When higher education officials were scrambling to figure out whether they would need a seed loan to cover cash-flow payments, Gov. Bobby Jindal was in New York attending a meeting of the Republican Governor’s Assoc. The following day, when the Appropriations Committee passed a $75 million supplemental bill to re-balance the current fiscal year budget, he was in Florida speaking to the American Federation for Children.
It’s just the latest in a long line of absences and reaches for national influence that a recent article from The Lens suggested were watering down Jindal’s effectiveness as governor.
The online publication isn’t alone; in recent weeks, practically every major newspaper in Louisiana has published a story either about the Legislature flying solo this session or the governor missing his cues back home.
Yet if you look at Jindal’s poll numbers, and you believe the news coverage, they seem to suggest that the less the governor does, the better he looks politically.
His job approval is steadily increasing during his least active year in office. From a March, 2013, nadir of 38 percent job approval and 60 percent disapproval, the governor has rebounded to 48 percent approval and 51 disapproval in a survey of 600 likely voters taken four weeks ago by Southern Media and Opinion Research. The poll was financed by a group of poll subscribers, said partner Bernie Pinsonat.
The difference between a year ago and now, according to Pinsonat, is what Jindal hasn’t been doing.
“He kind of climbed back out of the hole he dug with two things, the hospital cuts and — something self-inflicted — he was getting shellacked on his sales tax increase,” the pollster said. “He got back some white Democrats and women. Even some Republican women were giving him a ‘not-so-good.’”
Last year’s Southern Media poll was taken during Jindal’s most ambitious but also most unpopular initiative — his plan to repeal income taxes by raising the sales tax and extending it to services, which had many small businesses up in arms. After dumping that lead weight on his popularity, the governor was barely involved in the rest of that session, and has been even less engaged in the current one that ends June 2.
“He can’t pass anything (controversial), so why go start a fight and get that criticism?” said Pinsonat.
Despite expressing reservations over the Common Core school standards he once backed, which gives moral support to its conservative critics, Jindal has largely stayed out of that fray and not alienated business allies who have defended the program.
Meanwhile his staff is working closely with big oil’s allies in the Legislature to thwart the massive coastal damages lawsuit brought by the Orleans-area flood protection authority, while he stays in the background.
Over the past year, Jindal also restored some public confidence in his management of the charity hospital system after reduced federal funding forced sudden and steep cuts. “The cuts to hospitals were very unpopular,” said Pinsonat.
Between the two annual spring polls conducted by Southern Media, the administration relieved some of those concerns by putting in place the private partnerships to take over management of the public hospitals. It’s important to note the recent federal rejection of the state’s hospital financing plan came days after the recent poll was taken.
Jindal’s adamant refusal to accept the expansion of Medicaid might have hurt his job approval more but for an assist from the Koch brothers, the billionaire industrialists behind Americans for Prosperity. The long-running, hard-hitting commercials blasting U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu over the Affordable Care Act have bolstered support for Jindal’s position on the expansion. By 48-44 percent, SMOR poll respondents opposed the expansion. They favored the repeal of the ACA by 54-43 percent.
Pinsonat sees little hope of Jindal rising again to the 62 percent approval rate he enjoyed shortly before his 2011 re-election, especially after his fights with teacher unions over his education agenda and with state employees over his privatization push.
But few governors who advance controversial measures can maintain 60 percent popularity for six years.
For the purposes of his national ambitions, it’s important for Jindal to keep his head above ground at home.
NRSC Gets Behind Cassidy
The Republican Parish Executive Committee of Terrebonne recently gave its nod to Congressman Bill Cassidy. The committee was the fundraising group that was created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee for Cassidy’s campaign.
The GOP Victory Fund 2014 is a joint venture that’s also working with the U.S. Senate campaigns of Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Steve Daines in Montana and Cory Gardner in Colorado.
The fund is another sign that the Republican Party is eager to get behind Cassidy, despite there being two other Republicans in the race. As reported by LaPolitics in March, there’s already a push underway by members of the Republican State Central Committee to give Cassidy the endorsement and possibly lead a drive among party leaders.
“It turns out the NRSC is not even bothering to wait,” said a source, adding that it’s behavior is a way to “haul in national money.”
The new fund is set up to collect contributions, pay for fundraising expenses and then disburse net proceeds to the Cassidy campaign as it attempts to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu this fall.
Batter Up In D.C.
Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, might not be king of the Hill, but he can certainly claim to be king of the diamond. In last year’s congressional baseball game, he pitched seven shutout innings; had four hits; and drove in two runs home to help the Dems capture a 22-0 upset over the GOP in one of the most memorable games in the event’s history.
Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, also plays in the game, which is scheduled for June 25 at Nationals Park this year.
Both men, though, will be joined in uniform next month by a true rookie: Congressman Vance McAllister, R-Swartz. While he may not run for re-election, especially in the wake of the scandal that exposed — on video — his affair with a married staffer, Republican ballplayers are surely hoping he can at least run the bases.