Perhaps a little less valedictory but mostly predictably, Gov. Bobby Jindal gave his swan song State of the State address to open the 2015 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, determined to go out in his own way, in his own time, both putting a period on his attempted transformation of the state and starting a new chapter outside of it.
Of his eight such speeches, it was among the most compact, and certainly the most thematic, bringing out three major items tied by their impact on his legacy and how that will become interpreted in the future. After a review of the past that mentioned genuine accomplishments in the areas of ethics reform, expanding choice that lead to improvement in education, streamlining and improving government’s role in healthcare delivery for the indigent, and in overseeing general economic growth statewide with the implications that right-sizing government and holding the line of taxes did the trick, he promised resolution of a creaky budget by asking for repeal of and heaping blame onto “corporate welfare,” to eject the Common Core State Standards Initiative from the state, and to support the effort to protect constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedom by prohibiting state coercion that would force service providers to support behavior relative to marriage that they see as immoral.
The first of these Jindal and all other policy-makers have known for months would be forced upon them, but, even as his no tax increase pledge remained familiar, novel to his response was the identification of “wasteful spending” by government courtesy of programs to give generous tax breaks beyond tax liability. He essentially said nothing about this in the previous seven years, leading astute observers to wonder whether past omission of excising these, as he indicated was his preferred solution to ensure adequate funding to government this year, came from an oversight on his part. Many of these were as wasteful then as they are now, and if this now is a big deal, why not then? This comes across more as a defensive measure to avoid an unpleasantry than anything else.
As for the second, it also continues from the past, a hangover from last year that relied minimally upon persuading the Legislature for his preferred outcome as compared to other executive actions and judicial attempts. This time, Jindal urged a legislative solution that could involve his giving more than moral support to efforts to repeal the structure adopted five years ago with his blessing. Yet with argumentation that somehow adoption of standards equates to curriculum content being now no more convincing than it was then, whether this succeeds on a framework more embedded by the day into the fabric of the state’s elementary and secondary education remains questionable. This emphasis, however, should not surprise as Jindal has talked up the issue for months nationwide, becoming one of Common Core’s most visible critics.
Regarding the third, even a month ago it would seem unlikely this issue would come up during the session, much less become a major objective of the governor’s. Circumstance elsewhere intervened to give the issue publicity and combined with the special election of an extremely knowledgeable and experienced new legislator in this policy area to put it on the policy agenda. Whereas CCSSI criticism constituted an enduring attempt to argue for less intrusive government, the religious freedom argument burst onto the scene as a means by which to demonstrate fidelity to conservative social values.
In all, concentration on these facilitates Jindal’s shaping of his legacy as a leader who tried to empower people at the expense of government, to make government work better, and to protect traditional values congruent with those of his faith specifically and generally of a majority in the country. But as complimentary as these would appear to how he would like history to see him, they also serve as a projection of himself for a future political career, one that gives him a chance to succeed in attaining higher office.
Jindal did not choose these issues accidentally for his speech. The budget difficulties he cannot avoid, but he will count any resolution that does not raise taxes overall as a success that reflects well on his tenure and informs about his governance in the future. His embracing of Common Core opposition and religious freedom support refine the lens through which not only does he hope future generations see him but also plays to the niche that he hopes he occupies in the political universe going forward.
Of course, whether Jindal wants to exert enough effort or has the ability to produce the outcomes for which he strives is another matter. James Madison argued that representative democracy held great promise to translate political ambition into superior public policy. His last address telling us Jindal keeps one eye on the past and the other on the future, we shall see if his subsequent behavior affirms Madison’s theorem.