by mark ballard
Capitol news bureau
April 28, 2013
So far this legislative session, a majority of the Louisiana House of Representatives looked to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aides for advice on how to view any leaf that floated onto their desks.
Last week’s insurrection over “one-time” money by a group of usual lock-step GOP supporters of Republican Jindal was entertaining on many levels. One of which is the nudge-nudge by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the state’s other leading Republican light, to defeat Jindal’s plan of using $268 million in “one-time” money to balance the state’s $25 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
State Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, said it was not Vitter’s influence that prompted him and other “conservatives” to defy their governor. He said he was motivated by his own long-held belief that state government leaders are wrong to scrape up pots of money — not likely to be refilled — scattered through the government agencies and use them to pay expenses that recur year in and year out.
Both Jindal and Vitter spent, literally, millions of dollars last fall to help elect many of the representatives and senators now sitting in the Legislature.
Metairie Republican state Rep. Joe Lopinto says he is not sure how much influence Vitter had on Jindal supporters in the Louisiana House.
“I respond to my district,” Lopinto said. “I’ve voted with conservative values. I’ve voted against conservative values.”
Denials aside, Vitter has been peppering House members with emails and phone calls asking them to oppose Jindal on this issue.
For instance, last week Vitter emailed some representatives: “I think it’s crucial that we take the tough, but important, fiscal stand to end the use of ‘one-time’ money to balance the state budget ... Please stand tall — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded colleagues and the great majority of Louisianians.”
Vitter, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 after serving in the Louisiana House for 12 years, also emailed constituents suggesting they contact their legislators and voice their “rejection of the tired and wasteful ways of the good ’ol boys who used to run things in Louisiana.”
Of course, legislators receive all manner of communications from constituents exhorting the representatives to stand this way or that on various issues. But few correspondences have much impact among the House majority, if the way they’re urging differ from what Jindal’s aides say.
Vitter did not respond to a request for an interview. Neither did Jindal. The governor was at fundraiser in Alabama on Thursday and in New Orleans Friday to dedicate a new crane.
About 30 minutes after the request Thursday to interview Vitter, his press secretary released a prepared statement that acknowledged the U.S. senator was “reaching out to legislators” and quoted the senator congratulating House conservatives “for standing tall” when they refused to accept “one time” money in the budget.
Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s political adviser, said, “Sen. Vitter and the U.S. Senate have not passed a budget in almost three years. Until they do, he should probably spend his time focused on that.”
Both Ivy League-educated officials repeatedly profess love and admiration for the other. But both Jindal and Vitter practice scorched-earth politics, and their aides in casual conversation are quick to belittle the other big elephant in the house — all off the record, of course.
During a rare Friday meeting, frisky legislators briefly removed the chairs in the corner of the House chamber that Jindal’s aides use to oversee legislative proceedings. They passed around Jindal’s comments from May 2008, in which he likened the use of “one-time” money to using a credit card to pay the mortgage that amounted to “a failure to stand up for the taxpayers we were elected to serve.”
House Republicans cobbled together a way to get the process moving again late Friday.
State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, is chairman of the Senate Finance committee, which is tasked with considering, changing and approving the budget measure, House Bill 1, and its companion pieces. As debate raged across Memorial Hall, Donahue said he and his committee would react to whatever issues exist when HB1 arrives.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.