Gov. Bobby Jindal was busy last week campaigning — some say auditioning — for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Back in Louisiana, many voiced concern about how Jindal’s national rhetoric would translate to the pocketbooks of his actual constituents.
On June 29, the U.S. Congress stripped $572 million in federal Medicaid funding that Jindal had relied on to balance his $25.6 billion budget for state government, the administration says. A day earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court raised another health-care issue by finding constitutional the Affordable Care Act, called ACA.
Since then, Jindal told the people of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and viewers of nationally televised talk shows, that Louisiana refuses to accept parts of the ACA, even though it means billions in federal funding over the next decade. About a half-million more Louisiana adults would be covered under ACA, according to the Kaiser Commission.
So, what are his plans for balancing the state budget? Reduce services? Pay medical care providers less?
Jindal refused an interview Thursday and released a 71-word statement, seven words of which said his state Department of Health and Hospitals would announce something this week. He used the remaining 65 words to pat himself on the back for making government less expensive.
DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein, similarly, has been asked — and refused — to comment a dozen times since June 29.
In fact, several press officers in various departments during the past few weeks have taken to asking reporters to submit their questions in writing. Last Sunday, The News-Star in Monroe reported that top Jindal aides used their personal email accounts to come up with a way for Education Superintendent John White to “muddy up a narrative” by creating a news story that would divert attention from the lack of extensive review the Jindal administration was giving schools applying to participate in the voucher program.
Jindal’s spokesman Kyle Plotkin answered every question Friday by saying Jindal is campaigning because he feels President Barack Obama’s policies are harmful to Louisiana.
On “Fox & Friends,” Jindal said Obama measures success “by how many people are on food stamps.”
Fox Network personality Gretchen Carlson then helped clean up Jindal’s controversial quote about universal health care being just like Mardi Gras. Jindal said what he meant was that the health-care plan is good for some states, but not for others.
Jindal stumbled during a Republican National Committee phone conference using “Obomneycare.” GOP primary opponents had used the pejorative to draw attention to similarities between Obama’s ACA and the program begun in Massachusetts when Romney was governor of that state.
When Jindal appeared on “Meet the Press,” Howard Dean, a Democrat, made the point that Louisiana ranks 48th in the country in terms of child poverty and premature death. Jindal shot him down by saying 96.5 percent of Louisiana children have health insurance coverage. What Jindal neglected to mention was a majority of that coverage comes from programs funded mostly by the federal government.
To be fair, ignoring uncomfortable questions is not unique to Jindal.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La. dispenses his views via emailed statements that don’t allow follow-up questions. Similarly, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, did not return requests asking her to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Her office, instead, released a prepared statement.
The sad truth is that the Internet, coupled with politically biased television programs and magazines, allow politicians to preach to their choirs without the disturbing interruption of having to explain themselves fully.
It’s a reality worth remembering on the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, a discovery that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
Journalists took an awful lot of credit for uncovering the White House’s “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But FBI records clearly show that the investigation was done by career government employees.
What newspapers did was make public the information that high-ranking government officials had hoped to obscure by muddying up the narrative and thereby divert attention from hard-to-defend actions.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.