Some questions for candidates who use faith as a campaign issue

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By Robert Mann

Like it or not, it’s now widely accepted that running for public office means not only sharing one’s policy ideas but also professing a deep and abiding faith in God and, usually, Jesus Christ. The Republican presidential candidates each declare they are Christians. For some, that declaration is a regular feature of their stump speeches, pitched as a qualification for higher office.

Look at the polls, and it’s easy to understand why. The Pew Research Center found that 68 percent of evangelicals said political leaders should talk more about their faith. Too many voters are easy marks for slick politicians with a prayer and emotional story about their decision to follow Jesus. As for me, I’m more skeptical. If these candidates ask us to vote for them in part because they are people of faith, aren’t we at least entitled to know how that faith influences their policies?

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who often shares his conversion story with audiences, is among the most vocal in professing his Christian faith. At a prayer rally on the LSU campus last January, Jindal took it a step further. He called for a national spiritual revival. “We can’t just pass a law to fix what ails our country,” Jindal told the evangelical crowd. “We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country.” Jindal, presumably, hopes to lead that renewal.

But back to our original question: Assuming that Jindal and the rest are Christians, how much should that matter to us? And what does it mean, in a political context, to profess, “I am a follower of Christ”?

In other words, it’s fine that Jindal found his Christian faith as a teenager after reading a Bible by flashlight in his closet, but what does that tell us about how he lives his faith today? And what, exactly, does Jindal believe his faith obligates him to do as he leads the country’s spiritual revival? We know how Jindal’s Christian faith informs his opinions about same-sex marriage and abortion, but what about matters of justice and attitudes toward the poor, two themes Jesus emphasized above almost all others?

Because Jindal and fellow candidates aggressively tout their Christianity, voters also have every right to question their devotion to two central tenants of the Christian faith long accepted by scripture and tradition — our sacred obligation to the poor and oppressed.

If a candidate brags, “I’m a believer in smaller government and balanced budgets,” it’s reasonable to ask, “Well, then, let’s examine your budgets. Show us the evidence.”

In the same way, when Jindal or another candidate implies that he is qualified because of his faith, it’s fair to respond, as the Apostle James did in his epistle, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

The evidence thus far indicates that Jindal is a follower of Jesus, selectively. He seems to care much about piety (something Jesus detested) but less about those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” He talks about his conversion but rarely, if ever, about how God has prompted him to care for the poor, the disabled, the sick, the immigrant and the victim of injustice.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Jindal wrong about law he says would have stopped Houser from buying gun

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By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that if Lafayette theater shooter John Russell Houser had been involuntarily committed in Louisiana, that information would have been “automatically reported” to the national background check system and he would not have allowed to purchase a gun.

Jindal’s statement is not true. Louisiana law does not require private gun sellers (including those selling firearms at gun shows) to perform a background check before selling a handgun.

In his interview, Jindal told host John Dickerson:

Here in Louisiana, we actually passed tougher laws a couple of years ago, so that, for example, if Houser had been involuntarily committed here in Louisiana, that information would automatically — we would have reported that to the national background check system. He shouldn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun; he wouldn’t have been able to go into that pawnshop and buy that gun, as he did in another state. Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure the systems we have in place actually work.

Like I said, in Louisiana, we toughened our laws a couple of years ago. If he had been involuntarily committed here, if he had tried to buy that gun here, he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that.

Jindal is correct that Louisiana did pass such a law, House Bill 717, in 2013. The problem is that this law contains a massive loophole — the private-gun-sale exemption. The law certainly makes it a crime for someone like Houser to own the gun. But it would not have stopped him from buying a weapon at a gun show or from another private seller because there is no background check required in such cases.

Jindal is also wrong about gun sales being automatically reported to the federal gun database. Private gun sales are not covered by this law.

Here’s what the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says about Louisiana law on gun sales and background checks:

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) [emphasis added] to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.) Continue reading

Jindal’s bad bet: He focused on Iowa, not Louisiana

By Robert Mann

It’s a good bet that our next governor will work hard to distinguish himself from Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose stewardship of the state is widely regarded as unsuccessful, at best, and a disaster, at worst.

Outperforming Jindal, however, is a low bar. Just put the best interests of Louisiana’s people over those of Iowa or South Carolina – and don’t steer the state into virtual bankruptcy – and you’ll have bested Jindal by a mile.

Assuming the Governor’s Office will no longer be a presidential operation, it still won’t be an easy job to guide Louisiana government out of its fiscal mess. But if our new governor wakes up every day thinking of Louisiana, not Iowa, he can begin moving us in the right direction.

