After what feels like a decade or two of pre-election jockeying, Iowa voters finally got to have their say Monday night at the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. And it’s worth pausing a moment to wonder: Did any of them give a passing thought to the fact that former Gov. Bobby Jindal wasn’t among their choices?
I doubt it.
There was a time not so long ago when Jindal practically lived in the state, with his Louisiana taxpayer-financed security team in tow. He held frequent town hall meetings, and his technically unaffiliated but closely aligned super PAC ran gauzy television ads there. He announced plans to visit all 99 counties and made a good-sized dent in the list. So focused was Jindal on the place that he promised, in a painfully awkward campaign kickoff video, that his young son could join him on a visit to Iowa, as long as he behaved.
Jindal’s enthusiasm went unrequited, or simply ignored, and he dropped his presidential bid more than two months ago.
Like the rest of us, he wound up as just a spectator to Donald Trump’s narcissistic theatrics and Ted Cruz’s rise among the large evangelical bloc Jindal once hoped to corner.
Even the home-grown “Duck Dynasty” stars Jindal had courted with abandon — and featured in a joint family photo on his Twitter home page -— didn’t seem too broken up by his absence.
Phil Robertson spent the weekend leading up to the election on the Iowa trail with Cruz, making his own headlines for declaring same-sex marriage a symptom of the country’s “depravity” and “perversion.” Robertson’s son Willie signed on with Trump.
If only the rest of Jindal’s own former constituents had such an easy time moving on.
As the rest of the country focuses on the future, Louisiana residents and politicians are stuck dealing with the aftermath of Jindal’s irresponsible fiscal stewardship, which history will surely link to his effort to create a campaign-friendly record rather than leave Louisiana in good order.
Setting himself up to preach the small government gospel out in Iowa and elsewhere, Jindal signed an unaffordable income tax cut, reduced direct aid to higher education by more than half, refused to accept a great deal from the federal government to expand health insurance for the working poor, drained once-flush reserve funds and sold off state property to pay basic expenses, and fought off efforts to rein in business giveaways even as he belatedly decried the evils of corporate welfare.
On the social issues front, he launched distracting efforts to deny funding for health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, to shut down the Common Core education standards and to protect those who object to providing services to same-sex couples.
The result, as everyone who’s paying attention knows, is a budget shortfall that approaches $3 billion for this year and next, some of which is due to the dropping price of oil but much of the rest of which can be traced to actions Jindal and a cooperative Legislature took.
It’s relatively small potatoes, but the Jindal administration’s last-minute decision to grant some $8.6 million in annual raises for state workers is particularly maddening, on two fronts.
Given the budget picture, Jindal’s appointees had no business obligating his successor John Bel Edwards to one additional penny.
And by rewarding state workers, Jindal just highlighted his campaign-trail hypocrisy.
A few months ago, he was out in Iowa and New Hampshire boasting that he’d eliminated 30,000 state “bureaucrats,” a sneering reference to public sector workers designed to play into stereotypes that they’re little more than a bunch of shiftless time-card punchers. The raises, supposedly for doing good work, suggest he never believed a word of it.
In hindsight, it’s not clear what he really believed, other than that he should be president.
The voters in Iowa probably don’t care, and never have to think about Jindal’s grand ambitions again. Louisiana, though, will be living with the repercussions for a long time.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.