The “if” of the thing was never in question, but the “when” of it took longer than Louisiana could afford. As this year’s annual and politically pagan rite called a legislative session fades in our rear-views, the top take for Louisianans is that our governor’s comeuppance is upon him. The handful of men and women who encircle and protect him from reality may dull the sharpness of the fact, but completely hide it even they cannot.
As is our very healthy habit these days in Louisiana, a small drove of commentators, good government types and just folks have already taken to print and internet to hash the rehash of the rehash of the session. Thrown in are comments from legislators and the governor, too. The latter makes certain we know he remains delusional about the state our state is in, and the former paused in between bouts of self-congratulatory hooey to spin their spin away from his spin. Those more sober and/or bitter made it clear that far from the proclamations that this was some wild win for the people of Louisiana, this session was a large pothole to be dodged on the state’s highway to who-knows-where, who-knows-when, and who-knows-how. These more honest commentators carefully note, for the record, that the pothole was damned near too large to get around when the session began, and is still growing as it ends.
Yes, yes, let me say it, even if mainly only to get where this is going: the so-called Fiscal Hawks won the moment, though not the day. Their budget reforms, if they happen, bode better for Louisiana, and the group certainly played a critical role in reminding Emperor, uh, Governor Jindal what 9th-Grade Civics used to teach about the critical importance to our form of government of separation of powers. I note, however, that rather than prove their religion by giving up all addictions cold-turkey and full-faith, the Hawks agreed to budget $80 million in non-recurring money for FY 2013-2014. In terms of Jindal kool-aid consumption, that’s a switch from the real-sugar-loaded variety to the phoney-sugar-loaded one: it’s still his kool-aid, and he’s still the mixer. Regardless, the group became a high and perfectly visible stake in the ground around which enemies of Jindal enemies became momentary friends, rallying for the greater good. We will certainly take ’em where we can get ’em.
As for our governor, the written reports of this session and its fall-out will be supported by book-ends of Jindal’s embarrassment. The session began with the governor’s embarrassing admission that his tax-swap plan flight of fancy had crashed and burned, with the charred and smoking wreckage “parked” in the state’s hangar for all to ogle. Then, near session adjournment, there was a Jindal moment embarrassing enough to make many feel almost sorry for him. As House and Senate conferees worked to hammer out a budget compromise, with communication of their preliminary deal yet to be discussed with other members of their respective chambers, Jindal rushed down from above for a photo op in which he pitiably tried to claim credit. This is the same Jindal who had refused to even meet with Fiscal Hawks. This is the same Jindal whose own budget – held together with hundreds-of-millions in non-recurring revenue, bogus hospital privatization figures, robbing of funds legally dedicated for other purposes and other such classic Jindal b.s. – was truly considered by legislators only briefly, i.e., until powerful lobbies slapped him and them into their proper – so they believe – place.
Depending on whose leaked polling numbers one believes, the man re-elected governor by nearly 7-of-10 voters a bit over a year-and-a-half ago, is now approved of by fewer than 1-in-3. Shortly after his 2011 re-election, the governor had the highest approval rating, just under 70%, of all governors in America, and that rating is now at 25% to 30%. As such collapses go, this one is remarkable. I am tempted to quote Governor Jindal a bit of Scripture about houses built on shifting sands, but as he has loudly asserted for years, he knows his Scripture better than the rest of us.
Those who are said to “know” assert that one or two remaining sorcerers and jesters in the Jindal palace court still have him believing his best and thoroughly righteous shot is the Presidency. If such were true, the governor’s party would be in much, much worse shape that either its current maimed condition, or that of the currently like-maimed opposition party. With full knowledge that such self-defeating behavior by both is the norm, Jindal’s name at the top of any ticket other than one for speeding is as unlikely as a legislator happily giving up his or her Pentagon Barracks apartment. Ironically, Jindal’s best hope to stay on the frontline of politics is to serve here in Louisiana, even though such seems to be #10 on his Top-Ten list.
If he completes his term, Governor Jindal has two-and-a-half years left to redeem himself. If, anytime soon, he decides to agree with most of the rest of us that Louisiana needs a governor who is devoted to caring for and about Louisiana, he will stop dealing from the bottom of the deck, and tell the truth about where we are and the structural changes necessary to set us on the road to real – albeit painful – repair. The chance of that, given the Governor’s formal and published take on the just-completed session, is, when carefully calculated, about zero.
Louisiana’s best hope now is for the legislature and everyone else involved in state government to continue to push-back against Jindal’s plans for our state, and with gusto. With an approval rating marginally better than that of the U. S. Congress, the governor is basically down to taking state goodies away from those who don’t salute. Since most of us are never in on those deals anyway, the cost to us is, when carefully calculated, about zero.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the unedited sharing of his work is requested and appreciated.