Some of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ardent supporters reacted with shock when he picked John Alario to be president of the Senate.
Isn’t Alario — former legislative leader for Gov. Edwin W. Edwards — almost a living symbol of what reformers call old-style politics?
From the heartburn of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La. — he is the self-appointed enforcer of conservative politics in the state — to outrage on the conservative blogs, the Alario pick certainly seemed a bit out of step with Jindal’s studiously cultivated image as “conservative reformer” of state politics.
That image of reform does not reflect the reality of how Jindal has governed.
Four years ago, Jindal pushed for leaders he wanted in the House and Senate, just as governors have since time immemorial. Jindal dressed up the process by saying he was following the consensus of lawmakers that he’d heard from, rather than just anointing his own choices.
After that, he’s intervened forcefully to sway the Legislature and use his influence over the chambers — just as much as Edwards and others have done before him.
That’s been the opposite of the reformers’ longtime goal of an independent Legislature as a check on abuses of gubernatorial power.
Elected to a second term, the governor didn’t even bother to camouflage his exercise of power this time.
Instead, he openly nominated Alario, from Jefferson Parish, as Senate president and Rep. Chuck Kleckley, of Lake Charles, as speaker in the House. Both are Republicans, although Kleckley has been one considerably longer than Alario, who joined the GOP only last year.
Nor did the governor stop with assertion of his power over the gavels at the top. He also blessed Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, for another term as chairman of the powerful Approriations Committee, which writes the budget bill in the House.
Control over the budget is an essential part of making the governor more powerful, and lawmakers into the trained seals they so often become when called up to the Governor’s Office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.
Those who are outraged aren’t angry about what they should be unhappy about.
Alario has become more conservative over the years, and he has ceaselessly ingratiated himself with the young governor and his staff since they came into office. He is a capable man, whatever one might think of his politics, then and now.
But if one is going to be angry about Alario, where is the kickback about Kleckley? The latter is a conventional conservative, but he’s getting his gavel by the same ugly exercise of gubernatorial power.
Both he and Alario will be utterly beholden to the governor who appointed them, instead of the members who ostensibly will “elect” them in January when the new Legislature convenes.
With leadership appointed behind closed doors, the deals cut to make it happen are obscure. Among the other things Jindal the reformer promised was a government of transparency and openness. That claim is as threadbare as legislative independence by now.
The word “reform” implies somehow, some way, the old ways of doing things will change.
That attitude is far from Jindal’s when it comes to making the governorship more powerful.
This is old-school politics at its best, and it would be the same whether Alario were on the governor’s “leadership” list or not.