Over the weekend, National Review’s Jim Geraghty penned a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer which asked, from a national conservative perspective, why Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was able to run essentially unopposed despite slashing Louisiana’s budget some 25 percent over the course of his first four year term. Geraghty’s sentiment of amazement at that success mirrors that of many others in the national commentariat, some of which is justified and some not so much.
Today, in his Morning Jolt daily e-mail blast, Geraghty adds a bit more to the Inquirer story…
Over in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I take a closer look at perhaps the single-most improbable aspect of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s reelection victory: that he took 66 percent of the vote and had no significant Democratic opposition while cutting the government in a variety of ways:
His administration privatized the state’s Office of Risk Management. Then the state’s Division of Administration privatized claims management and loss prevention in the self-insurance program, saving $20 million over five years. The Department of Health and Hospitals privatized six inpatient, residential-treatment programs around the state, saving $2.5 million. Separately, patients were moved from state-operated institutions that cost $600 or more per patient per day to community-based services and private group homes that average $191 per day, saving an additional $23.8 million.
Consolidation was another key element: The state’s Department of Revenue shrank from eight offices statewide to three. The Department of Children and Family Services consolidated its offices from 157 to 90, saving a total of $2.7 million.
But some of Jindal’s cuts are the old-fashioned kind. The state sold 1,300 vehicles from its fleet of automobiles. Louisiana’s Transportation Department shut down a ferry that was used by only 7,200 drivers per year, saving the state roughly three-quarters of a million dollars.
In fiscal 2011, Louisiana eliminated more than 3,500 full-time government positions. Add the 6,363 previous reductions during Jindal’s term, and that means a total of almost 9,900 full-time positions reduced since he took the oath, a savings of almost $600 million. Louisiana now has the lowest level of full-time state government employees in almost 20 years.
I had a couple of liberals from outside and inside Louisiana write in, singing from the familiar songbook that insists the cuts were draconian and on the backs of the poor and middle class. Of course, I have yet to encounter anyone, of any political persuasion, inside or outside of Louisiana, who can explain why, if Jindal’s reign was so ruthless and cruel, no Democratic officeholder at any level chose to run against him.
We might be able to help here.
First of all, Jindal’s reign hasn’t been so ruthless and cruel. Louisiana’s state government has since the days of Huey Long been an ever-more bloated, rapacious, inefficient and overbearing leviathan – but even that description doesn’t quite do justice to the runaway expansion of government which occurred during the eight years Mike Foster was governor from 1996-2004 and the four years Kathleen Blanco followed him from 2004-2008. That expansion tripled the size of the state budget during a period when net population growth in Louisiana was nil.
Much of the growth in the state’s budget occurred after passage of the Stelly tax, which savaged Louisiana’s job creators and put a clamp on economic expansion as Louisiana’s upper middle class departed for nearby no-income-tax locales like Texas and Florida but created a major revenue windfall for the public sector. Government expansion given such circumstances seemed almost responsible; there was little public outcry about Stelly and it squeaked through a 2002 public referendum with 52 percent of the vote.
Louisiana’s tax revenues became so fat during those years that after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the state in 2005 Blanco called a special session of the legislature in an attempt to bring the state budget in line with the expected post-storm revenues – and in less than three weeks with little rancor outside of the the Legislative Black Caucus slashed over $600 million from the state’s outlays.
But the federal money being spent in Louisiana after Katrina was yet another boon to the state’s coffers and the cuts passed in November 2005 were washed away amid another orgy of public spending. Fiscal discipline, never a strong point among Louisiana politicians, didn’t even factor into our electoral equation until that post-Katrina revenue surge began to abate – and while it was Jindal who oversaw a drawdown of expenditures, it was also Jindal who oversaw the last two years of the spending runup.
So while Jindal does get credit for being the first of Louisiana’s governors to actually begin reversing the inexorable march toward socialist insanity the state has engaged in since the Kingfish first arrived on the scene in Baton Rouge, the budget-cutting of the last two years is nonetheless a culling of the low-hanging fruit.
Has some of the privatization of state services been novel, intelligent and overdue? Without question. He gets credit for those things. Has his management of state government been, on average, much more intelligent than that of past governors? On balance, yes.
But while the state’s Left, the majority of which are either recipients of government aid or workers in the public sector, howl feebly about Jindal’s attempts to rein in government there might actually be more of the governor’s detractors on the right. Many of us ask why it’s not possible to do something about the 14 four-year public universities in Louisiana which combine to graduate less than 39 percent of their students in six years or why Louisiana persists in running a Soviet-style Charity Hospital system which wastes more than $500 million a year in running brick-and-mortar hospitals when health care delivery has been shown to be far more efficient when the funding follows the patient.
To date, Jindal has only nibbled around the edges of these long-running fiscal atrocities; he gets credit for proposing a merger between the University of New Orleans and Southern University’s New Orleans campus in this year’s legislative session, which failed amid screaming from the LBC but will undoubtedly come up again, and he did make a good first step toward deflating the Charity system by offloading its Baton Rouge operation from the soon-to-be defunct Earl K. Long Hospital to privately-owned Our Lady of the Lake. But to really justify the accolades Jindal has already received from the conservative blogosphere, he’s going to have to do much more to bring sanity to the delivery of health care and higher education – and to do so will involve major legislative fights beyond those he’s engaged in to date.
And for the second part of Geraghty’s question…
If Jindal’s record is as bad as these detractors insist, why did no Democrat in the state legislature even try to run against what ought to be a winnable race? Why did no backbencher or ambitious mayor even try to run, if for no other reason than to build name ID for a future bid? Why did the Democratic Governors Association and DNC not back anyone? Why did the Democratic State Central Committee decline to endorse any of the relative no-name Democrats running against Jindal? Why did the entire state Democratic party effectively concede the race?
