In April, we wrote about Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt at misdirection in his opening day address to the Louisiana Legislature. After years of the governor and state lawmakers kicking the fiscal can down the road, the state faced a $1.6 billion revenue gap. In his speech, the governor outlined three primary objectives, two of which had nothing to do with the budget dilemma — a dilemma he led the way in creating and exacerbating. He called on lawmakers to repeal the Common Core educational standards, pass a so-called "religious freedom" bill, and adopt a package of curiously dubbed "corporate welfare" budget reforms.
The annual legislative session concludes this Thursday, June 11, and there remains no clear path to fiscal sanity. For the most part, Jindal has continued to govern (if one can call it that) in absentia, and he has paid a heavy price for it. The latest statewide voter survey shows him with a mere 32 percent approval rating and a horrific 65 percent negative rating (worse among Louisiana voters than President Barack Obama), and two of his legislative priorities were defeated. As the session grinds to what looks to be an inauspicious conclusion, here's a recap:
Common Core — A bipartisan majority of lawmakers refused to take Louisiana out of the national educational mainstream. Good for them — and very good for Louisiana's children. In a face-saving move, anti-Common Core legislators agreed to a "compromise" that preserves Common Core standards, requires a review and update of standards and testing, followed by public hearings (all of which was already required under current law), and gives the governor a veto over future changes. However, if the governor vetoes those changes, the law reverts to the current Common Core standards and tests.
Religious freedom — State Rep. Mike Johnson's "Marriage & Conscience Act" was buried by the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee after a slew of negative reactions from legislators, business interests and LGBT advocates. "Religious freedom" was nowhere on Jindal's agenda until this year; he hopped on the issue after governors in other states tried the same stunt (which backfired in all cases). Jindal then held a press conference with Johnson, R-Bossier City, to announce an executive order he said would accomplish the act's goals. In the end, it was another grandstand act by Jindal with nothing behind it.
Corporate welfare — As governor, Jindal championed tax breaks and subsidies for businesses and industries — to the tune of about $1 billion a year. Now, suddenly, he's against all that. His rants against "corporate welfare" — a term often used by Democrats — leave conservatives scratching their heads. Meanwhile, he has shown far more interest in what Grover Norquist (head of Americans for Tax Reform) has to say about budget reform than in what Louisiana citizens and lawmakers have to say.
A telling image making the rounds of social media last week was a photo of Jindal's reserved parking space at the State Capitol — sitting empty. It was a metaphor for his years of absentee misrule. As the session wound down, legislators of both parties privately groused that they were just waiting for Jindal's term to be over. So are we all.