As an unprecedented $2 billion shortfall eats away at health care and higher education while state government braces for lockdown, Gov. Bobby Jindal has found a new way to address tough challenges — hitting the road. It’s a sad day when, as Rome burns, the only thing you see of the emperor is his derriere as he high-tails it out of town, but such is the case. Consider his recent schedule:
Friday, Jan. 30 — Jindal spent the first part of his day at the Rapides Parish Courthouse discussing his legislative priorities for cracking down on sex offenders. While that’s a worthy cause, the governor knows he doesn’t need to beat this drum. Is anyone rising to the defense of sex offenders? Of course not.
It’s a PR move, a distraction. Later that day, Jindal held a town hall meeting, or rather met with business interests, inside a warehouse in Thornwell, just outside Lake Arthur. Jindal has conducted at least one of these gatherings each week since being elected. In a way, they’re an extension of his campaign. Only this time, it’s about 2011 and not 2007.
Meanwhile, that same day, Dow Chemical announced the elimination of 260 high-paying chemical jobs in Plaquemine and Hahnville. The layoffs will quicken the pace of the recession in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Tuesday, Feb. 3 — The governor traveled to Winnfield and Jena to announce homeland security funding for Winn and LaSalle parishes. While it’s wonderful that Jindal is willing to attend ceremonial, ribbon-cutting announcements in person, there’s got to be a cabinet official or lackey capable of shaking hands and posing for pictures in times such as these.
Back home in Baton Rouge, news broke that the state ethics board — the agency whose authority Jindal trimmed last year, but now he’s protecting it from budget cuts — is paying a consulting firm $250 an hour to help with “strategic planning and staff reorganization.” The maximum payout, according to a contract inked in 2007, was to be $10,000. On this day, the total was doubled to $20,000. Apparently Jindal couldn’t find anyone in the belly of state government to do the job.
Wednesday, Feb. 4 — In an effort to raise his national profile to help him not run for president, Jindal traveled to North Carolina for a campaign fund-raiser “in support of his gubernatorial re-election campaign.” The Shaw Group Inc., a Baton Rouge-based Fortune 500 company and a frequent political player, served as host. Jindal also delivered the keynote address at the John Locke Foundation’s Annual Dinner that evening.
While Jindal was in another state, Louisiana officials unveiled plans to raid a special transportation fund to the tune of $750 million to help pay for a package of roads and bridges voters approved more than 20 years ago. The lapsed projects are part of an initiative known as the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, or TIMED. It appears state officials had a small problem projecting construction costs. Originally thought to cost the state $1.4 billion, the most recent tally is now $5.2 billion.
Thursday, Feb. 5 — Back on the trail of sex offenders, Jindal traveled to Monroe and Lafayette to tout his legislative priority.
Friday, Feb. 6 — Jindal flew to Arkansas for a weekend’s gorging of fund-raisers with Wal-Mart and Tyson executives. On the same day, the Louisiana chemical industry announced more job cuts could be coming stateside, and the Louisiana Child Poverty Prevention Council met in Baton Rouge to recommend new laws.
Saturday, Feb. 7 — Jindal spoke at the Washington County Lincoln Day Dinner in Springdale. Back in Louisiana, communities around the state observed National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day — without Jindal — by hosting various events, including free tests and other state-supported services.
Finally back in the Bayou State this week, the governor kicked off Monday by touring the barracks at Fort Polk and visiting the Lake Charles courthouse to — once again — highlight his legislative priorities for cracking down on sex offenders. This, on the day before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations begins reviewing the salaries and expenses of a half-dozen state agencies, including Jindal’s own branch.
No doubt Jindal’s travels can benefit Louisiana. But can’t feel-good victory laps wait until he plugs the state budget’s $2 billion hole? So far, his ideas look no different from those of previous governors.
Granted, some of his accountability measures are new to the process, but the ranges of cuts Jindal has sent to each agency look like recycled across-the-board cuts — with higher education and health care shouldering the burden, as usual. Shades of Edwin Edwards, minus the jokes.
If Jindal doesn’t make some dramatic (and effective) moves soon, he may have all the time he wants to move about the country — after the next election. But not on taxpayers’ dime
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.