It’s a great question, and it’s one worthy of another piece here at the Hayride in its own right. The outline of such a post would include a few key elements, namely that it was a considered strategy of the Louisiana Democrat Party to fight what amounted to a rearguard action in order to hold state legislative seats, and that strategy actually worked to perfection since heavy party contributions largely saved Gary Smith, Ben Nevers and Eric Lafleur in the Senate and Jack Montoucet in the House (some of whom might have won anyway, but being able to outspend their GOP opponents 3-1 or more played an obvious role in their victory). Also, it so happens that the Democrats simply don’t have a candidate with statewide appeal who would work as a statewide candidate at this time; the last of those Mohicans was Caroline Fayard, who so blatantly flouted state campaign finance laws by laundering cash from her wealthy father through the state party to her campaign in a failed attempt to beat Jay Dardenne for Lt. Governor in 2010 that she’s effectively barred from running again until the state Board of Ethics is able to first impose the hefty fine it will likely decide she owes soon and then collect it from her.
In any event, while it’s a typically grotesque perversion of the political process for Louisiana Democrats to sit out the statewide races this year, it says less about Jindal’s success as governor than the condition of the party. After all, this is the same Louisiana Democrat Party which ran Charlie Melancon, a sitting Congresssman, against David Vitter in 2010 and couldn’t get him to 40 percent of the vote after three years of deriding Vitter’s personal foibles. And the Democrats couldn’t find a gubernatorial candidate against Jindal in 2007, either, embracing Republican turncoat Walter Boasso as their standard bearer that year and watching as Jindal topped 50 percent in the primary. It’s been eight years since Louisiana’s Democrat Party was a viable statewide entity, and there is less and less evidence as the days go by that this will change.
One argued that Jindal’s reelection could be explained by the migration of African-Americans out of the state after Katrina. Except that the percentage of the state’s population that was African-American remained the same from 2000 to 2010, at 32 percent. (Flabbergasting, I know, considering the media narrative, but take it up with the Census Bureau.) What’s more, the state has enjoyed more in-migration than out-migration for the past four years. (Katrina only accelerated a 20-year trend.)
I suppose you could argue that after the hurricane, liberal African-American Democrats moved out, and the state’s population influx during Jindal’s term consisted of Republicans of all hues moving to the state. But why? Why would his policies be a magnet, but only for members of one political party? Why would Republicans see a state rebuilding and reinventing itself and see an opportunity for a better life, but Democrats wouldn’t? In fact, as the state’s unemployment rate drops, and schools and state services improve, why would the post-Katrina exile Democrats stay away?
It’s not so much that the black population of the state moved away, though in no small measure that did happen – in New Orleans in particular. But when the voter rolls were purged in 2007, wiping out some 30,000 dead people and fictional characters as well as folks who had moved away and registered elsewhere, it denied the state Democrat Party the ability to massage vote totals to win close elections. And while it’s easy to scoff that voter fraud is overrated as a determinant of elections, to someone from Louisiana this is no small thing – in particular as it relates to the psychology that enables or prevents political candidacies at a statewide level. As proof, no Democrat has mounted a statewide challenge of any major note since the purging of the voter rolls – the only exception being then-Democrat Buddy Caldwell, who beat incumbent/establishment Democrat Charles Foti in a three way race with Republican Royal Alexander, who Caldwell defeated in a runoff after the two challengers froze Foti out in the primary. Caldwell won the race over Alexander, then ultimately switched parties to the GOP. As an exception, Caldwell certainly doesn’t disprove the rule.
Moreover, no statewide candidate who has pursued the New Orleans black vote through traditional vote-buying methods like purchasing space on endorsement ballots from the alphabet-soup organizations (BOLD, LIFE, SOUL, and a few others) has won a statewide race since then with the only exception being Mary Landrieu’s re-election over John Kennedy in 2008. That formerly tried-and-true method of winning elections helped to produce Foti and Blanco in office as late as 2003, but it crashed and burned as a tactic when tried by more recent candidates like John Georges when he ran for governor in 2007 or Billy Nungesser when he ran in 2011.
Rather than some elaborate scheme that drives out African-American Democrats and attracts the rare, but thankfully less-rare-over-time African-American Republicans, wouldn’t Occam’s razor suggest that Jindal just did a pretty darn good job and that Louisianans are pretty pleased with what they’ve seen?
Then again, perhaps I’m persnickety at the moment, but I’m tempted to believe that the argument against what I lay out in my piece was well summarized by the Inquirer.com commentator “alotatea,” who sneers, “Jindal has done it the old fashion way. On the backs of the lower and middle class. Stay where you are Jindal. In fact go back to India!”
Jindal, of course, was born in Baton Rouge.
Without question the opposition to Jindal over the past four years – on the Left in particular but not exclusively so – has included a generous dose of ugly bigotry about his heritage. That’s largely due to the fact that while the governor has been spot on in the budget-cutting activities he’s pursued to date he hasn’t gone so far as to slash anything essential to the operation of the state, or even close to it.
And the fact that Jindal could by some measure cut 25 percent of Louisiana’s budget over the course of four years (it’s an arguable number, but one we’ll go with for the purposes of this discussion) without getting any real Democrat opposition does speak well of his governance.
There are those of us, however, who would say that given the bloated state of the leviathan in Baton Rouge Jindal probably needed to cut as much as another 25 percent and insure himself a real opponent – because in doing so we might find a real reading of where the state’s voters actually are.
Let’s not forget that Louisiana is still projected to have another $1 billion shortfall next year. The cuts will be ongoing. Jindal will have to dig deeper to find a sustainable size for state government, and when he can show that he’ll deserve the accolades Geraghty and other national pundits are giving him.