Monday, April 09, 2012

Political review: analyst Elliott Stonecipher, Shreveport, on Jindal's rushed and strong-armed education legislation

Now that we are on the backside of our state's "education reform" event, we can begin considering what the "reform" rush has wrought. To put it another way - and with due credit to U. S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her marvelously honest description of really stinky legislative process - now that these laws have been passed, maybe we can find out what's really in them.

An excellent summary of what has happened to date is a recent piece by Jim Beam, writing for the Lake-Charles American Press (SEE column here).

My thinking about this 23-day piece of Louisiana history is not yet focused on the substance, not really. I am, instead, still stuck on the politics and on reading our governor's tea leaves, a good skill-set for those of us trying to figure out what Gov. Jindal is ever really doing. Yes, inarguable facts are staring us down: the bills will be educational law for a very long time; wide-ranging reform of our public education system has long been necessary; even the best of teachers are justifiably angry at the "how" even if not the "what"; and, related court challenges are ahead of us, etc., etc.

To me, though, there are many other things to note as we figure all of this out.

For one, the timing is still creeping me out.

Those of us keeping up with what happens behind the political curtain have a bad feeling of deja vu on that score. I've written about it enough, and won't belabor it, but the fact is Governor Jindal strong-arms these "reforms" through a pre-leased legislature each time he's hoping to be the vice presidential candidate on his party's ticket. Ramping up to the 2008 presidential election it was "ethics reform," and four years later as we gird for the 2012 campaign it's "education reform." The problem is, "ethics reform" was no such thing. It was, rather, a huge political show for a national audience which, back here on the farm, put governors and legislators in charge of ethics enforcement. That is never a good thing anywhere, but maybe especially not in Louisiana. For those who keep up, we know our governmental ethics regime was not reformed, it was hammered into submission by those who are, or figure they might be on any given day, unethical.

Why do this in 23 days? What was the rush if it isn't to get Jindal back to the top of that veep list just about the time Mitt Romney is wrapping up the Republican nomination? 'Coincidence, especially since precisely the same timing applied to the 2008 / ethics reform blueprint? Apparently not, since prominent Republican George Will just said so on national television. (I respect George Will, especially for his knowledge of baseball, but I'd be stunned if he has spent 15 seconds finding out what anyone in Louisiana thinks about how our governor "reforms" things.)

One way or the other, Gov. Jindal isn't likely to be living in Louisiana when we struggle with our newfound, quasi-public school system. That's never a good thing. It's the opposite of skin in the game. It's more like drastic change on the ground and changer-in-chief in the wind.

'Truth be known, former teacher that I am, I cannot in good conscience claim that the outlines of the governor's plans don't make sense ... they do. I can, though, say this very clearly: when a governor or mayor or any other governmental executive is about to change the legal basics of the employment status of tens-of-thousands workers, he or she must, as a good and decent human being, find more than 23 days to do it ... many, many more than 23.

When a governor is going to take money we pay in taxes specifically for our local public school systems, and re-route it into the rising checking account balances of non-public schools, he or she has to find more than 23 days to explain and sell it to those whose checking account balances decline in the transaction. Explaining it only to the aforementioned pre-leased legislature doesn't cut it. While he or she is at it, he or she has to fully disclose the identities of those who are by any definition enriched in this process, e.g., who really, financially, benefits and how?

I could go on, but I don't need to for anyone who's reading this. I think we all know what I'm saying: there's something automatically not right when major social, cultural and political change is accomplished by steamrolling any opposition. That is especially so when no one can yet tell us why this had to be done so quickly, with debate so limited.

Unless memory fails me, that is precisely the point Gov. Jindal and many others in his party made - and still make - about how President Obama committed the same huge mistake with his Affordable Care Act, now known as Obamacare.

Gov. Jindal was right in that criticism of our president's health care "reform" which may or may not yield any such thing.

Thus, Gov. Jindal is wrong in what he's just done.

Elliott Stonecipher

Elliott Stonecipher's reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

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