I've got a theory as to why Republican critics of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards haven't gotten as much traction as they'd hoped in convincing Louisiana voters that he's not the right guy to lead a state that generally prefers candidates from the GOP.
It's that Louisianans aren't through being angry at Bobby Jindal, the once high-flying young Republican who left Louisiana's finances in a desperate state as he embarked on a nonstarter of a campaign for president.
As candidates for state treasurer campaign, the main topic of conversation is one not in the…
If Edwards sometimes seems to be everywhere, Jindal is rarely seen on the public stage these days. He doesn't make high-profile appearances and only occasionally speaks out on national issues, mostly pet causes like education. And he doesn't get involved in other candidates' elections, which may be because they don't want to be associated with him. Compare that to David Vitter, who lost his bid for governor and left the U.S. Senate, but still managed to play a hand in electing several members of Congress last fall.
Edwards has seen his share of failures during his first year and half in office, of course. He hasn't been able to get many of his economic proposals through a partisan House controlled by ideologically inclined Republicans, and his campaign promises to raise the minimum wage and change laws to make it easier for women to seek pay equity have also stalled in the lower chamber.
But he championed popular causes such as Medicaid expansion and prison reform, and he has handled a series of catastrophes deftly enough to win many folks over. In the most recent Southern Media and Opinion Research Poll, his approval rating stood at 54 percent, which is pretty good considering the state's general leanings. At the end of his tenure, Jindal's approval had dropped to 20 percent, according to a University of New Orleans survey.
In fact, it's possible to see Edwards' 2015 election itself as a referendum on the state's outgoing chief executive, with Jindal's old nemesis Vitter, a fellow Ivy League conservative striver with a well-earned reputation for cynicism, as an ironic stand-in. Instead, voters decisively opted for the sincere-seeming centrist out of West Point with no further ambitions beyond state lines, political party notwithstanding.
And it's definitely possible to spot Jindal's shadow over the subsequent budget battles, mostly because his harsh austerity drive and over-reliance on short-term budgetary gimmicks created a mess that lawmakers and Edwards are still trying to clean up. Never mind that many current legislators — not to mention the current governor — were in the Legislature and could have done more at the time.
Now, it seems, Jindal's record is emerging as a factor in this fall's special election for treasurer. As The Advocate's Mark Ballard explained recently, that's because two of the leading candidates, state Sen. Neil Riser and former state Rep. John Schroder, were heavily involved in budget matters on the legislative side during Jindal's tenure. A third, Angele Davis, was Jindal's top budget adviser during the initial part of his first term. Like Jindal, all three are Republicans.
All are trying hard to dodge suggestions that they were complicit by claiming to have been independent voices under Jindal. Davis talks about having introduced sound budgeting principles during Jindal's early days, before tax cuts he supported, the downturn in the oil industry and his larger ambitions sent him down a more political, less responsible path. Both Riser and Schroder focus on their own efforts to curb waste and insist they pushed back on some of Jindal's moves.
None of this has much to do with a treasurer's actually responsibilities, which run to the technical and managerial, but that's almost beside the point.
As long as people are still mad over Jindal's behavior, he'll continue to be a factor in Louisiana politics. And the smartest place for politicians still on the scene to stand is as far away as possible.