As Gov. Bobby Jindal has been feverishly courting the national political press in advance of his likely announcement that he’ll enter the presidential fray, the news back home has gotten progressively worse.
And any hope that he’d be able to build a firewall between the two collapsed Friday, as two scathing articles in widely read national publications put the state’s budget woes squarely on the governor and his perennially distracting national ambitions.
Both were written by knowledgeable, plugged-in, Louisiana-based journalists; Tyler Bridges, a freelance writer who’s worked for The Times-Picayune and The Lens and who has authored books on David Duke and Edwin Edwards, published his take in Politico. Campbell Robertson, who covers the region from his base in New Orleans, wrote his for The New York Times. (His piece ran on the front page of Saturday’s paper but was posted online Friday.)
Arguably even more devastating was a lengthy blog post on The American Conservative website by conservative Louisiana-based writer Rod Dreher, who admits to having once been a Jindal enthusiast.
“I keep telling my friends in the national media that if you think Bobby Jindal has a chance in hell of becoming president, send a reporter down to spend a few days in Louisiana, seeing what condition he’s leaving his state in,” Dreher wrote. His headline? “How Bobby Jindal Wrecked Louisiana.”
The pieces cover ground that should be quite familiar to Jindal’s constituents. They focus on the $1.6 billion hole in next year’s budget, the years of huge cuts to higher education funding, Jindal’s propensity to paper over problems by using one-time money to pay recurring expenses, his hard line against efforts to find new revenue for fear of being tagged as a tax-raiser and the conspicuous anger over all of this coming from both Democrats and Republicans.
Probably worst of all for the governor, though, was his feeble response.
When contacted by The New York Times, Jindal pointed his finger at the slump in oil prices, to which he chalked up the “vast majority” of the budget shortfall. He also defended his philosophical support for shrinking government and lowering taxes. Yet many insiders pointed out that the crisis predated the price plunge.
“Is he responsible for the full $1.6 billion?” Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott asked in The New York Times piece. “I’d say no. But I’d say he’s responsible for the order of magnitude.”
And when the Governor’s Office sought to limit the damage by “setting the record straight,” it did nothing to dispute the stories’ underlying premises.
The afternoon press release pulled together cherry-picked statistics purporting to prove the state’s fiscal health, including positive movement in its standing among rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. That is indeed good news, but it does not directly address the budget crisis at the heart of the news coverage.
Jindal’s release also pointed to statistics bolstering his claim of robust private sector growth. Again, that’s great, but the fact that strong economic news hasn’t stabilized government revenue is a big part of the problem and an argument for re-examining the very tax loopholes that Jindal won’t touch.
Jindal’s real, unspoken reaction to all that bad press is to basically ignore it and hope it dies down. He was back in Washington on Monday, not to talk about the state budget but about education, the subject of the latest policy paper his think tank has released. The trip came as Baton Rouge was in the midst of another uproar over his effort to derail upcoming Common Core testing, which is a whole other, equally ugly saga.
Maybe he doesn’t realize how hard it’s going to be to change the subject, when his own poll numbers remain under 50 percent and when the race to replace him already is focused on all the problems he’ll leave unsolved. That much of the criticism is coming from fellow Republicans such as U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne just compounds the situation.
The fact is that, whatever Jindal says, his record is right there for all to see. And that, more than anything, is his problem.