Stephanie Grace: Jindal uses Sinatra as leadership model

Every national political candidate needs a theme song. And as Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to consider a presidential run, as he’s been putting it lately, one tune in particular keeps popping into my mind.

It’s not “Love Me Do,” or any other variation on the eager-to-please theme. It’s not “Born on the Bayou,” even though that would fit in nicely with his go-to line about how, when his father and pregnant mother arrived in Louisiana from India, he was a “pre-existing condition.”

The crowds in South Carolina and Iowa might not get it, but back at home, one song that really captures Jindal’s politics these days is the Sinatra standard “My Way.”

Louisiana’s laws and traditions give the governor enormous influence over public affairs, and Jindal’s no different from his predecessors in seeking ways to use it. He employed all the tools at his disposal to push through an ethics package in his first term and a sweeping education revamp earlier in his second. And when he vetoed a popular bill out of the recent legislative session that would have created a legal framework for surrogate births, sponsors agreed not to try to override him to avoid putting their peers in the position of directly challenging Jindal’s authority.

Lately, though, his approach has been even more imperious than usual, particularly when it comes to some of the biggest issues that the Legislature faced this year.

After spending a year or so slowly backing away from his initial support for the adoption of Common Core, Jindal finally, officially reversed himself and denounced the education standards.

This doesn’t make Jindal unique. Republican governors from a number of states have been criticizing Common Core ever since it became a hot issue among the sorts of voters who see federal fingerprints all over the program, even though it was developed by states, including Louisiana.

The difference here is that the governors in other states that have pulled out — South Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma — had their Legislatures on board. Jindal doesn’t, and he certainly doesn’t have the state education board he helped elect, or the superintendent of education who was hired with his backing.

So if Jindal is serious about taking executive action to pull out, as he’s threatening to do, he’ll be going against a Legislature that held firm this spring despite a grass-roots campaign and Jindal’s high-profile shift. He’ll be going against Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, who directly attributes Jindal’s flip-flop to his national aspirations. And he’ll be going against Superintendent John White, who, in a clear rebuke to Jindal, suggested to a gathering of teachers in New Orleans recently that they deserve better than political gamesmanship.

“We policymakers owe teachers consistency,” White said. “Now we owe you clarity. Now we owe you time to settle in and lead the way.”

Ironically, Jindal invoked clarity and consistency in explaining his hard line on another of the session’s hot topics, the effort to short-circuit the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit seeking amends for coastal damage caused by the oil and gas industry. Jindal had the Legislature this time, but in signing Senate Bill 469 last week, he disregarded advice from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and dozens of legal experts who fear the bill’s vague wording could invalidate hundreds of existing local lawsuits over the BP spill.

Presidents of two largely Republican parishes, Jefferson’s John Young and St. Bernard’s Dave Peralta, also urged Jindal to veto the bill, contending that it’s just too big a risk. So did the New Orleans City Council.

But Jindal, who continues to insist the levee board had no authority to file the suit even though a court ruled that it did, brushed them all off and fell back on his own in-house lawyers.

“This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment,” Jindal said, despite the fact that what it really creates is chaos.

As if to add an exclamation point, Jindal chose the same day to finally replace longtime SLFPA-E president Tim Doody, who had supported the suit from the start.

So even if he’s unlikely to play it on the road, “My Way” seems a pretty good description of the governor’s attitude these days. Actually, after the last week or two, a better summation might be not a song but an old saying:

“My way,” the message seems to be, “or the highway.”

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.