David Vitter: Louisiana’s most feared Republican is now its most loathed | Salon.com

Sen. David Vitter
Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

It’s been an article of faith for almost two years in Louisiana that U.S. Sen. David Vitter would become the state’s next governor. Politicians and political observers here (this writer included) resigned themselves to the idea that the senior Republican senator would almost certainly succeed two-term Gov. Bobby Jindal, who steps down in January. Vitter aggressively leveraged that assumption to raise more than $10 million for his campaign and a supportive super PAC, which only added to the faith about his inevitability.

That Vitter would again loom so large in Louisiana politics would have been a ridiculous suggestion eight years ago, in the summer of 2007, when a prostitution scandal nearly ruined his career. Vitter apologized for his “serious sin.” Afterward, he focused on his Senate work and labored to redeem himself with constituents. His rehabilitation seemed complete in 2010 when he faced re-election and dispatched his Democratic opponent in a landslide.

Last year, Vitter began flexing his renewed political muscles. He prominently backed then-U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy against the state’s three-term Democratic U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu. Cassidy was a flawed candidate, but he had Vitter’s strong support and his former communications director running his campaign. Cassidy beat Landrieu handily in an election that became a referendum on President Obama. With Vitter’s help, Cassidy had vanquished the only remaining Democrat to hold statewide office in Louisiana.

Invigorated, Vitter began 2015 as the early favorite to replace Jindal, despite eventually drawing two prominent Republican opponents and a little-known Democratic challenger. Read more

Desperate for cash, Jindal tries to raise money off LSU football win

Gov. Bobby Jindal, his presidential campaign almost broke, desperately needs money. Just how desperate is Jindal for cash to keep his campaign alive?

He sent this email to supporters (and me) last night after LSU’s victory over Florida in Tiger Stadium.

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Let’s be clear: Jindal did not attend the LSU football game. His children were in attendance, but not with the governor.

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More important than Jindal’s subtle deception about his whereabouts on Saturday night was his troubling message: He takes LSU and its supporters for dupes.

Jindal essentially said to me (and his supporters): Why don’t you celebrate the football success of a university I tried to destroy by sending me $7.

I could write another two or three hundred words about the audacity and shamelessness of Jindal’s appeal. Instead, I invite you to simply re-read Jindal’s email.

And, then, maybe you’d like to send him something other than $7. A message, perhaps. If so, here’s his Twitter handle: @bobbyjindal.

Jindal responds to Lafayette theater shooting with hugs and shrugs

By Robert Mann

In the days after the deadly June shooting spree in Charleston, S.C., in which nine members of that city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church died, Gov. Bobby Jindal attacked President Barack Obama’s calls for stricter gun control laws as “completely shameful.”

Instead of doing something about the proliferation of guns and gun violence, Jindal offered only prayer and hugs. Anything else, he suggested, was inappropriate and overtly political. “Now is the time for prayer, now is the time for healing. As far as the political spectrum, this isn’t the time,” Jindal told reporters after a speech in Iowa, where he had begun his remarks by praying for the victims and their families.

“I think it was completely shameful,” Jindal said of Obama’s call for a national discussion about gun control. “Within 24 hours we’ve got the president trying to score cheap political points.”

Now that people have died in a mass shooting in his state — three dead and six injured at a movie theater in Lafayette on Thursday (July 23) — it was, again, not the time to talk about the problem of gun violence. On Thursday night, Jindal, who happened to be in Baton Rouge on a rare visit to Louisiana, rushed to Lafayette to offer prayers and hugs.

When it comes to doing something about the gun violence that afflicts Louisiana, Jindal also offers shrugs. In Jindal’s world, it’s never the right time to debate gun violence or talk about how government should address the problem. And with a mass shooting almost every week, it will never be time in Jindal’s estimation to talk about it. Only hugs and shrugs.

Jindal’s press secretary on Thursday night accused me of politicizing the situation. Among other things, I had taken to Twitter to suggest that Jindal’s sympathy for the victims and their families was cold comfort to a state for which he had done nothing to make us safer from gun violence. If anyone was politicizing the situation, it was Jindal and the NRA leaders he has shamelessly courted for so long.

On Thursday night, as many people were also praying for the victims and their families as they tucked their kids into bed, they also prayed that these deaths, for once, might not be in vain. Maybe this time, they prayed, political leaders like Jindal might be scandalized enough to do something. Maybe this time, they prayed, we might get more than hugs and prayers.

