Bobby Jindal’s Hot Tub Time Machine

Screenshot from C-SPAN of Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent speech to CPAC in Washington, D.C.
Screenshot from C-SPAN of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent speech to CPAC in Washington, D.C.

By Cyril Vetter

I was born and raised in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. When I grew up in the 1950s, it was cool to be stupid. Smart kids, kids who studied, were “fruits” — but if you acted stupid (whether you actually were or not), smoked cigarettes and didn’t try in school, you were cool. If you aspired to more than slamming Falstaff and Sloe Gin at the Town and Country Club on Friday and Saturday nights (after eating delicious rabbit spaghetti you could buy for a quarter at the Knights of Columbus hall), you had no place in the “in crowd.”

In many ways, the Donaldsonville of the 1950s has been writ large by our state and its governor.

On a drive West last summer, I overnighted in Las Cruces, New Mexico. On University Avenue, banners proudly trumpeted New Mexico State University as a U.S. News Tier One University. Tier One — in a place that is so barren, so hot, with no water, no oil, no fisheries, no agriculture . . . no anything. Except a Tier One public university.

We should be ashamed and embarrassed. I am. The tired trope that Louisiana is a “poor state” is a red herring and a copout for incompetence, greed and corruption. We’ve been gifted the richest patrimony of any state in this country. Maybe of anyplace in the world. Yes, it gets hot and humid in July, August and September, but that’s offset by Creole tomatoes.

How did we screw this up so badly? It’s like inheriting a fortune and frittering it away buying racehorses or playing video poker. We pay dearly, and continuously, for our dissipation.

We have one of the highest HIV rates in America — New Orleans and Baton Rouge rank second and third among U.S. cities, respectively — and an administration that refuses to accept the bounty of the Affordable Care Act to address the need for medical care for working class citizens. So they go to emergency rooms, increasing the cost of health care for us all and ultimately forcing closure of some ERs — or they go without medical care and call in sick, which costs their employers.

Our state likewise ranks high on other “bad” lists — for rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, high school dropouts, low birth weight babies and more. We also have the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world and marijuana laws that imprison a disproportionate number of young black males for doing the north Louisiana equivalent of drinking beer.

In the face of all this, we have a governor who, although he is a graduate of an Ivy League university, continues to demonstrate his solidarity with 1950s Donaldsonville by championing policies that are not future focused and seem oblivious to the competitive realities of today’s globally connected economy. Continue reading

Does Louisiana really need a lieutenant governor?

By Robert Mann

Rarely in the history of Louisiana politics have so many spent so much to acquire so little power. I’m talking about this year’s lieutenant governor’s race, which has drawn several big names willing to spend big money to capture an office that has little authority and even less influence.

Former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who lost a bitter race to incumbent Jay Dardenne in 2011, is running again. He has so far raised $2.2 million, including $900,000 in personal funds. Jefferson Parish President John Young is running, too, and has raised $1.8 million.

At least two other candidates have announced: Opelousas state Sen. Elbert Guillory and Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden. Holden, the only Democrat in the race, hasn’t released his campaign finance report, so we don’t know what he will spend. Guillory has spent about $37,000, which is almost $3,500 more than he has raised.

This won’t be the state’s first expensive lieutenant governor’s race. Last time, in 2011, Nungesser outspent Dardenne $2.75 million to $1.45 million. Dardenne, who is now running for governor, overcame Nungesser’s huge financial advantage to hold onto his office.

Which raises the question: Exactly what did Dardenne hold on to?

The state Constitution is straightforward about the lieutenant governor’s limited powers: “The lieutenant governor shall serve ex officio as a member of each committee, board, and commission on which the governor serves. He shall exercise the powers delegated to him by the governor and shall have other powers and perform other duties in the executive branch authorized by this constitution or provided by law.”

The one real bit of potential power originates from this wording in the Constitution: “When the governor is absent from the state, the lieutenant governor shall act as governor.”

Given that Gov. Bobby Jindal has spent much of his time outside Louisiana in the past seven years (at least 165 days in 2014 alone), Dardenne should be among the most consequential people in Louisiana politics. In fact, if we followed the Constitution, Dardenne could rightfully claim the title “co-governor.”

That would, of course, require someone to inform Dardenne when Jindal is away so that he could fulfill his constitutional duties. That rarely happens, as Dardenne reported several years ago.

Instead of waiting for official notification of Jindal’s chronic absences, Dardenne should just start showing up for work on the fourth floor every day. God knows Louisiana could use a full-time chief executive.

Among his additional duties, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor oversees the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT). To Dardenne’s credit, he has not appointed a department secretary. He runs CRT himself. He has done so with considerable passion, integrity and talent.

But the fact remains that Louisiana essentially elects its tourism director and people like Dardenne, Nungesser and Young are willing to spend millions to get that job. That’s probably because the office is viewed as a stepping-stone to the governor’s office.

