James Gill: Edmonson’s gift for old-style politics

In State Police Chief Mike Edmonson’s vision of the future, he was enjoying a lavish pension in addition to his salary as Louisiana lieutenant governor.

And, boy, did he deserve it. Edmonson was so eaten up by honor and integrity that he could talk about it for hours. Although he was “flattered” to be regarded as a comer politically, he couldn’t think about that yet. He was too “committed to the citizens of Louisiana” to think about his own ambitions.

Only money-grubbing charlatans talk like that, and, sure enough, Edmonson was fixing on the down-low to stuff extra wads of our money into his pockets for the rest of his life.

Now he can forget about being lieutenant governor, because any voter who couldn’t name the state police chief a few weeks ago sure can now that “the Edmonson amendment” has become a byword for cronyism and political chicanery. And now, though he will certainly not be suffering any privation when he hangs up the old badge, he can forget about that scheme to boost his retirement by at least $30,000 a year.

No one was supposed to notice — it was slipped into an unrelated bill by a conference committee on the hectic last day of the legislative session — but the ever-vigilant Tom Aswell of the Louisiana Voice website was lurking in the bushes. When C.B. Forgotston’s widely read blog took up the cause, there was no chance that this dipsy doodle was going to be swept under the rug. These are not such guys as will let go of a scandal, and media coverage soon approached feeding-frenzy level.

Now, Edmonson can forget about the extra moolah too. He says he won’t accept the raise anyway, but we only have his word for that, and, so long as the law is on the books, he may not have that option. Besides, the law written for his benefit also happens to apply to another veteran trooper in Houma. If Edmonson really wants to forgo the money, his course of action is obvious. All he has to do is ask the State Police retirement board to challenge the law in court.

The board would certainly listen, for a majority of its members either work for him or will do the bidding of his patron Gov. Bobby Jindal. The board would almost certainly win in court, for the Edmonson amendment was neither advertised nor was it germane to the original bill, as the state constitution requires. The “actuarial note” required when legislation is introduced didn’t show up until several days after passage. Jindal signed the bill after his lawyers could find nothing amiss. They really should try harder.

It won’t make much difference in the long run if the retirement board continues to sit on its hands, for a group of retired state troopers promises to take up the cudgels. The ex-troopers presumably have standing to litigate, because the Edmonson rip-off comes from the same pot that pays their pensions. That pot is running a huge deficit, as are all state retirement systems. State Treasurer John Kennedy warns that raiding the fund as a political favor could do further damage to our credit rating.

Edmonson’s repudiation of the raise was never going to be convincing once it emerged that his subordinates had arranged for state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, to insert the amendment. Riser, another Jindal protégé, initially denied any role, thus confirming what a shady stunt this was.

The retirement board called for an investigation, and will meet early next month to mull the results, although the facts of the case are clear enough.

Edmonson had opted to take his retirement some years earlier and exercised the option, open to all state employees, to build up a nest egg by having the last three years of his pension contributions placed in an investment account under the since-abandoned DROP program. His monthly pension was then calculated in line with the captain’s salary he was drawing at the time, although, when he chose to continue working thereafter, he earned extra credits. However, as it turned out, he would have received a bigger pension had he stayed out of DROP and delayed taking retirement until he reached his current rank as colonel.

Countless other state employees who had continued to work after DROP also came to rue their decision, but they had all been warned at the time that is was “irrevocable.” The amendment Riser sneaked through nevertheless carved out an exemption for Edmonson and the Houma trooper, the only two DROP veterans still on the force.

Clearly, Edmonson has a knack for Louisiana-style politics. You wouldn’t want to vote for him.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.