A To-Do List For Bobby Jindal

Since Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate rather than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a choice which by the time it was made didn’t even surprise the governor himself, there has been a decent bit of punditry among the state’s media surrounding what Jindal’s non-nomination means for the state.

And particularly since Jindal flatly said that he wouldn’t be interested in a cabinet post, the talk has turned of late to Louisiana’s immediate future – and Jindal’s role in it.

Most of that talk has taken on a character similar to that expressed in a Hammond Star editorial Tuesday

It’s time for Gov. Bobby Jindal to spend some quality time doubling down on the job he was elected to do — that is being the leader that Louisiana voters have asked him in overwhelming numbers to be.

We can’t remember a time when the state faced more serious problems than what it does to today, whether it is the millions of dollars in revenue shortages, the large and growing number of citizens needing jobs, the lack of proper healthcare availability for the poor and working poor, the plight of higher education and the increased financial burden on college students and their families and scores of other problems. And to repeat an often expressed opinion, Louisiana still ranks first in all the areas you would want to be ranked last and last in all the areas a state would want to be ranked first.

And while the governor has been very active in seeking reforms — depending on your point of view — in state retirement programs and educational issues, the perception that he’s spent more effort trying to become a vice presidential nominee is pervasive.

We haven’t kept track of the amount of time the governor has been out of state working for the Republican Party and his own political future, but he obviously has been absent from the state a great deal of the time. That time has surely been to the detriment of serving as governor of this state.

There are harsher words available than this, of course, but it’s pointless to engage in repetition.

The Hammond Star piece suggests that Jindal take some steps to show Louisianans that he’s engaged in his job. Of course, for most of Jindal’s critics the minute he took those steps their howls would grow even louder.

That said, we thought we’d offer a few items Jindal could use to satisfy the Hammond Star editors and others among the governor’s critics that he’s committed to the state – with the full expectation that many of these items will set them to wistful remembrances of when Jindal was bandied about as a potential Veep…

1. STAY ON THE TRAIL UNTIL NOVEMBER: While this might seem to be a bit peculiar advice to a governor who has been attacked for his globetrotting ways since the end of this spring’s legislative session, the fact is that right now the most consequential contribution Jindal can make to the well-being of this state’s citizens is his work to get Barack Obama out of office.

With Obama in office for a second term, Louisiana’s coming energy bonanza is in peril. It’s clear the president is dangerously incompetent – or worse – on energy. This president has been hostile to fracking, without which full development of the Haynesville Shale, Brown Dense and Tuscaloosa Marine Shale plays in this state is not possible, and the constant hints at future ham-handed regulation from the EPA and Interior Department have injected a level of uncertainty into the natural gas industry which has hindered its development. And his performance on offshore oil in his first term has been beyond atrocious – particularly in the aftermath of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, at which time his administration instituted an unnecessary shutdown of Louisiana’s most lucrative industry based on fraudulent justifications. As a result, the central Gulf lost 11 deepwater rigs to foreign drill sites, meaning that offshore exploration based out of Louisiana won’t truly return to 2010 levels for years – and with crude oil prices climbing to triple digits once again there is no reason why our offshore oil industry shouldn’t be a major growth engine for this state’s economy, outside of the damage Obama has caused.

Let’s not forget the president’s unsteady hand on our national economic tiller, which has been so desperately inadequate that in January this country’s economy is slated for nothing short of an armageddon as the most debilitating tax increase in American history will take hold of producers and consumers alike. The CBO today estimated that unemployment rates above nine percent by the end of 2013 are likely as another trillion-dollar deficit is in the offing even despite the massive tax hikes set to come. One would expect something would be done to avert this disaster, but without Obama gone there’s no reason to believe a truly intelligent and well-designed tax reform plan could be enacted in Washington; at best, we’ll have another extension of the Bush tax rates coupled with some mish-mash of new Obamacare taxes and other levies set to go into effect.

And speaking of Obamacare, the burden that law will put on Louisiana’s already-rocky health care delivery system is bound to make Jindal’s second term a constant struggle to balance the state’s budget.

For the sake of making the next three years even potentially successful, Jindal needs to continue doing what he’s doing. He needs to work the road for Romney, raising as much money for him as he can and ginning up as much support for the ticket as he can. A White House which is capable of working with Congress on real reform and pro-growth policy, and a White House which doesn’t spend its time sending Eric Holder and his goons to Louisiana in an effort to promote vote fraud, will give Louisianans reason to believe in a bright future. That Louisiana’s Democrats are attacking Jindal for campaigning for Romney is understandable, if unfair. For Republicans to make a gripe of it is nothing short of ridiculous – no Republican in Virginia is upset that Bob McDonnell is on the road for him, the New Jersey GOP doesn’t appear to have a problem with Chris Christie’s efforts on his behalf and none in Florida begrudge Rick Scott’s work for Romney.

