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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bobby Jindal and Ethics Reform in LA

As a New Orleans native whose family still lives there, the months since Hurricane Katrina have been full of one heartbreak after another.  The devastation of the storm has been followed by disappointment at the failure at all levels of government, particularly state and local, to at least restore the city and state to what it was, or at best, to utilize the opportunity to create something better.  Then came Bobby Jindal and the campaign against Ruth's Chris.

Jindal was elected governor in the wake of Katrina.  The 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants, a graduate of Brown University and a Rhodes Scholar, has had a fairly remarkable career trajectory.  He was secretary of Louisiana's department of health and hospitals, president of a national council on reforming medicare, president of Louisiana's university system, and assistant secretary at HHS.  He then ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor but, after his loss, was elected to the House of Representatives. 

When Jindal was inaugurated in January he became the youngest governor in the country and Louisiana's first non-white governor since Reconstruction.  While Rush Limbaugh's endorsement of Jindal as "the next Ronald Reagan" could be a positive or the kiss of death, depending on your viewpoint, as one who cares about Louisiana and removed from any political leanings, I am heartened by his actions since becoming governor.  Which brings me to Ruth's Chris.

A prominent plank in Jindal's platform is widespread ethics reform; he campaigned heavily on this topic and called a special session of the legislature to create new ethics rules.  Arguing that Louisiana's tawdry reputation for less-than-above-board politics curtailed outside investment, he pushed bills through the legislature that would force most political officials statewide to disclose all sources of income, real estate holdings, and significant debts.  State officials can no longer get contracts for various state projects, and lobbyists' expenditures on meals for officials will be capped at $50.

These reforms sound fairly basic, but the reaction in Baton Rouge -- particularly to the cap on meals -- illustrates the cultural change this could cause.  The Times highlighted the impact this will have on the capitol's Ruth's Chris, and reported that one legislator "said the limit would force her and her colleagues to dine at Taco Bell, and urged that it be pushed to $75 per person, to give them 'wiggle room.'"  Whether the outside investment spurred by the ethics overhaul will compensate for the reduction in profits for the restaurant industry is, I guess, an oustanding issue.

These changes are certainly timely.  As of late 2007, the former governor (Edwin Edwards) was in jail, the former Elections Commissioner had been convicted of money laundering, three Insurance Commissioners in a row had been sent to jail, the Agriculture Commissioner was indicted on bribery charges, and the former President of the State Senate was  in jail for money laundering.  (For a summary of this recent political corruption, see here.) Add the situations facing William Jefferson and David Vitter, and the ongoing investigation into the former administration of New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, and the corruption is really remarkable.  For all the damage wrought by Katrina, maybe this can be a turning point for some of the state's problems.   And, since Ruth's Chris moved its headquarters from New Orleans to Florida following Katrina and hasn't come back, I guess I don't care if their business suffers.

Posted by Amy Barrett on March 6, 2008 at 05:41 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink

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Comments

Wow, anymouse, I have to say that was incredibly harsh. Actually, more than harsh - - rude. Of course I am aware of the corruption that has been present in LA politics my whole life. That does not diminish the heartbreak at the way that the corruption has inhibited the recovery from Katrina. Before the storm, corruption was a handicap to the economic development of New Orleans; since the storm, it has been a death blow.

In any event, the point of my post - - which you seem to have missed - - was not to express surprise at post-storm corruption, but to express admiration for Bobby Jindal in making efforts to clean it up.

Posted by: Amy Barrett | Mar 8, 2008 9:43:58 AM

As someone who lived in NO in the mid-1980's I've got to say that the whole state was/is run like a third-world country with rampant corruption. It is amazing that a native New Orleanian is disappointed in the failure of things on a local and state level - clearly you have not been paying attention to things for your whole life.

For heaven's sake, Mississippi is doing a better job in rebuilding. Think about that.

I have to say, I respect and admire Bobby Jindal and I truly believe he will do a fine job for the people of Louisiana.

Posted by: anymouse | Mar 7, 2008 12:18:58 PM

Here is a link to a related article online:

http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/showlink.aspx?bookmarkid=6PPA6QWHJOE8&preview=article&linkid=5d106de6-80ee-4d21-8365-002d6aa52a8e&pdaffid=ZVFwBG5jk4Kvl9OaBJc5%2bg%3d%3d

Sincerely,
MediaMentions

Posted by: MediaMentions | Mar 6, 2008 6:26:36 PM

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