Gov. John Bel Edwards just insulted Louisiana’s new Director of Homeland Security James Waskom.
Edwards is paying all his cabinet secretaries at least as much as his predecessor Bobby Jindal did — with one exception. Waskom gets $135,000 a year, $30,000 less than Kevin Davis rated to keep us safe from terrorists and natural disasters.
When Edwards decided to renege on the vow he made as a candidate to cut “exorbitant” cabinet salaries, he appears to have asked his Director of Clichés to fashion an explanation. We were duly informed that the administration had to pay top dollar to lure the “best and brightest” on board.
Edwards is paying his commissioner of administration, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, $237,500, whereas Kristy Nichols only got $204,402 under Jindal.
Of course, it is not unheard of for women to get less than men for the same work, but Edwards says he is for equal pay. He was evidently not tempted to pay his Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson any less than the $250,000 Tim Barfield made under Jindal. Most cabinet salaries also remain unchanged.
Why Homeland Security is the only department Edwards figures to do on the cheap has not been explained. But, given the rationale for Edwards’ otherwise bountiful approach, Waskom might be entitled to feel aggrieved.
Waskom, an attorney, retired U.S. Army colonel and veteran of three combat tours, clearly does not lack qualifications for the job, for which we may all be grateful when the next hurricane hits. We may even wonder why he is not paid as much as the director of the Workforce Commission.
It is unlikely that Edwards, a former military man himself, intended any slight. Perhaps it was only when his attention came to Homeland Security that he suddenly remembered saying, “We’re not going to pay the same salaries that Bobby Jindal’s been paying.”
Pity the flack who is wheeled out after a politician goes back on his word. Edwards’ spokesman was reduced to claiming that he would hire fewer contract attorneys than Jindal, which, of course, he was free to do no matter how much his cabinet members earned. As for those inflated paychecks, they were necessary because “unlike in the past, Gov. Edwards is working to bring Louisiana talent back to the governor’s office.”
That sounds like good news right there. If only the highest salaries will secure the services of Louisiana natives, our schools must be doing something right after all.
All governors start out as reformers and will commence to crawfish sooner or later. It certainly didn’t take Edwards long to disabuse voters who might have taken campaign promises seriously.
The auguries are not encouraging for the new administration. Even if Edwards should decide to honor a pledge, he might lack his predecessors’ ability to deliver votes in the Legislature. They all got the House speaker of their choice; he was snubbed.
The strong measures that the state’s fiscal pickle demand will not all be popular with legislators or the public, so we will need a trusted governor to force them through. The tax increases Edwards is proposing will not sit well with voters who expected Edwards to save a few bucks on cabinet salaries.
Just to make Edwards’ task even more daunting, state Treasurer John Kennedy — probably the most trusted of all statewide officials — has just declared that, notwithstanding that $2 billion budget hole, Louisiana does not need to raise taxes.
It may not be coincidence that Kennedy also just announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate, but this is not the first time he has opined that Louisiana is broke not because revenue is inadequate but because so much of it is squandered. Tax-averse voters may not need much persuading that such a small state as this one could easily rub along on the $25 billion a year it already brings in.
Still, there may not be enough time to put the budget on an even keel through economies alone, even if Kennedy’s solution is feasible. It seems that Edwards will be asking for tax hikes as preferable, for instance, to reducing higher education to ruins.
We have to look after our best and brightest, after all.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.