Jindal critics ousted from budget committee

Published 12:05 am Saturday, November 3, 2012

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers who repeatedly clashed with GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal were kicked off the House’s budget-writing committee Friday, a move they blamed on their disagreements with the governor.

Jefferson Parish Rep. Cameron Henry, the vice-chairman of the panel, and Assumption Parish Rep. Joe Harrison said they were told by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley that they were removed from the Appropriations Committee, a day after they voted with opponents of a Jindal contracting plan.

Both men said they believe they were ousted by Jindal’s hand-picked House speaker because they conflicted with the governor, including over spending plans that used patchwork funding for ongoing programs and over recent, deep budget cuts to the LSU-run hospitals without legislative input.

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Henry and Harrison supported a failed effort to call a special session to reverse the Jindal cuts.

“What I’ve been trying to do is hold the speaker and the administration responsible by asking them questions about their actions,” said Henry, R-Metairie. “They don’t want people to ask tough questions. They don’t want accountability.”

Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, didn’t return a call for comment Friday.

He issued a statement announcing more than a dozen committee changes that included new assignments for Harrison and Henry on the list. Two Republicans, Bryan Adams of Gretna and Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, were named as their replacements.

“After going through the first regular session of this term, I have a better understanding of the best use of the legislator’s individual talents,” Kleckley said in the statement.

“These recent changes reflect the members’ increased knowledge and understanding of the committee’s subject matter as well as their leadership skills.”

A spokeswoman for Jindal, Shannon Bates, said the governor’s office didn’t ask for Henry or Harrison to be booted from the Appropriations Committee, which is the most sought-after committee assignment in the House because it oversees spending decisions.

Harrison, R-Napoleonville, laughed when he was told Jindal’s office said the governor wasn’t involved. Harrison said he was told by Kleckley that he was being removed from the committee because of some of his votes.

Their dismissal came a day after they sided with House opponents to Jindal’s proposal to outsource a state government worker health care plan. The proposed contract remains stalled after the Jindal administration couldn’t get enough votes for approval Thursday.

Harrison said the Jindal administration has shown little regard for lawmakers in decision-making and threatens people who question the governor’s plans.

“We can’t trust them. It’s sad but true,” he said. “They don’t talk to you about an issue. They’re telling you how to vote.”

He added, “We just want to be part of the process, and that’s not happening.”

Henry accused Kleckley and the governor of a lack of leadership for the state, and he referenced criticism of Jindal’s frequent out-of-state travels to fundraise and campaign for other candidates and to raise his national political profile.

“I think everyone’s disappointed with the governor with just the simple lack of interest he’s shown in Louisiana. That goes across party lines,” he said.

Friday’s ouster of Henry and Harrison wasn’t the first time opponents of Jindal policies have lost legislative leadership roles.

Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, a vocal critic of Jindal’s budget proposals and opponent of the governor’s education revamp, was stripped of his position as vice chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee after the last regular session ended in June.

In March, the House speaker stripped Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, of his position as vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee, a day after voting against a tax break bill sought by Jindal.