House leadership has 'followship' problem
The upside for the Jindal administration, after the gutting of its budget, is that the appropriations bill is out of the rebellious House and now in the friendly hands and wise heads of the Senate. Led by the masterful Senate president, John Alario, the upper chamber can be relied upon to restore the so-called one-time revenues deleted by the House and then, teamed with Gov. Bobby Jindal, quell the pesky House conservatives and pass the budget basically as written.
Does not the quarrelsome independence of the House always melt before the combined strength of the popular governor and unified Senate? Isn't that what happened last year? Doesn't the governor hold the leadership cards as well as the budget strings?
When one has to ask so many questions about the Louisiana Legislature, one has to wonder.
To review, after the House Appropriations Committee sliced deeper into the governor's shakily balanced executive budget, fiscal hawks on the floor took away $267 million more by blocking the use of one-time money—including proceeds from building sales and lawsuit settlements, but also from special funds that are replenished each year with dedicated taxes and fees.
The administration harrumphed that the new reductions were overestimated or nonspecific, that they threatened higher education and health care, and relied on one-time cuts of their own, such as possibly forcing two-day furloughs on state workers. In all, House action seemed a Tea Party manifesto, shouted from the front steps of the State Capitol by junior Republicans.
Throughout the legislative jailbreak, Jindal maintained his best "What, me worry?" shining grin as he traipsed to Republican Party fundraisers from Oklahoma to Alabama. After all, the Speaker of the House was still with him, unlike last year, and once Alario and Co. fix things in the Senate and a few special funding amendments are dangled, it would all settle back down like before, won't it?
The governor's problem this time, however, is that even with the support of Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and nearly all the Democrats, it still took two tries barely to get the budget out of committee and onto the floor, only to have it ripped up there.
Still, House resistance has buckled in the past, especially once legislators themselves started feeling the heat from constituents supporting higher education and health care. But the governor already has the Democrats, who care most about health care; and, given overall reaction to his retirement bills, he hardly is in a position to sic college staff and state workers onto recalcitrant lawmakers.
Also, member amendments to the budget, those special incentives that have declined of late, have all but disappeared this year. The governor has nothing to share but pain.
What's developing may be yet another after-effect of term limits, combined with the continued ideological shift to the right, not just in the Legislature but in state politics overall.
A closer look at the 51-50 vote on the critical budget amendment shows that 44 of 49 GOP yeas came from first- or second-termers, a majority of the majority, none of whom will need this governor's blessing to become future chairmen or vice chairmen. More troubling for the leadership is that seven of them already are chairmen: that is, part of leadership. Likely all of those aspire to be speaker or Appropriations chairman next time, both of whom returning Republicans largely will choose.
Instead of looking to the speaker's rostrum, they are looking among themselves and following a new group of shadow leaders, who began emerging in the last term to challenge the standing order of politics in the House.
There may be the same sheriff in town, but there's a new posse, whose members rode with him on education reform but have their own minds about state spending, as does the Republican right statewide.
It was so much easier for Jindal last term when everyone knew he was coming back and when, until the fourth year of the term, there was no single majority group—either Republicans, black Democrats or white Democrats—which enabled him to play them off each other.
Now, already a lame duck, Jindal has an ideological House majority to deal with and no money to pick off a few on the edges. And if he thinks that's bad, wait until the Senate catches on.
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