Jindal and his advisers clearly thought it wise to use his position as a platform for political stunts. They focused on making national news and flirted with conservative voters in early primary states. Judging by the polls, that strategy flopped. Jindal not only drove Louisiana into a ditch; the politicization of his office has so far yielded him little or nothing. He – and we – got the worst of both worlds.

Perhaps running your state with an emphasis on the well-being of your citizenry and balancing the books without legerdemain isn’t enough to win the affection of GOP voters. But if you’re going to base your presidential campaign on the management of your state’s affairs, you need some tangible accomplishments, not just talking points.

Jindal is in the uneasy position of praying that his poll numbers rise but likely fearing that if they do, national reporters will descend on Baton Rouge and discover his fetid pile of fiscal fertilizer.

I don’t know if he has a better chance than Jindal, but if I were running for president, I’d rather be Ohio Gov. John Kasich, now the 16th Republican candidate in GOP field.

A veteran member of Congress and former chair of the House Budget Committee (he ran the committee the last time the federal budget was balanced), Kasich is equal parts effectiveness and compassion. He’s a fiscal hawk who balanced Ohio’s budgetwhile cutting taxes.

Jindal also cut taxes but did so ineptly. Then, faced with massive deficits, he stuffed his budgets with staggering amounts of one-time money and slashed university budgets. When the one-time money ran out and a $1.6 billion shortfall loomed, he raised taxes by $750 million. A $1 billion shortfall awaits his successor. Jindal’s disgraceful budgetary record will not survive the slightest scrutiny from journalists or GOP fiscal hawks.

While Jindal refused to take Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act, which would transform the lives of Louisiana’s working poor, Kasich took another route. He initially opposed the health care act, and still wants to repeal it, but has bent to reality and expanded Medicaid in Ohio.

Unlike Jindal, however, Kasich believes government should help the working poor. “You reach out to help people,” Kasich insists. “All are made in the image of God and deserve a chance to be what we are meant to be.” Jindal, by contrast, opposed Medicaid expansion, belittling the poor as freeloaders. “Soon there will be more people riding in the cart than people pulling the cart,” Jindal wrote in 2013. (Jindal also confronted Kasich about Medicaid expansion last spring in a closed-door meeting, accusing him of “hiding behind Jesus.”)

Kasich’s compassionate, practical approach to governing made the Ohio Republican a better governor than Jindal by any objective standard; it might also make him a stronger presidential candidate than Jindal, who boasts of phantom accomplishments (for example, Jindal has not, as he brags, cut Louisiana’s budget 26 percent).

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Bobby Jindal isn’t going to be the GOP nominee, so what’s he really running for?

Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC's
Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on ABC’s “This Week” on May 31, 2015.

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal is stuck at 1 percent or less in almost every national poll. Everything he’s tried over the past year to woo Republicans in Iowa and elsewhere has flopped or been largely ignored. Indeed, Jindal’s chances of capturing the Republican nomination for president in 2016 appear to be the same as my hopes of winning a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana Republican Party.

Then again, there’s always the possibility that his car might break down on the way to a candidate debate at the very moment a meteor strikes the auditorium and wipes out the GOP field. Alas for Jindal, according to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, the threat of a large meteor hitting the Earth any time soon is non-existent.

Oh, and he’s probably not going to be invited to the debate, anyway.

So, what’s Jindal’s game? He knows as well as you and me that he won’t be the GOP nominee. So what’s he really running for? Running mate to the eventual nominee? A spot on a Fox News show? Leadership of a Washington think tank or advocacy group?

Whatever is that Jindal wants, it’s safe to say that presidential campaigns – even some of the worst ones – are rarely harmful to the candidate’s bottom line.

Running for president clearly gains failed candidates some stature among a decent part of the populace who are impressed this kind of thing. I, for example, would be quite impressed if you told me you played one season in Major League Baseball — even if you hit .155 and only started five games.

In that way, Jindal is in the big leagues, sort of – but he probably won’t last long and he’ll be lucky if he ever starts a game.

Beyond the stature of forever being known as “a former candidate for president,” there’s the general fame that comes with being a contender in our quadrennial presidential pageant. Even a losing candidate can earn significant name recognition. In 2012, then-U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former pizza magnate Herman Cain took turns at the top of the presidential polls before fading or, in Cain’s case, collapsing.

There are, of course, the exceptions that prove the rule: David Duke ran for president in 1992 and later found himself in a federal prison. And former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ post-campaign life was embroiled in disgrace and a costly fight to stay out of federal prison.

