The four major candidates running for Louisiana governor this year say, if elected, their administrations would be more open than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s has been.
Jindal, who can’t seek re-election because of a term limit, also campaigned on a transparency platform in 2007, but Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, all Republicans, and Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards each said Thursday that they would make even bigger strides to open up records to the public and promote ethics in state government.
The gubernatorial wannabes, during a forum sponsored by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, each slammed Jindal’s use of the “deliberative process” exemption in the state’s public records law.
Shortly after Jindal was elected, he backed an overhaul of Louisiana’s public records law that redefined the Governor’s Office exemptions, shielding communication that would be considered part of the deliberative process. Loosely defined, such an exemption would include internal communications related to some decision-making that would be chilled or hurt if documents could go public. The Jindal administration has applied that to mean most documents in the Governor’s Office.
“The only thing transparent about our governor right now is his ambition,” said Dardenne, in one of the more direct barbs at Jindal.
Edwards said he thinks Jindal’s administration has stretched the deliberative process exemption “beyond its breaking point.”
“It’s actually an abuse of power,” Edwards said.
Angelle, a Jindal appointee, said he thinks a lack of transparency in the administration has reflected badly on the state and likely kept some businesses from moving here.
“I believe it’s already cost us too much,” he said. “I think that number would surprise us.”
And Vitter, who participated via pre-taped answers because of votes in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, promised to issue an executive order on his first day in office to increase access to documents.
The PAR event was the latest in a string of gubernatorial forums in the runup to the Oct. 24 election. Both subtle and some not-so-subtle jabs at Jindal’s administration have become a recurring theme among all four candidates.
Jindal, when asked to respond to the criticism later Thursday, didn’t address the candidates’ specific claims but said his administration has followed the law. He said he doesn’t expect to endorse any candidate in the race and he thinks it will be up to the next governor to make his own case to voters and forge his own leadership path.
Louisiana law has been used to shield many documents in the Governor’s Office from disclosure, including records that can be considered part of his decision-making process, communication with his closest staff and security records. Jindal has refused to release his daily schedule and has denied requests for access to his emails.
Angelle said he would post his daily schedule online and require cabinet secretaries to do the same, if elected. “Currently, the only way you know where your governor is on a given day is if you get his press releases. I’ll change that,” he said.
Vitter pledged to hold regular open-house meetings with the public at the Governor’s Mansion.
Dardenne said he would move to make most records public, at least after decisions are made.
“Open records laws and compliance with those laws are incredibly important,” Edwards said.
Each of the candidates also had proposals for Louisiana’s ethics laws.
“The issue is enforcement,” Vitter said. “We need stronger enforcement.”
Vitter said he supports a zero-tolerance policy for ethics violations.
Angelle said he also would push for more resources for ethics investigations and particularly home in on rules for how private contracts are handed out.
“Unfortunately, our political history is stained with a culture of corruption,” he said.
Dardenne said he thinks it’s important for voters to change Louisiana’s problematic image through electing better people and not those who become “feedstock for late-night television jokes.”
And Edwards said he thinks the state should start by addressing issues of double-dipping and other ways that politicians fleece taxpayer money.
“We need to take a look at it and make sure that doesn’t continue,” he said.