My expectations are high for Louisiana. When Gov. Bobby Jindal leaves office after four years or eight years, I expect us to be 48th to New Mexico’s 49th and Mississippi’s 50th in all those health, economic and human welfare rankings. It’s bad enough that we share a border with the Magnolia State; must we be constant companions at the bottom of all the lists as well, the two wallflowers slouching in the metal fold-up chairs at the margin of the prom? (Although, in light of that proximity — us 49, them 50, generally — I’ve long lobbied for replacing “Union. Justice. Confidence.” with “Thank God for Mississippi” as the state motto. My campaign has so far failed to gain traction.) Moving down to second or third in cancer and incarceration rates is also a lofty goal, but I know that’s out of Jindal’s control: “Eatin’ and Beatin’” is my second choice for state slogan.
There’s been a lot of grousing lately about a perceived lack of leadership by the governor, not to mention his do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do ethics reforms as well as those big cardboard checks, which I just mentioned. The latest example of Jindal refusing to stick his neck out, of giving lip service without biting in, involves embattled state public-school Superintendent Paul Pastorek. Last week the Louisiana Federation of Teachers urged the governor to step in and play a calming role after two powerful education unions — the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of Educators — called for Pastorek’s resignation in apparent retaliation for his attempt to reform school boards in the spring legislative session.
Jindal’s response? I support Pastorek’s reform agenda, but I’ll sit this one out. You would think a Republican governor would relish the opportunity to give a union the business, what with all the vile things unions have done over the years, like the eight-hour work day.
But simultaneously giving Pastorek a warm nod and a cold shoulder isn’t leadership. As Peep Goat (our “INDsider’s insider) vividly put it last week in these very pages, Jindal is “playing like a team with a big lead: don’t score more points, just play defense.” That’s offensive in a state facing catastrophic budget shortfalls in the coming years; we need him in Baton Rouge with his sleeves rolled up sporting the five o’clock shadow I’m not sure he can muster. Even a spray of whisker on the chin would be fine. But I and many others in this beloved humidifier aren’t convinced Jindal is bringing his A game, and his impotent support for Pastorek is a perfect example.
It matters not whether one agrees with Pastorek’s positions on school board reform or the career diploma; it does no one any good to have the state superintendent of schools, a major teachers’ union and the school board union rolling around on the floor like pre-schoolers. The unions, for their part, should have left well enough alone; they swatted down the school board reform bills with nary the bat of an eye.
By endorsing Pastorek’s reform agenda but declining to broker a truce, Jindal left Pastorek flapping in the wind, although the unflappable school chief is by no means waving a white flag; he vows to soldier on, with or without a Piyush from the governor’s mansion.
But it leaves one to wonder: When are we going to see the aggressive, gifted Bobby Jindal who was given a mandate by voters? Can he do it? Can he actually advance Louisiana, make it a better place to live, a place where our children want to live? His predecessors — Republican and Democrat alike — have come and gone with little effect on our bottom-dwelling status. It’s us and Mississippi, as usual, watching Vermont and Washington do a transcontinental tango. Meanwhile, this lousy metal fold-up chair is getting uncomfortable.