BATON ROUGE, La. — Lawmakers challenged Gov. Bobby Jindal’s selection of appointees to state boards and commissions, saying the governor hasn’t chosen enough women or minorities, particularly for higher education panels.
The criticism came largely from Black lawmakers on Wednesday. Their efforts to pass legislation to mandate more diversity in gubernatorial appointments, however, failed to gain traction from the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which defeated both bills amid opposition from Jindal’s office.
In sharp exchanges, Rep. Rick Gallot, chairman of the committee, told Jindal officials that the governor has favored his campaign contributors and White men in choosing people to serve on the hundreds of boards and commissions over which Jindal has appointments. Gallot noted that near the end of 2010, Jindal appointed eight people to college oversight boards, all of whom were White and seven of whom were campaign donors.
“The governor obviously, obviously has not appointed diversity to these boards,” Gallot said.
Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, said minorities represent more than one-third of Louisiana’s population, but only 13 percent of Jindal’s board appointees since taking office in 2008. Women have been tapped by Jindal for about one-quarter of the board openings though they represent more than half the state’s residents, according to Brossett’s data.
Jonathan Ringo, with the governor’s office, said Jindal has appointed more minorities to panels than his two predecessors and chooses people based on their qualifications, not their skin color or donations to his re-election efforts.
“Number one, you should be a campaign contributor?” Gallot asked.
“Unequivocally, no,” Ringo replied.
“And then you should be a White male?” Gallot continued.
“No,” Ringo said again.
“Then why do the boards reflect that?” Gallot said.
Ringo replied, “We look for the most qualified candidates we can find who we know will support our reform agenda.”
Jindal’s appointment practices were the subject of a recent lawsuit, in which opponents of a proposed merger of historically Black Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans unsuccessfully tried to stall the consolidation talk by arguing Jindal hadn’t followed a constitutional provision involving diversity on the Board of Regents.
After the lawsuit was filed, the governor pushed a White member off the Regents board and replaced him with a Black man. The lawsuit was thrown out by a district judge, and that case is on appeal.
On Wednesday, two attempts to force Jindal to appoint more minorities and women were rejected by the House committee.
One bill by Brossett would have created a Joint Legislative Committee on Diversity to monitor whether gubernatorial appointments to boards and commissions proportionally represented the geographic, gender and racial make-up of Louisiana and to allow lawmakers to make appointments when they deemed the governor’s selections insufficient.
The other proposal, by Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, would have changed the state constitution to mandate the governor’s appointments to Regents be representative of state population by race and gender. A similar provision exists in the constitution, but it says the governor “should,” make such appointments which a judge in the SUNO/UNO merger case said doesn’t require it. Barrow’s bill would have changed the word “should” to “shall.”
“Diversity makes us better. It strengthens us as a state. We have different views on issues,” Barrow said.
The Jindal administration opposed both proposals as unconstitutional and said if lawmakers objected to the governor’s appointees, most already are subject to Senate confirmation and could be rejected through that existing process. Elizabeth Murrill, deputy executive counsel to the governor, said Jindal opposes attempts to enact quotas.
“Diversity is not measured and cannot be measured solely on race and gender,” Murrill said.
The committee voted 10-5 against Brossett’s bill and 11-6 against Barrow’s bill.