By Robert Mann
When I travel a great deal, as I did this spring, I’m not fully part of my family’s rhythms. It’s hard to gauge just how the children are doing in a 10-minute conversation with my wife at the end of a frantic day. The kids, normally chatty, rarely talk much by phone.
As our inveterate traveling governor, Bobby Jindal, has learned, there’s really no substitute for staying home. When you’re away, you lose touch with your people.
Perhaps that explains why Jindal doesn’t know better than to side with big oil in the legal dispute over the oil industry’s liability for its damage to Louisiana’s coast. If you’re rarely around and not talking to your constituents, you might not feel the anger toward the oil companies – especially in southeastern Louisiana – following the BP spill.
When you’re busy collecting and counting campaign checks (the oil industry has given him more than $1 million in the past ten years), it’s easy to forget that the people living along the coast have adopted a slightly new way of looking at the oil industry.
We still recognize the oil industry’s importance to our economy, but we also know all too well that the same industry can also harm us. Jindal may not yet understand it, but it’s clear that Louisiana’s citizens want the industry to repair their damage to our coast.
Another survey – this one of just coastal Louisiana residents — showed that, by a 74 percent to 21 percent margin, residents do not want state government intervening to stop the suits.
But coastal restoration isn’t the only area where Jindal has lost touch with his people.
Before he won reelection in 2011, Jindal spent most Sundays on his State Police helicopter, flying to churches across north Louisiana. Now, however, his presidential aspirations leave him no time for such visits. He’s too busy flying to places like Iowa, New Hampshire and Arizona.
Perhaps that explains why Jindal and his consigliere and former chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, thought it wise to engineer the sudden retirement of 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander and replace him with a close ally, state Sen. Neil Riser.
A funny thing happened on the way to Riser’s coronation. The voters had some insane notion that they, not Jindal and Teepell, should choose their congressman.
So, they did what voters often do when the political insiders pull a fast one – they rebelled. They overwhelmingly chose Riser’s opponent, Vance McAllister, a 39-year-old business owner with no previous political experience.
That campaign revealed yet another area where Jindal is out of touch. While the state’s voters clearly don’t like what they’ve seen so far of the Affordable Care Act, the polling suggests they do think Jindal should take federal money to expand Medicaid for the state’s working poor.
Teepell thought he had this issue figured out, which explains why he persuaded Riser to make the election a referendum on Medicaid expansion. No doubt to Teppell’s and Riser’s dismay, the voters voted overwhelmingly for McAllister, the candidate who called on Jindal to accept the Medicaid funds.
A few months ago, I predicted that Jindal’s presidential campaign will never get off the ground because he is an awful candidate with a propensity for face plants. I wrote:
Ever since revealing a burning desire for a role on the national stage, he’s mostly reenacted various versions of a Wile E. Coyote impression. Jindal seeks attention, presents what he thinks is a supremely clever speech or column and, Boom!, the whole thing blows up. Smoking and hair singed, he slinks back to Baton Rouge to plot his next humiliating appearance before another befuddled audience.
That smoke you might see rising from the Governor’s Mansion these days isn’t a roaring fire in Jindal’s living room. It’s actually the smoldering embers of Jindal’s and Teepell’s latest brilliant idea – rigging the 5th District congressional race.
If you’re a governor in touch with your electorate, you simply don’t engage in stupid, risky exploits like that.
So, Gov. Coyote slinks away once more, this time presumably to contemplate the recent SMOR poll which showed that he remains the least popular statewide elected official in Louisiana. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed gave him a negative job performance rating.
And that brings us back to Neil Riser.
When he’s not serving as handmaiden to the National Rifle Association in the state Senate, Riser’s real job is as funeral director to the good people of Columbia.
In that role, he may be useful to our governor, yet.
After Jindal’s debacle in the northeast Louisiana congressional race, an undertaker is what he may need to provide a proper burial for what’s left of his influence in Louisiana.