2. PRESENT A TAX REFORM PLAN EARLY: Jindal’s hiring of former Shaw Group chief accounting officer Tim Barfield as the state’s new Revenue Secretary last week was a sign that he’ll be placing a heavy emphasis on reforming Louisiana’s dysfunctional tax code. Barfield, who naturally has been the subject of controversy since being hired thanks to the fact he commanded a heavy $225,000-per-year salary (which is hardly steep considering his value in the private sector; he’s coming to the Department of Revenue from Amedisys, where he was Chief Development Officer), has a perfect resume’ for the job. He’s held executive-level jobs at two of Louisiana’s premier companies as well as a pair of high-level posts in state government; he’s a former Executive Counsel to Jindal and was also the head of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Hiring Barfield means the tax-reform efforts will be headed by someone with an idea both of what’s politically possible and what the state’s business community needs. The move puts the effort in infinitely better hands than Louisiana was in with former Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges, whose contribution to Louisiana’s tax policy of late consisted of re-interpreting a statute designed to aid in transitioning the state’s vast natural gas resources into a viable transportation fuel to something which amounted to a pointless giveaway to buyers of flex-fuel vehicles with no benefit to Louisiana whatever. With someone so off-the-reservation in such a key position any real plan to reform the state’s tax code had little chance of success.

But now, Jindal has some firepower to present something which could not only simplify the state’s tax code and eliminate a lot of the unnecessary tax breaks it contains, but more importantly make Louisiana more economically competitive. The fact is, this state has not made sufficient strides in growing its economy to keep up with our main Southern competitors in decades; we still have not recovered from the economic collapse of the 1980’s, and we face the unfortunate truth that Texas’ success next door will make it very difficult to reverse that trend without a major re-thinking of the role of Louisiana’s government.

When your larger, richer and more dynamic next-door neighbor has no state income tax, any tax rate above zero will put you at a disadvantage. As such, Barfield is going to have a difficult task in front of him.

We’re big supporters of Jindal’s education reform package and we’re not swayed in the least by the fraudulent arguments that it was “rushed” through the legislature without a real hearing. There was a great deal of debate on school vouchers, charter schools and teacher tenure reform; the real problem the opponents had was that they’d long since lost the argument with the public. And besides, it’s difficult to make the case that prolonging arguments with people like this would produce an improvement in public policy.

That said, Jindal doesn’t gain by waiting until March to give an airing to his tax reform plan, whatever it might turn out to be. It would frankly be of great value to him to have a very open process over the next few months and get a great amount of input from the state’s business community – who regardless of what Barfield ends up presenting is going to bear the lion’s share of the tax burden. Undoubtedly that process would result in Louisiana’s Democrats insisting on presenting their own ideas, but that’s good for Jindal. It’s been decades since the Democrat Party, and Louisiana Democrats in particular, had anything constructive to offer, and the public knows this. Once they’ve had a chance to suggest the state soak its rich and have the public laugh them into silence, a real tax reform discussion can be had.

But whatever the plan is should be finalized, and public, by New Year’s Day. It will likely be amended when the legislature gets a look at it in next year’s session, but that’s nothing new.

3. DO SOMETHING ABOUT LSU: Jindal clearly has a plan in place for the future of the state’s flagship university, but that plan is only surfacing in pieces at a time. It would be of use if he could begin fleshing it out this fall.

The recent appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors indicate that the governor is stocking it not only with political allies, but also with like-minded individuals who can be expected to speak in something like one voice when a new vision for the university is presented. While Jindal hasn’t been particularly expressive about what that vision is, we have lots of clues to work with – most notably from the communications put forth by the Louisiana Flagship Coalition, a group of community and business leaders who tend to be large Jindal donors. Among other things that coalition has suggested rebuilding the LSU system around its main campus, a plan which would manifest itself publicly in major part through the combination of the positions of System President and Chancellor of LSU-Baton Rouge.

But to realize this reorganization and new direction as something positive for a university riven by poor leadership and budget cuts in recent years, Jindal needs to give LSU a leader in whom the vision can be personified. The fact is that since Mark Emmert left, LSU simply hasn’t had a strong leader capable of continuing the momentum it gained under his leadership.

Jindal and his supporters on the Board need to unveil not only a high-powered leader for LSU but a direction for the university that all its constituency groups – faculty, students, alumni, donors – can buy into.

Of late, LSU has lacked that direction. Of late, it has had leadership which has defined its capabilities for positive movement based on its general fund budget, and many of LSU’s supporters have castigated the governor for a perceived hostility to the university. A quote issued by Jindal during his 2003 gubernatorial run to the effect that the long-standing tradition of LSU being the worst-funded flagship school in the country must end has been thrown back at him amid a drawdown in the university’s funding over the past three years.

And during that time Jindal has dealt with sniping from former LSU system president John Lombardi, whose bull-in-a-china-shop persona did more damage than good.

