With only weeks remaining in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal has returned home to try to shore up his Louisiana legacy after his presidential campaign ended unsurprisingly with him headed to a new home in Baton Rouge, rather than the White House.
A statewide tour and press releases touting his accomplishments might be too little too late to win kind thoughts from the folks in Louisiana, where his approval ratings have dropped to record lows.
The term-limited Republican is seeking to exit the governor’s mansion in January with Louisiana residents remembering his economic development wins and education overhaul, rather than prevailing criticisms that he put his national ambitions over the state’s needs.
Jindal dismissed such criticisms in the press conference he held in Baton Rouge, a post mortem of sorts, after scrapping his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“We’ve continued to work every single day that I’ve been governor to work hard to move our state forward. I’m proud of the result,” he said. He added: “I think that I will be leaving our state better off than we were eight years ago.”
The governor announced the end to his presidential campaign on Tuesday, unable to break through a pack of higher-profile Republican candidates.
Jindal focused his entire campaign effort on Iowa. But low poll numbers kept him off the main debate stages, and his fundraising lagged, making it difficult to continue even with a lean campaign operation.
“This clearly wasn’t our time,” Jindal said.
He also was saddled with low approval ratings and criticism about his governing back in Louisiana, which followed him as he campaigned for the White House. People in Louisiana believe that while Jindal only announced his presidential campaign in June, he really had been running for years — and governing Louisiana to position himself for that campaign.
Jindal rejected suggestions his low approval ratings and financial problems at home damaged his presidential bid. He insisted that his detailed policy proposals on taxes, education and health care were just less “exciting” for voters than he had hoped.
But even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it, Jindal was asked repeatedly in the second-tier debates and in national interviews about Louisiana’s persistent budget woes and whether his abysmal favorability ratings from state voters should raise concerns for voters nationally.
If folks at home don’t like what you’ve done, he was asked, why should voters around the country embrace you?
The governor’s office clearly understood the depth of the public relations problems Jindal has in Louisiana. In recent days, his office has been issuing press releases titled “A Stronger Louisiana,” and highlighting Jindal’s leadership and policies during his two terms.
Louisiana has struggled with repeated budget shortfalls each year Jindal has been in office. That is partly due to his no-tax-increase approach to budgeting and his use of trust funds, property sales and patchwork financing to pay for state services. Lawmakers have largely gone along with the governor’s approach.
Jindal has had to close midyear deficits each of the eight years he’s been in office.
Rather than take some ownership of the state’s financial difficulties, Jindal instead gave himself credit for cutting the size and scale of Louisiana government.
“I think the fact that we stood strong in our desire to cut government spending and grow the Louisiana economy was actually a selling point, was actually a strong point for people supporting us,” he said.
Louisiana residents who have watched the state careen from budget crisis to budget crisis don’t seem to interpret his financial acumen quite the same way.
Jindal plans a statewide tour to highlight his achievements before leaving office in January. He said he hasn’t decided on his political future just yet. At 44 years old and with an impressive resume of political jobs under his belt, Jindal is certain to have an array of options.
Whether the charm offensive in his last weeks as governor will improve his reputation in Louisiana, however, remains questionable.
Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.