With less than two weeks left until voters decide whether to re-elect him, Gov. Bobby Jindal already is holding meetings on the next Legislature’s leadership.
Jindal said he plans to meet with a majority of legislators and legislative candidates to get their thoughts on how the Louisiana Legislature should be organized.
“At this point, we’re just listening,” Jindal said.
The meetings are another indication of the active role the governor is assuming in assembling a Legislature favorable to his policies. The talks also mark a distinct difference from the hands-off approach he said he took toward leadership selections at the start of his first term as governor.
In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 22 primary, Jindal is endorsing legislative candidates, contributing money to their campaigns, raising money for them and initiating conversations about who the next Louisiana House speaker and state Senate president will be.
His own re-election bid is relatively lackluster. Jindal’s nine opponents are little known and poorly financed.
“He doesn’t want this to be a typical second term … in which truly not a whole lot gets done,” said state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
Jindal said he feels better prepared to influence who will lead the Louisiana House and the state Senate than he did four years ago. “We know the members a lot better,” said Jindal, who was a congressman before becoming governor.
Even though the House and Senate officially choose their own leadership, legislators traditionally line up behind the governor’s choice.
The governor typically wants to be involved in the process because the House speaker and the Senate president appoint the committees that decide whether to advance the governor’s agenda to the full chambers.
In the past four years, Jindal clashed with legislative leaders on how to balance the state operating budget. He failed to get enough backing for his proposals to sell prisons and to merge New Orleans universities. A cigarette tax renewal is going to the voters over his objections.
Neither House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, nor Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, is returning next year. Tucker is running for secretary of state. Chaisson is prevented by term limits from seeking another term.
Among those who have indicated they might want to succeed Tucker are state Reps. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro; Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans; Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles; Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette; Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge; and Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge.
In the state Senate, the field vying to replace Chaisson includes state Sens. Walsworth; John Alario, R-Westwego; Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; and Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.
Claitor said he met with the governor, who asked his preference on leadership roles.
“I explained my preference was me,” he said.
Claitor said the governor’s acting chief of staff, Stephen Waguespack, also participated in the meeting.
“I’m really not sure what to make of it,” Claitor said. “The governor is interested in leadership.”
Claitor said he hopes the Senate shows leadership instead of rubber stamping the governor’s choices.
Walsworth said he met with the governor as well but left with no promises that Jindal would back his bid to become Senate president.
“We just sort of talked,” he said. “Obviously, my beliefs and his beliefs are pretty close together.”
Fannin said Jindal called him in after hearing he was interested in the House speaker job. He said the governor asked him not to make any commitments.
“I guess it’s up to him. I’ve got a lot of votes,” Fannin said.
State Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, said she is not among the majority of legislators meeting with the governor.
Jackson said she is not surprised.
“The governor clearly doesn’t want me to be part of that leadership decision process,” she said.