Political Horizons for Nov. 18, 2012

Jindal and national election

Our governor attracted a lot of national attention last week, joining the chorus of Republican frustration over the results of the Nov. 6 election.

He told Politico that the GOP needed to articulate policies that relate to the common man and not to be seen as cozying up with big business. He told the Huffington Post that Louisiana would formally reject creating insurance exchanges called for in the Affordable Care Act because “market-based” health care is a better solution. He criticized Republican standard-bearer Mitt Romney on CNN.

Roy Fletcher, the Baton Rouge-based political consultant who runs campaigns of (mostly) Republican candidates, said Jindal’s critiques seem to recognize that the election was pretty close.

Fletcher said a shift of about 300,000 votes across four of five states would’ve won Romney the election. Romney lost because of low turnout by white people, particularly in northern Florida and southern Ohio, and widespread opposition among Hispanics and other minority voters. Winning white, ignoring everyone else, is no longer a successful strategy, Fletcher said.

“A shift of a couple hundred thousand Hispanic voters in key states and we’d be talking about an emerging Republican majority and the Democrats would be doing all the whining about the future,” Fletcher said.

Jindal is focusing on policies that will strengthen support among minority and immigrant groups as well as middle class white people, Fletcher said.

“He’s saying ‘We’ve got a really good economic message about working hard and growing. That’s who the immigrants are and we really should be miking that,’” commented Fletcher. “You can see his mind working. He’s trying to patch this thing together.”

Jindal’s targeting of specific groups of voters, all of the hand-wringing by Republicans, even the petitions to secede from the Union are but another phase in U.S. history in which Americans attempt to define “We, the people,” said G. Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

“This, frankly, is a big one. There are the first signs of, you know, the increasing impotence of the white majority in this country,” Cross said. “Whites who think in these terms can look down the road and see themselves as simply the largest minority in this country and it’s an earth-shattering realization.”

Because of growing populations — particularly among black, Hispanic and Asian communities — reliably Republican states like Florida, Georgia and Texas are on the verge of turning blue. States like Louisiana, where population growth is fairly stagnant, are becoming ever more stridently conservative, he said.

It’s clear Jindal is running for president, said Bob Mann, an LSU journalism professor who once shaped “narrative” for Louisiana Democrats Gov. Kathleen Blanco and U.S. Sen. John Breaux.

“If I was a Republican, I’d be saying ‘Gee, thanks, you knew this all along, but you’re just now telling us,’” Mann said. “It’s like sounding the warning after the ship has sank.”

When asked just that question by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Jindal deflected, saying: “There’s not much benefit to looking back.” Blitzer moved on, which is why Jindal prefers national reporters to the local ones, Mann said.

“If they spend 30 minutes looking at the clips, they would see how disingenuous all this is,” Mann said, pointing to Jindal’s ramming of the education overhaul through the Louisiana Legislature earlier this year as support for his argument.

As president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and a leader of the opposition to Jindal’s revamp of the state’s public education system, Steve Monaghan said his experience with big ideas is that Jindal is more interested in winning.

Monaghan recently ticked off a litany of his images of the debate surrounding the improvement of education: Massive bills filed minutes before deadline; hundreds of teachers gathering the State Capitol steps after being locked out of the building; and Jindal’s taxpayer-funded surrogates calling opponents names.

“It’s about crushing any opposition and making individuals feel that they are at risk if they indeed stand up and question the administration’s actions,” Monaghan said about the education revamp. “We short-circuited democracy and that is the river that runs through all of this.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.