A second-term lawmaker says it was "horrible" how Gov. Bobby Jindal's ally stripped a vice chairman of his title earlier this month for voting against the administration. "That's just terrible to me. That's public intimidation," said Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Raceland. "I'll tell you this, they are not going to scare me into voting a different way."
Gisclair's seatmate on the House floor is Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who lost his position as vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee. Ritchie voted against a Jindal-backed bill that creates a tax rebate for donations to nonprofits that support grants or scholarships for private schools. Ritchie's vote against the bill was inconsequential; the measure passed out of committee 15-4.
A day later, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, removed him from the insurance committee. Kleckley assumed the speakership with Jindal's backing. "It's hard to describe the intimidation the governor tries to exert on the Legislature," Gisclair said. "But it's there."
It certainly is — but there could be an upside. Once Team Jindal beats a lawmaker down, there's no way to go but up. Just ask Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent who believes Jindal should open more records from his office to public view, reduce state consulting contracts and cut the public workforce.
Richard has spent the past few years offering alternatives to Jindal's policy initiatives — without success. Some of Richard's bills were supported by lawmakers, but not by the governor, who vetoed four of them.
This year Richard has House Bill 291, which would place Jindal on par with other state agencies under Louisiana's public records law. Currently, documents used in the governor's "deliberative process," particularly intra-office communications, are kept secret under a "transparency" law that Jindal pushed through the Legislature in his first term. Team Jindal has used the "deliberative process" rationale to deny innumerable public records requests, which makes his "transparency" law the American equivalent of Britain's Official Secrets Act. It also earned him the dubious honor of America's least transparent governor.
Richard's legislation would eliminate the "deliberative process" rubric and put in its stead a seven-day period after which records of confidential meetings could be released — and another 10-year waiting period before "protected documents" could be accessed. "I don't want the law to be too tight," he said, adding, "I think there are a lot of public records that need to be opened up. I do believe there are some things that could be brought out for the public that would help us deliberate on the budget."
Richard also is pushing House Bill 328, which outlines a plan for trimming government consulting contracts. The plan, first floated by state Treasurer John Kennedy as a member of the now-defunct Commission on Streamlining Government, calls for a 10 percent reduction in professional, personal, consulting and social services contracts under the jurisdiction of the Division of Administration's Office of Contractual Review.
Kennedy and Richard fought for that idea last year without success. Richard said he expects the treasurer to testify on its behalf this year. Kennedy also is backing Richard's House Bill 327, which would eliminate 15,000 jobs from the executive branch over a three-year period. Team Jindal opposed both ideas last year.
In opposing the legislation last year, the Jindal administration described the streamlining bills as "overly broad" and potentially a threat to jobs in key agencies, such as those dealing with veterans and prisons.
"I thought it would be a good idea to bring them back," Richard said of his bills. "We do have a different legislature now."
Of course, by "new," Richard means freshmen lawmakers. But the definition also might include chastened veterans like Ritchie, who certainly has a new outlook on politics — and Jindal — these days.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.