Jindal’s legislative relations worsen

Taking time to give thanks
November 20, 2012
The kabuki dance continues
November 20, 2012
Taking time to give thanks
November 20, 2012
The kabuki dance continues
November 20, 2012

Gov. Bobby Jindal may have won the vote needed to allow him to outsource a state employee health insurance plan, but he only made his relationships with lawmakers more strained and troubled with the tactics used to achieve the victory.

The Republican governor was always destined to have difficulties with Democratic lawmakers, but now he’s repeatedly fostered ill-will and unrest with lawmakers in his own GOP.

The removal of two Republican lawmakers from the House Appropriations Committee, which seemed to be the sway needed to get the panel to pass the Jindal administration’s contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, only worsened the governor’s ties to members of his party.

Some people speculate Jindal doesn’t care because he’s got his eyes on a national prize, not Louisiana concerns.

But if left unrepaired, those strained relationships could stymie much of his legislative agenda, leaving him with few achievements from the remaining years of his term to tout on a national stage.

For example, Jindal’s talking about a tax code overhaul as his main agenda for the next legislative session. Pieces of a comprehensive rewrite likely would take hefty two-thirds votes, and if he’s got a mix of Democrats and Republicans in little mood to work with him, that could make it difficult to rally the support he needs to pass his agenda.

His biggest problems are in the state House of Representatives.

For several years, Jindal’s encountered deepening opposition to his budget plans from a group of House Republicans nicknamed the “fiscal hawks.” They object to the governor’s use of patchwork budget financing, want to shrink government spending and disagree with Jindal’s continued financing of ongoing programs with one-time money that isn’t certain to appear year after year.

As the fiscal hawks continue to grow more organized in their opposition, Jindal also has angered lawmakers both Democrat and Republican over a series of budget-cutting decisions he’s made since the Legislature wrapped up work on the budget. The cuts have shuttered health care services, and they came with little notice for lawmakers even if the facilities being closed were in their backyards.

Adding to the litany of complaints is the governor’s perceived meddling in legislative affairs, wiping out even the pretense of legislative independence.

Earlier this month, two Republican lawmakers who repeatedly clashed with Jindal were kicked off the House’s budget-writing committee a day after they voted with opponents of the governor’s plan to hire Blue Cross/Blue Shield to run a health insurance plan for state workers, public school teachers and retirees.

Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, both blamed their ouster from the Appropriations Committee on their disagreements with the governor, which stretched back into the legislative session earlier this year.

Jindal’s office denied any hand in the decision, but it was carried out by his hand-picked House speaker, Rep. Chuck Kleckley, who earlier this year removed other lawmakers from committee leadership roles after they disagreed with the governor.

Harrison laughed at the suggestion Jindal wasn’t involved.

A week after Henry and Harrison were dismissed from the Appropriations Committee, the panel gave passage to Jindal’s contracting plan, with the new members who replaced Henry and Harrison voting in favor of the outsourcing.

But the dismissals just heaped more strife onto House members’ relationships with Jindal and Kleckley, the governor’s top floor leader in the chamber.

Republicans who had often been lock-step with the governor and who only criticized him quietly are now openly bashing his frequent out-of-state travel, questioning his fiscal conservatism and accusing he and his staff of being untrustworthy.

Jindal’s relied on a traditional lack of legislative independence and deference to the governor _ along with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate _ to muscle through his proposals even as lawmakers’ anger mounted.

It’s unclear if that can carry Jindal through his remaining three years in office as a lame-duck governor, or if he’s bruised enough relationships to damage his plans.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.