Inside Report for Nov. 16, 2012

Jindal playing to national audience

BY MICHELLE MILLHOLLON

Capitol news bureau

Around the State Capitol, Gov. Bobby Jindal is known as “aloof.”

Even the legislators lucky enough to get a contribution from his war chest during campaign season are hard-pressed to get an audience with the governor.

To be fair, Jindal is a busy guy.

He constantly crisscrosses the country for fundraisers and Republican causes. He hopped on the campaign trail for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, making stops in multiple states.

After the election, Jindal became quiet, refusing requests from local media to discuss the results or what he planned to do about an exchange mandated by the federal health care law.

Lately, though, Jindal seems to have added the song “Call Me Maybe” to his ringtone, at least where the national media are concerned.

Suddenly, after nearly a week’s silence, Jindal popped up in Politico. He was downright chatty, giving a 45-minute interview in which he cast himself as the go-to guy on how the national Republican Party can be fixed. He gushed about his love for his job as governor. He did a little bragging about his expected gig as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

The next day, Jindal got on the phone with the Huffington Post, another national news website. He gave the answer to a question the Baton Rouge press corps asked a week earlier without receiving a response. No, Louisiana would not be implementing the exchange, the governor said.

So while the local media chase him, it seems Jindal is giving his number to the national guys. And they’re calling him, no maybes about it.

The governor’s coziness with media that reach a larger audience is not surprising for someone considered part of the emerging future generation of the national GOP. But it is surprising for a governor who claims to have the job he loves. The constituents in his home state now need to Google their governor to catch the latest news about him, whether it’s for his recap of the election or for an important decision that could impact their health care.

Legislators don’t seem to have the governor’s number either.

Frustrated with a lack of information on massive health care cuts implemented by the governor, the Legislature flirted with the possibility of holding a special session to review Jindal’s decisions. The effort died, but the fact that it got as far as it did no doubt embarrassed, or at the very least, annoyed the governor.

Then the governor’s attempt to hire Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to manage state employee health plans slammed into a brick wall. The Jindal administration promised the move would save money. Legislators and others were slow to jump on board the proposal.

At one point, Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, referenced the “elephant in the room.”

He said the problem was a lack of trust.

Eventually, the Jindal administration managed to unmangle the mess, but only after the firings of two Republican legislative committee members.

This week, Jindal escaped the cold snap in Louisiana for warmer temperatures in Las Vegas, where he flew to claim chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.

The RGA’s mission is to put Republicans in governor’s mansions across the country.

More importantly, the RGA is the type of organization that can summon Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich to staff retreats.

While in Nevada, Jindal continued to make himself available to the national media while ignoring Baton Rouge reporters.

One positive thing for the governor about articulating his message to national news organizations is that those reporters are not as in tune as the local media with the unhappiness boiling over in Louisiana.

Michelle Millhollon covers the governor’s office for The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mmillhollon@theadvocate.com.