Consider for a moment the theory of separation of powers. In what other state else does the governor get to pick the Senate President and Speaker of the House? It’s absurd that the Legislature would sit still for one minute for that kind of power grab.
But wait, let’s back up. We’re talking reality here, so never mind.
LouisianaVoice is going to be offering a new feature during this legislative session, one that we feel our readers will find interesting and enlightening.
We’ve written quite a bit of late about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its undue influence on legislators in every state, including Louisiana. ALEC has spent untold millions of dollars in efforts to influence public pension reform, public education reform (some say destruction and they may not be too far off), privatization of state agencies and a laundry list of other so-called reforms.
Louisiana has not been immune from that influence as we shall see in the coming days and weeks.
Nor have our legislators been immune from the influence of our governor. And if you think it is his charisma and his instant recall of facts and figures that help him to pull votes in the legislature, think again.
Oh, there’s no doubt that he is intelligent and it’s a certainty that he can spew statistics and factoids in much the same manner that Mauna Loa spews hot molten lava.
But if you really want to know how he was able, for example, to push his education bills through the House and Senate Education Committees with only token opposition, there’s an old trick to learning his method:
Follow the money.
And that’s what LouisianaVoice is going to be doing as the current legislative session slogs through the current 85-day session.
If those attending the two committee meetings last week got the uneasy feeling that the committee majorities were simply going through the motions, patronizing the witnesses as they spoke out against the bills, the reason was simple: the members’ minds were already made up and were not subject to listening to meaningful debate.
The only ones who did listen were the minority opposition, led in the House committee by Reps. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) and Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge).
It is truly sad when our elected representatives become so condescending of their constituents because, quite simply, money talks and B.S. walks.
And make no mistake: money—$124,700, in fact—ruled the day with the two committees.
Why else would Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette) offer a motion to require witnesses to state if they were on professional time or on annual or sick leave before being allowed to testify before the House Education Committee? That has never—repeat, never—been done before. Even when committee Chairman Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) ruled that he could not prohibit witnesses from testifying if they refused to say whether or not they were on annual or sick leave, Landry still pushed for a committee vote which, astonishingly enough, passed by a 10-8 vote.
Just so you know, those voting in favor of the amendment were Carter, Landry, Christopher Broadwater (R-Hammond), Henry Burns (R-Haughton), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Simone Champagne, (R-Erath), Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), Paul Hollis (R-Covington), John Schroder (R-Covington), and Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City).
Voting against the amendment were Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer), Wesley Bishop (D-N.O.), Edwards, Edward Price (D-Gonzales), Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux), Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston), Patricia Smith and Alfred Williams (D-Baton Rouge).
Each committee considered virtually identical bills. HB 976 by Carter, and SB 597 by Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie both dealt with vouchers and the expansion of state aid for students to attend private schools.
HB 974 and SB 603 by the same two legislators, respectively, would make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain and to retain.
HB 974 was approved by a 13-5 vote and HB 976 sailed through with a 12-6 vote. Richard voted against HB 976 but in favor of HB 974.
Others voting favorably on both bills were Carter, Jefferson, Broadwater, Burns, Carmody, Champagne, Henry, Hollis, Landry, Schroder, Shadoin and Thompson.
Voting against both bills in the House Committee were Bishop, Edwards, Price, Richard, Smith, and Williams.
In the Senate Education Committee, SB 597 was approved by a 5-1 vote with Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) not voting. SB 603 was approved by a 6-1 vote with Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) casting the lone no vote on each bill.
Others voting for the two Senate bills were Sens. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) and Bodi White (R-Central).
LouisianaVoice has already written about the long list of corporations that are members of ALEC and their campaign money was in evidence in the votes in both committees.
But even more interesting, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s money, with only a couple of exceptions, was even more evident in the voting results.
In all, 13 candidates received $124,700 in campaign contributions from ALEC corporate members or Jindal—or both.
Here’s the Senate breakdown with the amount followed by the source of the contribution(s):
• Conrad Appel—$2500 from Jindal;
• Dan Claitor—$2500 from Jindal;
• Jack Donahue—$2500 from Jindal;
• Mike Walsworth—$9,000 from ALEC member corporations, $2500 from Jindal;
• Elbert Guillory—$45,200 from ALEC member corporations, $7500 from Jindal.
Additionally, Walsworth attended ALEC’s national convention in New Orleans last August with ALEC picking up the tab for his cost of nearly $1500.
On the House side, the following Education Committee members received the following campaign contributions:
• Carter—$2500 from Jindal;
• Broadwater—$5000 from Jindal;
• Burns—$5000 from Jindal;
• Carmody—$1500 from ALEC member corporation;
• Champagne—$16,000 from ALEC member corporations, $2500 from Jindal;
• Henry—$2500 from Jindal;
• Landry—$2500 from Jindal;
• Schroder—$2000 from ALEC member corporation, $2500 from Jindal.
That can turn a lot of deaf ears to opposition and elicit key favorable votes.
None of those voting against either of the bills in either committee received campaign funds from ALEC corporate members or Jindal.
That’s the reality of civics.
Another reality is that we are going to be doing this on key votes on public pension reform, the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits, the sale of state prisons, Medicaid, and any and all other controversial issues being pushed by the Jindal administration.
Follow the money.