When Karen Carter Peterson stepped down after eight years as head of the Louisiana Democratic Party, it came with a characteristic splash: In the state Senate, she shot down — without good reason, as best we can tell — key appointees of Louisiana’s Democratic governor.
Peterson continues as a senator from New Orleans, and apparently the secret process by which she ambushed two of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointments has the bipartisan blessing of Senate leadership.
This is bad government, plain and simple.
The Senate is supposed to consent to major appointments by the governor. In Louisiana, these can be even small local matters, like boards for what would be in most states a county responsibility. But the consent process, if it can be dignified by the latter word, works out as a place where political hatchets are manufactured.
The confirmation process takes place behind closed doors with only senators and a handful of staffers present. Hundreds of appointees, late in a legislative session, are typically waved through, with senators — if they have a political problem with someone — having worked those out in advance with the governor’s office or other statewide officials who have appointments as well.
But the Senate rule is that a senator has the right to block any appointee who is registered to vote in his or her district. Appointees get no notice, until a Senate staffer calls and says that the appointment was not confirmed — no opportunity for appeal, no reason supplied.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, told senators that he favors keeping the practice. Disappointingly, instead of deploring the secret process, he admonished senators to keep the body’s secrets, like it’s an exclusive private club.
In Peterson’s case, the drama involved two very high-profile appointees.
Peterson’s move forced two key officials — Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, and Walt Leger III, chairman of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans — to step down from their jobs, for which in our view they were highly qualified.
Peterson also nixed some other appointees getting lesser notice. She was also not the only senator indulging her political prejudices in the secret session, but because of Senate secrecy, it’s difficult to know how many were deep-sixed at the last moment.
This process stinks. It has for many years and changing it should be a priority for senators. It is only rarely that a case like Peterson’s actions draw such scrutiny. Secrecy in government is like a cancer growing silently in the institution.
Surgery is needed and we urge senators to study how other states meet consent issues and reform those of the body in Louisiana.