Washington Watch: Jindal takes joking jabs

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Gov. Bobby Jindal received wide praise last week for his standup comedy routine at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, D.C., with President Barack Obama and other politicians.

Jindal made jokes about himself, the president, Mitt Romney, the media and much more. He even took aim at the partially debunked prostitution scandal of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., although it certainly didn’t seem like the target was the New Jersey senator.

“Unfortunately, there has been an uptick in sex scandals in Washington D.C., these days,” Jindal said. “The Menendez scandal is disturbing. Soliciting prostitution is completely unacceptable. We would never put up with that in Louisiana.”

While his name went unsaid, the jab went to Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and his 2007 prostitution scandal. Jindal and other Louisiana politicians have made similar jokes — such as during local Gridiron dinner shows in Baton Rouge — but not on such a national stage.

But such is the political reality in the GOP-dominated Louisiana. The state’s top Republicans — Jindal, Vitter and throw in Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne for good measure — aren’t exactly buddy-buddy with each other. It’s certainly no secret in the state, although the infighting is less known on the national scale. Jindal and Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy also routinely trade barbs on budget policy.

Of course, the Democrats in the state are weakened to the point that an internal squabble might require a family feud between Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Back to the GOP though, Jindal never offered support for Vitter after the 2007 scandal and Jindal didn’t endorse Vitter for re-election either.

Vitter then began making more criticisms on Jindal’s use of one-time money and federal dollars to balance the state budget.

Vitter enjoyed pointing out he would endorse Jindal for re-election while also saying the governor needed to become more “bold” in his second term.

As for Dardenne, Vitter openly campaigned for and endorsed his lieutenant governor opponent, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. After Dardenne won re-election, Jindal then hosted a fundraiser — seeking up to $5,000 per contributor — to help Nungesser get rid of $1 million in personal debt from his losing campaign. Jindal, of course, had no such fundraiser for Dardenne.

Next, Vitter, Dardenne and Kennedy could become the top contenders for the governor’s office in 2015 while the term-limited Jindal considers running for president.

Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, and Bob Mann, an LSU communications professor and former Democratic political aide, agreed that the feuding is in large part a clashing of personalities and the desire to become the alpha dog in the state GOP.

“Vitter’s never been afraid to critique and, some might say, take potshots at Jindal. That’s bold,” Mann said.

“Understandably, I think the Jindal people are annoyed by that, if not offended,” Mann continued. “I think it’s personal, and I think it’s a struggle of political power in the state and who’s going to be the most powerful Republican.”

Goidel said Jindal’s prostitution joke stood out to him.

“It was a really funny line, but he certainly didn’t have to do it,” Goidel said. “Vitter was critical of Jindal in that first term for not being aggressive enough. He (Jindal) hasn’t dished out as much and it was a chance to jab him (Vitter).”

Going forward, Goidel and Mann said, it will be interesting to see what role Jindal plays in the next governor’s race and whether he will try to prevent Vitter or Dardenne from succeeding him.

Vitter is a “really tough competitor and he’ll take no prisoner,” Mann said. “But I also think people have really underestimated Jay Dardenne and the connection he has with the people in the state.”

While Vitter was the only Louisiana elected official Jindal joked about last week, in the spirit of fun Jindal did bring up some past politicians from the state.

“You may have heard that when our former Gov. Edwin Edwards got out of jail last year he immediately married a woman 50 years his younger,” Jindal said.

“But you may not have read his quote about that, and I’m not making this up, he said, ‘You’re only as young as the woman you feel,” Jindal continued. “My wife didn’t feel that was funny.

“David Duke was colorful … his favorite color was white,” Jindal added in a final zinger.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington
bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.