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).
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