Bobby Jindal’s in the doghouse with Louisiana voters these days.
The once hugely popular Republican governor, who won reelection with 66 percent of the vote in 2011, has seen his approval ratings plummet to 37 percent in a February Public Policy Polling poll and to 38 percent this month in a poll done by Southern Media and Opinion Research. Adding to Jindal’s woes is the fact that his push to eliminate the income tax — a bold proposal that was seen as an opportunity to boost his 2016 chances — was recently defeated, with Louisiana house legislators refusing to move the relevant legislation out of committee.
Jindal’s team is undeterred: “Every governor hits rough patches,” says Curt Anderson, who serves as his top political consultant. Jindal’s internal polling shows that both his approval and disapproval ratings are 48 percent.
Speaking about the defeat on taxes, Anderson adds, “I think his attitude is you go for what you think is the best thing for the state, and you push for it, and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t, but if you take the attitude of ‘Well, I’m only going to propose things that I know will pass,’ then that’s a pretty timid approach.” Jindal felt that the tax reform would create jobs and boost pay for Louisianans — and so he went for it.
State politicos point out that not only did the tax initiative flop, it also earned Jindal the opposition of some who would generally be on his side, such as the business community: The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry came out against the proposal, which would have significantly hiked taxes on businesses. From the left, the bill was attacked for its regressivity. And Jindal’s idea to help offset the revenue lost from eliminating the income tax by hiking cigarette taxes didn’t boost the plan’s popularity.
“The income-tax plan was not popular because I think people didn’t like the fact that our sales taxes would be so high,” says Jeff Crouere, a conservative radio-talk-show host in Louisiana. “He was also jacking up cigarette taxes over a dollar a pack. He was also going after the film industry, which a lot of people think has been very beneficial to the state.”
A Louisiana GOP operative says that in “the last couple of sessions, the fiscal-hawk wing, the economic-conservative wing of the legislature have made a big PR push to expose how [Jindal] says he’s a big conservative, but he does a lot of budget sleight of hands.” (The operative also mentions another of Jindal’s vulnerabilities: his education-reform bill, which has earned him “PR beatings by the teachers’ union.”)
Louisiana state representative Cameron Henry, a Republican, told the New Orleans news website The Lens that Jindal was “not a true conservative on fiscal matters,” and added: “It’s not fiscally responsible to spend one-time money on recurring expenses. It’s not fiscally responsible or constitutionally allowed to have contingencies or one-time money in the state budget.”
Anderson calls the claim that Jindal isn’t a fiscal conservative “insane.”
“There’s no governor with a record like he has of cutting spending,” Anderson says. “There are 26,000 fewer government positions today than there were when he first took office. The state budget is considerably smaller. It would be more accurate to say that there are people who feel like he’s cut too much.”
Another factor affecting Jindal is the amount of time he’s spent outside the Bayou State this past year. “He, over the past year, has been out of the state almost constantly,” Crouere observes. “He has been traveling for Mitt Romney, for his own fundraising. People know clearly he’s interested in running for president [and see him as] an absentee governor.”
“He’s been on a lot of national shows,” Crouere adds of Jindal, “but he’s not as accessible to local media.”
There is also growing discussion about whether the Jindal team goes too far with hardball politics. In December, The Lens had this headline: “Jindal Gaining Reputation for Punishing Those Who Stand in His Way.”
Anderson retorts that it’s Jindal’s record that’s earned him ill will. “When you do things like force through an ethics reform,” he says, “and an education reform that includes opportunity scholarships for low-income kids and eliminating tenure, trying to eliminate the income tax, and trying to reform the only state-run charity hospital in the country and turn it into a public-private partnership, you’re kind of dismantling a lot of the culture that Huey Long set up and you amass enemies when you do that.”
Ultimately, Jindal isn’t concerned about his current dip in popularity. What would get Jindal’s attention, Anderson says, is a different number: if “unemployment, instead of being a couple points below the average, instead [was] a couple points above the national average.”