Jindal had every right – and maybe an obligation – to visit Lafayette, although rushing into the teeth of an active crime scene seemed more a distraction than a help just hours after the shooting. Perhaps he should have gone to the hospitals, instead, which he eventually did.

Jindal and his staff, however, have no right to tell the rest of us to park our First Amendment rights and remain silent about the scandal of gun violence while they remain free to defend their Second Amendment rights by attacking any suggestion of stronger gun control laws as “shameful” and badly timed.

Today is exactly the day we should talk about how to stop the violence. But the reason Jindal doesn’t want to talk about gun violence today – or any other day – is that his record is nothing but support for the NRA’s blood-soaked political agenda.

Jindal has opposed every sensible restriction on gun purchases. He’s slashed mental health services in Louisiana. He’s paraded around the country, filling his Twitter feed with odd photos of himself fondling various firearms.

Back home, meanwhile, his state leads the country in gun violence. And it took a mass shooting 60 miles from the Governor’s Mansion to finally stir him to talk to some of its victims? Jindal didn’t need to drive all the way to Lafayette to do that. Mere miles from where he rests his head on the rare occasion he’s in Baton Rouge, people are dying from gunshots almost every day.

Does Jindal ever go to the mean streets of north Baton Rouge or into the violent neighborhoods of New Orleans? Does he ever look into the sad eyes of kids who’ve lost fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to gun violence? Where are their hugs?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Louisiana Secretary of State refers potential website abuse by Jindal to Attorney General, District Attorney

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By Robert Mann

Here’s an update to this post from May 30, in which I shared my email to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office and my request that its Election Compliance Unit investigate Gov. Bobby Jindal for possibly using his official state website for unlawful political purposes.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler has referred the case to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore.

On May 27, Jindal issued a press statement, posted on his Governor’s Office website, attacking Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul as unfit to serve as president. Paul is a candidate for the GOP nomination.

The state Constitution and Louisiana law say: “No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization.” The prohibition has been placed in statute La. R.S. 18:1465 and the law spells out the potential penalty: “Whoever violates any provision of this Section shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars or be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not more than two years, or both.”

To be clear, Jindal is free to attack Paul as unfit to be president. He just cannot do so using his official Governor’s Office website. Jindal may also use his official website to critique Paul’s policy positions. Where he may have crossed the line was using his press secretary and his press office to say Paul, a candidate for president, is “unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief.”

I received on Monday copies of official referrals “for further investigation” by Schedler sent to Caldwell and Moore. The letters included not only my complaint but the opinion of state Inspector General Stephen Street, which was critical of Jindal’s official statement.

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With bizarre attack on Lincoln Chafee, Bobby Jindal has become Joaquin Phoenix.

Screenshot of Joaquin Phoenix on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in September 2010.
Screenshot of Joaquin Phoenix on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in September 2010.

By Robert Mann

Remember in 2009 when the actor Joaquin Phoenix began exhibiting bizarre behavior? He grew a wild beard, announced that he had left acting and said he was adopting a new career – as a rap artist. As one entertainment magazine speculated at the time:

The grumbly actor announced back in November that he was done with the acting game. He wanted to pursue a music career. Everyone assumed (or at least I did) that it would be some sort of Dogstar or Bacon Brothers-esque bar rock. But no . . . it was rap. Slurry, awful, heavily-bearded rap. And to add to the bizarroness of the whole thing, Phoenix’s brother-in-law, actor Casey Affleck, was following him around with a video camera, getting footage for some sort of “documentary.”

But now two people are telling E Dubs that it’s all an Andy Kaufman-ish bugaboo. One anonymous source tells them: “[Phoenix] said, ‘It’s a put-on. I’m going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it.” 

At the time, most entertainment journalists were perplexed by Phoenix’s behavior. Was it real? Was he really pursuing a music career? Or were we all being punked? Was it all a massive joke at our expense?

Phoenix’s weirdness finally peaked during a bizarre appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in September 2010.

Turns out, he was just joking. But for a while, many of us thought the act was for real.

Which brings me to the subject of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy for president on June 24.

On Thursday, it finally occurred to me: Jindal is the political equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix!

How else to explain his bizarre behavior over recent months? There was Jindal’s strange trip to Europe, including his odd appearance in London where he declared the existence of Muslim-dominated “no-go zones” that no one in Europe knew about and the locations of which Jindal refused to specify.

