Everyone Has to Play Ball — Jindal’s Latest

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 Louisiana’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 Legislature’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 — an independent commission recommended a 12 percent increase several years ago — but said the 123 percent rise, with additional increases pegged to inflation, was “problematic.”

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.)

28 thoughts on “Everyone Has to Play Ball — Jindal’s Latest

  1. 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 isn’t a conservative-liberal issue. there are “good gov.” (or not) issues which easily break across ideology. term limits comes to mind.

  2. 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.

    On a tangent: I don’t know if the salary is meager as much as accountability is lax. For instance, government school teachers in India make more than private school teachers, and do not show up for classes. This, apparently, was not the case 30-40 years ago. Government school teachers were punctual, dedicated, and motivated, according to anecdotal data. Similarly, what is known as ‘Class IV’ employees (janitors, attendants etc) sometimes make more than their private sector counterparts. I do think the situation is different for different types of employees — IAS and allied services type professionals have more lucrative options available, so they have a financial incentive to accept bribes. You’re right that poor salaries may be implicated in corruption, but when there is parity in salaries for certain professionals in the public and private sector, the solution has to be more comprehensive than mere increasing salaries. Which ties into the Louisiana case a little bit — it appears some increase in salary is justified. Especially as ethics regulation are tightened, salary reform seems warranted. But a 123% raise might be excessive. Perhaps a comparison with other professionals and government employees in LA might help — is the new salary excessive compared to what other qualified people make in the area?

  3. Earlier this month, 13 members of the the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted for the pay raise, while 4 voted against. 8 of that 13 are Republicans. Does it seem like much of a liberal agenda now?

    Even so, the pay raise issue has raised dander among Republican citizens and journalists here. The pay raise freaks them out more than Katrina and the flood did, it seems, and many of them are eager to point out that Jindal isn’t governing so conservatively at all (especially not when his budget is substantially bigger than the former person who held this post).

    As for the pay raise itself, sure, it “de-incentivizes corruption” as one local blogger puts it, but what has the Louisiana legislature ever done for its own state to justify such a raise? Making the Sazerac the official frakking drink of New Orleans and introducing legislation which will teach “intelligent design” in public schools are not how a legislature ought to be conducting business when they present themselves for a huge raise. Hell, it makes me want to dock their pay, if anything.

  4. This is actually a very smart move move by Jindal. He can claim ‘spirit of cooperation’ with the lawmakers by not vetoing the salary increase. At the same time he is not signing the bill and has made his disapproval known. The caveat of the whole move is that the lawmakers will have to face reelection and those who voted for the pay increase will have tough time explaining their vote during their re-election campaign. Not surprisingly the original bill is being ‘modified.’

  5. Jindal unfazed by pay raise critics, touts reform efforts

    Despite withering criticism, Gov. Bobby Jindal affirmed Tuesday that he will not veto a bill doubling lawmakers’ pay but conceded he will keep closer tabs on the legislative process in the future to head off similar controversies. (emphasis mine)

    I can hear it already, the local Republicans saying tomorrow: “Oh, Bobby says he will be on the ball regarding future topics. It’s all good now. Nothing to see here, please drive through.” Up to this point, even conservatives admit that the legislative pay raise is the biggest hot-button issue to grace this state for a while and Bobby slept on his job (purposefully, I am sure) and broke his promise of “a new era in fiscal discipline.” So, I ask of what use is playing watchdog for small-ticket issues to come?

    The local weekly explains it all (this is, admittedly, the same weekly that repeatedly endorsed Jindal before and after his election to office):

    Why won’t Jindal “man up” and do the right thing? Simple: He cut a political deal, and now he feels a misplaced sense of honor to uphold it. What else is the public to conclude when the young governor issues a press release saying he won’t block a legislative pay raise — and the next day the Senate Finance Committee restores $110 million that the House had stripped from his budget? Ironically, some of those “restored” funds include massive pay scales for top Jindal appointees.

    Ding ding ding!

  6. Amardeep wrote:

    None of these are venial sins in my view,

    That word does not mean what you think it means. Venial Sin is a lesser, minor, sin that can be ,left unconfessed. In contrast to a mortal sin. See this definition of venial sin in the Catholic encycolpedia.

    Normally, I wouldn’t care. But in a post about Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal, you should get your Catholic doctrinal terms right.

  7. Your question whether one would prefer to be idealistic and win or be pragmatic and lose goes to the heart of politics. The final years of president Woodrow Wilson, whom Congress reversed on the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, are an agonizing commentary on this question.

    John Kennedy, who was both pragmatic and idealistic, thought the choice in politics was often between the Bad and the Worse. If you don’t get elected you are not able to do anything. But if you do you are hamstrung by your election promises or have to break them, the elder Bush’s “Read my lips, no new taxes” being a famous (or notorious) example. He lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. Booby Jindal will find himself on the horns of the political dilemma in other instances.

  8. Portmanteau has a very valid point. Lower rank staff due to a lack of ‘other benefits’ and I think strong unionesque organizations do make good money (which is the case here too – at the University of Minnesota, the facilities maintenance staff made very good money for little work thanks to their unions). Still there is rampant corruption. Similarly, higher level officers though not being paid as much get a lot of benefits such as free housing, discounted/free travel, free help, etc. But there is still corruption at higher levels too – to get any job done, one has to pay a bribe which is then proportionally shared across the entire chain of command for that task. A recent pay commission measure has hiked up salaries for higher level officers like the IAS. But, a rise in pay needs to go hand in hand with stringent measures for accountability (currently promotions are more reflective of duration of service and a lack of performance results in at worst a transfer). The customer i.e. the citizens have no say as feedback for services rendered, employees have no incentive such as performance based bonuses, etc.