But it isn’t.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Let’s raise Louisiana’s cigarette tax

By Robert Mann

There is no single fix for the $1.6 billion budget shortfall Gov. Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers face in the coming legislative session. They will have a virtual Chinese menu of revenue raising and budget cutting options from which to choose. It’s a long list that includes various tax and fee hikes, eliminating or reducing corporate tax credits, trimming the size of state contracts, creating tax credits for those who contribute directly to state colleges and increasing college tuition.

None of these ideas, alone, will prevent the looming catastrophe. But lawmakers must come up with something. They face some painful choices. If they don’t find a way to close the budget shortfall, universities will be gutted. Health care will sustain $800 million in cuts, which includes forfeited federal funds because of the missing state match. Other essential government services will vanish.

The situation is so critical that legislators may have to choose between risking re-election and allowing the state’s vital institutions to collapse on their watch. Raising taxes is never a pleasant task, much less a few months before they face the voters, but they must do it.

Here’s where they should look first: Raise the state’s cigarette tax.

At only 36 cents per pack, Louisiana has the nation’s third-lowest cigarette tax. New York has the highest, at $4.35. When local taxes are added, Chicago is the most expensive place to buy cigarettes. It will cost you $6.16 per pack there. In New York City, $5.85. Neighboring Texas imposes a $1.41 tax. In Mississippi, it’s 68 cents.

The benefits of raising cigarette taxes are considerable. It would not only generate significant new revenue; higher prices would also persuade many people to quit smoking or significantly curtail their deadly habit. It would help make Louisiana a healthier place and reduce the burden of smoking-related diseases on our public health system.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Will Alabama be example or warning to Louisiana leaders on same-sex marriage?

By Robert Mann

Louisiana gay rights activists are understandably saddened that Alabama has achieved marriage equality while Louisiana remains one of the 13 states where same-sex marriage remains illegal. “What about Louisiana?” someone grumbled on Equality Louisiana’s Facebook page. “Why is our state always behind?”

I appreciate the frustration, but I’m grateful the Yellowhammer State went first. If Louisiana’s leaders pay attention to events in Alabama, the next week or two will be instructive when same-sex marriage is finally legalized here (most likely this summer).

The questions in Alabama are simple: After a federal judge has declared Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, will its leaders honor the rule of law or will they impose their religious beliefs on citizens in defiance of the Supreme Court? Do they believe human rights are a matter of prevailing public opinion and Biblical interpretation or do they recognize the primacy of the U.S. Constitution?

So far, the answers are mixed for a state that gave us momentous civil rights protests (Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham) and some of the nation’s most infamous racists (George Wallace and Bull Connor). Some Alabama officials have obeyed the federal order — a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay — and have awarded marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Earlier this past week, 19 of 67 counties were obeying the federal court.

In doing so, those officials disregarded Alabama’s Republican chief justice, Roy Moore, who prohibited the state’s probate judges from issuing those licenses.

Defiance of federal courts is Moore’s shtick. In 2003, his flouting of a federal court order prohibiting display of the Ten Commandments at the state’s judicial building got him bounced from the state’s Supreme Court. He clawed his way back onto the court in 2012 and is now itching for another dramatic showdown with the feds.

Moore may have most Alabamians with him on the question of whether the Bible sanctions gay marriage. That doesn’t mean those same citizens will ultimately affirm his brazen defiance of the rule of law. Any state wishing to attract jobs and tourists should probably be advertising its business climate and lovely beaches, not the bigotry and lawlessness of its chief justice and local officials.

That’s what Gov. Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, state legislators and parish clerks of court might consider before they imitate Moore. It’s what the various candidates for governor should ponder, as well, because the ultimate Supreme Court decision will come during this year’s race to replace Jindal.

It’s a safe bet that our gubernatorial debates will not feature high-minded discourse about the primacy of the Constitution. And Jindal, running for president, will demagogue this issue with relish (after all, we can’t let Alabama best us in football and interposition).

What those candidates and other public officials say and do will determine if Louisiana is viewed, like Alabama, as a state living in the pre-civil rights past or if it respects the law and resides in the 21st century.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

The concession speech Jindal won’t give, but which could salvage his legacy

Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.
Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.

By Robert Mann

Here’s how Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign will probably end: he will finish sixth or seventh in the Iowa caucuses about this time next year. Almost broke, he will forgo the New Hampshire primary (that state allows crossover voting, so he stands little chance there).

He will then limp into South Carolina. There, his dreams for the White House will meet their humiliating end. He will be crushed again. After a day or two, he will hold a press conference in Tallahassee (or Madison) in which he will throw his support and his zero delegates to Jeb Bush (or Scott Walker).

Jindal’s reputation, already in shreds in Louisiana because of his disastrous handling of the state’s finances, will sink to its lowest level. He’ll be out of office by then, so it won’t make much difference to voters who are celebrating the end of his wretched tenure. David Vitter or Jay Dardenne will be governor by then, working furiously to clean up the stinking fiscal mess that Jindal left behind.

