James Gill: Jindal could use campaign miracle

If just one miracle can win sainthood for Pope John XXIII, it should sure be enough to make Gov. Bobby Jindal president.

Canonization usually requires two miracles, but John XXIII got a waiver from Pope Francis, so that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints only had to verify one cure pulled off from beyond the grave. How the congregation goes about the chore of proving miracles is something of a mystery — there is no open meetings law in the Holy See — but its devotion to the scientific method is presumably less than slavish.

You’d think, from the way Jindal wears his Catholic heart on his Republican sleeve, that he must be seeking to curry favor with some Congregation for the Causes of Politicians, but there is no such animal. And who needs one when we have the Bureau of Labor Statistics? That’s Jindal’s authority when he claims to have worked wonders.

Jindal may be a bloviating four-flusher who puts his own interests first, but the latest employment numbers do seem to give him a legitimate opportunity to crow. And he accepted it avidly, announcing in a news release that for the first ever more than 2 million people have jobs in Louisiana, while our unemployment rate, at 4.5 percent, is the lowest in 17 Southern states.

This is the “Louisiana miracle” we’ve heard so much about as Jindal crisscrosses the country, spreading word of his administrative genius. His poll numbers bespeak widespread skepticism, however.

Still, you can’t argue with official data, and, if Jindal claims credit for what are undeniably impressive numbers, the rest of us can hardly deny him a round of applause. His explanation for those numbers does strain credulity. He says they are “proof that our hard work overhauling the ethics laws, revamping the workforce training system, cutting taxes and improving our education system is paying off.”

Jindal has some nerve bragging about ethics when he has resisted all attempts to shine light on goings-on in his own office, while there isn’t much point in beefing up standards for other elected officials without adequate provision for enforcement.

As for education, test scores have yet to validate the voucher experiment, and Jindal’s sudden decision to abandon his support for Common Core is an “insult” to 50,000 teachers who have worked on its implementation, according to Superintendent John White. If Jindal manages to withdraw now, the system will be thrown into “chaos,” and Louisiana will need millions to develop its own tests, which couldn’t be ready in time anyway, White said.

Jindal fears that local control of curricula would be lost to the feds under Common Core, but, even if that were to happen, it is by no means clear that standards would suffer. As White put it, in seeking a diplomatic way to say our schools suck, “I want to be able to look a Louisiana parent in the eye and tell them the education that they got in Louisiana would be as good as that which you would get in any other state. Today, we have no validity to that statement.”

The economic miracle suggested by the employment figures, meanwhile, has not exactly put state government in clover, partly, no doubt, because of the tax cuts Jindal is so proud of. He just ordered a spending freeze across all departments, and has been obliged to tap state Treasurer John Kennedy for a $40 million loan to keep the colleges open. Next year’s budget, as usual, is held together with chewing gum and baling wire.

Higher education has been cut by $700 million since 2008, with tuition increases picking up some of the slack, while health care for the poor slips ever further down Jindal’s agenda. The budget he submitted included nothing for the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection, which provides primary care for 53,000 uninsured people, and which, according to news reports, needed the $9 million to keep its clinics open for another year after August.

The Legislature ordered Jindal to find $4 million, which may be some consolation to the connection’s patients. But they would no doubt be much happier if Jindal changed his mind and accepted the federal money that is available to give them Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.

That would really be a miracle.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.