Lawmakers jump to Jindal’s bell?

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When state House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) removed Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, the local lawmaker offered an interesting revelation about the way Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration micromanages the legislative process.

“Everything (legislative committees) do is scripted,” Harrison said in an interview with Capitol News Services hours after his November demotion. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.”

Harrison spoke in the heat of his take-down by Jindal for having the temerity to vote against the governor on the proposed contract that called for Blue Cross/Blue Shield to become the third-party administer for the Office Of Group Benefit’s (OGB) preferred provider organization (PPO).

Now another nameless legislator – not a member of Jindal’s party – has corroborated Harrison’s strong words. Not that it matters in the wake of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romeny’s surprising defeat.

Jindal turned on Romney, criticizing some of his campaign strategy. In response, Romney aides, notably Dan Senor (son-in-law of former Louisiana Secretary of State and Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown), responded in kind, referring to Jindal as a “craven hypocrite.”

When Capitol News Service asked our unnamed lawmaker if Harrison was accurate in claiming that committee members are given questions by administrative officials in advance of committee hearings, “Absolutely,” he responded without hesitation.

“Not only that, but they text committee members during committee meetings and event send text messages to legislators during floor debates on bills in the House and Senate telling them how to vote on certain bills,” he said. “They’ll also send text messages instructing a legislator to speak for or against a bill and even telling him or her what to say. (The lawmaker) will pop out of their chair and immediately rush to the floor microphone.”

The unnamed lawmaker said he occasionally speaks to school groups about how the legislative process is designed to work. “I always leave laughing at myself for telling the kids that we have three branches of government: the executive, legislative and the judiciary,” he said. “We no longer have a legislative branch of government in Louisiana; (the Legislature is) just an extension of the executive branch.

“The sad part is we have only ourselves to blame,” he continued. “When I say ‘we,’ I mean the Legislature as a body, not as individuals, because there are some members who will stand up to Jindal when they feel he is wrong. But the … House and Senate have capitulated to the fourth floor and I lay the fault at the feet of our leadership, Speaker Kleckley and Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego).

“They are both likeable men; very personable,” the source said. “But Alario is looking out for Alario. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the Capital Outlay Bill and see how many projects are in it for Jefferson Parish. It’s loaded down with Jefferson projects and Alario wants to keep it that way.”

The unnamed lawmaker also questioned the motivations of other committee chairmen, including state Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville).

“Here is a state senator who had a state mental hospital in his district (Mandeville’s Southeast Louisiana Hospital, a 374-bed state-run treatment facility) closed by the governor – who gave no advance warning of his intentions – and, yet, as chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, (Donahue) did exactly what Jindal told him to do and steamrolled the Blue Cross/Blue Shield contract with OGB down everyone’s throat.”

Harrison and his unnamed counterpart weren’t the only ones to reveal the ongoing Jindal administration instructions to lawmakers.

A third source – not a legislator – said he witnessed a lawmaker receiving text messages from the governor’s office even as he testified, not before a legislative committee, but in front of the New Orleans City Council. “They were letting (the lawmaker) know they didn’t like what he was saying in his testimony,” the source said.

Capitol News Service sent separate emails to Jindal Press Secretary Kyle Plotkin and Chief of Staff Paul Rainwater asking two questions:

• Does the administration think it is appropriate to micromanage the legislative process in this manner?

• Doesn’t this practice blur the lines between the executive and legislative branches of government?

Neither Plotkin nor Rainwater responded.