The narrative about Jindal will be about what it is now, only almost every person in the state will ascribe to it: in hapless pursuit of the presidency, Jindal ignored Louisiana’s problems because the solutions to those problems conflicted with his national ambitions.

Jindal refused to lead and he allowed the state to go under. When the state needed him most, during the 2015 legislative session, he was never around. On rare occasions he appeared in Baton Rouge, his presence was a hindrance. He did nothing to help the state. Every Machiavellian move was made with Iowa and South Carolina in mind.

People will say that Jindal left Louisiana far worse than he found it. Many will say – and some of them will be prominent Republicans – that Jindal was the worst governor in Louisiana history.

The overriding narrative will be that Bobby Jindal sacrificed Louisiana on the altar of his presidential ambitions.

By March or April of 2016, Jindal will be back in Baton Rouge, living in temporary housing and sulking – trying to figure out what to do next with his life and career.

His political Svengali, Timmy Teepell – who is today telling him he has a real chance to win the GOP nomination – will be busy counting all the money he made off Jindal’s embarrassing, quixotic quest for the White House. (Smiling, Teepell will think to himself: “Dang, I was right. You can make a lot of money off a losing presidential campaign.”)

That’s one way Jindal’s presidential campaign can end – and it’s the most likely outcome.

But, there is another way Jindal could give up his presidential hopes.

This way would give him a chance to salvage something of his reputation and, more important, it might do some good for his state.

Jindal won’t take this route, of course, but if he did, it would transform his political stock, in Louisiana and beyond. While it wouldn’t earn him the presidential nomination, it could repair what’s left of his reputation in Louisiana and it might even make him a viable candidate for a cabinet post, if Bush or Walker should defeat Hillary Clinton in November 2016.

The scenario that Jindal will never choose would involve Jindal delivering a speech in the next week or two in the press conference room on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. During that press conference, Jindal would say something like this:

It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to be president and that I thought I had the qualifications for that difficult job.

Our country desperately needs a president who is willing to take on radical Islam, defeat it and send its murderous adherents straight to hell.

Our country needs a president who knows how to spark an economic rebirth in this country for the beleaguered middle-class.

Our country needs a president who can enact a responsible and effective health care plan.  Continue reading

Self-Parody: American Family Assn radio host attacks ‘Islamists’ for making ‘rules for everybody else’

Screen shot of Bryan Fischer, radio show host for the American Family Association
Screen shot of Bryan Fischer, radio show host for the American Family Association

By Robert Mann

As someone observed on Twitter Saturday night, “if you poke at hate enough with a stick, the hate will eventually pour out.” That is exactly what I had done earlier in the day after Bryan Fischer, host of a national radio show for the American Family Association, tweeted the following:

Fischer, you may recall, is a former senior executive of the American Family Association, the group that Gov. Bobby Jindal recruited last month to sponsor his controversial prayer rally at LSU. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the AFA a hate group. Last month, Fischer’s execrable statements about gays became such an embarrassment, the group  sacked him.

Jindal, however, has never denounced Fischer or the AFA and its hate speech. And, curiously, Fischer’s hateful attacks on gays were not loathsome enough to cost him his AFA-sponsored radio show.

So, when I saw Fischer’s tweet, I decided to poke him and see what might happen:

What followed was a remarkable exchange which surprised me, but which also proved my Twitter friend correct. If you poke at the hate, the hate will eventually pour out.

Read the entire exchange with Fischer at this link.

Are falling oil prices to blame for Jindal’s budget disaster?

By Robert Mann

To hear Gov. Bobby Jindal tell it, Louisiana’s projected $1.6 billion shortfall is due almost entirely to falling oil prices. In other words, it’s not his fault. Louisiana’s looming fiscal disaster is out of his control.

From the New York Times in a story published Friday:

In a phone interview, Mr. Jindal defended his record, attributing “the vast majority” of the shortfall to the downturn in oil prices and insisting that a shrunken state government was the goal, not an unfortunate side effect.

“Vast majority”? That would mean that Jindal claims more than $800 million of the anticipated shortfall for the next fiscal year is because of falling oil prices.

There is only one problem with Jindal’s story. Back in August 2014, fiscal experts were already projecting a massive, $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 10.34.33 AM

 

Here’s how the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the news in a story on Aug. 14:

Louisiana state lawmakers got their first glimpse Thursday of next year’s budget gap that they’ll have to close, and it’s another hefty shortfall: $1.2 billion.

The grim news, delivered to the joint legislative budget committee, barely raised eyebrows at the committee hearing, after more than six years of such disappointing financial forecasts.

The shortfall is projected for the 2015-16 fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers will decide in next year’s legislative session how to address the hole. Continue reading