Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden has formally announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor to succeed Jay Darden in next fall’s election. And even though the field for the state’s second highest office is starting to get a little crowded, it’s expected to attract little attention.
That’s because all eyes will be focused on the battle to succeed Bobby Jindal as governor. Already, we have Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, and State Sen. John Bel Edwards vying for the state’s top job with more anticipated between now and next year’s qualifying.
Whoever your favorite candidate for governor, you may wish to reconsider wishing the job on him. In sports, there is a saying that no one wants to be the man who follows the legend. Instead, the preference would be to be the man who follows the man who followed the legend.
No one, for example, could ever have stepped in as Bear Bryant’s immediate successor at the University of Alabama and succeeded. That person was former Alabama receiver Ray Perkins who in his four years, won 32 games, lost 15 and tied one. He was followed by Bill Curry who went 26-10 in his three years. Gene Stallings was next and posted a 62-25 record that included a national championship over seven years before he retired.
Then came in rapid succession five coaches over the next nine years who combined to record a composite losing record of 51-55 before Nick Saban came along in 2007 to pull the program from the ashes.
No one in his right mind should wish to follow Jindal. It is not because of Jindal’s success as governor; just the opposite. When he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion for the final time, Jindal will leave this state in such a financial and functional mess that no one can succeed in righting the ship in a single term—and that may be all the patience Louisiana’s citizens will have for the new governor. Bottom line, voters are weary of seven years of budget cuts and depleted services. Ask anyone waiting and DMV to renew their driver’s license.
The electorate, at least those who pay attention to what’s going on, are bone tired of a governor who is never in the state but instead is flitting all over the country trying to pad his curriculum vitae for a run at the Republican nomination for president.
They are jaded at the hypocrisy of a first-term Gov. Jindal who kept popping up in Protestant churches (he’s Catholic) to pander the Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals when he was facing re-election compared to a second-term and term-limited Gov. Jindal who has not shown his face in a single Protestant church anywhere in the state.
Some, though admittedly not all, are unhappy with the manner in which he has consistently rejected federal Medicaid expansion and $80 million in federal grants for broadband internet and $300 million for a high-speed rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—money state taxpayers have already paid into the system and now have to chance to recoup that money. (It’s sort of like refusing your federal tax refund because you feel it’s not free money. Well, no, it’s not free money but it is money you’ve already paid it in and now you have a chance to get some of it back.)
And there are those who are not at all pleased with the salaries paid Jindal appointees (not to mention raises they’ve received while rank and file employees have gone five years without raises). The administration has been free and loose with salaries paid top unclassified employees in every state agency, from Division of Administration on down. Those salaries are a huge drain on the state retirement systems. That’s one of the reasons there was so much controversy over Jindal’s attempted backdoor amendment to an obscure Senate bill that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an annual retirement increase of $55,000—more than many full time state employees make.
With that in mind, we have what we feel would be a meaningful proposal for some enterprising gubernatorial candidate. It’s an idea that we feel has considerable merit and one we feel would resonate with voters.
With the state facing a billion-dollar shortfall for next year, the suggestion is more symbolic that a real fix, but what if a candidate would pledge publicly that he would draw on the pool of retired educators and executives for his cabinet? And what if he purposely avoid appointing anyone with political ambitions such as Angelle, who went from Secretary of Natural Resources to Public Service Commission and who is now an announced candidate for governor?
If a candidate said he could immediately save the state in excess of $2 million a year by hiring retired executives to head state agencies at salaries of $1 per year each, that would strike a chord with every registered voter in the state—or it should.
If a candidate would say, “I will not appoint any member of my cabinet who is dependent upon the position for his living, nor will I appoint any member who has aspirations of public office for himself,” what a refreshing breath of air that would be, vastly different from the standard hot air rhetoric of the typical political campaign.
Where would he find these types of people willing to give of their time? That would be for the candidate himself to recruit but James Bernhard would be a good start. Bernhard certainly has the experience, having founded and built up the Shaw Group to the point that he was able to sell the company for $3 billion while selling off some of his personal company stock for another $45 million.
That spells success by every definition of the word. And Bernhard certainly would have no need for a salary. He would be a logical choice for Commissioner of Administration.
And then there is his father-in-law, retired Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau. What better choice could a governor have for Commissioner of Higher Education?
There are scores of others, from retired doctors and hospital administrators, to retired military personnel like Gen. Russel Honoré to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs to retired federal and state law enforcement personnel to retired scientists and educators, and the list goes on and on.
This would by no means be a guaranteed ticket to success for Jindal’s successor; there is just too much mess he will be leaving behind.
But it would be a huge psychological advantage for anyone wishing to take on that unenviable job of being the one to follow Jindal.