By Robert Mann
What is it about Louisiana’s governor that strikes abject fear in the hearts of so many legislators? Like the Cowardly Lion of Oz, the lawmakers who follow the asphalt roads to Baton Rouge tremble at the sight of our great and powerful wizard, otherwise known as Bobby Jindal.
Our illustrious wizard rules from behind the curtain of the Capitol’s fourth floor. “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful governor!” he roars when questioned. “Or I will veto the state budget.”
To be sure, he is a fearsome presence. He spews dreadful smoke and fire. “Nobody gets in to see the wizard,” his guards bark. “Not nobody.”
Doesn’t our ragtag legislative band of lions, scarecrows and tin men know that behind the curtain stands the slightest of men, who pulls levers, twists knobs and pushes buttons to manipulate the hideous facade that obscures the reality of his limited official powers?
If only one of them possessed the courage to expose him. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” he would shout, but it would be too late. “Why, you’re just a man,” they would say, shocked by his unimposing countenance. “A very bad man!”
“I’m a very good man,” our wizard might respond. “I’m just a very bad wizard.”
Indeed, our leaders don’t seem to recognize that the great and powerful Jindal is mortal. He has no mystical powers (save, perhaps, for exorcism). Lawmakers constitute an independent branch of government but act as if they need the governor’s permission to have a heart, use their brains or muster some courage.
Ask just about anyone around the state Capitol, and they’ll tell you Louisiana has one of the nation’s most powerful governors. He anoints the House speaker and the Senate president. He knights the committee chairs. He writes the budget. He wields a magic veto pen with indelible ink. Legislators scrape and bow in his presence, fearful that the slightest hint of disloyalty might get them cast them into the dungeon of the House Retirement Committee.
Perhaps before granting the governor’s every wish, legislators should read the state’s Constitution. That document does not empower governors to appoint legislative leaders and committee chairs. The legislators have always simply allowed it.
Although the governor writes the first draft, legislators must vote on the state’s budget and other legislation that funds the government. How many of them know they have the right – perhaps even the duty – to defy the governor and enact a budget that displeases him?
Oh, but there’s the dreaded veto, they’ll say. That’s just more smoke and mirrors. They can override vetoes with a two-thirds vote. In fact, the Constitution mandates an automatic veto session unless a majority of both houses votes not to convene. In other words, legislators are required to do nothing other than show up and vote again for the same bills they approved in the regular session.
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