  9. Jindal’s in for a world of hurt – he’s pissed off his base and he’s obviously scared of the legislature, or, seriously thinks he can’t work with them if he doesn’t let this through, or, as Maitri says above, he’s cut a deal and stuck with it.

    Anyway, from what I read of conservative LA politics, the right is good and steamed at him. Wonder how he will handle his first real test as a governor? It will be interesting.

    *I’ve read this elsewhere, and, it sounds good: Why doesn’t he veto this, telling the legislature he has no choice given the anger of the people and his base, and then, sotto voce, tell the legislators maybe they can work in a pay-raise that’s half of what they originally asked for? After he vetoes, he might get that through, and there will be less uproar since he blocked the higher raise. Any thoughts, others?

  10. Why doesn’t he veto this, telling the legislature he has no choice given the anger of the people and his base, and then, sotto voce, tell the legislators maybe they can work in a pay-raise that’s half of what they originally asked for? After he vetoes, he might get that through, and there will be less uproar since he blocked the higher raise. Any thoughts, others?

    Jindal is a Rhode’s scholar who has accomplished 100x more than I have, who am I to tell him what’s what?

  11. Huh? I don’t get your point louiscypher. Is that supposed to be funny? Whaaaat???

    Rhodes scholars who end up as President seem to get themselves into a heap of trouble, especially, it seems, with cigars. Oh, come on. I had to go there. It’s, like, the gift that keeps on giving!

    Anyway, like I said, Jindal’s in for a world of hurt if he doesn’t figure a good way out of this. That’s some rookie mistake.

  12. What is wrong with this country is not just right-wing extremists but also left-wing extremists like Maitri who turn thugs, violent no-gooders in the state of Louisiana into some sort of simple minded, hardworking, good souls who can’t escape their poverty because of a cabal of greedy, capitalist pigs running America. Stop conflating the real plight of, for example hardworking Hispanic immigrants who are rebuilding New Orleans and being demonized by the hateful right with the self-inflicted misery of the largely African American underclass in the state of Louisiana.

  13. Rhodes scholars who end up as President seem to get themselves into a heap of trouble

    The Rhodes scholars get into trouble because they start thinking with an organ other than their brain. And then there are the Harvard MBAs..

  14. Huh? I don’t get your point louiscypher. Is that supposed to be funny? Whaaaat???

    It isn’t funny at all. At least not to my amma….she carried me for nine months and birthed me but yet I am like this only. She says “Why couldn’t you throw me and grandpa under the bus and be like Bobby? We would be cheering you on from hell along with all the other Hindus.”

  15. “Would you rather he were idealistic & lose, or pragmatic & win?”

    Translation – Obama is a lying, sleazebag politician like most of those who inhabit Washington DC. And the truth is that us Liberals intellectuals types don’t give a damn about real issues. All we worry about is what the Europeans and the Arabs think about us.

  16. Obama is a lying, sleazebag politician like most of those who inhabit Washington DC.

    Obama is a kinder, gentler Robert Mugabe. I’ll vote for him.

    M. Nam

  17. Interesting….does this make Jindal a flip-flopper?

    Seriously, though, this was probably a bad move politically. In four years no voters gonna remember this– but the legislature will remember it every time they get a paycheck, and probably punish him for it.

    Add to which, $16k isn’t really a lot of money– $16k in 1980 is about the same as $45k today. A raise doesn’t seem entirely out of order.

    Speedy

  18. He vetoed the pay-raise! Woot, woot indeed!

    The veto came after the recall threat. Are you celebrating his lack of spine or his survival instincts?

  19. The veto came after the recall threat. Are you celebrating his lack of spine or his survival instincts?

    I am celebrating Jindal’s following of his campaign promise, which will maintain his viability on the national level. I’m fairly agnostic as far as the pay raise itself (these legislators do get per diems, etc.), but Jindal did what had to be done. 2012 awaits!!

  20. 24 · rob said

    I’m fairly agnostic as far as the pay raise itself (these legislators do get per diems, etc.), but Jindal did what had to be done. 2012 awaits!!

    as do the ID re-education camps and perhaps some mass exorcisms to rid our nation’s gays of their evil homo spirits. (i kid. but where does accountability for signed legislation begin and allowances for political vicissitudes end?)

  21. I am celebrating Jindal’s following of his campaign promise, which will maintain his viability on the national level. I’m fairly agnostic as far as the pay raise itself (these legislators do get per diems, etc.), but Jindal did what had to be done. 2012 awaits!!

    Looking forward to it, can’t wait to send him back to the bayou. The boy needs to stew in that primordial goo and get reacquainted with evolution

  22. as do the ID re-education camps and perhaps some mass exorcisms
    The boy needs to stew in that primordial goo and get reacquainted with evolution

    Yeah, yeah, but–there are worse ways to attract the votes of the poor and uneducated–politics requires some compromises! If “Paris vaut bien une messe,” so too does the White House! ;-)

  23. The lawmakers are not taking this lying down, and it could hamper his ability to be effective in future unless he “compromises” as some here enthusiastically point out. Or maybe he can organize a group exorcism of the LA house.