, though the governor's team maintains that decisions are based on merit.
The social scene at the mansion went dark when the Jindals moved in. About the only parties thrown there are birthday celebrations for the kids. The governor and first lady rarely accept social invitations. Despite his frequent out-of-state trips, he's often home for bedtime stories. What happens in Vegas … well, he wouldn't know.
Like Edwards, however, Jindal understands the importance of control, but goes about it differently. There was not much cause for discipline in his first term because he tackled so few controversial issues requiring hard votes.
In this term, he has the benefit of Republican majorities, who are accustomed to falling in line. His idea of bipartisanship is to share just enough power with Democrats to have something to threaten to take away. An early example was made of Rep. Harold Ritchie, a Franklinton Democrat, who was vice chairman of the Insurance Committee before he voted the wrong way in committee on one of the governor's education bills. Ritchie was not punished by Jindal, of course, but by Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, whom Jindal anointed.
Democrats were appalled, but they got the message. When the school choice bill passed, of the 12 Democrats who voted yea, 11 were chairmen, vice chairmen or the speaker pro tem. Of the eight Republicans who voted nay, only one was a vice chairman.
Some Republicans grumble that the Democrats have too much. But if Jindal takes care of a dozen or so of the minority party, he doesn't have to depend wholly on the majority, who can't box him in. As long as the two parties fight each other, he controls them both. And they say Edwin was slick.
Though not always the same as real power, this governor has nearly full control, which is why we don't have that photograph.
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