James Gill: State is now Jindal’s side gig

D ischarging all the duties of one office while campaigning for another may not be impossible, so long as no sleep is required and the mind can juggle several disparate and complex ideas at the same time.

We are still waiting for a paragon of statesmanship, so something’s gotta give when a governor runs for president, and it will generally be the folks back home. Such is Louisiana’s fate, with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s focus increasingly on the national stage he dreams of occupying when he vacates the Baton Rouge mansion. Legislators look for him in vain even when issues supposedly dear to his heart are under debate. This is one duck who is much lamer than he could be.

But he will regard that a small price for his constituents to pay if the entire country is to receive the benefit of his superior gifts. That is how ambitious politicians rationalize their derelictions, and why Jindal, when asked why he spends so little time in Louisiana, always turns a deaf ear.

When Jindal concedes he is “thinking” about a presidential run, everyone takes it to mean he is thinking of little else. Thus, he has visited a dozen states this year on behalf of America Next, a nonprofit he established to find solutions for the problems that beset the country. He will doubtless find the solution to them all is to put him in the White House.

There is no point in expecting him to heed the whiners. A desire to be president is hardly to be disparaged, and some ruthlessness will always be required to realize it. No politician is going to get far without an oversized ego.

Perhaps the single-minded pursuit of power will eventually turn out to serve the overall public interest, but presidential hopefuls already on the government payroll will always have their detractors. If the candidate is a member of Congress, some quidnunc will tally the missed votes. When a governor runs, the question on everybody’s lips is who in tarnation is running the state? Jindal is merely the latest to whip up resentment in his home state even as he assures the rest of the country that his efforts have pretty much transformed it into an earthly paradise.

In an article at Forbes.com this month, Jindal bragged about the “surge of economic growth” his policies have allegedly brought forth, reviving unfortunate memories of the “Massachusetts miracle” that Michael Dukakis hoped would propel him into the White House in 1988. Dukakis won the Democratic nomination comfortably, and seemed set to become the first sitting governor to be elected president since FDR in 1932. But George H.W. Bush won as the Dukakis campaign famously tanked. So, not long thereafter did the Massachusetts economy.

At the time it was beginning to seem nigh impossible to move from another elective office to the presidency. The only one to have made it since World War II was JFK, and nobody complained that his candidacy affected his performance as a U.S. senator. He was a chronic absentee long before he decided to run.

Former governors were regarded as presidential timber, however. When that didn’t work out so well in the case of Jimmy Carter, voters went for another former governor in Ronald Reagan, and the theory was somewhat vindicated. Since the Dukakis debacle, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have shown that sitting governors can too make it, the national electorate having evidently not been inclined to fret about any shortcomings in the governance of Arkansas or Texas.

The precedents for Jindal are not discouraging. Current and former governors have both won in living memory, and he will have campaigned as both if he makes it into the race.

Meanwhile, state government is a billion or so in the hole, the privatization of the hospital system is in disarray and the head of the state education board says Louisiana is Jindal’s “side gig, which is a shame.” But it isn’t a surprise that Jindal is done with Louisiana. He told us it’s America Next.

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