Jindal: Eyes on the prize, but which one? Photo by Gage Skidmore

In his Oct. 22 re-election victory speech, Gov. Bobby Jindal repeatedly stressed his desire to make his second term as productive as possible. “I will use every day, every hour of these next four years to make Louisiana the very best that we can be. I don’t believe on resting on our past accomplishments. I don’t believe in taking time off,” he said.

Not long after, Jindal flew to a fundraiser in Tennessee for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running (stumbling?) for president. Not long after that, Jindal’s office sent out a release that promoted a piece praising Jindal’s past budgetary accomplishments. Shortly after that, Jindal’s political strategist, former Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, tossed out the possibility of a third term: “I can’t imagine this is his last term,” Teepell told The Associated Press.

By touting the past, campaigning out of state, and dreaming about third terms, Team Jindal seems to be straying off message. Instead, they should focus on the present and spend their political capital on difficult legislative goals for the coming year. If Jindal can make his second term half as good as his first term appears to his supporters, Louisiana would be a lot better off, and I suppose any future term in office would take care of itself.

But instead of focus we get smoke, mirrors and hubris.

The smoke is the idea that Jindal’s stumping for Perry helps Louisiana. Jindal always says that any time he can tell people about Louisiana while campaigning for out-of-state Republicans, it’s good for Louisiana. This is a dubious argument, though. Following Jindal’s logic, should Sen. Mary Landrieu stump more for out-of-state Democrats? Should Rep. Cedric Richmond leave the Bayou State to militate for President Obama’s re-election? Is that the best use of their time in office, or does this reasoning apply only to Jindal?

The mirrors relate to the Jindal administration touting a grotesquely inflated “conservative” record to right wing media. Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis described the phenomenon in his Nov. 16 column.

Jindal appears under no pressure, following his landslide re-election, to share details of what he plans to tell the Legislature to do in his second term. Legislators he has tapped to be Senate president and speaker of the House are checking with him before naming committee chairmen. The abrogation of the separation of powers, traditional in Louisiana, is unheard of in other states.

What is heard is the hum of his PR machine, polishing up the record of his first term. Along with real accomplishments were included some specious claims that admiring opinion writers in other states have swallowed as fact. The most glaring was Jindal’s campaign claim of slashing $9 billion in spending from the budget he inherited in 2008 to the one he signed this year.

The B.R. Advocate Inside Report  also covered the story, complete with hit-and-miss attempts at vivid description:

The idea that Jindal cut the budget by 25 percent is based on a shakier premise than assuming the sky is falling when an acorn falls from a tree.

Jindal did not take a pair of scissors and snip away more than $9 billion through privatization, consolidation and a fire sale. He is taking credit for cutting dollars that the federal government sent to Louisiana to help homeowners rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As the recovery took hold, those dollars stopped coming, deflating the state budget faster than taking a jagged piece of glass to a tire.

Political watchdog C.B. Forgotston first dissected Jindal’s claim, yet received no  credit for his analysis. He makes a clear, fact-based point with a minimum of words:

The Fiscal Year 2008 state budget which Jindal inherited from the Kathleen Blanco Administration was base on the state receiving an estimated $19.8 Billion from the federal government.

In fairness, when Blanco submitted the budget she only estimated $15.6 billion in fed funds. Apparently, the leges boosted the estimated fed funds during the 2007 regular session.

However, the state actually received only $12.9 billion from the feds during Fiscal Year 2008. That alone accounted for $6.9 billion of the $9 billion that Bobby claims he “cut” from the state budget over 4 years.

Even the $2.1 billion difference in alleged “cuts” is suspect because it is not based on the final numbers for the current fiscal year.The actual size of the current budget will not be known until late 2013 or early 2014.

So Jindal maybe cut the budget by $2 billion over four years, yet boasts of slashing $9 billion. And shortly after Jindal touted these phantom cuts, two prominent conservative pundits repeated the false claim.  Opinion man Cal Thomas recently wrote:

Gov. Jindal also confronted wasteful spending, which Washington politicians often talk about but do little to reverse. He reduced the state budget by $9 billion, or 26 percent, in part by eliminating unnecessary government jobs and streamlining services.

In his nationally-syndicated column, Thomas asked Jindal why the national media ignored his re-election, as well as his conservative record:

“It runs contrary to the political thinking in Washington, which is about more spending and bigger government,” [Jindal] said. The big media don’t want to focus on successes that come as the result of smaller government and less spending because it not only reduces the size and power of government but the influence of journalists who see themselves co-equal with, if not superior to, government.

Jindal should be glad that the national media ignored his record of spending cuts. If they had seen Forgotston’s anlaysis, they’d know Jindal couldn’t have cut money he never had. Instead of celebrating Jindal, national pundits would be making wisecracks like: Jindal, if you’re going to say reduced projections are real cuts, then why not go all in? Get your your legislative lackeys to project a trillion-dollar infusion from the feds, so when Louisiana receives a few billion, you can brag that you’re the austerest governor of all time?

That’s part of the hubris, though: Jindal blasts the national media for not uncritically transcribing his shaky claims about alleged austerity. And he grandly allows his adoring columnists to tout him for vice president, always deflecting such talk with the non-answer, “I already have the job I want.”

Note the timing and sequence of these items. Not long after Jindal endorsed Perry for president, his chief of staff was hired by Perry’s communications outfit. Then Perry botched several debate appearances and his support cratered. This surprisingly drastic drop in support would seemingly foreclose opportunities Jindal might have had for vice president. But now, all of a sudden, columnists like Cal Thomas are rallying around Jindal’s Louisiana “miracle.” They tell everyone that Jindal painlessly cut the state budget by over 25 percent. As Republican voters are craving a champion of austerity, Thomas says of Jindal:

His resume and track record commend him for vice president, whoever the eventual Republican nominee turns out to be.

When anyone asks Jindal about the vice presidency, he never shuts down speculation by saying, “I wouldn’t take that job right now, even if it were offered to me.” Remember, Jindal is a risk-averse man, but he placed a big early bet on Perry. Now it looks like he bet on a longshot. Between the recent promotion of Jindal, and Teepell’s thoughts about a third term for him, is this Jindal’s way of hedging his bet? Is the subtext here a message to voters that says: “Don’t worry, even if Jindal leaves soon for national office, he can always come back to finish the job.”

You can’t discount the possibility, because Team Jindal is great at playing double games, and is hubristic enough to believe the public will never catch on.

Jindal grandly rejects federal money for poor communities that lack broadband service, while  taking full credit for road improvements funded by billions of federal tax dollars. He tells voters that he’s focused on improving Louisiana, yet constantly flies out of state to campaign for Republican candidates. He’ll tout his phantom budget cuts to gullible pundits, while the state economy has been buoyed by federal disaster recovery monies He’ll preach about conservative “principles,” and then recommend Sen. John Alario to lead the Senate. He’ll blame the national media for ignoring his re-election and conservative bona fides, while enjoying a national platform on “Meet the Press” (in order to represent Perry).  He’ll assure Louisianans that his administration will maximize each hour in his upcoming term, while his top strategist expects a Jindal third term. Jindal says being governor is the best job he’ll ever have, and then cozies up to nationally syndicated columnists willing to recommend him for vice president in 2012.

It should all work out fine as long as Louisianans are convinced there’s no separation between the destiny of their state and their governor’s political ambitions.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...