Columns » The State of the State by Jeremy Alford

Bobby's Rules of Order

Understanding Gov. Bobby Jindal's unique form of governance has never been easier

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After more than four years in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal has crystallized a political style that, should he go national, will get lots of scrutiny. Here's a first look.

  Rule No. 1: No Outsiders — Louisiana's Medicaid program faces $1.1 billion in cuts, and the state is scrambling to straighten out an alternative fuels tax credit that could cost the state hundreds of millions more.

  Given the severity of the situation, some lawmakers are calling for a special session.

  Don't count on it.

  Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater told the Associated Press last week, "We'll deal with it as quick as possible." In using the contracted "we" (make that the "royal we"), Rainwater probably didn't mean the Governor's Office and 144 lawmakers. He meant Team Jindal, and only Team Jindal.

  Meanwhile, Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein spent a good portion of the past week refusing to take part in a televised forum ... on the future of health care in Louisiana.

  Rule No. 2: Be Steadfast, But Flexible — Speaking of health care, Jindal has decided to single-handedly stop President Barack Obama's health care overhaul from taking effect in Louisiana. At the same time, his administration is bemoaning the fact the feds have cut Louisiana's share of Medicaid funds.

  Foster Campbell, a Democrat from Oak Grove who chairs the Public Service Commission, has taken Jindal to task. The juxtaposition is notable: Campbell is a self-styled, old-school populist of the old school who wants to be governor, while Jindal first became governor running as a new-style populist.

  Jindal campaigned as an outsider taking on the government elite in 2007, cultivating votes in every one-stoplight town in Louisiana. Today, Campbell is still a populist who wants to be governor, but Jindal is something different — a talking head governor who wants to be president.

  "He and his family have access to state-subsidized health care, and yet he denies health care for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who cannot afford it," Campbell says. "It's the worst form of hypocrisy."

  Regardless of whether Jindal does go national, he will be at the center of the health care debate.

  Rule No. 3: Keep It Quiet — Controversy dogged state Education Superintendent John White last week when the Monroe News-Star published emails wherein White described a plan to "muddy up a narrative" related to school voucher accountability. During the recent legislative session, Jindal opposed injecting accountability into the voucher program, so he "compromised" by agreeing to let White (his hand-picked education superintendent) write "accountability" rules ... months after the session ended.

  The News-Star story stated White was communicating with Kyle Plotkin and Stafford Palmieri, Jindal's press secretary and policy advisor, respectively, via their personal email accounts. Because White used his state account, the messages were captured under the newspaper's public records request.

  That two of the governor's top staffers are using personal email accounts to conduct official business is telling. Jindal is already the nation's least transparent governor. Letting his staff use personal email accounts to dodge public records laws takes his disdain for transparency to a new level.

  Rule No. 4: Keep Your Friends Close — Given the high priority Jindal placed on education reforms, it's no surprise that Jimmy Faircloth, the governor's former executive counsel, has been hired to defend the reforms against lawsuits challenging their constitutionality. As of last week, no contract had been signed or rate negotiated. Faircloth just has the contract.

  Faircloth, who has three other legal contracts with the state, also was the lobbyist for landowners during the contentious legislative fight over "legacy lawsuits." Jindal largely sided with the oil industry — against Faircloth's clients. Those who oppose this governor typically walk away with some scars; Faircloth got a new contract.

  Guys like Rainwater, White and Faircloth prove that Jindal doesn't go it alone. They also prove that the governor runs a very tight ship — one that only he is allowed to captain.

Jeremy Alford is a journalist in Baton Rouge. Contact him at jeremy@jeremyalford.com. Follow him on Twitter: @alfordwrites.

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