That said, Bachmann, Cain and, now, Donald Trump have proven you don’t have to be a serious candidate for president to derive something lucrative from the process. In the United States, fame and whatever stature comes from competing for president is a form of currency – and the losing candidates have rarely failed to cash in after they’ve dropped out.

After he bombed in 2012, Cain briefly got his own national radio show and then became a Fox News contributor. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman didn’t fare so well in the GOP primaries, but he landed on his feet and now serves as chair of a prestigious foreign affairs think tank, the Atlantic Council. Continue reading

National press lets Bobby Jindal get away with his big lies about Louisiana’s budget

Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on "Fox News Sunday," July 12, 2015
Screenshot of Gov. Bobby Jindal on “Fox News Sunday,” July 12, 2015
By Robert Mann

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants you to know, if elected president, he’s qualified to take on the federal budget because he slashed his state’s taxes and spending during his almost eight years as governor.

Touting his presidential bona fides on Fox News, Jindal fended off host Bret Baier’s skeptical questions about Louisiana’s dreadful fiscal condition by bragging about his budgetary achievements. “We have balanced our budget eight years in a row without raising taxes,” Jindal said. “Largest tax cut in our state’s history. Income tax cut. Secondly, we have cut our state budget 26 percent, $9 billion.”

If you’re a potential GOP caucus-goer in Iowa, or a primary voter in New Hampshire or South Carolina, that probably sounds rather appealing.

The only problem is it’s not within a mile of the truth.

While Jindal did slash income taxes on middle-income and wealth individuals during his first year as governor, those cuts blew an annual $800 million hole in the state’s budget. During almost every year of Jindal’s two terms, the state has careened from one fiscal crisis to another. To close the recurring revenue gap, Jindal also slashed spending on higher education, more than any other state but Arizona.

In truth, Jindal ended most fiscal years with what Moody’s Investors Service called a “structural” budget deficit, meaning that he balanced the books only after raiding various trust funds –   money intended for specific purposes, not for balancing the state’s general fund – and by selling off state assets.

For example, Jindal’s 2014-15 fiscal year budget ended with a $141 million structural deficit and contained almost $1 billion in one-time money. Jindal’s final budget has $636 million in non-recurring revenue.

This from the man who once compared balancing the budget with one-time money to “using your credit card to pay your mortgage.”

All his fiscal mismanagement finally caught up with Jindal during the state’s 2015 legislative session. To close a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall – which would have devastated higher education and health care – Jindal agreed to increase a variety of taxes by about $720 million during this year’s legislative session.

Inexplicably, however, Jindal still clings to the absurd claim that he never increased taxes. His former chief of staff, now head of the state’s major business organization, strongly disagrees, as does the Louisiana Chemical Association, which is suing the state over what it says are Jindal’s unconstitutional utility tax increases.

Perhaps that’s why Jindal constantly throws up his 26 percent budget cut smoke screen. Whatever you can say about his disastrous fiscal stewardship of Louisiana, Jindal will remind you that he slashed state spending by 26 percent.

In November 2014, Jindal appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said: “Look at what we’ve done in Louisiana. So now, we’ve cut our state budget 26 percent, cut the number of state employees 34 percent.”

March 2015 op-ed in USA Today, Jindal wrote, “Our state budget is nearly $9 billion smaller, with over 30,000 fewer state workers, than when we took office in 2008.”

In March 2015, he told CNBC’s John Harwood: “We’ve cut the size of government 26 percent.” The same month, according to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, “Jindal touted his conservative credentials Friday, saying he’s cut state government 26 percent, largely by eliminating 30,000 government jobs.”

Continue reading at Salon.com at this link.

Should Jindal and Vitter make taxpayers fund their campaigns?

By Robert Mann

They claim to be ethical watchdogs and fiscal conservatives – fierce guardians of the public purse. So, why do Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter spend so much tax money to fund their political endeavors?

Rarely in Louisiana while running for president, Jindal has used the governor’s office as a platform for higher office for almost eight years. Vitter, meanwhile, is staging U.S. Senate-funded events that benefit his gubernatorial campaign, otherwise known as “field hearings” of his Small Business Committee.

First, however, consider the many ways Jindal has drawn from the state treasury to finance his political operation. Virtually every action, every decision, every bill and every public statement during his two terms as governor has been crafted to appeal to Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. As I’ve observed before, his operation has always been a presidential campaign disguised as a governor’s office.

Ask some of his erstwhile GOP allies at the state Capitol, and they’ll acknowledge that Louisiana has usually been among the least of Jindal’s concerns. Repeatedly, he’s sacrificed the state’s well-being on the altar of his national political ambitions.

