Louisiana Spotlight for Nov. 19, 2012

Gov. Bobby Jindal may have won the vote allowing him to outsource a state employee health insurance plan, but he only made his relationships with lawmakers more strained and troubled with the tactics used to achieve the victory.

The removal of two Republican lawmakers from the House Appropriations Committee, which seemed to be the sway needed to get the panel to pass the Jindal administration’s contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, only worsened the governor’s ties to members of his party.

Some people speculate Jindal doesn’t care because he’s got his eyes on a national prize, not Louisiana concerns.

But if left unrepaired, those strained relationships could stymie much of his legislative agenda, leaving him with few achievements from the remaining years of his term to tout on a national stage.

Jindal’s biggest problems are in the state House of Representatives.

For several years, Jindal’s encountered deepening opposition to his budget plans from a group of House Republicans nicknamed the “fiscal hawks.” They object to the governor’s use of patchwork budget financing, want to shrink government spending and disagree with Jindal’s continued financing of ongoing programs with one-time money that isn’t certain to appear year after year.

As the fiscal hawks continue to grow more organized in their opposition, Jindal also has angered lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, over a series of budget-cutting decisions he’s made since the Legislature wrapped up work on the budget. The cuts have shuttered health care services, and they came with little notice for lawmakers even if the facilities being closed were in their backyards.

Adding to the litany of complaints is the governor’s perceived meddling in legislative affairs, wiping out even the pretense of legislative independence.

Earlier this month, two Republican lawmakers who repeatedly clashed with Jindal were kicked off the House’s budget-writing committee a day after they voted with opponents of the governor’s plan to hire Blue Cross/Blue Shield to run a health insurance plan for state workers, public school teachers and retirees.

Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, both blamed their ouster from the Appropriations Committee on their disagreements with the governor, which stretched back into the legislative session earlier this year.

Jindal’s office denied any hand in the decision, but it was carried out by his hand-picked House speaker, Rep. Chuck Kleckley, who earlier this year removed other lawmakers from committee leadership roles after they disagreed with the governor.

Harrison laughed at the suggestion Jindal wasn’t involved.

A week after Henry and Harrison were dismissed from the Appropriations Committee, the panel passed Jindal’s contracting plan, with the new members who replaced Henry and Harrison voting in favor of the outsourcing.

But the dismissals just heaped more strife onto House members’ relationships with Jindal and Kleckley, the governor’s top floor leader.

Jindal’s relied on a traditional lack of legislative independence and deference to the governor — along with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate — to muscle through his proposals even as lawmakers’ anger mounted.

It’s unclear if that can carry Jindal through his remaining three years in office as a lame-duck governor, or if he’s bruised enough relationships to damage his plans.

Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.