By Jeremy Alford
Last week 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 Association. 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 collectively 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, giving 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 and favored the repeal of the ACA by 54-43 percent.
For the rest of this term, budget stability will be a top priority, though questions about health care funding are not entirely within the governor’s control. 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 over six years. So for the purposes of his national ambitions, it’s important for him to keep his head above ground at home.
NRSC gets behind Cassidy
It wasn’t the endorsement from LSU’s Skip Bertman or the nod from the Republican Parish Executive Committee of Terrebonne that mattered most earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy. It was the fundraising group that was created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee for his campaign.
The GOP Victory Fund 2014 is a joint venture that is 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 a separate drive amongst party leaders.
“It turns out the NRSC is not even bothering to wait,” said a source, adding it’s 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.
They Said It
“John was a fixture around the Capitol, always trying to get to the bottom of an issue. He had an incredible gift that enabled him to uncover stories and narratives that no one was talking about, but would ultimately drive the debate.”—Gov. Bobby Jindal, on the death of LaPolitics founder John Maginnis“He told each story from every perspective, and because of that he became an important source of information to lawmakers who may have only been privy to one side of the story in that moment.”—Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco“He was a living forum for the fair and informed discussion of the colorful events, players and shenanigans that make up Louisiana politics.”—Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott