The Artist Formally Known as Jindal
It is much more secure to be feared than to be loved. This was the advice handed down by Niccolo Machiavelli 500 years ago in “The Prince,” subtitled and translated from Latin to mean “How to Tyrannize for Dummies.” “The Prince” describes the crafty, shrewd and unprincipled methods by which an individual may acquire and maintain political power. Surveying the shredding of our representative democracy, otherwise known as the 2012 legislative session, it is clear Louisiana has obtained its very own prince.
Consider the case of Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who was canned from his post as vice chairman of the House Committee on Insurance for voting against an education tax rebate plan pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Never mind that Ritchie was the dissenting vote on a measure that passed overwhelmingly by a 12 to 4 margin. Never mind that Ritchie’s office received more calls from his constituents against than in support of the plan. Here’s the message: don’t vote your conscience, don’t vote your constituents; vote as the prince instructs. Our prince, the artist formerly known as Gov. Jindal, is utilizing tactics that are more Machiavelli than Madison, more Kingfish than Kennon.
James Madison wrote, “In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.” The demotion of Ritchie is one such example of disrespecting the minority and silencing opposition. Blocking access to committee meetings, scheduling an entire education package of three bills and 114 amendments into one 33-hour period, sending minions to hijack a press conference are all examples of a lack of tolerance for dissent. You know who else has no tolerance for opposition? North Korea, Syria and Iran. With respect to Madison, the present opposition may not actually constitute a minority. Most teachers, superintendents and school boards across the state are on record as being opposed to the prince’s so-called education reforms.
Consider the case of Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite. His constituents are opposed to the so-called reform package by a two-to-one margin. For speaking out and challenging the governor, Edwards was served a public records request for all email correspondence between him and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers; his school district, Tangipahoa, was served a public records request for every teacher’s home address; and his district, District 72, has been blanketed with anti-Edwards mailers and robocalls. His only “crime” was opposing the governor and representing his constituents.
I know for a fact that many local legislators have received more calls expressing their opposition than support for the governor’s so-called education reform package. I know for a fact that many legislators have expressed reservations, privately about the governor’s so-called education reform package in its present form. The reaction towards Edwards and Ritchie will undoubtedly cause many of these legislators to remain silent, even if it means voting against the will of their constituents.
Effective representative democracy requires a balance between the demands of the general public, affected public, political victors (majority), and political losers (minority). Effective representation requires an open, public discussion over a period of time to ensure everyone’s best interest is being served and that the best approaches are being implemented. This has not happened in the education reform debate.
We need reforms in Louisiana. Cramming the entire debate into a 33-hour period during an 11 week session is not effective representative democracy. Retributive measures against your political opponents are not effective representative democracy.
Alas, Jindal is not solely to blame. We have 144 people who serve in the state legislature. They’re supposed to elect their leadership and they’re supposed to schedule debates; however, they have ceded its power and authority. Our legislature allows Jindal to tells them what, when, how, and why to do their business.
Our legislature allowed Jindal to demote Ritchie and allowed Jindal to make life miserable for Edwards.
Our legislature needs to stand up to the governor, exercise independence, and practice representative — not princely — democracy.
Joshua Stockley is a professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.