Don’t Cry for Me, Louisiana: The First Showdown

Next Monday, our once-great hope for the future of Louisiana, the diminutive, motor-mouthed wunderkind and former presidential candidate, the man once praised across the country as the future of the Republican Party, will huddle with his young family, will shake the hands of several of his once-upon-a-time enemies, will listen as another man repeats the same oath he had twice recited proudly, without a stutter, and then will climb into a dark Chevrolet SUV and leave the grounds of the Louisiana Capitol. His office has already been packed; the strange portrait that he displayed at its entrance has been returned to the man who commissioned it. The moving vans have already departed from the Governor’s Mansion.

Bobby Jindal’s new home is only a few miles away, but it is still a world apart.

Louisiana’s next governor, John Bel Edwards, is inheriting a total mess. Nothing will be easy for him. After eight years of blind allegiance to Grover Norquist and his reflexively anti-tax agenda, Bobby Jindal is leaving John Bel Edwards with a state suffering from a deficit of more than $1.9 billion, an education system that ranks 49th out of 50 in the nation, billions in contractual agreements with manufacturing facilities that have yet to materialize, deteriorating and dangerous infrastructure, and a health care system on the brink of collapse.

Jindal detested the notion of competent government. He privatized anything and everything he could, even if it meant that taxpayers would  ultimately be forced to pay more for the same services they had once received through their own government. He bragged about firing 30,000 public employees, equivalent to the size of the entire workforce of Alexandria or Monroe, two of the state’s largest cities. He considers this to be one of his greatest accomplishments: Firing tens of thousands of public servants from their jobs.

When he had opportunities to leverage outside federal funding, Bobby Jindal squandered them: Capriciously rejecting hundreds of millions of dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and in projects intended to expand rural broadband access and develop light rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He obstinately rejected more than a billion dollars to expand health insurance to more than 250,000 of his constituents.

Bobby Jindal didn’t need to do any of this. When he took office, he inherited a $1 billion surplus. There was never an existential need for the state of Louisiana to fire tens of thousands of people.

But Jindal was never a governor. Governors understand they have a fiduciary duty to the people of their state. No, instead, Bobby Jindal was a self-promotional, political arsonist. I hope the Edwards family changes the locks and replaces the batteries in the smoke detectors at the Governor’s Mansion.

I also hope that the error of this type of absurd, fractious, and unproductive partisanship in Louisiana will end on Jan. 11, 2016. We have been plagued and victimized too long by those who care more about the theater of politics than the responsibilities of public service.

John Bel Edwards won in a landslide, against all odds, and he deserves the same deference and respect with which the vast majority of the legislature treated Gov. Jindal. Immediately after he was elected- but before he officially took office, Edwards made it abundantly clear that he intended on forming a coalition government. He hired outgoing Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican and one of his challengers in the gubernatorial election, as Commissioner of Administration. It is a clear sign that this pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Democrat intends on governing from the middle, which is wise.

We are facing some significant problems, and if we’re to be serious about fixing these problems, we must be in this together.

And that is why I am so disappointed by my friend, State Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria, and his aggressive attempt to break with tradition and, for purely partisan reasons, make the very first thing on the very first day of John Bel Edwards’s administration into a silly showdown between Walt Leger, a Democrat supported by Gov. Edwards, and Cameron Henry, a Republican who once worked for Congressman Steve Scalise, in the race for Speaker of the House.

Rep. Harris should strive to kickstart the new session in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation and not in an act of vapid political scheming and bad theatrics.

With John Bel’s landslide victory, we also deserve a legislature willing to negotiate, particularly because so many of them are responsible for the calamity we currently face. Leger’s election would send a strong signal to voters that the government is both functioning and inclusive.

Rep. Harris attempted to explain to me that he merely wanted to ensure an “independent” legislature. He neglected to mention that Republican Bobby Jindal first appointed a Republican Speaker in a majority Democratic chamber. This is nothing new, and Walt Leger, for what it’s worth, is decidedly mainstream and uncontroversial.

I understand and respect that Lance Harris is a man of strong ideological beliefs and loyal partisanship, but I believe in effective pragmatism and the humility of serving in small ways in order to help others accomplish big things.

Long story short: Drop the stupid fight over Walt and focus instead on the real issues. After eight years of Jindal, we don’t have any more patience for these staged partisan showdowns, and Rep. Harris, in particular, could be a much more effective representative of my friends and family members in Alexandria if he worked harder on solving the budget crisis than promoting his political fraternity and brand.

No offense, sir- still respect and admire you. But that’s all theater, and there is a big difference between being an actor and a man of action.

Louisiana needs to grow up.

The truth is, we’ve never left you, but the wild days aren’t over quite yet.