In about 20 minutes, shorter than most of his talks, Gov. Bobby Jindal sounded graceful notes to members of the Legislature in his last pre-session speech to lawmakers.
He apologized for any mistakes he’d made and paid tribute to his family, including his mother — a longtime civil servant well-known in state government — who could not be present because of surgery. For many legislators, who turn over a bit more now that term limits are in place, the oft-absent Jindal has been the only governor they’ve served with.
That they are unhappy with him now is manifest. The tepid response to the speech included some awkward silences at what were obviously intended to be applause lines.
Nor, given the governor’s penchant for biting criticism of others, from President Barack Obama on down, did his discussion of civility in public life quite ring true: “In politics, everyone gets dug into a corner to the point where they pretend that they are always completely right and their opponents are always completely wrong, and that’s a mistake,” Jindal said.
It’s a mistake the governor has himself made a few times, but as he said, nobody’s perfect.
Unfortunately, neither was the governor’s description of the state’s financial situation helpful to lawmakers.
The budget crisis that is consuming the Legislature’s attention has been given remarkably short shrift, with the governor’s almost offhand assertion of “the utmost confidence that we are going to come together, make smart reductions to the size of government where we can and yet again have another balanced budget that doesn’t raise taxes.”
For Jindal to denounce “corporate welfare” was simply astounding, as he’s ladled dollars out of the treasury with a forklift.
That the administration’s budgets have been patched up out of duct tape and one-time money is well-known to legislators, who, after all, voted for most of what the governor wanted all along. That Louisiana can binge on raiding trust funds and otherwise cobbling together budgets, even as state institutions struggle and other costs go up, seems a fantasy in the context of the last five or six years of fiscal stumbling along. Even the most dutiful trained seals of House and Senate know that this prescription is not sufficient for today’s ailments.
All that said, few key lawmakers feel that the governor will be of much help to them in the budget crisis. Still, there is only one governor at a time, and whether his motivation is sincere conviction or national politics, his veto of revenue-raising bills of one sort or another could represent a stopper on legislative initiatives.
That is part of the dynamic unfolding in the State Capitol, whether the governor’s in his office on the fourth floor or in Iowa or New Hampshire.