Baton Rouge has always been a city rife with favoritism and appointments bordering on the outrageous and absurd. But now, with a new level of exorbitant salaries pitted against wholesale layoffs of rank and file employees during Piyush Jindal’s administration, the intensity of rumors, hyphens, retreads and big salaries from the “do more with less” governor has been ramped up a notch.
You may wish to sit down to prepare yourself for what may well be the most astounding appointment in Jindal’s tenure—one that should have every LSU alumnus and every LSU professor and instructor, active and retired, metaphorically storming the Governor’s Mansion with torches and pitchforks.
The object of their outrage, however, won’t be there of course.
But before we get too far into the latest developments surrounding the world’s largest state monument to corruption and excess (that would be the 24-story State Capitol building), we are going to go out on a limb and predict that the latest boy genius, State Superintendent of Education John White, is going to realize just how inept and unqualified he is for his job and will be gone by this time next year.
He has quickly become Boy Blunder to Jindal’s Batty Man.
Meanwhile, the Jindalista continues to pillage the state with layoffs, cutbacks, sell-offs and closures, all the while continuing to add to the already top-heavy administrative payroll with more appointments at ever-dizzying salaries.
Jindal apparently is making his appointments these days by remote control because he is rarely in Louisiana to attend to pressing state business.
The latest example of Jindal’s spot-on imitation of Nero was the announcement on Thursday, Aug. 16, that Jindal has been given a speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, later this month.
It’s odd to the point of being downright bizarre that on the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the Republican Party would carry out such a public suicide attempt. The obvious question has to be: What the hell were they thinking? Doesn’t anyone in a decision-making position remember that dreadful 2009 response to President Obama’s State of the Union address?
Now Comedy Central and Youtube will have two separate clips to (pick one) amuse/embarrass/nauseate us.
We can almost hear him now as he blathers on to bored, drunk, or in at least one case, womanizing delegates: “Two things…,” “At the end of the day…,” “Three things…”
Meanwhile, Rome, aka Louisiana, continues to burn at the altar of spurned federal grants, Medicaid and higher education cutbacks and the tragicomedy now known as school vouchers…er, scholarships.
So, how has the state’s Émigré Executive addressed these problems?
For one, he dredges up former staff member Jim Barfield to appoint as the new Secretary of Revenue at more than double the salary of former Secretary Cynthia Bridges who was forced out for doing her job after Jindal signed an alternative fuel tax credit that threatened to break the bank even further.
Then, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), led by Wondering Woman Penny Dastugue and Chas Roemer, appointed Heather Cope, who appears to be even younger and, if possible, more unqualified than White, to the post of BESE executive director.
But more important than either of these is the rumored appointment of current Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) Steve Moret as LSU president/chancellor.
The fix is reportedly in already for Moret’s appointment to replace former LSU President John Lombardi who was fired in April at Jindal’s behest (despite any protestations to the contrary) after being openly critical of budgetary cutbacks to higher education.
Interim President Bill Jenkins, of course, denies the report, but what else could he be expected to do? He didn’t get the call to come back after Lombardi’s firing because of any independent streak of his own. Jindal, as is well known by now, simply does not tolerate independence, candor or free thinking on the part of subordinates.
Jindal already had a solid majority on the LSU Board of Supervisors—quite possibly one of the more politically-charged and possibly the most controversial board in state government—when it voted to fire Lombardi in April. Now he has solidified that majority with the appointments last month of Scott Ballard of Covington and Lee Mallett of Iowa to the board.
Ballard’s company, WOW Franchising, parent company of WOW Café & Winery, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2007.
Mallett had separate contributions of $5,000 each in 2003 and 2006 and five of his companies contributed another $20,000 between 2007 and 2011.
Moret was appointed head of Economic Development when Jindal took office in January of 2008 and has presided over the giveaway of $5 billion a year in corporate tax incentives and exemptions that have been putting the state deeper into the fiscal abyss with each passing year.
Before coming to LED, Moret had a lackluster tenure as president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, though at the time of Moret’s appointment, Jindal’s spindoctors lauded his accomplishments at the chamber.
Like Jindal, Moret is an alumnus of the McKinsey Group, a Washington, D.C., think tank that consults with governments and corporations worldwide.
One of McKinsey’s more notable contributions was working with Allstate Insurance to train the company in the best way to deny claims stemming from losses suffered by Gulf Coast residents in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
That should square up pretty well with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) anyway.
