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Monday, December 22, 2014
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Louisiana State Capitol (American Press Archives)

Louisiana State Capitol (American Press Archives)

What’s it like at state Capitol?

Last Modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 11:08 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Sessions of the Louisiana Legislature are pretty much the same year in and year out. However, it’s great theater for political addicts like me. Although the characters change, most of the subjects don’t.
 
 The governors have been different, no doubt about that. I have followed eight of them since Jimmie Davis took office in 1960. Edwin W. Edwards, who keeps popping up like a bad penny, was the most flamboyant and controversial.
 
 Edwards has provided me with more copy than all the rest, and it’s virtually impossible to write a finish for that fellow. Maybe we can eventually, depending on how well he does in the 6th Congressional District race this fall.
 
 Mike Foster was a relative unknown when he ran in 1995. He had been a state senator, and didn’t appear to be governor material. However, he gets my nod as one of the most accessible, personal and productive of the lot. You always knew where you stood with Foster.
 
 I believe the fact Foster was independently wealthy and comfortable with who he was were the keys to his success. Foster is largely responsible for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rise in the political ranks when he made Jindal secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in 1996. I still find it amusing that Foster was constantly criticized for never going anywhere, and Jindal is accused of never staying home.
 
 Jindal has been running for president during most of his time in office, and that accounts a big chunk of his travel time. When he became governor in 2008, much of his staff came from Washington, D.C. And they have helped make him perhaps the most inaccessible governor of the eight I have known. Jindal and his handlers have gone out of their way to protect his conservative image, which is great for national consumption.
 
 One feature of the Jindal administration stands out for me. He has been governor for over six years, and he and his administration don’t make mistakes. They do, actually, but they rarely admit it. And they seldom respond to press or other criticism. They simply react as though it never happened. I remember when they insisted some elements of Jindal’s education reform package in 2012 were constitutional, but those same laws were later rejected by the courts.
 
 OK, enough about the key players. What about those issues that keep popping up every year?
 
 The budget is always controversial because Jindal has constantly robbed Peter to pay Paul. It hasn’t hurt him that much, however, because he has refused to raise taxes. That sells well with voters, even though many of them complain of poor government services when they need some help from the public sector.
 
 When asked whether they are sure money will be there to fund programs, they always confidently say it won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, it sometimes is.
 
 A handful of legislators tries to put caps and other controls on the TOPS scholarship program, but they are rejected every year. Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, has tried to make changes for the last five years. He called this year’s measure his Lazarus bill, hoping it could be raised from the dead. It died again last week.
 
 Drugs and drunken driving are annual topics because they are problems that we can’t seem to solve.
 
 Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, has legislation every year trying to create new school districts. Baton Rouge Parish is so split up now with school districts no one is quite sure what
will be left if White is successful.
 
 Annual attempts at education reform have spawned Common Core standards, an extremely controversial program that has some parents enraged. John White, the state superintendent of education, has become the handy villain who was blistered during testimony last week. Common Core will be the only subject at two days of hearings before the House Education Committee this week.
 
 Another attempt at prohibiting the use of hand-held cell phones while driving bit the dust last week. Bills that attempt to control the use of traffic cameras and end speed trap towns in the state got out of committee, but their future is still uncertain.
 
 Non-government organizations, better known as NGOs, continue to come under fire, as they have for years. They get government money, but use it with little oversight. Reform efforts are being tried again this year to make those organizations more accountable.
 
 Jindal talked Thursday about another perennial topic — legacy lawsuits. They involve claims for damages created years ago by oil and gas drilling. The governor said a new bill is going to solve that problem, but don’t hold your breath. This is an issue that goes back generations.
 
 Retirement is always good for a hundred bills or so, but lawmakers have to be careful. Some involve special benefits for a select few, while others are legitimate attempts to try and erase a retirement debt that is at $19 billion and still climbing.
 
 The subjects that crop up nearly every year give you a good sample of why things don’t change that much in Baton Rouge. However, good bills do get passed in the process, so I suppose we can afford to grin and bear those things that come with it. Personally, I find it all rather enjoyable and stimulating.

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