Cutting down on public appearances, limiting media access and turning down invitations to popular events aren't exactly the best way to succeed in politics, but they've become standard calls from the playbook of freshly minted Gov. Bobby Jindal. It's a strategy that reduces the likelihood of a flub, or anything else of interest, really, but its result is an electorate that knows nothing more about its governor than it did when he was a candidate. To a fault, Jindal, a Republican, is highly insulated and tightly managed. At last month's annual meeting of the Council for a Better Louisiana, Jindal gave a brief speech on the need for ethics reform, then left through a rear exit and avoided all questions. When reporters have pushed for more details on the governor's career-defining ethics proposal (Will the state Ethics Board have real teeth? Will local officials have to disclose their sources of income?), Jindal deftly sidestepped the issue, offering no responses at all.
It's pretty much the same routine Jindal adhered to during his 2007 campaign when finding him at a public forum was as likely as flipping the queen in three-card Monte. Nowadays he is making more of an effort, albeit a selective one, to be visible. He addressed a luncheon hosted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) last week, but Jindal snubbed Horizon Initiative's 'Yes to Business Oil and Gas Forum" in New Orleans and was hit with negative press coverage.
In fact, a general lack of access to Jindal has become a major point of contention that could grow into a running feud if the new governor doesn't come out of hiding, or lockdown, or whatever he's calling this approach to 'open government." No doubt the pressure is on him, but Louisiana's citizens are hungry for a dialogue. Many people want more details about Jindal's plans. Others just want a meeting.
For instance, state Rep. Warren Triche, a Raceland Democrat, contends that Jindal appointed Stephen Street as inspector general earlier this month without meeting all of the serious candidates, which, of course, included him. 'I'm happy for Stephen Street, first of all," Triche says. 'Secondly, I'm not surprised that someone else other than I was chosen, but I am disappointed more than anything else that it doesn't look like there was an interview process for anyone for that position, or one that I am aware of."
Triche also went out on a limb, suggesting that someone other than Jindal is calling the shots. 'If I can read between the political lines, with some of the appointments that have been made before this one, it tends to make me think that former Gov. Mike Foster still has puppet strings on his fingertips guiding this administration," Triche says.
Jindal has staunchly defended himself as his own man in the past. Foster didn't appear on the scene until election night last year. The reality may actually be that Foster, who plucked Jindal from obscurity and gave him his first political job during the 1990s, doesn't have enough sway himself to gain access to the new governor. If that's the case, he's just like everyone else. 'Mike Foster has been left on the outside," says one source. 'He can't even get someone an interview with Jindal."
As for possible reasons why Jindal is so rarely available, there's always the obvious: he is a busy man facing big challenges in a very short time frame. Don't discount that possibility. By all indications, Jindal is promising to do more in his first year than some other governors have attempted during their entire terms.
Far sexier than that explanation are the rumors that Jindal could slide in as a vice-presidential candidate on this year's GOP ballot " or become the frontrunner for the White House in 2012. The chatter is growing louder by the day and has become hard to ignore. There are even people who don't vote in the United States talking about the possibilities.
When Robert Travis Scott, the Baton Rouge bureau chief for the The Times-Picayune, visited India recently to write a series of stories on Jindal's heritage, presidential politics were all the buzz. Jindal's aunt, Pushpa Bansal of Mehalkalan, basically told Scott, through a translator, that her nephew could be the next Ronald Reagan. 'She prays, and she is sure that he will one day become president of the United States," the translator told Scott.
Jindal may also be taking his October mandate literally, believing voters were okay with his similarly locked-down approach during the campaign and interpreting his primary victory as a green light to continue on the same path. It's possible that his strategy of limiting appearances and comments will lower expectations and reduce the pressure leading into this year's special and regular sessions, for which Team Jindal would surely be grateful.
On the other hand, Jindal is taking a big risk in isolating himself from lawmakers, the press and the public. He may be an agent of change looking to clean up Louisiana's national and international image, but nobody asked " or authorized " him to change the fact that Louisianans want to be able to see and touch their governors. In the end, though, his firm stances and the resulting actions could do all the talking for him.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at email@example.com.