The clock has run out on Gov. Bobby Jindal and like the Honey Badger, he’s now yesterday’s news insofar as any aspirations either one may have had for bigger and better things.
Realistically, time had run out on Louisiana’s wunderkind some time ago even though like a loyal trooper, he keeps soldiering on—perhaps hoping for a prestigious cabinet position like Secretary of Health and Human Services, something he denies aspiring to.
“I would not consider a cabinet post,” he sniffed like the spoiled little boy that he is after being passed over for the vice presidential nomination by Mitt Romney. “I consider being the governor of Louisiana to be more important and the best job there is.” Well, it is the only job he has for the moment and if he doesn’t challenge Mary Landrieu in 2014, we’re stuck with him through 2015.
Break out the champagne.
We can only surmise that Secretary of Education is out of the question since both Romney and Paul Ryan advocate that department’s abolishment in favor of state and local control (read: vouchers), although Romney has tempered his position somewhat.
But Jindal’s real quandary is not that he was passed over for vice president, but that he needs desperately to advance his career quickly—before all his “reforms” as governor come crashing down around him, doing even more damage to his reputation than that disastrous response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.
That image as the crusading reformer who gets things done against all odds is already beginning to wear thin in Louisiana and it’s only a matter of time before the national media begin to take a critical look at his administration. The Washington Post and New York Times already have.
Beginning with his repeal of the Stelly Plan only a few months into his first term—the move is costing the state about $300 million a year while benefiting only couples earning more than $150,000 per year or individuals making $90,000 per year—through this year’s veto of a car rental tax renewal for New Orleans, Jindal his consistently found ways to cut taxes while doling out tax breaks to corporate entities.
In 2011, the legislature could not muster the votes to override a Jindal veto of a cigarette tax renewal and the renewal had to go before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment—which easily passed.
While he defiantly categorizes tax renewals as “new taxes,” to which he is adamantly opposed, he has no compunctions about cutbacks to higher education that force colleges and universities to increase tuition. He considers the tuition hikes as “fees,” not taxes.
While turning up his nose at federal grants for early childhood development ($60 million), broadband internet installation in rural parishes ($80.6 million) and for a high-speed rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans ($300 million), Jindal, upon slashing funding for parish libraries throughout the state, apparently saw no inconsistency in suggesting that the libraries apply for federal monies in lieu of state funding.
The grumblings began ever-so-slowly but they have been growing steadily. The legislature, albeit the right-wing Tea Party splinter clique of the Republican Party, finally stood up to Jindal toward the end of this year’s legislative session and refused to give in on the governor’s efforts to use one-time revenue to close a gaping hole in the state budget.
Other developments that did not bode well for the governor include:
• A state budget that lay in shambles, resulting in mid-year budget cuts of $500 million because of reductions in revenue—due largely to the roughly $5 billion per year in corporate tax breaks;
• Unexpected cuts to the state’s Medicaid program by the federal government which cost the state $859 million, including $329 million the first year to hospitals and clinics run by Louisiana State University—about a quarter of the health system’s annual budget. Those cuts will mean the loss of medical benefits for about 300,000 indigent citizens in Louisiana;
• Failed efforts to privatize state prisons, even though he did manage to close two prison facilities and a state hospital without bothering to notify legislators in the areas affected—a huge bone of contention for lawmakers who, besides having their own feathers ruffled, had to try and explain the sudden turn of events to constituents;
• Revelation that he had refused to return some $55,000 in laundered campaign funds from a St. Tammany bank president;
• Failed efforts to revamp the state employee retirement system for civil service employees. State police were exempted—perhaps because they form his security detail. And despite questions about the tax or Social Security implications, Jindal plans to plunge ahead with implementation of the part of the plan that did pass without the benefit of a ruling by the IRS—a ruling that could ultimately come back to bite him;
• A failed effort by the Sabine River Authority to sell water to a corporation headed up by two major Jindal campaign contributors—Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport and Aubrey Temple of DeRidder;
• A school voucher system that is nothing less than a train wreck, a political nightmare. State Education Superintendent John White, after Jindal rushed the voucher program through the legislature, rushed the vetting process for the awarding of vouchers through the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, abetted by members Penny Dastugue, Jay Guillot and Chas Roemer—quickly turning the entire process into a pathetic farce;
• A school in New Orleans run by a man calling himself an “Apostle,” a school in Ruston with no facilities—classrooms, desks, books or teachers—for the 165 vouchers for which the school was approved, tentative approval of vouchers for a school in DeRidder that could not even spell “scholarship” on its sign and for a school in Westlake that teaches that the “Trail of Tears” led many Native Americans to Christianity, that dragons were real, that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at the beginning of time (6,000 years ago, the approximate age of earth, according to its textbooks), that slave owners in America were kind, benevolent masters who treated slaves well, and that the Ku Klux Klan was a helpful reform-minded organization with malice toward none (Don’t laugh, folks; this is what many of these fundamentalist schools who qualified for vouchers are teaching.);
• Then there’s that charter school in Delhi that held girls to a slightly higher standard than boys. Any girl who became pregnant was expelled and any girl even suspected of being pregnant may be ordered to undergo an examination by a doctor of the school’s choice. The boy who gets her pregnant? Nothing. No punishment, no responsibility. Only after being subjected to public exposure, ridicule and criticism did the school alter its policy;
• A state legislator who said she approved of vouchers for Christian schools but not for an Islamic school in New Orleans because this country was founded on the Christian principles of the founding fathers, neglecting for the moment that the founding fathers were for the most part, Deists;
• And to top it all off, White smiles condescendingly and tells us that the criteria applied for approval of vouchers for these schools is part of the “deliberative process,” a catch-all exemption employed by the administration when it doesn’t wish to provide what are clearly public records—an administration, by the way, that touts its so-called “transparency.” Fortunately for the public, the Monroe News-Star is taking White’s pompous behind to court over that decision. (Confidentially, it is the humble opinion of LouisianaVoice that White never had any criteria and that he is creating policy and criteria on the fly because he simply is in way over his inexperienced, unqualified head as the leader of the agency charged with the education of our children. And that perhaps is the most shameful aspect of the entire voucher system and the single biggest act of betrayal on the part of a governor equally overwhelmed by the responsibilities of public office—especially an absentee governor.)
So as the Jindal Express rumbles down the track like a bad motorcycle going 90 miles per hour down a dead-end street (with apologies to Hank Snow) and things begin to unravel on the home front, just where is this absentee governor?
Well, it seems that rather than remain in the state and address the problems that are piling up and growing more complex with each passing day, he seems to prefer to spend his time stumping for Romney—or auditioning for a cabinet position he says he won’t accept—after seeing his chances for the vice presidency fall by the wayside.
A mature governor, a caring governor, a capable governor—one who is truly concerned about the welfare of his state—would defer from flitting all over the country spouting rhetoric on behalf of his presidential candidate in favor of remaining at home and addressing problems that are very real and very important to the people who elected him. Romney, after all, never once voted for Jindal.
There could be only one motive for turning his back on nearly 600,000 voters who first elected him in 2007 and the 673,000 who re-elected him last fall: he doesn’t really care about Louisiana and its people; he cares only about Bobby Jindal and those who can help him in the advancement of his political career.
If Gov. Jindal was truly concerned about the welfare of Louisiana, he certainly would have provided us with an encore of his hurricane and BP spill disaster performances: he would have headed straight to Assumption Parish to grab some TV face time at the Bayou Corne sinkhole and then flown away in a helicopter even as a ghost writer busied himself penning a book sequel: Failed Leadership and Fiscal Crisis: the Crash Landing.
That’s the very least he could do.