The day one of Louisiana’s levee boards filed an environmental damages lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, which would become the biggest issue during the last legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a scathing response — from Aspen, Colorado.
His first in-depth comments about what impact the collapse of the price of oil was having on the state’s already beleaguered budget came while he was in Washington, D.C.
It should come as little surprise that the state’s business often is conducted from outside Louisiana’s borders.
Jindal, who is flirting with a presidential run, spent about 165 days — or 45 percent — of 2014 in places other than Louisiana. In 2013, he was gone about 74 days.
Only one of those trips seems to have been for official state business — an economic development foray to Asia.
What records are available show that for the rest of the excursions, Jindal attended an Army-Navy football game; talked up the reality television show “Duck Dynasty”; raised money and campaigned for more than a dozen GOP candidates; spoke at a couple of conferences sponsored by the Koch brothers and several other political events; tended to America Next, the group he formed to comment on national policies; visited casino magnate and GOP funder Sheldon Adelson; and even attended an event for Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, in suburban Detroit.
Jindal spent Friday fundraising in Newport Beach, California. On Saturday, he spoke at the Unite IE Conservative Conference in Riverside, California, and the Council for National Policy Gala in Dana Point, California. On Sunday, he headed to Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association Conference.
Louisiana taxpayers have spent $314,144 on Jindal’s out-of-state travels, mostly because the Louisiana State Police must provide security for the governor, according to a review of various campaign finance reports, State Police expense reports, news reports and federal records.
As far as can be discerned with the records available, Jindal pays his own expenses and that of his staff out of his gubernatorial campaign war chest and funds made available by his political action committees.
For the most part, Jindal travels on private planes, often owned by wealthy business supporters: the Chouest family, of Bayou Lafourche; the Davisons, of Ruston; and the Zuschlags, of Lafayette, the records show. He pays for the travel.
Jindal would not agree to an interview, but he released a statement late Friday. “There are more invites than we can accept, but over the past year, I’ve been invited to multiple places to speak about winning the war of ideas and fighting the failed policies and over-regulation of the Obama Administration. I’ve also been proud to travel to support conservative candidates in elections across the country,” he said.
Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s top political strategist and former chief of staff, added that some of the travel was done in connection with his role as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which Jindal once chaired and where he still sits on the executive committee.
Not everyone agrees that having the state’s top official talking up Louisiana — and building his own name recognition during his last year in office — is necessarily the best use of his time, particularly because the state is facing a massive deficit, exacerbated by the fall of oil prices.
“There’s some feeling, some expectation that a governor would provide leadership,” said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana. CABL is a Baton Rouge-based government policy lobbying group whose board is composed of business executives and professionals.
“That seems hard when it seems the governor’s attention is diverted out of state,” Erwin said. “We really do need to know that our leadership is focused. This is a critical moment for our state.”
It’s hard to say exactly how many trips Jindal took, what was spent, whom he met and who paid for it because the records are so hazy. He often visits more than one city in a day.
In about a dozen instances, the State Police’s heavily redacted records indicate a security detail accompanied the governor, rented an SUV, bought meals and stayed in a hotel somewhere. But no other records from Jindal’s campaign finance reports, his political action committee, his government policy advocacy group, the Governor’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the state Division of Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration or local media indicate that such a trip took place. Those trips were not included in this tally.
Both the Governor’s Office and the Division of Administration had little documentation, except press releases, as to the governor’s travels. His daily schedule is not public record.
Under the state constitution, the governor is required to notify the lieutenant governor when he leaves the state. That is done via email from Jindal staffers to Dardenne staffers. The emails are fairly straightforward: The governor is leaving on this day and returning on this one.
Technically, the state is supposed to pay the lieutenant governor $41.08 for every day the governor is out of the state. Dardenne said he has never asked for the additional pay, though last year it would have added about $4,700 to his $115,000 annual pay.
Jindal travels with a posse of troopers who provide security. Capt. Doug Cain, speaking for the State Police, asked The Advocate to keep the exact number and identities of security personnel and details of their procedures confidential in order to protect the governor’s safety.
Generally, a team of troopers heads to the location in advance and scouts out where the governor will go and where he will stay. Louisiana taxpayers pick up their transportation, fuel, room and board.
They rent a large SUV, usually a black Yukon or Suburban, according to the receipts. Jindal’s luggage is sent ahead to minimize the amount of time he is in an unsecured location. Jindal walks off the plane and out the door to a waiting SUV. His entourage of staffers and political advisers are on their own, if cab receipts are any indication.
