Gov. Bobby Jindal is known as a man who will never use four words when 400 will do. But if he were forced down to four words for the last session of the Legislature?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
In a longer-winded way, that is how the governor has explained a number of significant reverses delivered him during the recently concluded 2011 legislative session.
Lawmakers in an election year were in something of a mood, alternately cranky about slights they perceive in the governor’s aloof governing style, and then perhaps more cranky when, like Jove, he sent thunderbolts their way over specific legislation. A rare vote on a gubernatorial veto — Jindal at least temporarily blocking renewal of a cigarette tax — was an indicator of how unusually combative this election-year session was.
But the principal job of the “fiscal” session this year was to produce a budget, and with relatively minimal pain the House and Senate agreed to a spending plan not far from Jindal’s earlier proposals. In that respect, the session surely was something of a success for the governor.
Nevertheless, Jindal lost some votes among lawmakers on key parts of his earlier budget agenda, such as the sale of state prisons for short-term cash. The big votes for renewal of the 4-cents cigarette tax were rebukes in both House and Senate for the governor’s putting his purported national reputation as a tax-cutter ahead of sensible governance.
He failed to get passage of a plan to merge the two New Orleans public universities, something that began with much fanfare — an unusual visit to committee rooms by the governor himself. He lost bills to raise state employees’ contributions to retirement costs and to raise tuition at four-year schools.
Jindal makes a good argument that proposals to change the status quo often require more than one session to percolate, gain adherents and work through difficulties. But we’d be more persuaded if the governor’s work ethic matched this methodical style — if this is a prologue to the second term he seeks in the fall elections, rather than an excuse for losses in this year’s session.
In the case of the merger of the New Orleans universities, he launched an initiative with precious little in the way of planning done with it, and with little or no outreach to those who might oppose it. We don’t know if it’s a bad idea; what we do know is that it takes more than a few weeks to prepare a credible plan, get New Orleans leaders as well as state college leaders on board, and then make it through the Legislature.
Will it be on the table next year? Will more spadework be done? Will Jindal make it an issue in his re-election campaign, so he can claim a mandate if he brings it up next year?
Hard to say. But the answers to those questions will be interesting insights into whether Jindal will be governing in a second term, or refocusing his sights on other and higher arenas for his talents.
As senior legislators noted at the end of the session, this is a governor who talks more than he listens. Over four years, it’s a rare meeting when Jindal and his top aides don’t make it clear at the outset that they already know what they need to know about whatever subject is in question.
That’s worn thin, as this fourth regular session of the governorship has shown. If the governor is serious about pushing long-term reforms, we and many others would be willing to listen — but lawmakers and stakeholders in debates also want their concerns to be heard, too.