Gov. Bobby Jindal declared last week to be "Severe Weather Awareness Week" in Louisiana. Judging from the political storm clouds brewing over his policies, Jindal's own "severe weather" is going to last much longer than a week. Just last week, a state judge in Baton Rouge declared Jindal's revision of teacher evaluations and tenure laws unconstitutional. It marked the third straight defeat for Jindal in court challenges to his biggest education and retirement initiatives of 2012. On other fronts, the governor has become embroiled in several increasingly acrimonious public relations battles — with Democrats as well as fellow Republicans — just as polls show his approval ratings slipping into "negative" territory for the first time.
The latest court defeat for Jindal came last week, when District Court Judge Michael Caldwell of Baton Rouge declared the governor's cornerstone education reform bill unconstitutional. Caldwell based his ruling not on the bill's provisions, but on its multi-faceted nature. The Louisiana Constitution has a "single object" clause that requires any bill brought before the legislature to have a single purpose. Caldwell previously tossed only a portion of the education law, but last week he broadened his ruling and declared the entire law unconstitutional, saying its multiple purposes should have been addressed in separate bills.
In November, District Court Judge Tim Kelley declared the governor's controversial voucher program unconstitutional because it sends public dollars to private schools. In January, District Judge William Morvant ruled that a Jindal-backed bill reforming the state's retirement system also was unconstitutional because it passed with less than the required two-thirds vote in the House. Interestingly, all three adverse rulings came at the hands of Republican judges.
Jindal's office issued a statement saying it will appeal the decisions and expects to prevail in the state Supreme Court. His statement added, "When we embarked on this path of reform, we knew this would not be an easy fight because the coalition of the status quo is entrenched." These court battles, however, have nothing to do with the "status quo" and everything to do with the rule of law. The governor, of all people, should understand and respect that.
Then there's his war of words with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the state's leading Democrat. In a conference call in which she criticized Jindal's approach (or lack thereof) to Louisiana health care, Landrieu claimed, "It's his quest to be the next president and to check off the tea party 'I am the most conservative person in America' checklist." Jindal fired back, suggesting Landrieu "may have spent too much time in Washington, D.C." — a peculiar line of attack, given his own globetrotting and barely disguised ambition to get to Washington himself.
When it comes to fiscal issues, Jindal's biggest critics these days are fellow Republicans. A group of legislators known as the "fiscal hawks" — led by Reps. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, John Schroder, R-Covington, and Kirk Talbot, R-Harahan — filed a lawsuit in January saying Jindal's proposed 2013 budget also violated the state constitution because it relies on one-time revenues. That suit is still pending, and the hawks show no sign of relenting.
Also on the fiscal front, state Treasurer John Kennedy (another Republican) blasted Jindal's proposed 2013 state budget, saying it was unbalanced and based on tricky math, wishful thinking and speculative sales of state-owned real estate. "Call this budget what you like: a fond illusion or smart accounting," Kennedy wrote, "the result will be the same: mid-year budget cuts for the sixth year in a row, because the budget is not balanced." Jindal's Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols challenged Kennedy's analysis, calling it "half-baked." She called Kennedy a "big government defender of the status quo."
The governor's former top aide (and current campaign consultant) Timmy Teepell once again rode to Jindal's defense, telling the Associated Press "If you do the big things, the right things for the right reasons, then people will appreciate it. Sometimes it just takes time to see results." That runs counter to Jindal's most recent approval ratings, which are consistently trending downward. Louisianans seem to be increasingly exasperated with the peripatetic governor, who by the Associated Press' count has visited 37 states on nearly 170 trips during his time in office — while slashing state health care and higher education budgets.
Jindal says he plans to release the full version of his budget and tax plan by the end of this week. Given the pushback he's been getting from Democrats as well as Republicans, he looks to be in for more severe weather before the legislative session even begins.