Though 30 months remain in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second term, political observers are looking closely for signs that his power has crested or that his tight grip on state government has loosened. While he is term-limited, this may not be Jindal’s final stretch in the Governor’s Mansion; he has hinted at times to a future comeback, in the tradition of former governors Earl Long and Edwin Edwards.
The failure of his bid to repeal the income tax could mark his last major initiative for change at the Capitol. He was largely absent from budget negotiations, even though he made the bold move of announcing and taking some credit for the compromise that was forged without him, to the ire of lawmakers. The state Supreme Court has blocked his plan for funding vouchers, while a lower court is reviewing his reforms tightening teacher tenure rules and scaling back the autonomy of school boards.
It may well be that Jindal is not as politically strong as he was after his 2011 re-election, when his approval rating was over 60 percent and he was able to ram his education agenda through a compliant Legislature. Yet, if he has entered his lame duck phase, he still figures to be one of the most influential outgoing governors in recent memory.
House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said Jindal’s power won’t disappear, but it will fluctuate wildly in these final years depending on the issue. "It will be all over the place," he said, adding, "(The governor) will be influential in the process until his final day."
Jindal likely maintains even greater control than his predecessor, who served only one term. By now, he has appointed nearly all the members of every important board and commission. While not playing offense this session, his defense remained strong, as evidenced by his administration blocking bills to expand Medicaid and make more of his office’s records public.
The ultimate power he wields is with his veto pen, with which he will have the final word on this legislative session later this month. Plus, even after he leaves office, Jindal can still exert influence on state Republican politics through his $4 million campaign account.
Finally, he is making a direct bid to reconnect with the citizenry by embarking on a 64-parish state tour. His first stop on Monday was in Alexandria, where he signed legislation that will trigger $250 million in borrowing for 28 community college construction projects around the state.
"The people of Louisiana shouldn’t have to come to Baton Rouge to see their governor," Jindal said, though legislators have complained they have not seen much of him there either.
Dardenne: Give boot to
Country Music Fest money
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is a big fan of the Bayou Country Superfest, but not if it takes $200,000 out of his tourism budget. He has written Gov. Jindal a letter asking for a line-item veto of the funding amendment that was added in the Senate late in the session.
He said he has already committed $100,000 from his budget to the Memorial Day weekend show held in Tiger Stadium, but he doesn’t want that amount doubled and taken from tourism marketing for the rest of the state. "The real concern is it sets a precedent to adding pass-throughs," he said, having fought past appropriations for major sporting events that were taken out of his budget.
No. 2 post drawing
With Lt. Gov. Dardenne aiming to run for governor in 2015, the post he would vacate is already starting to attract a field of potential successors.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden has said he is "80 percent sure" he will run for the job. In 2004, Holden, who is African-American, beat Republican incumbent Bobby Simpson in a parish that had but 38 percent black registration at the time. His crossover appeal and ambassadorial style could help him make history as the first African-American to be elected statewide.
Holden’s appeal to Democrats statewide is deepened by the African-American turnout he would help drive, which would in turn aid a Democratic candidate for governor. But he is hardly alone.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who took 47 percent of the vote against Dardenne in 2011, has said he plans to run again. Fellow Republican John Young, the popular president of Jefferson Parish, also is looking at the race, according to sources. Another GOP candidate could be Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who may be lowering his sights after pondering a run for governor, which is drawing a crowded field of its own.
But the most intriguing non-elected official on the radar is State Police Superintendent Mike Edmondson, who is said to be investigating a run while staying loyal to Jindal in his final term.
Holden could have North Louisiana competition for the African-American vote if state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, follows through on his interest. And Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas, who made history recently by switching parties to become the first African-American Republican state senator, might try for more. "We’ll see how things shape up in the next couple of years," he said.
Things already are taking shape — and fast.
Quotes from the Quorum
"He has been consistent, but in my view he has been consistently wrong."
—U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu on GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, in the Times-Picayune.
"It’s the Mississippi Sasquatch of 2013."
—Garret Graves, chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, on concerns by Mississippi lawmakers that a Louisiana levee project could have a detrimental effect there, in the Biloxi Sun Herald.