Before that, there was his strange embrace of West Monroe’s duck people, especially Phil Robertson, who almost cost the A&E show “Duck Dynasty” its future after his homophobic remarks were published in the winter of 2013.

Jindal rushed to Robertson’s defense with a strange misunderstanding of the First Amendment, seeming to suggest that private corporations did not have the right to reprimand or fire their employees for their offensive public comments.

Then, just last month, Jindal went even further into the deep end with an executive order giving businesses and government officials – even local officials – license to discriminate against gay couples. Bizarrely, Jindal said he did so in defense of “religious liberty.”

Then there’s Jindal’s strange man crush of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. At Norquist’s behest, Jindal has threatened to veto the entire state budget if the Legislature doesn’t pass a fraudulent college tax credit just so he can claim that the tax increases he signs are not actually tax increases.

Which, of course, they are.

Jindal and his aides urge passage of the farcical SAVE tax credit bill with a straight face

Until Thursday, however, I generally took Jindal’s candidacy at face value. I assumed he was really running for president – or at least for vice president or a cabinet position.  Read more

Former Louisiana budget director to next governor: ‘You are walking into a fiscal nightmare’

Embed from Getty ImagesBy Stephen Winham

“Figures don’t lie, but liars figure” – attributed to Mark Twain (and others)

Every day we are bombarded with numbers about our state and its finances. We are told one day there is a $1.6 billion structural deficit in Louisiana’s budget. A few days later, we are led to believe it is all but fixed – just a little tweaking and fiscal legerdemain at the end and we will be okay – for a little while, at least long enough for the governor to move on.

Gov. Bobby Jindal tells us the number of state employees has been reduced by more than 30,000, but we are not told how many of them (the vast bulk) are still being paid by the state via contracts with private companies. Not only that, we can’t find documentation among civil service or other official records to substantiate the 30,000 number itself. The governor also claims to have reduced the budget by 26 percent, but we can’t figure out how he came to that percentage either.

One day, we are told Gov. Kathleen Blanco left a $1.2 billion surplus that has now been squandered. The next day, we are told it was $800 million and that it wasn’t squandered. One day, we are told the budget is now and has always been in balance.

Then, we look at the governor’s own executive budgets and see financial statements clearly showing operating budget deficits in two of the three first years of the Jindal administration (and as recently as FY 2013-2014 – the last year the audited total is reported – when a subtle format change enabled use of the undesignated general fund balance to show a positive bottom line – more on this shortly).

We even read conflicting reports of the size of the budget. The state General Fund, on which the most focus was placed before we started “sweeping” dedicated funds, is one number. Total state funding from all sources is another, the total budget including federal funds is another and spending, including double-counts resulting from interagency transfers by individual departments, is yet another. All these numbers get reported at different times by different sources.

So, are we being lied to, or is that too strong a term? One thing is for sure – finding clear, consistent and unambiguous data about state finances is next to impossible.

Over a quarter of a century ago, state leaders agreed there was a need for one set of numbers upon which everybody could agree for things like how much revenue we could expect, how much spending could be expected to grow based on trend data, how many state employees there were, etc., etc.

After all, everybody was entitled to his or her own opinions, but there should be but one set of facts, right? Right, but has this become a reality? Obviously not.

Let’s take just one example of what I am talking about here – the Blanco surplus and what happened to it during the Jindal administration. Examining this one issue requires me to bombard you with even more numbers, but I hope you will see why this is necessary to make my point.

Many consider the best measure of the surplus for a given year the Undesignated Unreserved General Fund Balance shown on the balance sheet of governmental funds contained in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) prepared by the Division of Administration in accordance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board rules and audited by the legislative auditor. Read more

Shell game: Shouldn’t higher education leaders have more integrity than Bobby Jindal?

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By Robert Mann

What example do Louisiana’s higher education leaders set by promoting the deceit and chicanery that is the Student Assessment for a Valuable Education (SAVE) bill, supposedly created to rescue Louisiana’s higher education budget? What do they demonstrate with their eagerness to create a phantom fee that won’t be paid by anyone, but is designed only to help Gov. Bobby Jindal honor his no-tax-increase pledge?

Well, they are showing they believe that the ends justify the means. In other words, it’s acceptable to enable Jindal’s concoction of a dishonest financial scheme so long as the state’s universities raise the money needed to remain open this fall.

As explained in the Times-Picayune on Monday:

The governor is struggling to get a higher education tax credit through the Louisiana House. Without the measure, it will be very difficult to get the state budget in a position to comply with the ATR [Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform] guidelines. 

