Political Horizons: Unpopularity hurts Jindal

A few weeks ago, the members of a Republican club in Mandeville blasted away at Gov. Bobby Jindal.

There were harsh comments about this and that, but mostly it was about the depth — or lack thereof — of the governor’s involvement in state issues.

Since the governor himself wasn’t there, two Louisiana House committee chairmen — both Jindal acolytes, certifiable by virtue of positions that neither would hold but for the governor’s endorsement — took the brunt of the assault. State Reps. Tim Burns, of Mandeville, and Kevin Pearson, of Slidell, were questioned closely about how Jindal puts together coalitions, pursues his “reforms” and interacts with legislators.

In answer to one questioner, both Jindal floor leaders pondered aloud together about their last conversation with the governor. When was that visit to the Mansion where the chocolate chip cookies were served? Or was it that party over the holidays?

Either way, it was clear that neither spoke directly to Jindal during the legislative session.

Mandeville had an estimated 12,112 people in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau. A total of 1,022 supporters contributed $603,074 to Jindal’s campaigns, says the Board of Ethics. The city’s precincts supported his re-election mostly with 80 percent to 90 percent majorities, according to the Secretary of State.

Pollster Bernie Pinsonat, who also was there, attributed part of Jindal’s current low popularity to “reform fatigue” — financial disclosures for candidates and elected officials, privatizing charity hospitals, swapping sales for income taxes, deep cuts to state services, and vouchers for private schools, all of which are pushed not so much with the persuasion of governing, but with the name-calling of campaigning.

Another part is Jindal’s focus on national politics, he said. “Frustration, that’s what we were hearing that night,” Pinsonat said. It was Pinsonat’s poll that first documented Jindal’s popularity ratings had dropped below 50 percent.

The Republican Party in Louisiana remains fractured and with the various factions seemingly incapable of working together, Pinsonat said, despite controlling all offices elected statewide, majorities in both the Louisiana House and state Senate, one of the two U.S. Senators, and five of the six representatives in the U.S. House.

Jindal has been busy campaigning out-of-state for GOP candidates and telling the national Republicans how best to fix their house, which Pinsonat said his surveys indicated was a source of irritation among many Louisiana voters. “If Jindal were talking about the Republicans back home, he would certainly need to be more involved to get this house back in order,” Pinsonat said.

Voters also see that Jindal tries to pass responsibility of unpopular decisions to legislators.

For instance, reacting to calls for a session to override line-item veto of money that was budgeted to expand services to another 200 developmentally disabled people, Jindal argued that nobody currently receiving services was cut.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican, said a lot of people in his southeast Baton Rouge district, where Jindal grew up, don’t buy into the administration’s specific picks on individual nits. Rather they look at the bottom line and blame the governor.

“The lady next door who picks up the newspaper and chats with me at the end of the driveway, she doesn’t know … all these nuanced theories of who did this, but not that, so therefore can’t blame me. She just knows what she sees and what she reads in the paper and she is not happy,” Claitor said. They see a $25.4 billion state spending plan and ask why couldn’t the money for disability services be taken from the Poverty Point park or the state Department of Economic Development funds, he said.

These are Jindal supporters. In just two of the zip codes in southeast Baton Rouge district — 70808 and 70810 — a total of 2,216 donors gave Jindal about $1.8 million in campaign contributions, according to the Ethics Administration.

Pinsonat said for Jindal to have a viable national career, he’s going to have to increase his numbers before leaving the Governor’s Mansion.

“Jindal needs to talk about things more oriented towards people, rather than the technical aspects of legislation and policy,” Pinsonat said. “It’s important for any governor to be liked. That carries you further into history than anything you accomplished.”

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