The rest of Baton Rouge should learn what followers of college baseball already know, that the nation is reading about the hospitality, dignity and grace of Louisiana’s people.
When Stony Brook University’s baseball team beat LSU last week, the purple and gold fans gave the winners a standing ovation, leaving the Yankee players and sports writers in awe of behavior that around here is just considered good manners.
Luckily for the people of Louisiana, the most visible signature structure for visitors at Alex Box Stadium is the Mississippi River bridge and not the State Capitol, where to hear some say, the state’s leaders behaved boorishly during the 2012 legislative session that ended June 4.
Republican state Reps. Hunter Greene, of Baton Rouge, Valarie Hodges, of Denham Springs, and Brett Geymann, of Lake Charles, last Tuesday gave a taste to the luncheon meeting of the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish. The three opposed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s use of one-time money to pay ongoing expenses.
All three described how Greene rushed “to save” Hodges from a verbal bludgeoning she was receiving from Jindal’s staff.
Then on Thursday one of Geymann’s best friends and allies — state Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City — was fired from his committee leadership role because, Morris says, he didn’t vote the right way. Neither Jindal nor House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would discuss the move against Morris.
Really, the vitriol began before the session started March 12.
In a Jan. 26 email to his supporters, Jindal called a labor leader “arrogant” and “elitest.” Eventually, the governor came out from behind closed doors and, protected by burly State Police troopers, personally demanded his opponent’s resignation.
Rolfe McCollister on March 13 wrote in The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, that state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, was “a thief” who panders for votes while children suffer. Jindal on June 7 named McCollister to the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Throughout the session, Jindal’s top two communications people – Kyle Plotkin and Aaron Baer – repeatedly expressed outrage whenever skeptics raised a question about their boss’s legislation.
Woody Jenkins, who heads the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, said the 2012 legislative session was “meaner” than any in his recollection. Jenkins served in the state House of Representatives from 1972 to 2000. “I don’t think I’d want to serve again,” Jenkins said.
No stranger to hardball politics, Jenkins lost a U.S. Senate race in 1996 by fewer than 5,800 votes out of 1.7 million cast. Jenkins says politicians these days don’t differentiate between campaigns, where the focus is on winning, and governance, where the focus is on getting things done. “They need to leave the election on election day and learn to get along to govern,” Jenkins said.
That doesn’t mean giving up convictions, it means respecting the differences while seeking areas of agreement, he said.
“You have to learn to see more of the person than the label you put on him,” Jenkins said. “If he’s following his conscience, or voting because of his constituency, I can respect that.”
On the other hand, perhaps all this shock and awe at recent political nastiness is misplaced.
After all, this is the state where opponents — and his wife — briefly squirreled away a sitting governor in a mental institution. And this is where Huey Long, as the state’s chief executive, routinely referred to the New Orleans mayor as “Turkey Head.”
“In terms of name calling and rancor, I’ve seen it before. When there’s not any money to spend, the only thing left is to beat each other up,” said Roy Fletcher, the famed Republican political consultant from Baton Rouge.
“Nobody is going to respect a governor who loses,” Fletcher said. “It’d be hard argue that this governor, or any governor, doesn’t think about the electoral consequences.”
The real world of hammering out policies between competing interests might puzzle people who are used to mysteries being neatly resolved by model-pretty players in the 58th minute of a television show.
“Democracy isn’t pretty,” Fletcher said. “But, in its ugliness, there’s a beauty about the desire to come to compromise.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved