Jim Beam column:Landry’s power grab continues

Published 6:37 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Is there no end to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry’s efforts to achieve political power? Now, he wants the power to name the chairpersons of the state’s major education boards.

The Advocate’s Tuesday expose about this effort reveals it is a perfect picture of a comedy of errors.

First, there is the involvement by state Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, who is sponsoring the legislation that would give Landry the appointing power he seeks. Fesi told the newspaper the proposal was brought to him by an outside group, but he couldn’t remember who they were.

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Fesi said he introduced Senate Bill 403 last week at the request of the outside group because he had a slot open to file a bill. Senators can sponsor only five bills after the pre-file deadline of March 1.

“It was a group trying to make things better in how the board is put together,” Fesi said. “I dropped it to see what happens.”
What’s happened is a lot of “commotion,” Fesi told the newspaper. “My phone has been ringing off the hook. I don’t know what I’ve stirred up. I didn’t dig too deep into what it would cause. That was one of my mistakes. I need to go read the bill now.”

Those comments speak for themselves, needing no additional comments.

The Advocate did its job by reporting that seven higher education insiders say the person behind it is Lee Mallett, a business owner from Iowa, major campaign donor to Landry and the longest serving member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. Those seven said Mallett was so angry at being passed over last July to be the board’s next chair that he skipped the board’s next three meetings.

Mallett and Kate Kelly, the governor’s spokesperson, and Landry’s constant defender, offered some lame excuses for Fesi’s legislation.

Mallett said, “It’s the most important way to finally turn around and change higher education. How do you expect a governor to be successful if he’s trying to make changes and can’t get done the things he wants to get done.”

Kelly said, “This legislation is not about trying to get rid of anyone. It’s about ensuring our universities are responsive to the people.”

Who said higher education needs to be changed? And who said it wasn’t being responsive to the people?

The governor appoints members to the higher education boards, members select their chairs, who set the agenda, and oversee the selection process for a new president when a vacancy occurs.

Fesi’s bill, if approved, would make it possible for Landry to choose the chairpersons of the state Board of Regents, the LSU Board of Supervisors, the University of Louisiana System board, the Southern University Board of Supervisors. and the Louisiana Community and Technical College board.

Mallet, in his own words, took a cheap shot at college education. The Advocate said he attended McNeese State University for a semester but dropped out to work full-time and said he now owns 13 companies.

“I went to real school, that’s the school of real life,” Mallet told the newspaper. ‘I’ve seen more than you’ll see in four or eight years of college.”

When former Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards sought re-election in 2019, campaign finance records show that Mallet, family members, and his companies gave $45,000 to Edwards and $100,000 to Gumbo PAC, an outside group supporting Edwards.

Mallet, who had been appointed to the LSU Board of Supervisors by former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, was reappointed by Edwards in 2023.

I had an opportunity on one occasion while Edwards was governor to ask him about some questionable political appointments he made in this part of the state. His response was that state board appointments needed to be changed from time to time.

The truth is many gubernatorial appointments are based on political contributions governors and others receive from citizens. Give a politician the right amount of money and you can pretty much select the job you want.

Making it possible for Landry to name higher education leaders would be a major mistake, particularly when it is being done to soothe the boastful ego of Mallett.


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