Other than those two entries on his curriculum vitae, Moret has little else to qualify him to lead the state’s flagship university. But hey, who needs an academic mind at the helm of a large university?
Such an appointment would further lower the school’s esteem, already pummeled by draconian budget cuts that forced tuition increases and threaten the very existence of the LSU School of Medicine and state teaching hospitals while reducing the position of president to nothing more than political puppet status—even more so than it already is—and heap ridicule on the state in general and LSU in particular.
Oh, well, there’s always football.
The LSU board will be on retreat Saturday (a legally-questionable procedure in that it appears to violate the state’s open meeting law—specific personnel matters certainly may discussed in executive session, but political bodies, including the LSU board, must first convene in public session and then vote to go into executive session) to discuss combining the jobs of president and chancellor.
Jenkins, responding to reports that the decision had already been made to select Moret, snapped, “That’s nuts!” he said, “irrational” that the board would pay a consultant and go through the motions of a national search if the decision were already made.
You could almost envision Jindal’s arm extending from Jenkins’ backside but you could still see Piyush’s lips moving.
Barfield worked as president and chief operating officer for the Shaw Group until becoming Jindal’s first secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (formerly the Department of Labor) before being brought in to serve briefly as Jindal’s executive counsel.
While serving as secretary of the workforce commission, he helped Jindal to fight off legislators’ attempts to overturn Jindal’s rejection of $98 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits–the first of hundreds of millions in federal dollars rejected by MIA Piyush.
Barfield left the administration in January of 2010 to become the chief development officer for Amedisys, a home health and hospice care company. Three months later, on March 17, he and Amedisys each contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign and last December the company contributed another $1,000.
Barfield’s salary will be $250,000 a year, more than twice the $124,000 being paid Bridges and $83,000 more than the $167,000 per year he was earning in his last job in the administration. That $83,000 bump, by itself, could pay the salaries of a couple of laid-off state employees.
Because state law prohibits a cabinet member appointed while the legislature is not in session from making more than his or her predecessor, Jindal simply “created” through slick political subterfuge the position of executive counsel for the Department of Revenue and set the salary at $126,000 in addition to the $124,000 that was paid Bridges.
How’s that for transparency, openness and accountability?
But it does pose three intriguing questions:
• Since Barfield will now be his own legal counsel, does he have a fool for a client?
• Is the proposal to combine the positions of LSU president and chancellor being put on the table for the same reason as creating the position of executive counsel for Barfield—to double the salary for the new appointee to be named by Jindal’s rubber-stamp proxy, the LSU Board?
• And finally, is there any level to which this governor will not stoop to get what he wants, even to the point of circumventing the law?
BESE, meanwhile, apparently was unable to find anyone in Louisiana qualified for its executive director’s post despite Jindal’s oft-expressed desire to “keep the best and brightest in Louisiana.”
Heather Cope comes to us from Seattle, the same place where Jindal reached out and touched Bruce Greenstein for the position of secretary of Health and Hospitals.
Cope brings a boatload of qualifications, none of which would appear to apply to her new post. She reportedly has a desire to expose the problems in education, which led her to work for an education think tank, the prestigious League of Education Voters, which calls itself an advocate of systemic changes in public schools. Ever heard of it? Didn’t think so.
She also enjoys “immersing herself in foreign cultures (domestic and international).” So what, exactly would qualify as a “domestic” foreign culture? Other passions include watching historical dramas, quoting Monty Python sketches and giving lessons to co-workers on the proper use of hyphens.
The only thing missing to wrap up the Miss Congeniality title was world peace but there apparently was enough there to qualify her for a salary of $125,000 per year.
Most of the cabinet level positions pay more than the state’s top elected officials, including Jindal, receive in salary.
A quick review of a partial list of cabinet level salaries in the Piyush Jindal administration as reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate:
• Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret: $320,000;
• Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein: $236,000;
• Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater: $204,400;
• Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch: $137,200;
• Louisiana Workforce Development Executive Director Curt Eysink: $137,000;
• Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc: $136,700.
• Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham: $123,600.
And that doesn’t include the secretaries of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and Development, Veterans Affairs, Commissioner of Higher Education, Superintendent of Education and all those former legislators (including two cabinet level positions—Veterans Affairs and Wildlife and Fisheries) appointed to all those six-figure income positions.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Laissez les bon temps rouler.