An Author Or A President? Jindal’s Book, Budget Fuel Speculation

The revelation yesterday that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will have a book coming out in July has made waves among those who were convinced all along that he’s gunning for something larger than his current job.

Jindal’s working title is “On Solid Ground: Returning to America’s Core Values,” and he’s working with a Hoover Institue researcher named Peter Schweizer on it. Schweizer is an interesting choice; if you’re not familiar with him you can check out his bio here. Schweizer is probably best known for his 2002 book Reagan’s War: The Epic Story Of His Forty Year Struggle And Final Triumph Over Communism, and “In the Face of Evil,” the excellent documentary film he produced based on the book (it’s all on YouTube, in 29 parts, and if you’re interested this link will get you started). Schweizer’s most recent book is Architects of Ruin, an expose of left-wing politicians dating from Saul Alinsky to the present.

So the end product is likely to be a good one, and it’s entirely possible that it could increase the governor’s national profile after it has waned a bit since his fizzling Republican response to President Obama’s first speech before Congress last year.

But does that mean Jindal has aspirations for national office? After all, he’s been criticized heavily for his ubiquitous fundraising trips – but the Governor’s $4.7 million war chest is for re-election, and he can’t directly use those funds for any national campaign. So if he’s not running for re-election next year he’s largely wasting all that money and the effort it took to raise it.

Nevertheless, the speculation is all over the place – particularly given that Jindal coupled some short-term fixes with some federal cash with a host of substantial-yet-unspectacular cuts to put together a budget that will have to undergo larger restructuring next year. The Ouachita Citizen’s Sam Hanna makes few bones about the fact that he thinks Jindal has a wart on his fanny:

We can say one of two things about Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He would make one heck of a poker player or he’ll say adios amigos in the not-too-distant future.

How else can one explain Jindal’s decision to prolong for another year a call to arms for the Legislature to make significant cuts in state spending in light of declining revenues thanks to a lackluster economy? Anyone?

Late last week, Jindal unveiled his proposed budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It’s a $24 billion proposition. It’s about $5 billion less than the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget. It’s less because less revenues are available for the state to spend. Pretty simple stuff, even for a career bureaucrat to understand.

Let us recall that we’ve been told for months the state faced a roughly $2 billion revenue shortfall versus existing expenditures over the next two years. A reasonable individual would assume the state would need to do one of two things to balance its budget over the next two years—cut expenditures or raise taxes to generate more money for that beast we call government.

Though mid-year budget cuts were implemented not too long ago to shore up deficit spending, Jindal’s proposed budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year would be balanced minus gut-wrenching cuts to state services and the like – though the state anticipates a stagnant revenue stream in the new fiscal year. Per Jindal’s oft-stated comment that government must learn to operate with less, no tax increases were proposed by the governor either. Kudos for Jindal on the no new taxes point.

However, Jindal’s spending plan for the new fiscal year would be balanced by a hodge-podge of maneuvers, the least of which would entail using one-time revenues, or non-recurring monies. In other words, some of the money Jindal wants to use to balance the new fiscal year budget most likely won’t be available for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

That’s what we could describe as kicking the proverbial can down the road a bit.

It’s problematic, too. It’s problematic unless Jindal has other plans in mind.

Hanna says that Jindal will be looking at a $2 billion budget hole next year, and since he can’t fill that hole with tax increases without destroying his career as a conservative politician he’s looking at becoming a controversial figure for having to cut higher education and health care to fill that hole – so the easiest thing to do is eject. He mentions that Sarah Palin did something similar in Alaska.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder offers up another endorsement of the possibility that Jindal is running for something:

Jindal was once viewed as a serious contender–at one point, for a split second, maybe, possibly even a frontrunner–for the GOP nomination in 2012. That all came crashing down with his panned response to President Obama’s first State of the Union address (which wasn’t actually a State of the Union address, as Obama had just taken office weeks earlier–it was dubbed an address to a joint session of Congress–but the GOP felt the need to put up a response anyway, and, despite the severe disadvantage of having to follow the incredibly hot act of President Obama, on top of the always-impossible position of responding to a State of the Union, Jindal was cut no slack).

Since his national political star rose, and fell, Jindal has been considered a policy whiz in the GOP, rising through Louisiana’s state government at an impressively young age. Writing a book seems to be the mark of presidential ambitions–Romney, Palin, and Mike Huckabee have all published and toured to promote books in the last year–and it will be interesting to see just how much policy is included in this book, and whether or not his publicity rollout constitutes an aggressive move back onto the national political scene.

From this quarter, the guess is Jindal isn’t going anywhere. He might be keeping his name current in an attempt to become a keynote speaker at the 2012 GOP convention or maybe a vice-presidential pick, but he’s not doing the things he would need to do to become a major player in the 2012 sweepstakes. He’s not actively campaigning for contenders in the 2010 races yet, though he has made some national fundraising contacts which could work for him should he begin doing so. His TV appearances haven’t been high-profile enough to put him on the map. And he hasn’t made enough bold moves in an otherwise-competent showing as governor to paint himself as the transformational leader the conservative movement is looking for.

He’s certainly promoting himself, though, and as such his options can remain open. And his national ambitions, whatever they might be, will continue to be a topic of discussion in Louisiana.

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