Jindal didn’t create these problems, of course. When the state had money to spend on LSU under the current formula, he spent it. And Jindal has largely stayed out of LSU politics until fairly recently – save for filling the Board with his people as seats opened up.

It’s time to execute the plan, though. LSU needs an Emmert, and a vision.

Could Stephen Moret be an Emmert? The rumor that Moret, who heads Louisiana Economic Development, might be Jindal’s choice to fill the role of President/Chancellor of the new unified LSU system has set off an interesting reaction. C.B. Forgotston called Moret “ethically challenged” and said the idea of Moret as LSU’s new leader was a “nightmare,” but the Monroe News-Star had a less-caustic reaction to the prospect of his moving from a post as the state’s top economic development officer to one as the head of the flagship university. In an opinion piece which expressed opposition to the move, the paper’s editors saw Moret in a different light

Without a doubt, Louisiana Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret has been a shining star of the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

His team has led the state to the top of the “good lists” for economic development.

We are tops for the Fast Start work force training program, tops for digital media performance, tops for export growth, tops for economic growth potential, tops for job growth and most improved state for business.

On many other indicators we are in the top 10 of states for doing business, 13th in the number of women-owned businesses, second for tax competitiveness and in the top three (again) for the national significance of our business “wins.”

In northeastern Louisiana, we’re very familiar with Moret. He speaks softly, listens well and delivers results.

It’s interesting that the same guy could be seen in such dramatically different lights by people who share the same opinion. The News-Star wants Moret exactly where he is, and Forgotston wants him tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail.

The fact is that while LSU might be better served in trying to find the next Mark Emmert to rally it into the future, Moret does bring some key assets to the position.

Four things it appears LSU needs in its next leader are (1) not just agreement with whatever Jindal’s plan (and that of the Board) might be, but a passionate articulation of it to gain the support of the community behind it, (2) a penchant for fundraising to boost LSU’s endowment by a billion dollars or more in the next 3-5 years, something the university desperately needs and has struggled to accomplish, (3) an understanding of and emphasis on the role technology must play in developing the university of the 21st century and the ability to translate that understanding into concrete reality on campus, and (4) the management skill and persona to attract the best faculty and staff available even without the ability to “buy” that talent.

Does Moret have all of those traits? Well, if he’s hired (1) seems like it would be a given. As part of the administration and a candidate for the job, one would imagine Moret would assumedly have been in on the formulation of the vision for LSU – and that would mean he’d have already bought into it. That would make him instantly better than Lombardi, who made it clear to everyone that he wasn’t on board with anything Jindal or the state legislature wanted to do.

One would imagine that Moret would be an asset to fundraising, seeing as though he’s spending his time with corporate people and generating a decent amount of success in getting them to do business in Louisiana. It’s also worth noting that part of Moret’s success at LED comes from the FastStart program, which leverages technical colleges to guarantee a workforce with the skills required by the companies he’s chasing down to site facilities here; as an ambassador for LSU it’s not a major leap to deal with some of the same people to create partnerships which could both attract private-sector dollars and the university’s standing as a source of a marketable degree. Moret is also familiar with high-tech, in that he’s attracted several companies in 21st century industries to the state, though whether he could formulate a strategy to prepare LSU for the fact that cyberspace is about to do to higher education what it’s done to the newspaper business is a question.

As for the final characteristic, Moret does have his detractors. But there is no question the shop he runs at LED is highly respected around the country. Here at the Hayride we’re not crazy about much of what LED does; paying bribes to out-of-state companies so they’ll move here isn’t really something we think is the best way to grow an economy. But that ship sailed a long time ago, and it’s a game everybody is playing. Moret got good at it and he has delivered results at a level which has him recognized nationally. Whether that would give him credibility to galvanize the LSU community and to add human resources is a question.

Of course, placing someone in charge – whether Moret or someone else – is only half the problem at LSU. The other half has to do with resources. And while the cuts to the university’s budget have been oversold over the past couple of years, as while those cuts are real they’re also cuts to the highest funding baseline the university ever had in the post-Katrina bubble period, LSU is not a resource-rich flagship university. Jindal is going to have to address that issue to the satisfaction of the LSU community if he wants to gain their support, but to do that in the current environment means robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or, put another way, he’s going to have to make LSU a much higher priority within Louisiana’s higher education structure. There are indications Jindal would like to do that, but he’d have to really rattle some cages to make it happen.

There are more items which could be added to this list. Implementation of the state’s education reform will certainly be a major issue this year. The moving away from the charity hospital system will be another. But getting Obama out of office will have a more positive effect on Louisiana’s citizens than anything else, successfully crafting a tax reform plan will create the economic growth Jindal has needed to alleviate his budget woes and putting LSU on a solid footing will give Jindal a high-profile win inside a state which disproportionately measures itself by its flagship university, and if Jindal can claim results on those three scores his critics won’t be able to say he isn’t engaged in his job.

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