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Bad Relations

After a contentious session, Gov. Bobby Jindal has some fences to mend.

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Considering the salary bump Gov. Bobby Jindal says he will allow legislators to give themselves, you would think he and lawmakers have bonded. Not all lawmakers who supported the raise are willing to look upon Jindal's non-veto as a friendly gesture, however. Real respect, in the legislative vernacular, costs much more than that — and it must be earned. Jindal's repeated missteps during the just-ended session did little to further his cause.

The governor's veto pen, when he chose to wield it, also caused some resentment. Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, says she was surprised to learn Jindal had vetoed her bill to re-establish an exception in the ethics law letting lawmakers get free food, drinks and refreshments at philanthropic events. She says the "Fourth Floor," where Jindal's offices are located in the State Capitol, repeatedly told her Jindal would work with her on a compromise. That didn't happen.

Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, who serves in Jindal's leadership as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saw Jindal veto his bill to broaden the scope of information that can be released in "child in need of care" proceedings. Greene says the administration originally told him Jindal was "fine" with the bill. It was vetoed without contact, questions or requests for supporting information. "I think something is missing from the process," Greene says.

A story in The Advocate last week set off Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, the Senate Retirement Committee chairman. Jindal dedicated an extension of Veterans Memorial Highway near Wallace, La., but didn't invite area lawmakers who first pushed the long-term hurricane evacuation route years ago, Gautreaux says.

Equally as upsetting, he adds, were Jindal's efforts to take credit for the $300 million income tax cut legislators passed as a partial reversal of the so-called Stelly Plan. Earlier this month, advertisements touting Jindal's alleged role in the tax cut were pulled from the statewide radio program of Moon Griffon. "Bobby is running all over the state and country taking credit for everything good and blaming us for what he says is bad," Gautreaux says. "He took credit for the Stelly repeal that he lobbied against."

During the session's opening weeks, GOP Rep. Wayne Waddell of Shreveport was hung out to dry when the administration initially promised to collaborate on opening more records in the governor's office to public view, but then never came to the table.

Nearly all of the miscues involved staff carrying out the wishes of the governor, who, for his part, essentially governed in absentia this session. Some legislators have complained about his sideline approach while others relish the independence. The strategy has resulted in a power shift in favor of House Speaker Jim Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson II. That duo kept the wheels on most of Jindal's legislative accomplishments, and each delivered for his own district.

The choice of Tucker as speaker must be a decision that Jindal has pondered at least once this session. The Algiers Republican has shown a blinding streak of independence. He almost single-handedly thwarted the administration's efforts to change the way the state develops data for its fiscal forecasts, opposing Chaisson, a Democrat from Destrehan, and Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis as a member of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Tucker, one of the catalysts behind the GOP's power surge in the House, also shepherded a bill that would give lawmakers some additional influence over construction dollars and all but shoved the pay raise bill down Jindal's throat. Gallot, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, says Jindal should have known he was handing the reins over to a feisty pol not afraid to fight. "That's Jim," Gallot says. "He's always been that way."

But Jindal obviously had no idea his legislative relations would come to this. In a post-session press conference, he said the administration had "learned our lessons and we will keep tighter reigns" on the Legislature in the future. That's not what lawmakers wanted to hear.

If the missteps continue, by this time next year Jindal may be complaining about the reins lawmakers have on him.

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