And for as many days as Jindal was on the road, the troopers from the protection services detail are on the road twice as much.
For instance, the troopers arrived back from the Virginia suburbs on July 19, 2013, after four days preparing for Jindal’s overnight trip to attend a fundraiser in McLean for Ken Cuccinelli, a GOP candidate for governor in that state. After one day home, the troopers headed off to Colorado to set up the July 23 arrival of Jindal, who was attending a Republican Governors Association meeting.
They rented rooms at the Homewood Suites Hotel and a SUV and bought meals while working, spending $3,872.
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, lawyers for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.
The litigation sought damages for the extensive network of canals cut by energy companies since the 1930s through wetlands areas. The companies had promised to repair the damage but did not.
Jindal released a statement: “This is nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers.”
Jindal’s tastes while traveling, at least according to what records are available, are relatively modest. He often stays with family or friends and only occasionally spends the night in swanky five-star hotels.
Jindal went to Florida in late October 2014 and early November and traveled with Gov. Rick Scott, who was facing a tough re-election battle.
News reports quote Jindal going on and on about “Duck Dynasty,” a once-popular reality television show filmed in West Monroe that ends each episode with the family saying grace. The show found itself in news headlines when its patriarch, Phil Robertson, was quoted in GQ magazine as saying homosexuality was akin to bestiality and that African-Americans were happier before the civil rights movement. The cable network, A&E, suspended Robertson, which ignited the conservative Christian community, and Robertson was reinstated.
Jindal used much of his 30-minute speech to about 700 people at a GOP rally in Sarasota talking about how he defended Robertson’s right to free speech. He then spoke about his public school voucher program and why he opposed Common Core. “He spent less than a minute outlining Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s accomplishments and why he deserved to be re-elected,” Jeremy Wallace wrote in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Jindal’s staff stayed at a Hampton Inn and ate at Applebee’s and Hooters, according to entries on Jindal’s campaign finance report. (There’s no indication that Jindal himself ate at either place or where he stayed. The records also don’t identify the staffers.)
Jindal’s poll numbers tend to dip when he travels out of state a lot, said G. Pearson Cross, who heads the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Approval ratings tend to go up when Jindal is at home.
“In part, Louisiana citizens feel that the governor has other things on his mind,” Cross said. “It puts Louisiana in the role as a spurned suitor. We’re no longer young enough, good-looking enough or sexy enough to keep our swain’s attention.”
For some Louisiana legislators, it’s Jindal’s attention to the budget that they seek.
For years, the governor, with the approval of the Legislature, has been able to balance state government’s spending on services by using “one-time” money from sources not likely to produce revenues in the future, meaning officials have to find money the next year to pay for the ongoing operating expenses. The situation was exacerbated by the collapse of oil prices, which had helped shore up the revenues when prices were high.
Worried talk around the State Capitol is that services will have to be cut up to 15 percent and that state support for higher education and health care for one-fourth of the population will have to be slashed by hundreds of millions of dollars. All sorts of plans are being floated.
Jindal will present his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 on Friday.
Jonesboro state Rep. Jim Fannin, the Republican whose name will go on that budget bill, said he hasn’t met with the governor during the current crisis. But then, he doesn’t meet with the governor all that often, anyway.
“The people elected him to govern, and he governs until the end of the year. I don’t know how much time he personally spends on the budget. I know when I have issues dealing with the current year budget and how we fix it, the commissioner (of administration, Kristy Nichols) says, ‘Well, I have to go pass this by the governor.’ So, I’m assuming that at some point in time, they meet,” the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said. “It may take some legislation to do some of the things that he’s wanting to do. I just don’t know what he’s wanting to do yet.”
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley said he and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, met once with the governor in late January to discuss the budget crisis. But the Lake Charles Republican, like other legislative leaders, usually speaks with Chief of Staff Kyle Plotkin and Nichols.
Nichols, Jindal’s top budgetary adviser, said the governor is very much involved in the budget-making process. The governor himself said on Feb. 11, in response to a question about his involvement in the budget given the number of trips he’s been taking, that he has been in touch with cabinet secretaries and others discussing various ideas.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, an accountant by trade and head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over taxes, credits and exemptions, is one of the key figures involved in balancing the books for the state. He hasn’t seen the governor personally since the last legislative session ended in June 2014.
Like Kleckley and other lawmakers, Robideaux would not comment on the governor’s travel, other than to note it was an aggressive schedule.
But the Lafayette Republican did allow, “It’s important to the state of Louisiana that everybody is engaged as much as possible with the budget situation the way it is.”
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