Political Horizons for Feb. 17, 2013

Gov. Bobby Jindal took about six questions Thursday afternoon in the first direct availability he allowed State Capitol reporters in about four months. The next day he held a news conference to roll out juvenile justice legislative proposals.

All this access came last week after national commentators noticed two polls that claim Jindal’s popularity with Louisiana voters is slipping.

His communications director, Kyle Plotkin, called reporters up and down press row in the State Capitol on Thursday night after their stories posted online, saying it was “snarky” to include that Jindal had not spoken to them in months. In a way, Plotkin was correct, Jindal has allowed interviews with national reporters.

Fox & Friends morning show on Feb. 4 gave Jindal seven and half minutes to explain to a national audience what he had not personally discussed yet with his Louisiana constituency: What he planned to do with the state’s taxpayers.

Brian Kilmeade, who made his chops as a sports reporter, asked no probing questions; like what would happen to seniors who pay little or no income taxes, but could be saddled with more sales taxes? Or what about the oil and gas exploration and production companies, many of which pay little or no corporate taxes, but could be zapped with a large bill if their severance tax exemptions are rescinded?

Without diversionary questions, Jindal was able to keep “on message.”

Louisiana’s tax code has 468 exemptions and loopholes, he said. “You get rid of these loopholes, these credits, these giveaways and you say, ‘Why are we taking money from people’s pockets, sending it to Baton Rouge and then giving it back to special interest groups, to people who have lobbyists?” said Jindal, adding he feels that consumption taxes are philosophically better than income taxes.

“We might have to raise the sales tax a little to make up some of these dollars,” Jindal said.

“Great job, Brian,” Fox & Friends hostess Gretchen Carlson said at the conclusion of the interview.

When Louisiana reporters asked the pesky questions, Jindal replied: “Everything is on the table.”

G. Pearson Cross, chair of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has long said that Jindal pays attention to Louisiana only when his numbers here start slipping. During the past week or so, two different polls — one conducted by a GOP pollster and the other by a firm that works for Democrats — found that more Louisiana voters disapproved of Jindal than approved of him.

The poll commissioned by the Louisiana Medical Society and conducted by GOP pollster Voter/Consumer Research, of Washington, D.C., showed Jindal with a job approval rating of 46 percent and a disapproval rating of 48 percent, which includes a remarkably high 37 percent voicing strong disapproval.

Then, Public Policy Polling, of Raleigh, N.C., released a poll showing Jindal’s approval rating was 37 percent and disapproval rating was 57 percent.

Jindal blew off the poll findings when asked by Louisiana reporters on Thursday.

But the national commentators, who had earlier hailed Jindal’s national aspirations, noticed.

Politico.com noted on Wednesday “a dramatic drop in his popularity back home.” Under a headline of “Bobby Jindal’s make-or-break moment,” The Washington Post wrote Thursday: “If his governance gets subpar marks from his state’s conservative electorate, it will call into question his formidability on the national stage.”

Plotkin, Jindal’s communication man, insists that Jindal has not been aloof from the Louisiana press corps. He contends that he and other aides speak for Jindal when the governor is not personally available. “Our end goal is to have the administration’s positions stated in the story,” Plotkin said.

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger noted in his 2011 book “On China,” that Chinese rulers traditionally have operated out of sight with very limited public contact. “Many cultures, and surely all Western ones, buttress the authority of the ruler by demonstrative contact of some kind with the ruled,” he wrote. Kissinger said it’s a cultural concept difficult for those traditional leaders to grasp as that country emerges into an era with a more open economy and a more transparent system.

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