If adopted, the tax credit would cover a yet-to-be-established higher education student fee. The credit and the new fee would essentially cancel each other out, so the measure wouldn’t raise any new money for higher education. It also wouldn’t bring down the current cost of attending a public university for students.

“The bill, itself, doesn’t raise any money,” said Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Louisiana Legislature.

By supporting the SAVE bill, higher education leaders are telling us all – students, faculty and citizens – that they have no stomach for asking legislators and Jindal to do their jobs with honesty and integrity. They are saying, in effect, it’s fine to engage in an unseemly financial shell game to get your hands on some cash – but only if you really, really need it.

Instead of urging legislators to print Monopoly money to prevent Jindal from vetoing the state’s budget, higher education officials should ask legislators to behave as an independent, third branch of state government – and not a subsidiary of the Governor’s Office. Simply put, higher education leaders should demand that legislators to do their jobs – with integrity.

Would Jindal veto the state budget simply because this phony offset credit isn’t part of the plan? Would he let higher education crash because of his treasonous no-tax-increase pledge to Grover Norquist?

Perhaps, but that should be of no consequence to legislators. They could override his corrupt veto. Actually, they should be yearning for the opportunity to finally stand up to Jindal after cowering before him for almost eight years.

Our state’s leaders ought to be eager to show their constituents, and our state’s young people, that although they worry about the future of higher education, they also respect and care about the system’s integrity.

Thankfully, some legislators appear to have more integrity than higher education officials. They include House Ways and Means chair Joel Robideaux, Rep. John Bel Edwards (the House Democratic leader) and other lawmakers who are tired of subsidizing Jindal’s fantasy about living in the White House.

They all seem to agree with state Treasurer John Kennedy, who has called the SAVE bill “nonsense on a stick,” adding, “Is that the best we can do — come up with more smoke and mirrors? No rational person would come up with that policy.” Read more

Did Bobby Jindal really slash state spending by 26 percent? Not even close

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 Update: This post was written in late May. On Sunday, July 12, Jindal again asserted on “Fox News Sunday,” that “we have cut our state budget 26 percent, $9 billion.” Once again, the statement went unchallenged. Gov. Bobby Jindal on Sunday morning proved once more that the networks’ weekend morning “news” shows are nothing more than platforms for politicians to reprise their shopworn talking points and mendacities without challenge. This time, Jindal made the manifestly false claim that he has cut state spending by 26 percent. It’s an easy claim to disprove, which I’ll demonstrate. I know that declining ratings have forced media organizations like ABC to economize, but couldn’t they at least give George Stephanopoulos an unpaid intern or two to research a guest’s record before handing over five minutes of network airtime for that person to blather and twaddle? Or, did ABC forget to pay its cable bill last month? Maybe it had no Internet connection so George’s staff could not research and challenge the basics of Jindal’s prevarications. Lucky for you, I have paid my cable bill and still have access to amazing research tools, such as Google. First, let’s look at what Jindal said Sunday morning during his free campaign commercial, courtesy of ABC News. We’ll dip into the interview a couple minutes into Stephanopoulos’ questions about Jindal’s criticisms of Rand Paul and the Kentucky U.S. senator’s remarks about ISIS, which Jindal has attacked using his official press office. (In a press release, he declared Paul unqualified for president.)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Rand Paul’s team hiit back pretty hard at you this week, calling you a flip-flopper on Common Core, saying you’ve cratered your state’s economy and budget. Your response?

JINDAL: Well, look, we have cut our budget — we measure our success by the success of our people, not the success of government. George, we’ve cut our budget 26 percent, over 30,000 fewer state government employees. Our economy has grown twice as fast as the national economy, three times as fast. Job creation, look, I think the senator is a little sensitive. . . .

