Back in 2009, then-state Rep. Jane Smith got passed a law that put a tax break on alternative fuel vehicles. Smith, who after a defeat to move into the Senate was appointed to be deputy secretary in the Department of Revenue, has stated that it was intended to help the burgeoning natural gas industry in the state, but the wording of it plausibly could have it applied to any alternative fuel-powered vehicle. That interpretation earlier this year was taken by then-Department of Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges, with tax revenue collection consequences that could hit $100 million to the state.
Apparently, key state legislators got into the know shortly thereafter, and did not seem overly concerned that anybody else should know about it – maybe because they knew it could make their budgeting task more miserable. But about a month after the ruling’s issuance, it seems one of Angelle’s subordinates sent along information that, had Angelle studied it to some degree, should have revealed to him the presence of the ruling. It was not for another month-and-a-half that Angelle, who also operates as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative liaison, seems to have figured out the implications of the ruling when the chief budgetary legislator who also had prior knowledge of the ruling, state Rep. Jim Fannin, put him onto it – 10 days after the session’s end. That day, Jindal reversed the decision, and the day after, Bridges resigned with Smith ascending to that job believing Bridges had not explicitly contacted Jindal about her decision two-and-a-half months previous.
One would expect the governor’s legislative liaison to have run across the matter much sooner than he had, and at least have been onto it when he received the e-mail message from his subordinate. Three possibilities present themselves to explain the scenario that unfolded. The least likely is that Angelle knew what was going on, told Jindal’s office whose staffers then flubbed the matter. This seems quite far-fetched as the political importance of the matter was obvious – with fiscal problems afoot, no one would want to damage the top man’s political standing and exacerbate budget problems by sitting on such information. Discounting this, interpretations of what unfolded become a political problem of their own for Angelle.
Another possibility is that Angelle, presumably to enhance his own future political standing at Jindal’s expense by embarrassing the governor with this. Perhaps Angelle may seek the Senate seat of incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014 where Jindal might be a rival. But there’s good reason to think Jindal has little interest in serving in the Senate, and such a crass move would alienate Jindal’s support network that can be unleashed for the benefit of a candidate. It’s dubious that Angelle would risk this over a contingency of extreme remoteness against his boss and ally, who had him at one time serving as the interim lieutenant governor and is a logical choice to get his backing if he were to run to succeed Jindal as governor.
The final possibility is the very likely one – Angelle simply was not attentive. This can turn out mortifying if Angelle does pursue a Senate seat or statewide office, where opponents can question his competence in office as a result of the incident. It’s not a crippling blow to a candidacy, but nonetheless an inconvenience.
The whole thing will do much more political damage to him than to Jindal, who can use it as a cautionary tale of big government and turn it around to argue for tax simplification. Still, by no means does it serve as a scarlet letter impeding any potential political career beyond his current position.
by Jeffrey Sadow, Ph.D.