Report: Successes & Failures in Louisiana's 2008 Session
The following is a final paper I submitted for a political science class in spring 2009.
A report on Gubernatorial Successes & Failures in the 2008 Legislative Session
Louisiana has been chosen as the focus of this paper because because there are a number of distinct features about the state which make it unique in the country. It is the only state to have been ruled by the Spanish and the French at the same time, the influences of which continue to dominate the political culture. Louisiana’s economy is largely petrochemical and agricultural. Historically, it has largely been both Democrat and black, yet has voted for Republican candidates on the national level. Additionally, several unique and unconventional circumstances have occurred in the past five years which have altered the state – and arguably, the national – political landscape significantly. Most notably, hurricanes Rita and Katrina devastated the state, and temporarily put Louisiana on a national stage, front and center.
This paper focuses on the actions of the newly-elected Governor Jindal in Louisiana, his focus on ethics, education and public health, the extent of his power and authority in the state and his use of it in two special legislative sessions and the 2008 General Assembly.
One of Louisiana’s foremost distinctions is its adherence to Napoleonic Code rather than English Common Law. This concept has far-reaching consequences; it effectively negates the concept of legal precedent in its judicial governance, which creates a need for specialized law study in the state, and affects property and family rights laws. This oddity sets the state apart from every other of the 49 states in the Union. The strong French and Spanish influences responsible for the Napoleonic or “Civil Law” code are also a factor in Louisiana’s districts being known as “parishes” instead of counties.
The state is also one of the southern-most, and its position near the Gulf of Mexico means it is heavily involved in the seafood and oil industries. Louisiana managed approximately $40.2 billion in exports in 2008, with nearly $16 billion (38%) in agricultural exports, with petroleum and coal products second at $10 billion (24%).
Louisiana is among the top ten states for total African American residents, and is third in the nation for black residents per capita. As of 2009, approximately 30% of registered voters were black, with only about 3% of them registered as Republicans, compared with about 65% of registered voters being white, 24% of whom are registered as Republicans.
The state struggles with various low rankings. It ranks 50 out of 51 in citizens with education levels of high school degrees or higher. It is number 2 for number of poor citizens, with 19.4% of the state living below the poverty line. As of March 2009, it ranked 7th for unemployment. According to Statemaster.com’s summary for the state, Louisiana “leads the nation in homicides per capita, the per capita number of state and federal prisoners in jail, as well as relatively high levels of aggravated assaults and violent crimes,” also noting high sexually transmitted disease rates, low healthcare rates, and rates of child deaths.
In 2005, a category three hurricane came ashore from the Gulf of Mexico and wreaked havoc on Louisiana and its surrounding neighbors. After dams, levees and sea walls failed, inhabitants who failed to heed the orders to leave were stranded, and some lost their lives, and causing roughly $81 billion in damage to property. The matter quickly became political as victims, politicians and media hosts sought to place blame. Louisiana’s Governor Kathleen Blanco, New Orleans’ mayor Ray Nagin, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and President Bush all faced public relations troubles due to action or inaction taken in the hurricane’s aftermath.
Michael Brown, the head of FEMA was fired. Mayor Ray Nagin rebounded to win reelection, but lost many former supporters. President Bush’s approval numbers continued to slip after his handling of the disaster, ranking among the lowest in departure approval ratings when he left office.
Following the hurricanes, the state lost more than a million residents as citizens fled to other states. A full third of these citizens never returned. Many of the remaining inhabitants relocated; the population of Baton Rouge doubled in size after Katrina, threatening to divide the formidable New Orleans parish control in Louisiana’s General Assembly. This change may also impact future redistricting, dividing voting blocs crucial to the Democrat party. While these population shifts certainly affect the state demographics and voting numbers, the shift in population also indicates the loss of at least one seat in congress, as well as a decrease in federal funding.
Oddly enough, despite this population exodus, Louisiana reported its highest voter turnout ever in the 2008 presidential election. This may possibly be attributed to the high percentage of blacks living in Louisiana and presumably voting for a black candidate, although Mayor Ray Nagin’s voting support as a function of race has been volatile.
Following on the scandals of disaster management, Governor Kathleen Blanco did not even try to seek reelection. which cleared the way for Congressman Bobby Jindal to win election. Though Jindal had sought the office in 2003, he was narrowly defeated in a runoff against Kathleen Blanco. His victory in 2008 was the result of defeating eleven other contenders in the nonpartisan primary.
Jindal’s victory came with many firsts; the first Indian-American to hold a governorship, the youngest governor in the United States, and the first to win an open gubernatorial election since Louisiana’s nonpartisan primary system was installed. 
