Walter Pierce

re: Will the real Bobby please stand up

by Walter Pierce

Getting to know our governor is like cozying up to a porcupine Who the heck does Bobby Jindal think he is? I’d like to know, because I have no idea who he is. The intellectual policy wonk working hard to clean up Louisiana politics — appearances be damned — or just an ambitious politician using his home state as a means to an end, namely the White House? His birth name is Piyush, but he calls himself Bobby. An Indian-American — an overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning demographic — he’s a conservative Christian Republican. Who is this guy, really?

Off and on he’s beginning to look like a one-termer.

He certainly had “four years and done” written all over him a couple of weeks ago when four former governors — Kathleen Blanco, Mike Foster, Buddy Roemer and Dave Treen — descended on Baton Rouge to lobby for higher education. It was an intervention, these elders stepping in, and Jindal, squirming in the background, seemed sufficiently humbled.

Even fellow members of the Grand Old Party in Louisiana have at times been so beside themselves with Jindal they’ve openly violated one of the Gipper’s central tenets: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. They’re not just speaking ill, they’re tearing him the proverbial new one.

Yet many observers expected Jindal to get more roughed up than he has in this session, considering the bad taste in many lawmakers’ mouths after the pay-raise veto last year, not to mention Jindal’s “do as I say, not as I do” stance on ethics reform. State lawmakers and appointed members of boards and commissions are now subject to some rigorous ethical standards. But the same do not apply to the governor. Bobby Jindal’s administration remains the most opaque, the most impervious to sunlight, in these glorious states united. Last year he vetoed on technical grounds a bill that would have tracked political appointees who were also campaign contributors. This year, with the same bill retooled and humming, he outright opposed it.

One suspects that when Timmy Teepell twisted the wind-up mechanism in Jindal’s back and he marched mechanically from behind the staircase in the governor’s mansion and into national embarrassment for his much-mocked response to President Obama’s speech to Congress early this spring — blank-eyed, flat-toned and programmed with the flaccid axioms of Reaganism — PiyushCo saw a horizon sparkling with unimpeded ascent. That was then. But volcanoes, like public perception, must be monitored.

Somehow, some way, Louisiana has gone in 20 years from a $4 billion state budget to a $29 billion state budget, with a population that has remained essentially flat and human-welfare ratings that have remained at the bottom nationwide. And Jindal, like Bush, inherited a surplus and will leave office — whether he’s a one-termer or wins a second term —  with a state in dire straits. Like Bush, he has spent a lot of time away from the office. But it’s not to the bramble-clearing sanctuary of Crawford; it’s to out-of-state fundraisers and speaking engagements.

Jindal insists his aspirations are parochial. But it just doesn’t square with his actions. Clearly the man has ambition, and who can begrudge him that? But if governance of Louisiana is merely a stepping stone, beware the slippery slope.