When the previews of The Governor’s Wife first aired, my response was that it would be both unwatchable and unmissable, much like a train wreck. It was that way in viewing its debut on A&E. When the second 30-minute episode started right afterward, two train wrecks turned out to be too many.
This is pretty awful TV, as it makes Duck Dynasty look like Masterpiece Theater. But given that American Hoggers and Swamp People have secured their places in the vast wasteland of reality programming, who’s to say The Governor’s Wife won’t find its audience? For its image, Louisiana should be so unlucky.
The premise of the show, as set up in the opening voiceover by Trina Edwards, is that of a fairy tale. That it is, starting with the title. “I am the governor’s wife,” she declares to open the show.
She is not. Supriya Jindal is the governor’s wife. Trina is the ex-governor’s wife. That hasn’t the same ring to it, but A&E isn’t going to let truth in labeling get in the way of ratings and commercials.
Louisiana viewers, particularly the residual fans of the ex-governor, may have tuned in expecting to be entertained by a running stream of his quips and ripostes about his life and times. His fan base was deeply disappointed. There’s nothing gubernatorial, or even ex-gubernatorial, about how Edwards portrays himself. He could be any old dude who goes along with whatever makes his much-younger wife happy.
To that end, he plays the foil to Trina, who’s center stage nearly throughout. The “reality” script is as contrived and stilted as the acting, right down to Trina’s tearing up as she worried over their in-vitro baby making venture. I was crying too, but for different reasons.
Well, they had one playful exchange that bordered on humor. In the opening scene, as the two prepared for a book signing of Edwards’ authorized biography, Trina asked what he wanted her to do.
He said, “You get the money for the books.”
She said, “I’m supposed to take the money.”
He said, “I think that’s your role in this marriage.”
The gold digger references played in most scenes Trina shared with Edwards’ daughters, Anna and Victoria, who lamented that she’s already had to “share my inheritance with the federal government.” That was as close to reality as the dialogue came.
Rather than carry on, I could just lighten up and not take it all seriously, which seems to be Edwards’ attitude. That’s also how many in Louisiana would feel about the program, if, that is, it only aired within the state, not to be seen by the neighbors.
Some will fear that, once viewed by the rest of the nation, the show will undermine the penance the state has paid and the lengths its people have gone — even electing Bobby Jindal — to outlive its old tawdry reputation. It’s doubtful many, if any, corporate executives seriously considering relocating here would take this production seriously. But for those tired of Louisiana being the butt of a long line of bad jokes, here we go again.
As for the Edwards family, if they’re enjoying themselves and the money is good, all they’re giving up is their privacy. Tough luck for us they don’t value it more.
Not All Legislators Paid The Same
While all Louisiana legislators receive the same base salary, those in leadership positions receive bonuses. And payments for per diems and mileage can help even the lowliest lawmaker land a spot in the top rung alongside the best-paid from both chambers.
These are just a few of the findings resulting from a series of public records requests sought by LaPolitics and filled by the House and Senate in recent weeks.
In total, the state spent $6.1 million last calendar year compensating the elected members of the Legislature. This figure included $4.3 million that was doled out by the House and $1.7 million by the Senate.
Since 2012 marked the beginning of a new term, a few outgoing lawmakers were paid for short stints, but the lion’s share of the money went to elected members who are still serving in the Legislature.
Every member receives a salary of $16,800. But they also get $6,000 annually through an “unvouchered expense allowance,” which was passed in 1996 as a way for legislators to increase their taxable income without actually increasing their salaries. That gives each member of the Legislature a base income of $22,800.
The top of the leadership chain in each chamber, however, receives a little more. This bump puts them atop the pay pyramid. The highest echelon begins with the budget chairmen.
For their roles, Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, both receive an additional salary hike of $28,000 for meeting well before the session begins and long after it ends, crafting spending plans that are always guaranteed to be as controversial as they are necessary.
For wielding the big gavels, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, get much smaller perks — $14,870 in additional pay.
The only other members who see more money through positions are their backups. President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, and Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, get bonus pay amounting to $7,500 each.
Every other lawmaker is confined to a base compensation of $22,800, although every member of the Legislature also receives per diems and mileage, which go toward their total taxable income.
The per diem rate is $149. During the session, lawmakers get a per diem for each day, amounting to $12,814 for practically every legislator last year. They also get paid mileage for one round trip home per week during the session. The further away from Baton Rouge a lawmaker lives, the higher his mileage pay will be.
Per diems and mileage payments are also given out for interim non-session committee meetings and legislative business, as well as for a basic “travel” category, which must be approved by the president or speaker.
When all of these factors are combined, the lawmakers in each chamber with the top five taxable incomes from 2012 are:
— Fannin: $81,138
— Kleckley: $75,192
— Leger: $51,706
— Rep. Henry Burns,
— Rep. Roy Burrell,
— Donahue: $67,074
— Alario: $63,789
— Senate Insurance
Chairman Blade Morrish,
— Senate Natural Resources
Chairman Gerald Long,
— Sen. John Smith,
At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paid legislators last year were Sens. Rick Ward, R-Maringouin, $37,175, and Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, $36,660, and Reps. Kenny Havard, $36,448; Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, $36,359 and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, $36,227.
While these figures represent only taxable income, the state also spent an additional $2.2 million — $1.4 million in the House and more than $820,000 in the Senate — during the last calendar year reimbursing lawmakers for office expenses and lodging and paying for airfare, rent and event registrations on their behalf.
With the average taxable income of a Louisiana legislator coming in at $41,755, they’re still far below their counterparts in places like Illinois, $67,836; Massachusetts, $60,032; and Ohio, $60,583, according to the latest salary breakdown compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Arkansas lawmakers are much closer to Louisiana in base pay, making $15,869 a year with a per diem of $147. The figures are even lower in Mississippi: $10,000 a year and a $123 per diem.
Legislators in those states are certainly better off than the ones in New Mexico, where lawmakers receive no salary at all, though they do get a $154 per diem. In New Hampshire, a two-year term nets legislative members only $200 — and nothing more.
The highest annual salaries for lawmakers are where you might expect them: California, $90,526; Michigan, $71,685; New York, $79,500; and Pennsylvania, $83,801.
Jeremy Alford and Kelly Connelly contributed to the story on legislative pay. For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.