I’m a little different than most of the critics of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s traipsing across the country in order to promote his future political prospects – whatever those may be.
Most of the Jindal-bashing which surfaced as he took to the road in support of Republican gubernatorial and senatorial candidates in advance of last week’s election came from folks who hate the governor for his ideology as a conservative; if it wasn’t his speaking engagements outside the state they’d be howling about his addressing church congregations in Shongaloo and Dry Prong. For those critics, consider the source.
And there’s a certain unreasonable quality to much of the criticism. We’re in an age now that with a laptop and/or a smartphone, you can run almost anything from anywhere. Jindal isn’t neglecting the state of Louisiana if he jets up to Kansas to stump for a Senate candidate or over to Florida to help get Rick Scott elected; he’s going to be fully briefed on whatever urgent situations need his decision or action. And Jindal has a staff who get paid to handle most of the day-to-day operations of government. If Mike Foster could spend his time taking classes at Southern Law School while in office, Jindal can take a plane trip to speak somewhere from time to time.
My criticism of Jindal was that in running around the country stumping for GOP candidates while at the same time not even so much as sending out a press release in support of his party’s ticket in last week’s elections – Jindal did affix his name and picture to an e-mail blast which asked Louisiana Republicans to cough up a few bucks for the state party’s get-out-the-vote efforts, but that’s not exactly the same thing as support of the candidates themselves – he fed the narrative that he doesn’t care about Louisiana. That might well have been a false narrative, but much of politicis is about managing “optics” – and Jindal didn’t do a particularly good job of fighting off the perception of neglect.
And the problem is only going to get worse now that Jindal’s book Leadership And Crisis is about to hit the shelves, with the inevitable book tour to result. The Baton Rouge Advocate reports, for example, that he has an event scheduled for the 20th at the Reagan Ranch in California, speaking at a Young Americans Foundation get-together to promote the book. C-SPAN will carry the speech live. Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin says that appearance will be one of a “select number” of events he’ll be doing to push book sales.
The writing of the book in the first place was controversial in some quarters. During the Gulf Oil Spill crisis Jindal was criticized for its existence, as though he was scribbling away at it while oil invaded the marshes of Lafourche and Jefferson Parishes. The fact is that books like this one are ghostwritten, with the writer interviewing the “author” to flesh out research. And periodically the “author” and the ghostwriter will consult about what’s been written so the “author” is comfortable with what’s going to be in his book. Jindal had Peter Schweizer and Curt Anderson ghostwriting this book; he’s not exactly sweating adverbs and adjectives here.
In other words, for Jindal to “write” his book isn’t a particularly time-sensitive enterprise. And without having read Leadership And Crisis, I can’t comment too much about the accusation that it doesn’t say much about Louisiana; AP writer Michelle Milhollon supports her case by noting that Jindal doesn’t talk about David Vitter’s hookers or Louisiana’s budget deficit, though she admits the first chapter, which she describes as “lengthy,” goes into detail about the Gulf Oil Spill and the response to it. That sounds ludicrous on its face; 57 percent of Louisianians voted for Vitter last week and Jindal needs those same voters to re-elect him – why would he want to alienate them by taking shots at Vitter? As for the state’s budget deficit, it’s certainly a big deal in Louisiana but we’re hardly alone in having budget problems. A book written for a national audience which happily dives into the weeds of a state budget is guaranteed to flop famously on the shelves. When Milhollon pens a bestseller she can then offer Jindal a primer on what ought to be in his book and what to leave out.
Rick Perry, who just overwhelmingly won re-election as Texas’ governor last week, has a new book out this week and he’s fresh off a campaign. Perry went on Jon Stewart’s show to promote Fed Up, his new states’ rights missive, this week. Jindal will in all likelihood do a few media appearances like that. And he’ll probably be pilloried for them.
As I’ve said above, I think it’s probably unfair for Jindal to take this much heat about whatever “extracurricular” activities Jindal is undertaking to promote himself. Lots of other politicians do the same things, and few of them are attacked the way Jindal has been.
That said, reality is what reality is. And if there’s a perception out there that Jindal is shirking his duty as Louisiana’s governor in favor of other pursuits, he’s going to have to work hard to make sure the people of the state think he’s engaged.
For example, now – or soon – would be an excellent time for Jindal to put out some specific proposals on the budget.
It would be a good time for him to revisit the defects in the state’s constitution which make it difficult to cut government expenditures outside of higher education and health care.
He might even consider floating the idea that Texas is considering; namely, pulling out of the Medicaid program – which the Heritage Foundation indicates could save Louisiana $2.8 billion from 2013-2019.
He could propose privatizing some future road projects, like for example a bridge over the Mississippi south of Baton Rouge the state doesn’t seem to have any money for but which appears necessary to anyone who braves the 18-wheelers flowing through downtown Baton Rouge during rush-hour traffic every day on their way eastward across the state.
He could declare a summit with state treasurer John Kennedy to find some common ground on the latter’s 16-point plan to solve the state’s budget deficit; much of what Kennedy proposes is of dubious value, which has led to a controversy between the Treasurer and Jindal’s commissioner of administration Paul Rainwater over what will work and what won’t. It would be to both Jindal and Kennedy’s benefit to have a highly-public conversation on Kennedy’s plan, tout items of commonality and perhaps bring them to the legislature in a special session so as to demonstrate to the public that something is being done.
There are lots of options out there. Jindal needs to pick a few of them and run with them. He needs to balance the narrative of a disinterested-governor-with-one-foot-through-the-door with action.
If he doesn’t, he might end up attracting a serious opponent in next year’s election after all. Politicians may not do many things well, but smelling blood is something they’re quite good at. Jindal is allowing the state’s media to cut him needlessly now; it’s a smart move to take a few stitches.