Let’s examine Jindal’s budget-cutting claim (I’ll address his other statements in a subsequent post). He said categorically that he has slashed state spending by 26 percent. Perhaps it is not entirely Stephanopoulos’ fault for accepting Jindal’s questionable statement without challenge. Jindal has made this claim often in recent years – and no one has (to my knowledge) asked him to prove it. In November 2014, Jindal appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said: “The reality is I was elected in Louisiana to make generational changes. 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.” A March 2015 op-ed in USA Today: “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.” In May 2015, he told the Washington Examiner: “In Louisiana we’ve cut our budget 26 percent, we’ve got 30,000 fewer state government employees than the day I took office.” The problem with all these statements is that they are patently false, as demonstrated by the records of Jindal’s own Division of Administration. It is also not true, as Jindal wrote in USA Today, that he has cut the state’s budget by $9 billion. cqmnB3 http://cf.datawrapper.de/cqmnB/2/ The 2007-08 budget that Jindal inherited from former Gov. Kathleen Blanco contained total expenditures of $28.59 billion, including $25.97 billion in general appropriations. That budget also included a surplus of $1.01 billion (which Jindal and legislators promptly spent during Jindal’s first year as governor.) Screenshot 2015-05-31 20.57.08 Jindal’s first full budget year, however, was the 2008-09 budget, which had $25.06 billion in total state expenditures, including $23.3 billion in general appropriations. Screenshot 2015-05-31 21.14.09 Read more

Radical ALEC nullification bill set for vote in Louisiana Senate committee on Tuesday

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By Robert Mann

In my latest column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, I wrote about how Gov. Bobby Jindal has morphed into a “nullifier.” That is, someone who believes that the states can nullify and void federal laws and federal court rulings which state officials, in their wisdom, believe are unconstitutional.

Jindal and these modern-day nullifiers do not recognize the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, nor do they honor the Supreme Court’s authority to interpret the Constitution, as established in the landmark 1803 Court decision, Marbury vs. Madison.

Among other things, I wrote:

Plunging Jindal even deeper into the realm of nullifier is his endorsement of the “Convention of the States Project,” which advocates a constitutional convention “to return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government.” Among other things, the project aims to halt “power grabs of the federal courts” and impose terms limits on Supreme Court justices.

One of Jindal’s allies, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association — which sponsored Jindal’s recent prayer rally at LSU — has forcefully challenge the court’s authority. “Any ruling from any federal court that imposes domestic policy on a state is by its very nature unconstitutional, and no governor has any obligation to obey it,” Fischer wrote last year.

What I did not know at the time I wrote this column is that the Louisiana Legislature is poised to approve legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 2 (HCR 2) that would endorse just such a “Convention of the States.” It is clearly a blatant attempt by radical, right-wing legislators across the country (this bill is literally out of the ALEC handbook) to begin the process of undermining an expected Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

This extreme legislation passed the state House on May 6 by a vote of 60-28. (See the roll call at this link.)

Here is the text of the resolution: Read more

The intolerable cost of America’s gun violence

By Robert Mann

When I saw the quote, I thought it was a parody from The Onion, the satirical online “news” organization, which features fake stories like, “U.S. Encouraging Cuba To Shift Toward Democratic System Of Corruption.”

Unfortunately, this story was real. The Guardian reported that Gov. Bobby Jindal, while speaking recently to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Nashville, called the NRA the nation’s “most effective civil rights organization.”

A politician in full pander mode is an impressive sight – that is if one is impressed by the nonsense and mendacities common to Jindal’s speeches. On this day, Jindal was at his rhetorical best – if, by “best,” one means, “I will utter whatever claptrap the audience to which I am speaking craves.”

“The same liberal extremists that want to come take our guns are the same forces that want to take away our religious liberty,” Jindal told the adoring NRA crowd.

The NRA, of course, demands unreserved fealty to its perverse interpretation of the Second Amendment. It should rename it “The Amendment,” the only portion of the Bill of Rights it seems to respect. Well, except for the portion of the First Amendment that mentions “freedom of religion,” which Jindal and the NRA leadership apparently regard as the right to worship their firearms. When Jindal speaks about God and guns, he is redundant.

The irony of Louisiana’s governor preaching the Gospel of Gunpowder and Lead is appalling. According to a recent analysis of data obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, no state has a higher gun violence rate than Louisiana. The Violence Policy Center examined that data (from 2013) and concluded “that states [like Louisiana] with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation.”

Once again, Louisiana leads a list of shame. Busy pretending that he has transformed his state into a southern Utopia, Jindal has done nothing to address Louisiana’s gun violence epidemic. Instead, in Nashville, he attacked President Barack Obama and his allies, who he claims believe gun owners are “dumb rubes or dumber still because we cling bitterly to our guns and our religion.”

As a Christian and the owner of several firearms, I don’t regard church-going gun owners as rubes. Jindal, however, does. Despite what he and other fear mongers say, the policies most gun-control advocates support don’t involve taking away guns from any law-abiding citizen.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.