10.01.2008 0

Break a Promise, Keep a Promise

  • On: 10/14/2008 14:36:59
  • In: Government Transparency

  • August 18th, 1988—the day then-Vice President George H.W. Bush accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president—was also the day that would prove to seal his political fate in 1992 when he lost his re-election campaign to Bill Clinton. That was the day he uttered the now-infamous words, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

    It turned out to be one of the most famous broken promises in modern political history. With Democrats in control of Congress, President Bush worked out a 1990 budget compromise in which several taxes were raised after considerable pressure was applied to him.

    The impact was devastating to him politically. It fueled Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 primary run against Mr. Bush; and it was later exploited by Mr. Clinton in the general election campaign. It proved to be his Achilles’ heel. But, like many episodes of history, this one contains a very important lesson to would-be-politicians: Make a promise, keep a promise.

    Fast forward to 2008 to the State of Louisiana and the case of Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and it appears that history is repeating itself. As ALG News has reported to you, the Louisiana State legislature has voted to more than double its pay.

    And thus far, Mr. Jindal has refused to veto this measure, though it is clearly within his powers as governor to do so.

    The trouble for Mr. Jindal is this: When he ran for governor in 2007, he promised to “prohibit legislators from giving themselves pay raises.” Which is exactly what they did. And last week, after the pay increase had passed both houses of the legislature, he said, “I will keep my pledge [to the legislature] to let them govern themselves…”

    As the Times-Picayune wrote in its editorial on June 23rd, Mr. Jindal has created quite the political dilemma for himself:

    “It won’t be easy for him [to veto the pay raise]. He’s said repeatedly that he won’t veto the measure, and if he does now, he will have misled lawmakers. But if he doesn’t veto it, he will have misled voters, breaking an unambiguous promise he made on the campaign trail to ‘prohibit’ raises such as this.”

    Really, this is a no-brainer for Mr. Jindal. When posed with a choice between living up to his word to the people who elected him, and the legislators who have put him in the position to break that word, his moral obligation is to his constituents. And they clearly have made their voices heard loud and clear: They want him to veto the pay raise.

    And now, the issue is creating national press attention, reaching the pages of the New York Times yesterday. The Times outlines some of the uproar that Mr. Jindal has generated among Louisianans through his inaction:

    “‘This pay raise is devastating him,’ said Moon Griffon, a conservative talk-radio host with a wide following in northern Louisiana, the most Republican and evangelical part of the state. ‘I’ve gotten over 5,000 e-mails from people who say they voted for him, and who say they would never vote for him again.’

    “Mr. Griffon added, ‘People don’t like hypocrisy, and they like somebody with guts.’…

    “Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, an independent good-government research organization in Baton Rouge, said voters did not appreciate a broken pledge.

    “‘It puts a real dent in any sort of reform credential of either the governor or the Legislature,’ Mr. Brandt said.

    “That theme of perceived weakness is echoed by other political experts.

    ‘No matter where I go, they certainly are disappointed, and they are using some very unkind words related to his spine,’ said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster in Baton Rouge. ‘It’s pretty ferocious.’ He added, ‘I’m quite positive his base is very upset with him.’”

    That his base is ready throw him out on his ear makes Mr. Jindal’s inaction all the more inexplicable. Are the relationships he has cultivated with those lawmakers who voted in favor of the pay raise so important to him that he is willing to sacrifice his credibility to the voters that are counting on him to veto this pay raise?

    One way or another, Bobby Jindal will have to break a promise in order to keep a promise. Given a choice, he should betray the lawmakers and not the people of Louisiana. Else he may learn a very hard political lesson just like the first President Bush did in 1992.

    ALG Perspective: It may be the case that in order to justify a veto of this legislative pay raise, Mr. Jindal would have to do some political tap-dancing to explain why he had gone back on his word to the lawmakers. He could say that while he had hoped that the legislature would rescind its own pay increase, that the people of Louisiana have spoken loud and clear: The pay increase, giving full-time pay for a part-time job is unjustifiable. And since it does not apply to him, the safe thing to do is to issue a veto.

    If the legislature wants to then go back and override that veto, it is they, and not he, who will have to justify it to the voters. Allowing it to become law by not signing it and not vetoing it is as good as signing it. His inaction is tacit endorsement, and the people of Louisiana will remember very carefully what he does next when he faces re-election. Given the public outcry and his campaign promise against these exact types of pay increases, his reluctance to veto the bill is politically inexplicable. He has everything to lose and nothing to gain by allowing it to stand.

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