St. Charles Herald-Guide

Senate President Doesnít Want Veto Session

Special to the Herald-Guide - July 3, 2013

Members of the Legislatureís upper chamber usually do what their popular Senate president wants them to do.

So when Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, said last week that he was sending in his mail ballot to oppose calling a special veto session, itís a safe bet that a majority of his colleagues made plans to follow suit before the July 11 deadline.

Unless a majority of members from either chamber vote against a veto session by the cut-off date, the state constitution stipulates that lawmakers must convene five days later to consider reversing the governorís vetoes. But in the four decades since the latest constitution was ratified, this has never happened. Moreover, itís usually the Senate, with only 39 members, and not the 105-member House, that reaches the majority level first to stop the automatic veto session.

In the wake of this yearís regular session, which adjourned in early June, there has been an above-average amount of complaints about Gov. Bobby Jindalís subsequent vetoes. Causing the most angst was his nixing of a $4 million expansion of a program that offers in-home assistance for parents coping with the care of developmentally disabled children.

The governor also vetoed legislation that was passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers, including Senate Bill 162 to set up a legal and regulatory framework for surrogate births. The legislation by Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, who with his wife Katherine are parents of two children born by surrogate mothers, was strongly opposed by the Louisiana Family Forum and the Louisiana Conference of Bishops.

Since the vetoes were announced by Jindal, the push for a veto session has quickly developed along party lines. The chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, has urged those in his party to hold onto their ballots, leaving it to the Republican majority in both chambers to call off the veto session.

Jindal-Vitter Feud Aired Nationally

To observers outside Louisiana, Gov. Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter might appear to have a great deal in common, from strong conservative positions to backgrounds as Rhodes Scholars. But those inside the state have long known, and readers of the New Republic magazine have recently learned, that they also share a powerful dislike for each other that has turned into a long running political feud and competition for supremacy among Bayou State Republicans.

"Itís kind of a cold war between Vitter and Jindal. They respect each other, but they arenít having any beers together," one Vitter ally told Marin Cogan, a writer for the national publication.

The story of their rivalry concludes that Vitterís star is rising while Jindalís future is clouded, which is a reversal of political fortunes from just a few years ago. The U.S. senator from Metairie has developed allies within the Legislature and among state party activists who could bolster his bid for governor in 2015. Jindal, meanwhile, is cast as a loner who is overly protected by his staff, is term-limited as governor and not highly rated as a presidential prospect.

Needless to say, it was Vitterís staff who circulated the story among Louisiana journalists.

Strain Not Running for Governor

The crowded field of gubernatorial wannabes thinned slightly this week with Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strainís declaration that he is running for re-election and not governor in 2015.

His political statement was issued just hours before the tragic deaths of 19 Arizona firefighters due to a wildfire that leapt out of control. Strain, whose Office of Forestry oversees suppression of forest fires, ordered flags flown at half mast at all department facilities until July 5.

Strainís major policy concern of the moment is directed at Congress, where the House last week surprisingly defeated the latest federal farm bill, which the commissioner calls vital to the stateís agricultural industry.

Opposition to the bipartisan bill by two Louisiana congressmen, Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, had nothing to do with crops but rather with food stamps. The billís $2 billion-per-year cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was too much for Richmond and not enough for Scalise.

In a prepared statement, Strain urged members of the state delegation and Congress "to roll up their sleeves and work together on a farm bill that will provide the certainty that our farmers and ranchers need to feed our nation."

Finally, Good Census News for Louisiana

The latest U.S. Census estimate has Louisianaís population at 4.602 million, after registering a healthy 1.5 percent increase from mid-2010 to mid-2012.

If that growth is sustained until 2020, the stateís population would be 8 percent higher, a growth rate not seen since the 1970s, according to an analysis by John Couvillon of JMC Enterprises of Louisiana. The results were mixed across the state, with 33 of 64 parishes losing population. Most of those, said the demographer, "were not adjacent to a metropolitan area and were not along a major highway."

Parishes with the highest growth were the two that suffered the greatest post-Katrina losses from 2005 to 2010. Tops were St. Bernard Parish at 16 percent, followed by Orleans at 7 percent. By Couvillonís calculation, the growth is enough for those adjacent parishes to recapture one of the four state House seats that were eliminated in the 2011 reapportionment.

The suburban parishes of Ascension, Bossier, Livingston and St. Tammany grew at a rate that more than doubled the state average.

Quotes from the Quorum

"They are going to have to do it fair from the beginning and not rely on Big Brother to tell them they are doing it wrong."

óSecretary of State Tom Schedler on the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the pre-clearance provision for state and local voting law changes, in the Advocate

"I wish I had been that well received when I tried to move up here."

óJohn Georges, former candidate for governor, on his reception in Baton Rouge after buying the Advocate