November 26, 2010
Bobby Jindal's Downside
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is busy promoting his new tome Leadership and Crisis with book tour stops all over the country. This latest tour comes on top of his previous speaking tours to raise campaign cash for himself and various Republican candidates around the country. The only place Governor Jindal has trouble visiting is his home state of Louisiana. The joke in Louisiana is that Bobby is known as a governor in 49 states.
Governor Jindal is intelligent and very well-educated, and he manages to look like a creditable leader during a crisis. In this he learned well from former Governor Kathleen Blanco's disastrous handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. He can spout numerous statistics off the top of his head and make complicated situations understandable.
However, as we've learned from the current occupant of the White House, command of statistics and the ability to explain the complicated do not necessarily indicate that one is destined to be a great leader.
Louisiana's last budget was balanced with numerous accounting tricks, one-time funding sources, and massive cuts to health and higher education. Jindal has been criticized for pushing hard decisions down the road to avoid offending anyone in preparation for a presidential bid, and it is well-known in Louisiana that Jindal is preparing to run and campaigning across the country on trips funded by Louisiana taxpayers.
Louisiana is a populist state that tends to overspend in flush times and flail in lean times. In Louisiana, health and higher education are not constitutionally protected from budget cuts and are routinely savaged when the economy dives. To be fair, there is a great deal of waste in higher education that needs to be eliminated, and LSU professors are not helping their cause by threatening to unionize in a state where unions are not looked on favorably. Also, LSU System President Dr. John Lombardi, Louisiana's highest-paid state employee, recently refused to trim his salary for the good of the school and further exposed the hypocrisy in Louisiana higher education.
During Jindal's administration, Louisiana has added over 3,100 new employees, and its budget has increased from $12 billion in 2008 to $24 billion in 2010. The governor seems to think this surge in state government will somehow conquer the budget in the long run.
When it comes to cutting spending, the governor can't cut even his own travel budget. One of Governor Jindal's favorite Louisiana campaign tactics is local church attendance by helicopter in rural areas rarely visited by any governor.
Jindal's celebrated ethics legislation promoting transparency in Louisiana government has backfired (see also here): it has been revealed that enforcement powers were stripped from the Ethics Board, resulting in several resignations in protest, and Jindal has zealously guarded the records of the governor's office from the light of day. The law's most notable accomplishment has been to drive worthy citizens away from serving on state boards by requiring draconian disclosures of every conceivable financial detail and close association in a futile effort to prevent political corruption. Are you kidding? This is Louisiana!
Governor Jindal devotes a sizable portion of Leadership and Crisis to detailing Louisiana's natural beauty, recounting political anecdotes, and listing boilerplate conservative talking points without ever mentioning his plans to deal with the state's looming $1.5-billion budget shortfall or the numerous challenges faced by Louisiana as its graduates flee in search of opportunities the state can't provide.
Jindal doesn't seem to understand is that status quo governing is currently not in vogue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is talked about as presidential material precisely because of his willingness to shake up New Jersey's insular political culture without thought of higher office. Christie is willing to take on the special interests and make the hard choices New Jersey needs to survive, while Jindal is doing his best not to offend any powerful interests in Louisiana. This type of timid leadership is exactly what the Tea Parties are railing against.
Those promoting or considering Bobby Jindal as presidential material need to take a much closer look at his record as Louisiana governor. Jindal talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk.
Hat tip: C.B. Forgotston
Tom Roberson is an independent conservative holding finance and engineering degrees and doing his small part to save his country. He'd love to hear from you.