Legislature Should Tread Lightly in Changing Political Appointments

This year state lawmakers have introduced a series of bills that, if passed, would greatly enhance the power of Louisiana’s governor to make political appointments. In a state where the governor currently makes appointments to hundreds of boards and commissions, the approval of these bills would represent an increase in gubernatorial power that is unprecedented in decades. The Legislature would be wise to consider these bills carefully before enacting the sweeping changes that these bills seek to make. 

“The governor of virtually every state in the Union exercises a major role in the political affairs of their commonwealth, but in Louisiana the governor occupies – and has always occupied – an unusually dominant position in state politics.”

That view would probably come as little surprise to most people in Louisiana, but it’s interesting that those are the words of former Governor Edwin Edwards, writing in The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association in 1974.

Much of that dominance, he writes, has come from the governor’s authority to make political appointments. Though the governor’s power to appoint is not as great as it was a century ago, the chief executive still makes appointments to more than 500 state boards and commissions, wielding an extensive amount of political influence.

Legislation now under consideration at the state Capitol would increase that significantly.

  • HB 533: Increases the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine and allows the governor to appoint all justices instead of the current system of electing them from districts across the state.
  • SB 181: Allows the governor to make more appointments to the State Civil Service Commission. Instead of having to choose them from a list developed by the presidents of the state’s private colleges, it would allow the governor to appoint them directly. It would also allow the Legislature to create more politically-appointed positions in state government, instead of having those vetted and approved by the Civil Service Commission.
  • SB 403 : The governor currently appoints members of the Board of Regents and the four higher education management boards. The members of the boards elect their chairs, and the Board of Regents selects the Commissioner of Higher Education. Under this legislation, the governor would appoint the chairs of all of the management boards, the chair of the Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Higher Education.
  • SB 462 : This legislation would allow the governor to appoint the chairs, or any other officers, of virtually any state board or commission, unless the constitution specifically states otherwise.
  • SB 497 : The Board of Ethics is made of up 11 members, seven of whom are appointed by the governor and four elected by the Legislature. The appointments are made from a list developed by a nominating committee made up of the presidents of the state’s private colleges. They nominate at least five people for each available position. This legislation would remove that provision and allow the governor and Legislature to make direct appointments.

Any one of these changes would be considered significant on its own. Taken together they represent a major increase in gubernatorial power in a state that is already seen as having a chief executive with broad authority.

For that reason, CABL has concerns about these proposals.

We have many important governmental changes to consider right now – the reorganization of key state agencies, major shifts in education funding, and perhaps even the rewriting of our state constitution. That’s already a lot on the Legislature’s agenda.

The current process for choosing members of the State Civil Service Commission and the Board of Ethics, requiring nominations from independent groups, was implemented intentionally. Each is a politically-sensitive agency, and the current selection process operates to keep politics at arm’s length.

The governor already makes appointments to almost every state board and commission. There are no obvious reasons to change the current manner by which the chairs and officers of those agencies are selected.

And, Louisiana has been electing justices to the Supreme Court for more than 100 years.  The move to an appointed Supreme Court is a major change that should only be undertaken with study and thoughtful consideration of the impacts. This is particularly true now as the Legislature is considering adding another minority district to the court for the first time in the Supreme Court’s history.

To be clear, these concerns have nothing to do with our current governor. We would be wary of changes like this under any administration. It is not unusual for Legislatures to pass new laws through the lens of current leaders or circumstances. But sometimes we forget that those things can change. In considering this, we shouldn’t be thinking about this governor, but any governor. If we can think of a scenario where we would regret it if another governor of a different party or different philosophy had this power, we probably shouldn’t grant it.

We know that all of these measures might not pass, and some will require constitutional amendments to make the changes that are proposed. But we believe all of them deserve more scrutiny, consideration, and debate than has been had thus far. We urge lawmakers to put these matters on hold and tread carefully. More time for transparency and evaluation on weighty matters is never a bad thing.

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