Haynesville schoolteacher Tara Hollis said Thursday that she decided to run for governor to bring attention to dwindling dollars for classrooms across the state.
Hollis was in Baton Rouge on Thursday organizing her campaign and meeting with political insiders. She said she launched her campaign to start a conversation about teachers, like her husband, losing their jobs because of funding cuts.
Two months after Hollis decided to run, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he is trying to schedule a meeting with her.
Jindal donated $5,000 from his re-election campaign to her classroom.
Hollis’ husband also has his teaching job back.
“We’ve been fed up. We decided we were going to take it to Baton Rouge,” Hollis said. “It is growing into a campaign.”
Jindal said Thursday he agrees with Hollis that classrooms need more money. He said he wants to talk to her about his ideas for directing more dollars to education — ideas that he said he will unveil publicly in the coming months.
“Maybe I’ll convince her to vote for me,” Jindal said.
Political analysts said Hollis, a Democrat, has little chance of beating Jindal, who had more than $9 million on hand earlier this year. Qualifying for the Oct. 22 primary is in early September.
No well-financed candidate has announced plans to oppose the Republican governor. Hollis, who has not yet decided whether to quit her teaching job, said she did not know how much money she has raised. She plans to file a campaign finance report by July 25, the next reporting deadline.
“Her candidacy seems so ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’,” said Pearson Cross, University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science professor, referring to the 1939 film that features a wide-eyed Jimmy Stewart unprepared for the sophisticated political machine in the nation’s capitol.
Cross said Jindal would not meet with Hollis if she posed a serious threat to his re-election bid.
“She kind of represents a group of people that Bobby Jindal would like to show his concerns for and that’s teachers across the state,” he said.
LSU communications professor Bob Mann, who worked as an aide to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, said it would take millions of dollars to defeat Jindal. He said he doubts Hollis has millions.
Still, Mann said, it might benefit Jindal if Hollis were to gain traction.
“I could argue that Jindal actually needs an opponent,” Mann said. “Beating a nobody doesn’t impress anyone here or outside the state. Raising Hollis’ profile, giving her that legitimacy, would make defeating her a bit more impressive to outside observers.”
The governor’s press secretary, Kyle Plotkin, said Hollis asked to meet with Jindal after the governor donated money to her classroom.
“I’m more than happy to meet with her. I try to meet with as many Louisianians as possible,” Jindal said.
Part of Hollis’ frustration stems from the fact that basic state funding for public schools has been frozen for the last few years.
Hollis said the teachers still fortunate enough to have a job are turning to grants to supply their classrooms with teaching materials.
Jindal acknowledged the frustration while pointing out that he increased basic state funding for public schools by $200 million his first year in office.
Since then, the state has been grappling with financial problems, at least partly because of the recession.
Hollis, 33, is identifying the problems without so far offering many solutions.
A military brat with no political experience, Hollis and her husband, Glenn, teach during the school year and cut hay during the summer on their 31-acre farm. They have three young daughters.
She said she has had polite conversations with Louisiana Democratic Party officials, including state party Chairman Buddy Leach, about her campaign.
“I’m not who they were hoping for. They were hoping for someone who was independently wealthy. I’m not. I’m a schoolteacher,” Hollis said.
She said she voted for Jindal in 2007 based on his education platform.
“He made the promises to get the votes and then he’s let education fall by the wayside,” Hollis said.
She said she is undecided on what she will do once school resumes this fall. Hollis teaches special education students in the fifth and sixth grades.
Her dilemma is whether to quit her job to continue hitting the campaign trail.
Hollis said she hopes to raise awareness about important issues.
“I’m going in this to win. More important than the outcome of the election is the campaign itself,” she said.