Political Horizons for Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012

Jindal's popularity slumps

by mark ballard

Capitol news bureau

Some conservatives are saying — with apologies to Creedence Clearwater Revival — there’s a bad moon on the rise in Louisiana.

Conversation on conservative blogs and talk radio was pumped last week by a poll that charted a 13 percentage point drop in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approval rating in the past year. The poll was paid for by Lane Grisgby, a frequent contributor to conservative causes and candidates.

Louisiana Democrats were almost gleeful in emails to their supporters. They pointed out that the poll results were released before the announcement of the latest round of LSU hospital cuts, which are expected to cost nearly 1,500 people their jobs.

Didn’t Jindal win re-election with a landslide 66 percent of the vote just 12 months ago? Can this be true?

Yes, says Moon Griffon, the talk radio host with a statewide audience, and the governor brought it on himself.

Conservatives are pointing to inconsistencies and asking questions. “They don’t see Bobby as a fiscal conservative. They see him as selfish. It’s all about him. They don’t know how sincere he is about changing this state,” he said.

Conservatives want to know, Griffon said, why the state’s payroll costs are rising while the administration brags about everyday state workers being let go? What about Jindal’s frequent out-of-state travels on behalf of other GOP candidates?

“For me it started with Alario,” Griffon said about Jindal’s promise to rid state government of the old guard, then backing state Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, for Senate president.

Jindal used a 103-word prepared statement to respond to the poll. In the first 49 words, Jindal said he doesn’t listen to polls but works for results. He then picked up GOP campaign “talking points” for the next 54 words and criticized President Barack Obama.

Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s chief political adviser, ticked off several reasons the poll’s results should be dismissed. Ultimately, he said, making tough decisions, like Jindal does, is not always popular.

“When you cut government spending and improve government efficiency and create economic vitality, all during tough economic times,” Teepell said, some people are liable to get upset.

Pollster Bernie Pinsonat cited several reasons for the outcome of the poll he oversaw.

To name two, he said: Fatigue from the extent of cuts to the budget that pays for state government services – 68 percent don’t want additional cuts – and weariness from Jindal’s road trips on behalf of GOP candidates – 45.6 percent opposed governor getting involved in national politics.

But it is the governor’s handling of the budget cuts to LSU public hospitals that seems to have the biggest impact on the governor’s approval ratings, said Pinsonat.

His Southern Media & Opinion Research Inc., in Baton Rouge, asked 600 randomly selected Louisiana voters 26 issues questions from Sept. 11 to Sept. 20. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Eighty-nine percent said they were concerned by the cuts, according to the poll.

Seventy-nine percent said the charity system would not be able to provide the same quality of health care, and 80 percent said Louisiana residents would lose access to health care as a result.

Pinsonat says the way he reads the answers is that people don’t necessarily oppose whatever is going to be the latest plan for a system that has seen many since it was founded. The responses indicate that the respondents are uncomfortable with not knowing exactly what Jindal has planned for the LSU-run hospitals, he said.

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, a self-described fiscal conservative, said he didn’t want to comment on the poll and backs many of Jindal’s initiatives. But Kennedy added that he too is often frustrated with bumper-sticker jargon by Jindal’s acolytes instead of thoughtful analysis.

“If you’re going to shut down a 60-year-old hospital,” Kennedy said, “you need to go there, look them in the eye and tell them why.”

During a legislative hearing on the issue, Kennedy watched on his office television as Alario lectured LSU officials on the need for transparency in a democracy.

“Only the governor, at the end of the day, can articulate the vision and explain why that sort of dramatic change is good for Louisiana,” Kennedy said. “You can’t send somebody to do it for you.”

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