Legislature Should be Careful About Expanding Governor’s Power

“The view that Louisiana’s chief executives have traditionally wielded greater political influence than their counterparts in other states is shared by most, if not all, students of Louisiana history.”

That quote is from former governor Edwin Edwards in an article he wrote for the Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association a number of years ago. He was writing about the “unusually dominant position” of Louisiana’s governor in state politics compared to those in other states. He attributed much of that dominance to the authority our governors have to make political appointments.

That has been the case throughout the state’s history, and it continues to this day. State law allows the governor to choose members of almost 500 state boards and commissions.

That’s why it was disconcerting to see several bills filed this session that would greatly increase that already expansive authority. Two have been of particular concern to us at the Council for A Better Louisiana.

One bill sought to expand the governor’s power to appoint not only many members of boards, but also their chairs and officers. That would be a huge increase in the authority of a governor. And because it specifically referenced “officers,” it potentially opened the door for a governor to choose the presidents of all the state’s university and technical college systems – officers that are now selected by the boards themselves.

Besides being an unorthodox approach, it could potentially politicize aspects of higher education in way that we haven’t seen in decades.

The good news is that after hearing the concerns raised by various public policy groups and the media, the Senate wisely voted to scale back a major chunk of that proposed shift in power.

But another bill that is still moving through the process is equally troubling. It deals with the Louisiana Board of Ethics. That board is made up of 11 members, seven appointed by the governor and two each appointed by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Many years ago, the Legislature recognized that this was a politically sensitive agency and sought to insulate it from politics by setting up a two-step process for board appointments. The presidents of the state’s private colleges develop a list of five nominees for each board position, selected from every region of the state. They present those to the governor and the Legislature, who in turn, must make their appointments from that vetted list.  This legislation would scrap that process and allow the governor and the Legislature to make their own appointments to the board.

CABL believes changing this process would be a step in the wrong direction. This is the board that is charged with enforcing the state’s ethics laws. Of all the boards in the state, this would be one where you would want to remove possible political interference as much as possible.

And yet, this legislation says nothing about that and eliminates one of the only safeguards we have to prevent a more politicized board of ethics. If this passes, and a governor wanted to appoint seven members who were all major political donors, there would be little to stop it. Given Louisiana’s ethical challenges of the past, that would certainly be cause for alarm.

To be clear, CABL’s concerns have nothing to do with our current governor. We recognize that sometimes when a new Legislature comes in, lawmakers might have a tendency to look at proposals like this through the lens of the current leadership and not see much harm. We tend to think about it in terms of a future where circumstances might be different and consider whether this is a power that might one day be abused.

Good government is a series of checks and balances. We put speedbumps and guardrails in place on purpose, not to make governing more difficult, but to ensure too much power isn’t concentrated all in one place.

Fortunately, when others outside the Legislature brought the potential harms of the first bill to light, lawmakers responded and reined in much of that transfer of power.

Hopefully, they will follow suit and maintain the integrity of one of the few watchdogs we have over the ethical behavior of our public servants.

(This column originally appeared in The Advocate/Times-Picayune on May 10, 2024.)

Return to Post Archive