Jim Beam column:Landry’s power grab continues

Published 7:03 am Saturday, April 13, 2024

The latest moves by some members of Louisiana’s supermajority Republican Legislature to increase GOP Gov. Jeff Landry’s power are simply unbelievable. One former public official said the state already enjoys the reputation for having one of the most powerful governors in the country.

Thanks to the Louisiana Illuminator, we got a detailed breakdown of proposed constitutional amendments and other measures that are designed to give Landry more and more control over state government.

The Illuminator said two proposed amendments would allow Landry to pick most members of the Louisiana Supreme Court and the state Civil Service Commission that oversees hiring and firing guidelines for state workers.

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Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, is sponsoring House Bill 533, the Supreme Court measure. Sen. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, is backing the civil service amendment (Senate Bill 181) and said he doesn’t even support civil service that protects workers.

A third measure would give the governor and Legislature a more dominant role in picking members of the state ethics board. A fourth bill would make it possible for the governor to appoint chairs and other officers for hundreds of boards and commissions.

The fifth proposal would give the governor the authority to select the chairpersons of all of the state’s higher education boards and also name the higher education commissioner.

No. 6 is legislation that would weaken the authority of a commission that oversees the governor’s mansion and the grounds. This bill was filed at Landry’s request.

Terry Ryder, who served as general counsel for former Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco, said, “Most people think the Louisiana governor is more powerful than any other governor. I don’t recall ever feeling like we didn’t have the authority to run the state in the governor’s office.”

Ryder said what many others are thinking about Landry’s never-ending pursuit of more and more power: “This is what dictators do,” he said.

Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, is backing the ethics bill (SB 497). Under current law, the governor appoints seven ethics board members and the House and Senate elect two each. However, they have to select members from lists of nominees compiled by the presidents of Louisiana’s private universities and colleges.

Those private institutions are Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans.

Miguez said Landry didn’t ask him to draft the legislation and added that he didn’t think private college and university leaders should play a role in picking ethics board members, especially because none of the institutions are in “Cajun country,” where he and Landry live.

Now, that is a humdinger of a reason to let Landry pick the ethics board members. The Illuminator also reminded us that the ethics board voted last fall to penalize Landry for using a campaign donor’s plane to go to a work conference in Hawaii as the state’s attorney general.

Sen. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, is the sponsor of SB 462 that would let the governor appoint the chairman, or any other officer, of each board and commission whose appointment isn’t otherwise in the current constitution.

Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, is sponsor of SB 403 that would give the governor authority to select chairpersons of all state higher education boards and to pick the higher education commissioner.

Rep. Vincent J. St. Blanc III, R-Franklin, has HB 799 dealing with the governor’s mansion. He said he filed this one at Landry’s request. However, Landry’s office didn’t respond when asked if he was supporting any of the other legislation.

Morris’ civil service bill cleared the Senate 26-11 and is in the House. St. Blanc’s mansion measure is awaiting a full House vote. The other four proposals are still in committee.

Comments by Hodges explain why Republicans are so anxious to increase the governor’s powers. Conservatives are in control, she said, and that should be reflected in the bills they are proposing.

Unfortunately, the bills they are proposing are accomplishing only one goal — satisfying Gov. Landry’s unending pursuit of more and more political power.


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