By Elliott Stonecipher
Were Governor Bobby Jindal to bump into his main antagonists standing around a fire and big black pot incanting “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” he might not be surprised. After all, it has to be some kind of curse to have so much not-good stuff happen in such a short period of time.
Governor Jindal’s run of bad luck – many would say karma – has now been punctuated with news of a federal grand jury investigation into the bidding on a 2011 Medicaid claims processing contract. Jindal fave, Bruce Greenstein, Secretary of DHH (Department of Health and Hospitals), looks to be a target of the probe, and the heat from it burned enough for Jindal’s Division of Administration to cancel the contract faster than a ward heeler can pocket an election-day payoff. When that heat is added to the cascading rain of cans kicked down the road for years by the governor, sunshine – not a Jindal preference until now – is difficult for him to find. The budget deficit for next year is now closer to two billion dollars than one, legal challenges to various of his previous plans and actions have succeeded on several fronts, substantive attacks on his tax-swap concoction are loud and growing, and his voter approval numbers are still looking for a bottom.
Since Jindal is an ever-lamer political duck, most of these challenges and problems are just that, political. Given that he cares only about his national standing – as many editorialists seem only now to be figuring out – he and his team of merry-mayhem-makers would typically push right through and past all of this. ‘Not likely this time. A federal grand jury investigation changes the political calculus, completely, for any chief executive. For this governor in this instance, the risk is greater than typical. Some of Jindal’s loudest and angriest critics, many of whom are more properly called real enemies by now, are focused on the governor’s forced privatization of the state’s health care system, right in the neighborhood of the grand jury’s work. These frontline politicos are clearly sensing a long awaited opening in Jindal’s worsening political dis-ease. Their coordinated push-back against the governor and his tax-swap now includes former governors Kathleen Blanco and Edwin Edwards, called upon to rally a political base many have assumed was too thin and scattered to again matter, at least for many more years.
The growing opposition to Jindal from the center-left may well trace to Louisiana Democrats’ top political sponsor,
U. S. Senator Mary Landrieu. Anything but a Jindal fan, Landrieu’s possible 2014 re-election campaign is well-served in exploiting such openings by and against Jindal, and a factoid in context is that the prosecutor in the subject federal investigation, Middle District U. S. Attorney Don Cazayoux, was picked for the job in 2010 by Senator Landrieu. Yes, such a selection by Landrieu is custom and practice when a new administration from the opposite political party takes office, and, yes, the former one-term U. S. Congressman Cazayoux was confirmed by the U. S. Senate. Regardless, the political math is simple: a slew of anti-Jindal Democrat politicos plus an anti-Jindal Democrat U. S. Senator plus an investigation by a Democrat U. S. Attorney equals real risk for the governor. From its genesis in 2011, the contract the feds are said to be probing had a definite stink about it of many sorts, not the least of which was Greenstein’s previous employment by the winning bidder. The Jindal team’s handling of the matter looked unusually arrogant and reckless at the time, and it may well be that their open and proud flaunting of law and process has come back around to bite them.
So, Governor Jindal and his staff turn to the upcoming legislative session with leverage cupboards bare in a way they have never been. With both the political right – particularly Fiscal Hawks – and the political left – particularly the Black Caucus – potentially a blended core of opposition on any issue, a real comeuppance for Jindal and crew could happen. His unchallenged control of the legislature up until now may, however, argue against such.
Jindal opponents would do well to remember that the governor’s tax-swap mess holds promise for him. Even as poorly developed, much less explained, as it is, and even with so many groups lined up to oppose it, the swap of higher sales taxes and an expanded sales tax base for state income taxes is favored by many taxpayers. If the swap idea nevertheless runs into legislative trouble, outright tax increases may well be the resulting “solution.” No one seems able to explain where the would-be tax-swap meets the huge budget deficit for next year, though common sense dictates that they do not meet at a “revenue neutral” tax swap, no matter how loudly that claim is hawked by the governor’s people. It is no stretch to mix those notions with the Jindal political weakness and end up with new and more revenue, one way or the other. Jindal is positioned to blame any such outcome on the legislature, owing to his push for the phantom “revenue-neutral” tax swap.
In the meantime, the governor’s mounting problems and challenges demand a shock of good news for him. As we have been taught during his years in charge, The Amazing Jindal can be depended on to produce the appearance of such, whenever.
Someone might tell him, though, that “whenever” is soon, if not now.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited or accepted for this work. This work is protected, and no other use of it is permitted without the written consent of Mr. Stonecipher