Jindal made good on his promise to call a special session of the legislature, concentrating heavily on ethics reforms for the state. Specifically, Jindal called for vast new accountability and disclosure requirements for the personal finances of legislators, judges and most other elected officials, as well as greater transparency in lobbyist finances. Jindal sought to crack down on corruption by eliminating taxpayer-funded pensions for corrupt officials, and to remove the ability for politicians to use public funds to pay/hire family members. He also sought to limit campaign finance, and disclosure of any third-party ad sponsorship.
These goals were far from token; the language was written very specifically with the intent of preventing legislators from tampering with it. And just in case legislative support was not sufficient, Jindal toured the state to gain support for his agenda.  Weeks later, the General Assembly voted to pass the measures on financial disclosure (albeit in weakened form), conflict of interest with state contracts, and lobbyist transparency. He did not succeed with removing public funding of pensions for convicted politicians, nor in preventing family members from being hired. The session victories, however, were called a “home run” by the governor.
Governor Jindal then called a second special session just a month later to deal with financial spending proposals, tax incentives and tax breaks. Spending proposals included millions on highway and infrastructure improvements, clean-up from past hurricanes and protection from future ones, tax deductions for families with children in private schools, and to remove a sales tax on business utilities., Of the second session, Jindal stated that the legislature had batted a thousand. – a total spending package of $1.1 billion was passed, as well as nearly all of Jindal’s session goals.
With the regular session occurring just days after the close of the second special session, Governor Bobby Jindal had clearly taken control of the legislative scene even before the traditional session had begun.
Regular Session Priorities
With these successes pocketed, Governor Jindal took the stage for the session-opening speech in which he outlined his priorities for the regular session. Education and jobs were a prime focus; Jindal iterated his goal to create a Louisiana where “every young person has an opportunity to get a high-paying job, start a great career, get a quality education, access the best health care, and raise a family in a safe community.”
In accordance with these goals, Jindal sought to bridge what he called a training gap between available jobs and available workers, and educate the growing population to fill jobs in coming years. The elaborated goals (those with any defined measure of success) are split into three general categories – labor and jobs, education, and welfare/public safety.
The following are specific and semi-specific goals stated by Governor Jindal pertaining to labor and the job force:
- Prioritize community and technical programs to meet the demands of employers.
- Establish “centers of excellence” on college campuses
- Invest $10 million annually to fund training programs
- Transform workforce development efforts; establish the "Louisiana Fast Start Program" for quick response to workforce opportunities and challenges in the state.
- A “Day One Guarantee” that workers could begin work on the first day of employment
- Maximize the role of business in workforce training programs and tear down the current structure to build a re-designed, well-coordinated system geared toward a 21st century workforce.
- Replace the existing Department of Labor
- $4.5 million for skills training
The following are elaborated goals pertaining to education reforms and improvements:
- High school redesign – early participation in schools
- $4 million for early enrollment programs
- $2.5 million for LA4 program
- Establish a Teacher Bill of Rights
- $70 million in teacher pay raises
- $8.5 million into the Recovery School District
Towards the end of his speech, the governor made some mention of sundry public health and safety goals, such as:
- Mental healthcare - $89 million in additional mental healthcare ($26 million - $60 million)
- Creating a Louisiana Health Care Consumers Right To Know Act
- Decreasing Non-emergency use of emergency rooms
- Tighter restrictions on sexual predators, including doubling or tripling offender sentences, as well as making permanent the label of sex offender
- $6.5 million for an additional 50 Louisiana State Police Officers and will increase patrol trooper strength to 657 across the state.
Louisiana’s legislature composition is currently held by a Democrat majority in both houses. The Senate has 39 total members, 15 of which are Republican. The House has 105 members, 50 of which are Republicans. Therefore, Governor Jindal was working with a legislature controlled by a slim majority of the oppositional party in both wings. (A potential factor in this control may be term limits installed in 1995 which threaten a number of established and long-standing Democrat officials; thus paring a Democrat majority down from an overall gauge of state-mandated values to a simple vote count.)
An asset in Jindal’s camp, therefore, was the appointment of Jim Tucker as the Speaker of the House. Tucker, the first Republican since Reconstruction, made overtures of bipartisanship in committee appointments, but describes himself as a Reagan Republican, and therefore doubtless an ally for Governor Jindal’s Republican agenda.
2008 Session Successes
Governor Jindal chose to implement many of his expressed priorities through his budget, which came to the Assembly as House Bill 1. (This paper will progress by goals fulfilled, in sequential order as listed above.) Among them was the promised workforce/labor achievements: $3 million was invested in the promised “Fast Start” program, and multiple other labor programs.
