It’s dangerous to put politicians we like on a pedestal. Anyone closely watching Barack Obama’s carefully packaged campaign over the past few months must have noticed that he’s not some kind of liberal messiah, but rather a very astute politician, making some difficult pragmatic choices to win — without seeming to sell out entirely. (Well, that’s the goal, anyway.) In just the past week we’ve seen it happen three times: with Obama’s support for the compromise over FISA, with his reversal of the position over campaign financing, and finally, with the whole “Muslims Have Cooties” controversy. None of these are venial sins in my view, but they also probably aren’t quite what young voters who have idolized Obama were probably expecting. (Would you rather he were idealistic & lose, or pragmatic & win?)
Conservatives in Louisiana are now learning the same thing about Governor Bobby Jindal, as a recent New York Times article describes. Jindal has had a run of success getting ethics reforms passed in the Louisiana state legislature — and terrific approval ratings for his first few months in office — but this week it’s become clear that he’s willing to compromise to keep lawmakers happy when he needs to. In this case, he’s declining to veto a bill that would allow state legislators to more than double their salaries. This was something he’d specifically said he wouldn’t allow when he was campaigning:
The increase would more than double the salary of the part-time legislators effective July 8, to $37,500 from $16,800, with considerably more money available once expenses are added in. It has touched a nerve in this impoverished state.
More confounding to many citizens here than the action by the lawmakers is the inaction of Governor Jindal, who came into office this year with promises to overhaul Louisianaâ€™s reputation for dubious ethics.
During his election campaign, he vowed to prohibit legislative pay raises. Once elected, he quickly pushed through a package of measures increasing the Legislatureâ€™s transparency and stamping out conflicts of interest, basking in the subsequent glow of his image as a youthful Ivy League reformer doing battle in a shady subtropical outpost. (link)
There are two issues here. One is of course that he’s doing something he said he wouldn’t do (though he can always say that it’s the legislature that’s doing it; he’s just declining to veto). But the other, more substantive, issue is whether a pay raise might well be warranted:
The legislators have not had a base pay increase since 1980 and complain that with the governor frequently calling them into special session, their job is no longer part-time. The increase would put salaries in the upper tier for similar part-time legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Mr. Brandt agreed that some sort of modest raise could be justified â€” an independent commission recommended a 12 percent increase several years ago â€” but said the 123 percent rise, with additional increases pegged to inflation, was â€œproblematic.â€
If you keep in mind that there hasn’t been a pay increase for legislators since 1980, and also that the recent reforms will make it harder for legislators to pay themselves “informally” (i.e., through perks and contracts directed to their own businesses), the pay raise might actually make sense.
It feels strange for a liberal like myself to defend a conservative like Jindal, but in this case, I can totally understand why you sometimes need some Quid to go with your Quo.
(This logic might hold for corruption in the Indian government as well: if government employees are paid better, they have less incentive to take bribes.)