Recent case in point: Jindal’s support of legislation giving businesses a license to discriminate against same-sex couples clearly threatened Louisiana’s convention and tourism industry. But it played well with the Christian right in Iowa and South Carolina, so he supported it (and turned much of it into a blatantly political executive order).

Most egregiously, Jindal uses the state’s working poor as pawns so he can fulminate against the Affordable Care Act on the campaign trail. Does anyone think Jindal would have rejected Medicaid expansion if he weren’t burning with presidential ambition? The truth is, Jindal long ago quit worrying about Louisiana – and it shows. Arecent statewide poll pegged Jindal with a dreadful 25 percent job approval rating.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jindal rarely does the job for which we pay him. Since he announced for president on June 24, he has spent one day in Louisiana (and that was to use our Governor’s Mansion as part of a fundraiser for his presidential campaign).

In addition to paying him for duties he rarely performs – Jindal was away on political trips 165 days in 2015, or 45 percent of the year – he uses public resources to make his travel easier by charging the State Police for his security. Trust me, we’re paying for far more than Jindal’s safety. Governors rely upon the State Police as much or more for arranging and facilitating their travel than for personal protection.

In the last fiscal year alone, Louisiana paid more than $2.2 million for Jindal’s “security” detail during his far-flung travels — $73,000 alone during his 10-day “trade mission” to Europe in January.

Jindal also has a habit of using his press office as a campaign organ, deploying official state workers to issue statements attacking other GOP candidates. Speaking of staff, Jindal loaded up his official office with what blogger Tom Aswell has called “campaign-workers-turned-state-employees.” It’s likely he placed these staffers on the state’s payroll, not for their policy expertise, but “parked” them until campaign time.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Poll: Louisiana governor’s race still looks like a Vitter-Edwards runoff

By Robert Mann

Despite media reports to the contrary – and claims by the gubernatorial campaign of Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle – it does not appear that the dynamics of Louisiana governor’s race have shifted much, if at all.

That’s the conclusion of a statewide poll conducted in May by respected LSU alumni Verne Kennedy. Kennedy’s firm, Market Research Insight, is conducting a series of private polls this summer and fall for a group of Louisiana business executives. With the permission of the poll’s sponsors, Kennedy gave me the poll, including the internal numbers, or “cross tabs.” (I wrote about this in my current column on NOLA.com | Times-Picayune.

Contrary to Angelle’s claim, the race still appears to be headed toward a runoff between Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite.

The Ouachita Citizen obtained Kennedy’s numbers, but appears to have reported them incompletely and in the most favorable light possible for Angelle.

In the horse-race survey of the four major candidates, Angelle does appear, at first blush, to have surged into third place ahead of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Angelle was at 18 percent (combining his 10 percent with the 8 percent who said they were “leaning” toward him). The combined totals for the candidates (“for” plus “lean”) were: Vitter, 31 (23 + 8); Edwards, 20 (15 + 5); Angelle 18 (10 + 8); and, Dardenne, (8 + 5).

However, Kennedy did what any smart pollster who knows Louisiana politics would do: He redistributed the black vote to reflect longstanding, historical voting patterns. In other words, he recognizes that Edwards is likely to get the vast majority of the state’s black vote (assuming no prominent black candidate enters the race).

In major, contested statewide races for decades, the Democratic candidate has almost always earned more than 90 percent of the black vote. For example, in last year’s U.S. Senate primary, former Sen. Mary Landrieu earned 94 percent of the black vote. There is no reason to expect that Edwards will do any worse than 90 percent of the black vote, which is why Kennedy redistributed those votes.

Keep in mind, this poll was not originally intended for public release. Kennedy’s role is to give his clients the best possible insights into what the numbers mean and their implications for the race. He released the numbers to me hoping to clear up what he believes is a mischaracterization of the poll by the Angelle campaign.

The Ouachita Citizen and Angelle’s campaign reported Kennedy’s numbers before the redistribution. After the black vote is redistributed to reflect reality, the race looks more like this:

Vitter            29

Edwards      29

Angelle         17

Dardenne    12

Uncertain    13

In other words, according to Kennedy’s May poll, Angelle was nowhere near overtaking Edwards for a runoff spot with Vitter.

The fact that Kennedy only polled one runoff scenario (Vitter vs. Edwards) also appears to reflect the pollster’s strong belief that neither Dardenne or Angelle will make the runoff. (I have previously reflected on the volatility of Louisiana governor’s races, but for now we will assume that Kennedy’s apparent judgment is sound.) Continue reading