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Jindal political recovery starting but needs more action

Great out of the gate but stumbling more recently, is Gov. Bobby Jindal getting back on track to enhance his ability to lead Louisiana in the nearer term, and perhaps to take aim at loftier political ambitions?

After two successful special sessions called at his behest, during the regular session Jindal encountered difficulty with two items in particular due to apparent inattentiveness. First, he failed to get behind a needed income tax cut – in fact resisting it at first – until the very end, and since has tried clumsily to take credit for it. Second, he allowed legislators to vote themselves a hefty pay raise that put him in the awkward position of reneging on a promise to them, not to veto it, in order to fulfill a promise to voters to oppose a massive increase, taking on political damage needlessly and perhaps making more difficult getting his future agenda adopted.

But since his veto of the legislator pay raise, he seems to have gathered momentum. He cast some good line item vetoes, keeping a promise that only projects that were documented and of statewide necessity would get his assent (although it seems only the most egregious local projects were slashed by him). He also vetoed a far less publicized but just as odious pay raise for Public Service Commissioners and, living up to another campaign pledge, vetoed an attempted expansion of gambling in Iberville Parish. He generally has held the line on weakening ethics reforms such as by vetoing a bill that would have prohibited the use of anonymous information in an ethics investigation (although some exceptions have slipped by with their attachment to other pieces of legislation Jindal found laudable enough to sign).

These actions have reinforced some national predictions for Jindal to go far and succeed within conservative and Republican ranks. But success for Jindal in Louisiana, a prerequisite for any national political aspirations, will depend upon his consideration of the issues left over from this year’s sessions, addressed, manufactured, and looming.

First, Jindal must realize that the Legislature, even as he may find its independence desirable in theory, if in practice is allowed to govern without his reformist supervision that it will not veer in the policy direction he supports and hoped would happen. By now the evidence seems clear (such as by ethics backtracking and the temerity of the raise) that reformist impulses within the Legislature are insufficient to actually produce positive change without somewhat heavy-handed involvement on his part. Jindal may have thought the influx of new legislators, many of whom ran on similar reform ideas as he, would prevent this from happening, but obviously it did not. However, enough of the new with some of the old have not fallen for the siren song of power so that he can make common cause with them to help overcome distrust engendered from the pay raise handling fiasco to pass his programs.

Second, Jindal must realize his credentials for smaller government have been damaged by his late-boarding-yet-credit-taking for the tax cut. The only way to restore them to health is by his finding another such cut to enact before the end of his term, perhaps targeting this time corporate rates (more broadly than his recent pronouncement of merely looking at the usefulness of tax credits). Another thing he could do to enhance this is be even more ruthless with line item vetoes concerning the state’s appropriation bill than he was with the vetoes within the aforementioned supplemental bill.

Third, Jindal must tackle – as he has given reason to believe in recent statements – the issue area that promises the most to gain from efficiency, restructuring health care. As state revenues are predicted to slack off, hundreds of millions of dollars of spending reductions without lowering the amount or quality of service can be achieved simply by moving the state from its absurd over-reliance on institutional-based care towards money following the person meaning more community- and individual-based solutions.

His first four months in office were stellar, the next two troubled, but in his seventh month Jindal seems to be regaining his footing and following these policy paths will ensure that momentum will continue for the next year.

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