Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama on Tuesday may have provided the perfect opportunity for Gov. Piyush Jindal and de facto governor Timmy Teepell (or so they must certainly be thinking right about now).
Sure, Jindal did the dutiful thing and ran around the country like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off, talking to throngs of avid Romney supporters that sometimes numbered as many as a dozen or so.
And sure, he said all the right things at those massive gatherings.
But deep down, you have to know that Jindal and Teepell are smirking just a little right now and have already begun their drive to the White House for 2016.
Jindal is an impatient man as witnessed by his rush to push through a radical education agenda and his attempt to completely revamp the state retirement system even though his plan would have cut some state employees’ pensions by as much as 85 percent (and the vast majority of state employees do not qualify for social security because they have never worked in the private sector and state employees don’t pay into the system).
Nor will the vast majority of state employees qualify for Medicare for the same reason. But that fact did nothing to stop him from slashing Medicaid.
Jindal also rushed through his plan to privatize state government, beginning with the ill-fated takeover of the Office of Risk Management by F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) of Mandeville at an initial contract cost of $68 million to the state. Eight months into its contract, FARA was requesting a $6.8 million amendment to its contract. That was precisely 10 percent of the original contract amount. There is an obscure regulation that allows a one-time amendment to contracts for up to—you guessed it—10 percent.
But wait! There’s more! Less than a month after the contract was bumped up to nearly $75 million, FARA upped and sold the contract to an Ohio company who kept it for about four months before selling it to a New York company.
There was a hitch in all those transactions but again, did it slow Jindal down? Not a bit. That hitch was a clause in the FARA contract that supposedly prohibited the transfer of the contract without prior written approval of the Division of Administration (DOA). When asked for a copy of that prior written approval, DOA responded without a shred of concern and even less of an explanation that no such document existed.
Jindal has plowed headlong into a policy of closing state hospitals with little or no concern of the effects it has to area residents who rely on the hospitals for treatment of injuries, disease and mental illness.
He has been similarly reckless in his closures of state prisons, throwing hundreds of state employees out of work. In both the hospital and prison closures, he has neglected to give area legislators a heads-up before taking the action to close the facilities, an oversight over which lawmakers continue to seethe.
He has attempted with equal urgency to enter into a contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) as a third party administrator (TPA) for the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) medical coverage for about 62,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.
Facing certain defeat of the proposed contract at the hands of the House Appropriations Committee last week, Jindal’s new Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols abruptly pulled the proposal from the agenda of the joint meeting between the Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
It was a less than auspicious coming out party for his new commissioner of administration. A smashing debut for Nichols it was not.
But the administration is back for another attempt this Friday at 8:30 a.m. The makeup of the Appropriations Committee will be slightly different, however, after last week’s Black Friday purge of the committee by Jindal.
And make no mistake, while it was House Speaker Chuck “Genuflecting Gelding” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) who announced the removal of Reps. Cameron Henry of Metairie and Joseph Harrison of Gray, the word came from Jindal—or Teepell. Both Henry and Harrison are Republicans but both also violated the cardinal rule against questioning anything put before them by Pontiff Piyush.
Harrison said as much when he revealed that the administration historically provides questions to committee members that they are allowed to ask. At the same time, he said, they are instructed not to deviate from the list by asking any questions other than those on the list.
So now Jindal is making one final push to get his contract with BCBS approved.
It’s doubtful he will make a personal appearance; he almost always sends his flunkies to carry the water for him.
It’s also doubtful if Nichols will repeat last week’s faux pas of tell committee members she would “dumb down” her explanation of the proposed contract for the benefit of lawmakers. It’s one thing to close a hospital or prison without informing the legislators in the area. It’s quite another to sit before them and call them dumb to their faces.
The point of all this is this: don’t look for Piyush in Baton Rouge in the remaining three-plus years of his term of office. He’s not likely to be spending much time in his fourth floor office.
A quick drive through on Wednesday revealed that Teepell’s Jeep was parked—as always—in the back parking lot of the State Capitol. This is a former Jindal staff member who resigned more than a year ago to run the Southern office of OnMessage, a Maryland political consulting firm. OnMessage has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Jindal’s campaign fund over recent years but more than a year after Teepell opened that Baton Rouge office, there still is no local address or telephone number for the firm.
If Teepell is doing anything at all for OnMessage, he is doing it—as a private citizen—from the State Capitol’s fourth floor governor’s office. We have mentioned this on at least two other occasions but still the attorney general and the inspector general’s offices have done nothing to bring the misuse of the public office for private purposes to an end.
But the boy wonder we know as Piyush is about to hit the road in a fundraising blitz that will, in all likelihood, dwarf that of his re-election fundraising efforts of a year ago.
He is going to be running full time for president and he is an impatient man. He did not want to wait eight years wasting his valuable time in some obscure federally appointed position in the Romney administration (though doubtless he would have taken a higher profile position if it could keep his name in the forefront). He will serve next year as head of the National Republican Governor’s Association. That will keep his name out there while he ramps up his fundraising efforts.
Now, though, he can hold to the office (in theory if not in reality) of governor of Louisiana for three years while keeping his travel itinerary full. His term will end in January, 2016—just in time for him to become a full time candidate.
Even as he does so, however, there is a significant lesson to be learned from Tuesday’s results—a lesson quite likely overlooked by JindalTeepell.
The Democrats learned from the Reagan landslides that it was going to have to move from the far left more towards the center in order to gain the acceptance and trust of the American electorate. It did and the result was Bill Clinton.
Likewise, to gain the trust of the American people, the Republican Party is going to have shed itself of the stigma it now carries as a refuge for the Tea Partiers. Simply put, the GOP is going to have to shift away from the right right, becoming less a haven for the extremists with more appeal to the centrists.
Unfortunately for Piyush (and perhaps fortunately for the rest of us), he seems incapable of making such a shift. He has shown himself to be stubborn, obstinate and convinced of his own infallability. He is simply unwilling to compromise and that, in the end, will be his undoing.
In the meantime, don’t look for him in Baton Rouge during the next three years.