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Time seems right for bolder Jindal policy-making

Will Gov. Bobby Jindal in a second term shed caution in his agenda and throw deep? Indications are that there’s no better time to do and, if he doesn’t go for it this time with conditions such as they are, he never will.

Jindal’s first term demonstrated him as the most conservative in the state’s history and as its greatest reformer. Of course, the baseline does not offer any more than a couple of other governors right of center because they too fully accepted the populist premise of big government doing more than it needed, while several past governors only acted as reformers in the sense that they wished to make government more honest, not less intrusive. What distinguishes Jindal to date is he is the first to reject explicitly the populist persuasion and seek to remove government from areas in which it does not belong and/or where it cannot work as efficiently as alternatives can.

But, Jindal has governed as a cautious reformer.
For example, he has led the state in the direction that most have taken, in reforming Medicaid by turning aspects of its administration over to the private sector to induce better quality and more efficient care. That’s reform, but only cautiously so because at the same time he has not reduced much the commitment the state has to its unique populist charity hospital system as devices first and foremost to serve the indigent. For example, he allowed building of a more grandiose such hospital in New Orleans when a smaller version could have served a primary mission of medical education. And rather than remove the state completely from the long-term care hospital business in Alexandria, he has permitted the state to embark on a new building program there, unlike his response to a similar situation in Baton Rouge. Bold reform would exit the state from owning hospitals except for medical education, perhaps leaving only one each in New Orleans and Shreveport.

So his track record suggests reform would continue, but without breaking out from the incremental, low-risk category. Yet, especially in the area of education, Jindal’s rhetoric leading up to his second inauguration indicates a more far-reaching, higher-risk agenda. If we judge actions more demonstrative than words, are his current public statements just hot air?

Three reasons lend credence to thinking that he’ll practice what he preaches. First, in the similar situation four years ago, Jindal followed through. He said to anybody who cared to listen he would introduce ethics reforms, he then did, and eventually he put enough political muscle behind them to accomplish much. Granted, they ended up more as an extra base hit than grand slam and represented an easy target to mash, but he did what he said he would. If he telegraphed four years ago, we can expect he does the same now.

Second, his next reelection possibility in the state, if any, comes in eight years. He cannot run for reelection and the chances of him running for any political office in the state other than governor are about zero. Bigger changes mean bigger risk that may bring bigger failure and/or create more enemies, but eight years is plenty of time to work through negative externalities generated by a bold agenda. Now, as opposed to the previous four years, he may be willing to take this chance.

Third, his political opponents’ own rhetoric shows they are on the ropes and desperate to prevent what they fear to be unstoppable. For example, note what one of the most regressive forces in Louisiana politics, the head of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers Steve Monaghan has to say, regarding Jindal’s past specific and future broad plans about elementary and secondary education: “He's always been very smart about the language …. They aren't ‘vouchers.’ They are ‘opportunity scholarships.’ He's talking about ‘choice for parents’ when really it's choice for private schools.”

When a political hack begins to claim policy battles are being determined by “language” and then piles on with (in his facile rendering of “choice”) inaccurate examples, it’s a sure sign that articulator is on the losing side of a battle of ideas, because he is so wedded to an inferior notion that he cannot bear discarding it despite real-world results, so an alternative explanation bearing little resemblance to reality must be found. The same comes from another Jindal adversary, the leader of House of Representative Democrats John Bel Edwards when he asserts Republican Jindal talks in clichés and “I hope we can get beyond these platitudes of doing more with less. That’s a bunch of hogwash.”

The narrative Edwards desperately wants to propagate is that government must take more from those who earn rather than diet through reducing government spending that makes people take more responsibility for their own actions, or by reducing the preferential resources enjoyed by certain interests inside and outside of state government that comprise his constituencies and reinforce his worldview. In this fashion, he seeks to avoid the truth that his viewpoint loses in the marketplace of ideas through using terms about his opposition that attempt to trivialize their winning points. And when this is the best your opponents can do, you must realize the time is ripe to move aggressively with policy promoting fundamental change according to your superior ideas.

Thus, we can expect a less-cautious reformer in Jindal during his second term, more willing to go for broke and, in the process, revealing a more conservative, more reformist Jindal than witnessed the past four years. This might satiate many in the chorus of conservative critics of Jindal’s who argue incorrectly that he has not governed as a conservative when in reality he has not governed perfectly conservatively on all issues and/or on ones they care about. Whether he does, by trying Jindal makes the state no worse off, and by succeeding it becomes much better off than if he continued in the mode of his first term.

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