Grading Jindal’s first year in office

January 5, 2009

Gov. Bobby Jindal has completed his first year in office, and there’s no better source for careful scrutiny of Jindal’s true record than the Capitol press corps. In three separate year-in-review pieces (from Gannett’s Mike Hasten, and Mark Ballard and Michelle Millhollon of The Advocate), a common theme emerges: the jury’s still out on Jindal’s much-ballyhooed “ethics reform,” and our governor’s salesmanship alone won’t be enough in 2009. With a $359 million budget deficit and tough decisions ahead regarding Louisiana’s health care system, among other challenges, Jindal is going to have to, well, actually govern.

Some highlights, beginning with Hasten’s piece:

C.B. Forgotston, a political watchdog who is not shy with his criticism, said he awards Jindal an A in public relations because “he has done an outstanding job promoting himself.”

But on job performance, “I give him a D. I don’t see any great improvement to the state. I don’t know of anything that’s really being accomplished, other than Bobby Jindal promoting himself.”

Forgotston questions the governor’s claims of reducing government and spending when the number of state employees grew by 2,700 and spending in this year’s budget increased 12 percent – $1 billion.

“Somehow, people have the idea that (Jindal’s) a fiscal conservative,” he said.

Ballard also notes that Jindal has a habit of conveniently omitting key details when touting his self-professed policy achievements:

Jindal builds confidence and optimism with tales of an ethics gold standard, of bloated budgets under control, of less taxes, of a broken public health system about to be fixed. Everyone leaves smiling.

As good as it sounds, the truth, to quote Oscar Wilde, is rarely pure and never simple.

This past week, for instance, Jindal ballyhooed chopping the state’s budget by $341 million. Only $162 million of that amount was immediate. The rest awaits legislative approval. And $31.8 million comes from not filling 707 hiring-freeze vacancies in the 103,775 state work force — money that presumably wasn’t being spent on salaries anyway.

“Your average taxpayer wants to know what’s happening with overall government spending.” That was Jindal’s explanation two weeks ago to Capitol news bureau reporter Michelle Millhollon for how he could claim on national television to have personally cut the state budget by 12 percent when that drop was primarily because of the federal government sending less money to Louisiana and that, in fact, the portion of the budget that he and the Louisiana Legislature directly control increased.

And finally, Millhollon, in part of a detailed analysis that’s essential reading, reports that many political observers note that Jindal still hasn’t laid out a clear legislative agenda:

The Jindal administration compiled a 21-page booklet of accomplishments from the governor’s honeymoon year. However, several political watchers say Jindal has yet to articulate a real road map for the “new Louisiana” he talked about in his inaugural address.

Former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown said the 37-year-old Republican governor is at a crossroads in his career.

“He needs more than perception,” said Brown, a Democrat and a political commentator on radio and the Internet. “He is going to have to produce and show tangible results in the coming year.”

Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said the governor needs to cement his vision.

“Overall, I’m not clear that there is a clear picture of where he wants to move the state,” said Brandt.

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