Landrieu and Jindal: political opposites likely to be judged together

“The reality is I am impatient. … I am an impatient reformer, and every day I wake up wanting to do even more to move our state forward and to improve our state.” — Gov. Bobby Jindal, addressing the state Legislature, April 8

“He [Mayor Mitch Landrieu] has a clear vision, and he is impatient and gets frustrated when he knows people are stalling on making tough decisions because it’s politically hard —  because he knows there’s only tougher challenges ahead.” — Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni

The mayor and the governor have different haircuts, collar sizes and political views. But they do share things in common.

Both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Governor Bobby Jindal are fast talkers. They can pack a lot of words into a short speech.

When they’re asked a question, there’s no hemming and hawing before they blaze into their talking points, with practiced conviction. (Whether their talking-point responses actually answer the question is a separate issue.)

Landrieu and Jindal are very optimistic. They believe we are headed to a bright future that sharply contrasts with the recent past. They want to distinguish themselves from their predecessors by leading us out of the wilderness and into the promised lands of the “new New Orleans” and the “new Louisiana.”

Don’t you worry, they know how to get there. Your job is to get on board, or get left behind — because we’re all in this together.

You can call them impatient reformers. They’ll accept that criticism. But it’s really a boomerang criticism, because if you could only see what they see, you would understand that the time is right for transformative change. We may never have this opportunity again (before Jindal and Landrieu are term-limited out of office).

In the same vein, Jindal and Landrieu like to surround themselves with a coterie of well-paid lieutenants. But forget the “team of rivals” schtick. Not their style. Loyalty is more efficient than contentious brainstorming, in their view.

Granted, the governor and mayor are not the same in every respect. They have clearly different ideological approaches. Jindal’s is akin to donor-class Republicanism. (He demonstrated this with his tax swap proposal.) Landrieu’s approach is aligned with  technocratic liberalism. (We see this in the new Prosperity NOLA cluster strategy.)

But  both politicians seem to agree that no subsidy or tax break is too large, if it will lure a big event or a large business. After all, you just can’t argue with the flashy “economic impact” and “indirect jobs” numbers they use to justify the corporate incentives.

Jindal and Landrieu’s recent political histories are similar, too. Both cruised into their current offices just four years after losing races for the same job. (And both were surprised by the earlier flop.)

Jindal says governor is the best job he’ll ever have and has no plans for national office. Landrieu will tell you that being mayor of New Orleans is, historically, a dead end for ambitious pols. No one is terribly convinced by those claims of professional contentment.

To varying degrees, Landrieu and Jindal need each other to succeed. New Orleans has become a significant job generator for the state. And some of those jobs are related to developments that anticipate completion of the medical mega-complex going up in Mid-City, which Jindal has steadfastly supported. The Recovery School District is another component, given that Jindal’s bragging rights about the state’s educational improvement hinge on higher scores charted by RSD schools in New Orleans.

Tight budgets have cramped their style, though. Jindal has less federal money coming in, which means Landrieu has less state money. Jindal won’t raise taxes, and his budget cuts to higher education and hospitals have alarmed voters. Landrieu is certainly willing to raise taxes and fees  (to pay for sewerage and water infrastructure improvements, for example).  However, voters may soon get tired of that approach. There’s little leeway in either the state or city budget unless … the economic pie expands!

That’s the key question I want to explore in coming columns: is Louisiana set to “boom” or at least surpass expectations for economic growth? There’s a metric ton of national publications that like the potential, and it’s not entirely based on Jindal and Landrieu’s happy rhetoric. The energy sector has been revitalized thanks to advances in offshore oil drilling, the hydraulic “fracking” revolution and numerous plans for more petrochemical facilities. Will New Orleans get a slice of that growth, in the same way that Louisiana might benefit from New Orleans’ nascent biomedical and digital potential?

The state and city have already turned the tide on out-migration. Now there are population inflows — “brain gain” instead of “brain drain.” But will the economy find the momentum, as disaster recovery dollars dry up and budgets are tightened, to outgrow its many challenges? To what extent is the economic potential that Jindal and Landrieu foresee real, and to what extent is it a case of “fake it till you make it”?

Based on opinion polls the common view is that Jindal is in the doghouse with voters, and Landrieu is riding high. But we’ve seen how quickly opinions can change.

Jindal’s popularity fell after he won a second term. Landrieu, based on his state of the city address, seems to take re-election for granted. But he should beware, as an easy re-election might precede tax-induced “Mitch Fatigue,” and cratering poll numbers.

Conversely, if the stories about population inflows, entrepreneurial dynamism and an energy boom prove true and translate into real job growth, political benefits — whether  deserved or not — will accrue to Jindal and Landrieu. And of course they would be quick to say: “Welcome to the promised land I told you about. What took you so long?”

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  • Nothing wrong with being impatient to get started. It’s impatience for results that hurts us. Too often we crave for, and politicians happily offer us, the quick fix. That I say is 90% of the problem. We as a society need to adopt a long view. We need to accept that some problems are going to take a while to resolve. Impatience will not get us there any faster and may actually prevent us from getting there at all.