In his recent column in the May Independent, Professor Pearson Cross takes aim at the office of the lieutenant governor with a broadside that badly misses the mark. Far from having a “meager portfolio and limited budget,” the lieutenant governor is responsible for activities that make the state millions of dollars, keep the profile of its vibrant, unique, and ever-transforming culture high nationally and internationally, and showcases the best of who we are as a people.
The lieutenant governor oversees the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, which includes the Office of State Parks, the Office of Cultural Development, the Louisiana State Library, the Louisiana State Museum, the Louisiana Seafood, Promotion, and Marketing Board, and Volunteer Louisiana. The hardworking public servants in each of these offices create value every day for Louisiana taxpayers and businesses.
Our department is the one area of government that actually makes money for the state. During my time as lieutenant governor, tourism rebounded from the oil spill and recorded three successive record-breaking years and we are on the way to another one in 2015.
The Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism employ a total of 702 people, with a budget of $97.4 million, not the $23 million Pearson asserts, which is just the budget of the Office of Tourism.
In 2014 we attracted 28.7 million visitors, a million and a half more than in 2013, resulting in $11.2 billion in total visitor spending and $836 million in state tax revenue generated. When this tax revenue is factored in to the entire budget of the office of tourism, that’s a 38 to 1 return on investment.
When I took office in 2010, I fulfilled a campaign pledge to introduce a new brand, “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion.” I also chose not to hire anyone to fill the highest paid position in the department, the Secretary of CRT. I chose to do the job myself. That’s what I was elected to do, saving the taxpayers $130,000 a year. I also abolished two other senior positions within the lieutenant governor’s office saving the taxpayers an additional $120,000 per year.
Professor Cross also suggests that the office of the lieutenant governor should be “redefined” and that the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket. I disagree. We shouldn’t revert to the old political way of doing things by having a gubernatorial candidate select a “running mate.” We are already too polarized by party, geography, and economic status in Louisiana. Louisiana needs visionary leaders who have a proven record of doing more with less and bringing us together, not pulling us apart.
Far from being a “plum” for ambitious politicians, the office of lieutenant governor affords the right leader the opportunity to tell the world about the rich history, culture, and ways of life that make Louisiana unique.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne
Pearson Cross responds:
Jay Dardenne’s challenge to my recent column makes sense when one considers that recommendations for remaking the office of lieutenant governor may be understood as implicitly criticizing the current office-holder. But that was not my intent. Quite the contrary, Dardenne appears to be well-suited to the job description, promoting and preserving Louisiana’s unique history and culture.
In fact, given his well-received presentations on Louisiana, Dardenne might be the rare person who would have sought the office even if it were called “Director of Tourism” or “Department of Cultural Affairs and Tourism,” instead of lieutenant governor. But, granting the sincerity of Dardenne’s passion for Louisiana history and culture does not compromise the article’s main point: for most seeking it, the office of lieutenant governor is a stepping-stone to the governor’s office.
It is a means to an end for the ambitious, who may care very little for parks, libraries, and museums, but a great deal for power. It creates numerous opportunities for discord in the executive branch, and it misleads the public. Dardenne’s sincerity and good-works aside, the position needs a redesign.