HITHER AND YON: The Cruz Effect

Yesterday, Ted Cruz swept through Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and given the outcome of the House Speaker election a very credible case can be made that he had a better day than Louisiana’s just-inaugurated governor John Bel Edwards.

A friend of mine handled the tickets to Cruz’ two fundraisers, the Baton Rouge luncheon and the New Orleans reception at Mary Matalin’s house, and she said she almost dropped dead out of exhaustion on Friday as a result of the hectic pace of the calls and emails from people frantic to attend.

And the rally in Baton Rouge at the Marriott was a jam-packed, high-energy affair that put to shame any other event any of the other candidates have staged for this presidential cycle in the state.

There haven’t been any public polls of Louisiana so far where the presidential race is concerned. What we do understand is that Donald Trump probably has a lead, just like Trump leads most of the states where the voters haven’t gotten serious about the primary yet.

But Cruz seems to be mopping up conservative activists in Louisiana at a pace that would make him the inside favorite. Because in Louisiana, just like in lots of other states, the casual voters who have flocked to Trump just can’t be counted on to vote in a relatively low-turnout presidential primary.

We’re assuming there might be a little more interest in the 2016 GOP primary in Louisiana than in past cycles, but turnout was 24 percent in 2012 and in 2008 it was even less than that. Both primaries were contested affairs. What that means is it’s the activists who decide the primary in this state.

And Cruz’ rally, which had several hundred attendees in a packed-to-the-rafters ballroom, was a who’s-who of conservative activists from 100 miles around Baton Rouge. And that was at 3:00 on a Monday afternoon.

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A DIFFERENT 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, one who generates significantly less political enthusiasm these days, is former governor Bobby Jindal. Yesterday Jindal took to Facebook to offer an parting message to the folks…

Today, as I leave office, I would personally like to thank the remarkable people of Louisiana. Over the years, Supriya and I have had the incredible opportunity to travel across the state to meet some of Louisiana’s most compassionate, spirited and hard-working people. You have made the past eight years of our lives very worthwhile and it has been a tremendous honor to serve you and your family. Louisiana has given so much to me and I will forever cherish this experience.

My parents came to Louisiana with nothing but a belief in the American dream and that it could be found here. They instilled in me a deep, sincere motivation to serve others and accomplish big things. It’s ultimately their story that drove me to accept nothing but the best for this great state when I became governor in 2008. Louisiana faced widespread challenges and there was no question that we were in need of drastic change.

Back then, we had a segregated health care system. We had poor health outcomes. Too many of our kids were trapped in failing schools with very little opportunity. The high school dropout rate was increasing and the graduation rate was dropping.

Our state was known for corruption and sending politicians to jail. Our government was growing while our private sector economy was stagnant. And when it came time to try to attract new jobs, companies didn’t give us a second look because our ethics system, tax code, and workforce development system were deal-breakers. And worst of all, we were exporting our most valuable resource — our people — to other states because they couldn’t find work here.

I will admit that change is hard. It riles people up and makes them uncomfortable. But here’s the simple truth: If we didn’t make big decisions in Louisiana, we were headed the way of more government than we can afford, a shrinking pool of jobs, and a shrinking middle class.

That’s why, on Day One, we weren’t afraid to rock the boat and tackle those challenges head-on. We didn’t have time to simply tinker around the edges. We weren’t going to govern based on the shifting sands of public opinion. I was elected to make lasting change for the betterment of Louisiana and that’s what we sought to do.

Because of that drive, we strengthened our ethics laws, privatized our charity hospitals, and enacted statewide school choice and teacher tenure reform. We cut taxes and cut our state budget by 26 percent. We cut our government workforce by 30,000 jobs and allowed the private sector to thrive. Most politicians won’t do these things because they don’t want to risk being unpopular, but you cannot grow the government economy and the real economy at the same time. I chose the real economy.

Now, we have the highest population in our state’s history.

People aren’t leaving Louisiana to find jobs — they are coming to Louisiana to find jobs. Since 2008, we have been a top 10 state for private sector job growth. We’ve attracted more than $62 billion in new capital investment and more than 91,000 new jobs in the state. We have the highest per-capita income level of all time. We are the fourth-most tax friendly state in the country. The number of failing schools has been slashed and we have the highest high school graduation rate of all time.

These reforms have truly put Louisiana on a path to prosperity. Our reforms are what Louisiana needed and I am absolutely convinced of the good we have done. We were at a crossroads when we came into office, and I believe we chose the right path — the path to prosperity.

Together, with your spirit, work ethic and incredible propensity for success, we were able to make big changes in our state for the better. I have no doubt that Louisiana and her people will continue to thrive for generations to come.

The guess here is history will likely treat Jindal a lot better than people have been treating him during his second term, but that’s not a great comfort to him. He’s seen even by a lot of Republicans in this state as a Jimmy Carter-type figure, and that might be a bit too much.

Jindal didn’t manage the politics well, and his approval rating suffered for it. He also didn’t do a very good job with the state’s budget; Jindal boasts of having cut Louisiana’s government spending by 26 percent, but he’s using 2008 as his baseline for that and that’s problematic. In 2008, the state was awash in Katrina recovery money; it should have been running multi-billion dollar surpluses and putting that cash down on things like clearing road project backlogs, paying down the unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension systems or beefing up endowments at LSU and some of the other public universities. Instead, Jindal let the legislature spend that money as though it would be recurring revenue, and as a result he suffered the negative consequences of trying to gradually draw down spending to sustainable levels.

And that never did happen. Jindal ran an effective budget deficit every year of his second term, and he dumped a sizable one on Edwards – for which no one should be sympathetic to the new guy, because he was never part of the budgetary solution and certainly offers nothing constructive.

What Jindal did to paper over the deficits was to sweep monies out of dedicated funds, and he was criticized for doing so even though it was far and away the best solution available to him. But here’s where the mismanagement of the politics is a factor; Jindal never managed to make the public understand that those dedicated funds were a large part of the state’s budgetary dysfunction; the dedications put too much money in things which are not the highest priority and the taxes filling those funds were far too high, creating the surpluses he needed to access to fund higher-priority items.

In four years when Louisiana has another chance to find a conservative reformer to install in the governor’s mansion, it’s imperative to find someone who can and will communicate policy to the masses. That’s a rare talent, but it’s crucial. The public generally doesn’t understand how state government works, and one failing of the Louisiana Republican Party as it has risen to a more-or-less governing majority (Edwards’ peculiar victory notwithstanding) has been a lack of effective effort to convert the public to fiscal conservatism and an understanding of what that means in application.

Jindal’s eight years were without doubt a missed opportunity on that score. But in four years we may nonetheless look upon him fondly after seeing how much worse it can get with this current governor in office.

 



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