However, many of Jindal’s goals were fulfilled in one sweep with HB1104, which created the Louisiana Workforce Commission, replacing the existing Department of Labor and making good on Jindal’s promise to revise the workforce policy and appropriating $10 million dollars worth in training programs. The budget approved contained the promised $4.5 million investment in skills training.
Dual and early enrollment incentives in the form of $4.5 million to the Department of Education were included in HB1, but provisions were also in SB482 regarding private and homeschoolers.
On education, the Teacher Bill of Rights was passed. Teacher salaries, however, were more difficult to gauge. The accomplishment touted was a $1,000 average increase in teacher pay. To determine whether this was close to the $70 million increase required consulting and comparing the 2007 and 2008 teacher salary totals multiplied by number of teachers. In 2007, the total salaries (without additional compensation) amounted to approximately $2,088,820,347. In 2008, the amount was $2,196,937,470, a difference of $108,117,123. Therefore, we may safely be able to conclude that budgeted salaries for public teachers was comfortably increased.
Likewise, as planned, the Recovery School District received the additional $8.5 million from the budget (HB1).
Multiple bills addressed perceived weaknesses in healthcare programs. SB182, SB155, HB930, HB366, SB228 and others augmented healthcare in Louisiana in multiple ways. Most notably, SB287 created the Healthcare Consumer’s Right to Know Act.
The final goal listed was a $6.5 million increase in funding for, and to increase the numbers of troopers and police officers. This too found passage in HB1, the budget bill.
However, not all objectives needed a legislative stamp of approval. Jindal’s “Day One Guarantee” was accepted and implemented by college networks directly.
2008 Session Failures
Jindal’s pledge to increase funding for the LA4 program (an early childhood development initiative) seems to have been sidelined in the budget. Although the program is spoken of in HB1, no funding increases are discussed.
The goal of establishing “Centers of Excellence” on college campuses was also not addressed.
Somewhat less of a failure, but certainly not a success, was HB155, which “Urges and requests the Department of Health and Hospitals to study the development and implementation of civil commitment procedures for the treatment of sexually violent predators and child sexual predators.” There is no immediate and measureable outcome from forming a committee.
While classification as success or failure is debatable, the governor used a line-item veto option to reject 258 provisions in the budget, the most in Louisiana history and more than double the previous number of vetoes. as well as creating controversy by vetoing SB672 regarding legislator pay raise.
Public approval data has been difficult to find for Governor Jindal. Two data points were uncovered: a 77% approval of Jindal at the start of the session (7% disapproving), and a 59% approval afterward (36% disapproving). No further explanation or elaboration of these approval numbers could be located.
A new poll released during the compilation of this report, however, indicates that Jindal’s approval number rests at 67% which indicates that, despite being down 10% from the previous session, the governor still has a solid approval base going into the second legislative session.
Of note, legislators passed SB296, presumably in response to Governor Jindal’s two special sessions, which called for a vote on a constitutional amendment that all “extraordinary” session proclamations be issued five days before the session commences. The amendment was voted on and passed comfortably with 60% of the vote.
There were six other constitutional amendments put forth to the public, two of which passed. The successful measures addressed term limits for public boards and commissions, and provisions for rapid replacement of legislators called up to active duty. Amendments which were defeated related to severance taxes, property sales and confiscations, and retirement investment. (Louisiana’s constitution is frequently amended; since its 1974 incarnation, 28 of the past 33 elections have seen one or more amendments proposed.)
The Governor’s specific proposals are only means to an end; not an end themselves. Though the Governor saw many of his legislative goals met, time will tell whether or not his true goals of repairing and improving labor, education and public welfare will be met. Since the session only ended ten months ago, it seems both overly difficult and overly hasty to gauge the success of these long-term projects. However, it is clear that Louisiana’s freshman governor has made a splash in the state and instigated many overhauls to the state government. His successes in Louisiana politics have even caught the eye of some national Republicans who have mentioned his name as a presidential or vice-presidential contender in the 2012 elections.
It is clear from the goals listed and the corresponding number of them directly addressed in the legislature (most of them successfully) that Governor Jindal had many favorable aspects that granted him significant sway in the 2008 General Assembly, but one of the strongest factors could well be the “honeymoon” period of his governorship, in addition to the fact that Louisiana was both desperate and ripe for change in leadership after its previous leaders scandalized. The governor seems to have recovered a comfortable share of public approval, but his gubernatorial authority will likely see more difficult testing in the 2009 legislative session.
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 To prevent onerous links and footnotes to bill texts, all bills hereinafter referred to can be located by number at the Louisiana 2008 Regular Session Summary Page:
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http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&catID=2&articleID=337&navID=12 (April 27, 2009)
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© David Burnett 2009. All Rights Reserved. Contact the author for use, reference or citation.
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