Football trumps politics in 2012

Letter to Editor: Morgan City politics shaded by mayor
January 4, 2012
Bayou Industrial Group Membership Luncheon
January 4, 2012
Letter to Editor: Morgan City politics shaded by mayor
January 4, 2012
Bayou Industrial Group Membership Luncheon
January 4, 2012

Louisiana’s inauguration in January will be a more toned-down affair than usual, not simply because there’s little drama in Gov. Bobby Jindal entering a second term and all seven statewide elected officials will be the same.

Frankly, it’s just hard for politics to compete with football’s national championship game when LSU is in it.

But as 2012 progresses, the political scene won’t stay so subdued – or overshadowed by sports.

Many legislative leadership positions have yet to be filled, and a fair amount of upheaval is likely.

Meanwhile, the governor is pushing an education agenda that is expected to again put him in the crosshairs of teacher unions. More budget cuts are on the horizon. And congressional elections are around the corner, with one fewer seat available and all seven congressmen wanting to stay.

Many of the political story lines continue from 2011, when budget cuts kept state officials on edge, the redrawing of congressional districts created fissures within the Republican Party, Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter battled for control of the state GOP and education issues divided the Legislature.

The political new year kicks off Jan. 9, with the governor’s inauguration, the swearing-in of lawmakers and statewide elected officials and the selection of the House speaker and Senate president. No surprises are expected there. Jindal’s picked Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, and Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, for those two jobs. Lawmakers appear poised to back his choices.

The question is how many guests will show up for Jindal’s inauguration, because the BCS championship game between LSU and Alabama will be only 75 miles away in New Orleans and within a few hours of the ceremony.

Jindal is wisely wrapping things up early, joking that he wouldn’t even be able to keep his family’s attention once the championship matchup between LSU and Alabama begins. Jindal’s inaugural ball will be the night before the big game.

Shortly after Inauguration Day, legislative committees will have to be named, particularly the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees that will need to quickly get into the weeds of budget issues. The state is expected to be short hundreds of millions of dollars in the upcoming 2012-13 fiscal year of what is needed to continue all state services.

The regular legislative session starts a bit earlier than usual, on March 12, because a recently passed constitutional amendment pushed up the opening date.

Jindal said he’s planning to focus on elementary and secondary education in the session. He said he wants to expand rewards for high-performing teachers, give more choices to parents of children in failing schools and boost flexibility for spending in school districts.

The governor has yet to unveil specifics about his education agenda, saying he’ll detail the proposals early in the new year. He’s been visiting schools around the state and holding “stakeholder” meetings with lawmakers, education officials and others interested in education policy.

He’ll have a new Board of Elementary and Secondary Education sympathetic to him, but he’ll still have to get his ideas through the Legislature, with likely fights from teacher unions and traditional public school groups.

Before those battles begin, BESE is looking to hire a state education superintendent, with expectations Jindal will get approval for his choice: John White, head of the Recovery School District, which manages failing schools taken over by the state. At least one new BESE member is pressing for a national search, however, saying the process shouldn’t be rigged for White.

Meanwhile, congressional elections are on the horizon, with Louisiana’s U.S. House delegation shrinking from seven to six members because the state’s population didn’t grow as quickly as other states in the most recent federal census.

That forces two current congressional members, expected to be Republican Charles Boustany of Lafayette and Republican Jeff Landry of New Iberia, to run against each other in what is predicted to be a hotly contested showdown over the seat.

Also, Democrats are targeting GOP U.S. Rep. John Fleming of Minden, trying to make gains after a dismal statewide election cycle in 2011.

But first, football, perhaps one of the only things that trumps the sport of politics in Louisiana.