Political history is replete with rise-and-fall stories, but rarely has someone risen so fast and then fallen so far as former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Starting with an appointment by former Gov. Mike Foster to head the state’s health and hospitals department at 24, continuing through a rapid-fire series of very big government jobs and culminating in a triumphant run for governor at 36, Jindal actually peaked when he ran for reelection four years later. His victory in 2011 was such a foreordained conclusion that Democrats didn’t bother to support a challenger. He won with 66 percent of the vote, with the rest scattered among a spate of protest candidates.
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By the time his second term ended in the opening days of 2016, though, Jindal’s approval rating had dipped as low as 20 percent, his presidential hopes had been humiliatingly dashed, and Louisiana’s Republican-leaning voters had improbably turned to a Democrat, John Bel Edwards, to fix the mess Jindal was preparing to leave behind.
It took Edwards and the Legislature 10 sessions over three years to finally put Louisiana back on solid fiscal footing after Jindal cut taxes more than the state could afford, raided trust funds, starved higher education and embraced budgetary gimmicks rather than pursuing sober-minded reforms. The damage was so debilitating that it’s no wonder Jindal’s reputation remains firmly anchored to his management of the state budget.
But a couple of recent investigative reports looking back at two of his signature initiatives are reminders that there’s even more to the Jindal legacy that Louisianans shouldn’t love.
Jindal’s first order of business when he took office in 2008 was to enact what he called the “gold standard” of ethics laws, with the aim of taking Louisiana from the bottom to the top of all those good-place-to-do-business lists.
In 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, he proclaimed his goal for Louisiana to be the “gold standard” for government ethics.
The changes he pushed through did affect some of those rankings, but a new story by The Advocate’s Andrea Gallo, in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, showed that they produced a flawed, glacially paced enforcement system that often focuses on penny-ante alleged offenses rather than potentially serious ethical breaches.
Four years later, Jindal’s big postelection push was a wide-ranging school reform package largely aimed at enhancing accountability in public schools. But it also included an expansion of a pet priority among the religious conservatives that Jindal hoped would rally behind his presidential bid, more private school vouchers.
Jindal’s parents-know-best rhetoric surrounding public dollars spent on private, often religious, schools directly contradicted his results-focused arguments for evaluating public schools, enhancing charters and scaling down teacher tenure. Many eligible students came from schools that were documented as poor-performing or failing, but their new schools would not be required to show that they were succeeding.
And indeed, a recent examination of Louisiana’s voucher system that uses public money to pay private school tuition, conducted by nola.com|The Times-Picayune, WVUE Fox 8 News, WWNO and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, showed that many schools with large numbers of voucher schools aren’t any better than the public schools the students would have otherwise attended.
The results are more opaque than for public schools, and intentionally so. In fact, despite Jindal’s parent-centered rhetoric, it’s harder for families to get information about how a private school is doing than a public school. But based on an analysis of standardized test scores, the reporters on the project found that not one school in the program was the equivalent of an A or B school based on the Louisiana Department of Education rating system. Three were comparable to C schools, 19 lined up with schools that scored Ds and 15 with F schools. And some voucher students, the report found, left better-ranked public schools for lower-performing private schools.
Jindal himself has long since graduated from government and is now firmly ensconced in the private sector. He still pops up on cable news and in the op-ed section of The Wall Street Journal every now and then, but his days of making policy rather than commenting on it appear over.
Yet somehow, his report card keeps getting worse.
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