There’s no mystery as to why Gov. Bobby Jindal’s poll numbers over his terms in office have bounced from great to floundering and now almost getting above water: you aim to change the culture and when that starts many revile you; you slack off, and the previously disaffected, their worldviews unthreatened, lose interest.
On the heels of its showing, yet again, the continuing serious troubles of Sen. Mary Landrieu in her reelection bid, Southern Media and Opinion Research also released results from a number of other queries. Sen.David Vitter continues to be the early favorite to win it all for next year’s governor’s race, even if facing the as-yet unannounced (butlikely) candidate New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. But more interesting was the nugget that Jindal now has about as much approval as disapproval to his numbers, with the former at about 48 percent, almost a couple of points below the latter, and representing an 11 point improvement over a poll done by the outfit about eight months ago.
That reading was after Jindal had abandoned a thorough and helpful tax reform for the state that, had he stuck to it in modified form, was more likely than not to have prevailed, and instead acquiesced to tax and spending increases in his budget instigated by a coalition of Democrats and populist Republicans. Yet his ratings had been falling for many months before, off of a 2012 legislative session where he spearheaded monumental changes in education delivery and afterwards where by administrative actions he closed out superfluous prison space and revolutionized (for Louisiana; par for the course most any other place) the state’s role in direct delivery of health care.
This explains why his popularity took a hit. To paraphrase former governor and current candidate for Congress Prisoner #03128-095, known before being sent up the river as Edwin Edwards, some of those who give lip service to the idea of reform government find they don’t entirely like it when they actually have it. Cautious in his reform efforts in his first term, in all likelihood partly to win a second term convincingly, immediately after Jindal’s reelection the ambitious agenda laid out over the next two years they found contradicted a bedrock principle of the political culture for so long in the state inculcated into them, populism, or the winning of political support by using the state to redistribute resources to those voters and donors to campaigns.
By way of example of someone who talks reform but when presented with its consequences reverts to opposing it, Wednesday a House committee perfunctorily dealt with approving HB 128 by state Rep.Kenny Havard, which largely mirrors a similar attempt defeated last year, that would interject such legislative oversight into the contracting process for operation of institutions such as prisons and hospitals as to strangle privatization efforts entirely, even as these both in the state and outside have proven to save taxpayer dollars with no reduction in quality of service. As he did last year, even as the facts speak otherwise that either he remains ignorant of or simple disregards, Havard claimed this was not an anti-privatization bill.
You see Havard, who also claims he’s a conservative, by his own reckoning has in his district 3,000 constituents who work at two state prisons and the remaining state mental health hospital. Future potential reconfiguration of these (which seems unlikely given the other two mental health facilities run by the state have been privatized, in the case of the one that has operated that way for at least a fiscal year producing savings of about 8 percent, and that other prisons have been identified as more cost-effective to close or privatize) would put some people out of work and for others perhaps suffer pay cuts with the new operators because, guess what, contractors operate on the basis of marketplace efficiencies, not on who has the most political muscle to steer taxpayer monies to whom. And if that were to happen, these voters might blame Havard for this and show him the door, because of the widespread expectation that is it a primary function of government to directly provide jobs and pump money into economies stemming from the state’s wretched populist history.
Of course, he’s not the only one among policy-makers who talks out of both sides of his mouth on these kinds of issues, trying to convince audiences that they’re friends of taxpayers all the while trying to sell them out in playing the populist game. And there are plenty in the mass public as well who rail about too much government spending, but as soon as they discover more efficient and effective government means reducing or eliminating some government check they receive, suddenly they embrace cognitive dissonance in defending the largesse they receive from government.
It’s this segment of the mass public that has punished Jindal’s popularity as these measures of his went against the grain of that populist element in the state’s political culture. Gingerly throughout his first term, but with gusto in the first half of his second, Jindal and allies went about pulling up the roots of populism in a way that many will wither, providing an estimable service to the state and its citizens. But he paid the price in popularity.
Yet this year he almost entirely reined in any such dramatic reform efforts; indeed, the only really controversial issue on which he has indicated preference (even as he has yet to provide much in the way of substantive assistance) is in support of the populist impulse behind rejection of the Common Core State Standards. His other efforts continue to be digested, and so it’s natural that the segment of the population provoked by these transformations should drift back towards a more mellow view of him.
If Jindal aims for a national political career after finishing out his term next year, it’s unlikely he would attempt anything else ambitious that runs counter to the populist impulse in the state’s political culture as a means to keep an aura of popularity at home. Continued governance in a style such as holding the line on taxes and with news such as a record number of jobs in the state with low unemployment levels over this period will pay off with a steady increase in his public approval. This poll catches the beginning of this trend where caution trumps boldness.