State Representative Joe Harrison of Houma wants the people to decide whether to elect the next state superintendent of education, or let the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education keep making that appointment. Harrison is the author of that constitutional amendment, now headed to the House floor.
While going over the ballot language, House Civil Law chairman Neil Abramson wondered if yet another constitutional amendment was really necessary.
“By a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, we could return it to an elected position, by just a bill,” Abramson said. “So do we still need the constitutional amendment?”
“Absolutely,” Harrison responded, “Because it’s important for us to bring it to the voters.”
Until 1988, the state education superintendent was elected. That year, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature created BESE, and made them responsible for choosing the superintendent.
Harrison said if a bill is used to change the selection method this time, that bill still has to get past the governor.
“It can be vetoed, but the constitutional amendment cannot.”
Governor Bobby Jindal decided in the spring of 2011 that he wanted John White for state superintendent, but the BESE members at that time would not accept White. That fall, Jindal poured millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of certain BESE candidates, to ensure a board that would appoint White.
Harrison believes the people no longer trust BESE to even follow their own rules for picking a superintendent.
“BESE exempted the qualifications in the last opening that was there,” Harrison stated, referring to the fact that White does not have a doctorate.
Harrison says the people of Louisiana want the chance to make a change.
“We’ve had about ten polls that have come out, in the 80-plus percentile of the people asking to be able to have the right to vote for the next superintendent,” Harrison told committee members.
There are still hurdles, though. In order to make it on the ballot this fall, this constitutional amendment still has to earn a two-thirds vote from the full House, and the full Senate.