When Gov. Piyush Jindal named his former chief of staff and executive counsel Steve Waguespack to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) on Thursday, he may have created something of an ethical dilemma—if this were Texas.
It’s not, of course. It’s Louisiana and in Louisiana, anything goes with the most ethical, most transparent, most accountable administration in Louisiana history.
Waguespack resigned as Jindal’s chief of staff last October to join the New Orleans law firm Jones Walker. He also registered with the Louisiana Board of Ethics as a lobbyist, listing as his clients Jones Walker, LLP, Periscope Holdings, Inc. of Austin, Texas, and Loop Garou Entertainment of New Orleans.
For the first two, he is registered as a lobbyist of both the legislative and executive branches of state government while for Loop Garou, he is registered only to lobby the executive branch, or governor’s office.
His employer, Jones Walker, meanwhile, is also registered with the Ethics Board as a lobbyist firm and lists is sole representative as one Stephen Michael Waguespack.
A visit to the Jones Walker web page raises the specter of an ethics gray area for Waguespack.
“Jones Walker represents universities and other educational institutions, both public and private, with enrollment ranging from several dozen students to more than 50,000 students,” the web page boasts.
The text below the bold-face heading “School and Education Advocacy Group” on the web page provided the real eye-opener, however.
It noted that Jones Walker’s work in the area of education “has extended to charter schools and other secondary education institutions” (emphasis ours).
The firm’s relevant experience, it said, “includes representing local school boards and charter school operations and management organizations before the Louisiana Department of Education and the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary Education.”
Jones Walker formed a School and Education Law and Advocacy (SELA) Group which it claims “has the resources, reputation, knowledge and experience to serve as a valuable resource to charter schools, charter school management organizations and to non-government organizations at the forefront of the education reform movement.”
In Texas, Subsection 7.103(c) of the Texas Education Code “precludes certain registered lobbyists from serving on the State Board of Education.”
Specifically, that statute says, “A person who has been retained to communicate directly with the legislative or executive branch to influence legislation or administrative action in or on behalf of a profession, business, or association on a matter that pertains to or is associated or connected with any of the statutorily enumerated powers or duties of the Board is not eligible to serve on the Board.” Thus, a registered lobbyist who has been paid to lobby the legislative or executive branch on a matter relating to Board business is ineligible to serve on the Board.”
So, in essence, what we have is a former high-ranking member of Piyush Jindal’s inner circle who is now employed as a lobbyist for a law firm that specializes in working with school boards, charter schools and non-government organizations “at the forefront of the education reform movement” who has just been appointed to serve on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is “at the forefront of the education reform movement” and has among other things, the responsibility of acting on charter school applications.
There is no law in Louisiana such as exists in Texas, so while there may be a moral obstacle there is no legal prohibition to Jindal’s making such an appointment—even if it does smack of questionable ethics and downright arrogance. It’s in-your-face politics at its worst by a man who hides behind a cloak of self-righteousness, sanctimony and piety.
One nagging question: is Piyush’s tendency to recycle the same tired old names in and out of his revolving door indicative that his circle of loyal supporters is contracting in size to such an extent that he now finds it impossible to reach out to new names he can trust to fill vacancies?
The resignation this week of executive counsel Gary Graphia may also reveal cracks in the foundation of the House of Jindal. Graphia resigned after only about three months on the job but his sudden departure is most significant in the spin the governor’s office tried to put on it.
It was almost as if Piyush spokesman Kyle Plotkin was trying too hard to make nice in his announcement to Press Release Central.
Plotkin, ever true to his boss, insisted—perhaps too sincerely—that Graphia’s leaving was “amicable,” adding for good measure that he was “leaving on good terms.”
Finally, making one last stab of convincing those who never asked, Plotkin said Graphia’s brief stay was attributable to “a transition period” for the governor’s office.
Well, silly us, we thought the “transition period” for the governor’s office was that three months between Jindal’s first being elected way back October of 2007 and his inauguration in January of 2008.
And remember, it was Jindal who called a special session of the Legislature immediately upon taking office in 2008 for the purpose of adopting those so-called sweeping ethics law changes and it was Jindal—and Waguespack, Teepell, et al—who directed the drafting, introduction and passage of Piyush’s radical education reform package last year.
If those education “reforms” turn out to be as big a joke as the ethics reform, well then perhaps, as someone once said, we really do get the government we deserve.
Many years ago Walt Kelly’s beloved Pogo told us, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”