Wednesday, 04 August 2010 15:25
Shaping Team Jindal As Louisiana Survives Storm of Disasters
Written by  {ga=staffwriters}

The 11,000 citizens who filled the Lafayette Cajundome last week to rally against the Gulf drilling moratorium--perhaps the biggest crowd for a political event there since when Edwin Edwards was running for governor--served as a loudly supportive choir for Gov. Bobby Jindal to preach his message for lifting the ban. More importantly, coverage by the TV networks and national publications exposed the issue to its largest national audience so far, one that needs to get larger and hear more.

The drilling moratorium is not the only policy decision of the Obama administration to deliver a hard blow to the Louisiana economy this year. The Defense budget has curtailed production of amphibious landing ships, prompting Northrop Grumman to announce plans to close Avondale Shipyards and end 5,000 high-paying jobs in the New Orleans area.

That follows NASA's termination of the Constellation program and, with it, the launch system that was to be built at the Michoud facility in New Orleans, which has lost half its 2009 workforce of 2,700 and now will lose hundreds more.

Taken together, the trifecta of the federally-induced job losses overwhelm the capability of state officials to respond. It's not like last year, when the governor wrote a $40 million check to buy a North Louisiana chicken processing plant out of bankruptcy, saving some low-paying jobs and growers' farms. Even a loose $40 million, which the state hasn't now, would do little to buffer the impact of the new economic reversals. We're not in Farmerville any more.

From Hurricane Gustav to BP, Gov. Jindal has proven to be the master of disaster, in command of the state's response and in touch with the public. His job approval ratings, which were getting softer with the state's budget woes, have soared as the Macondo well has gushed.

But now the challenge for him and the state is changing and getting bigger and more pressing. When and if the well is finally killed and the national media departs, there will remain the urgent matter of ending the moratorium before damage to the coastal economy goes from temporary to long term.

As the political leader called upon to apply the right pressure to Washington to allow exploration to resume, the real pressure already is on Jindal.

Well before the moratorium officially expires Nov. 30, more of the 31 drilling rigs in the Gulf could be in tow to friendlier seas off Brazil and West Africa. It could be years before they return.

So far, Jindal's response to the moratorium has been to blast the administration for ignoring science and killing Louisiana jobs. His message got a big cheer in the Cajundome and it resonates statewide. But whether that changes any minds in the White House or moves public opinion nationwide is questionable. Beyond the state line, playing the Washington-versus-Louisiana card is getting old, especially with the fifth anniversary of Katrina approaching.

To the degree that politics plays a part, the governor's raised national profile also gets in the way of dealing with the president, since it's clear Jindal, in one role or another, will be a leader in the GOP war party out to beat Obama in 2012.

If the direct approach won't work so well, the governor needs to get the rest of the country more on our side on the moratorium issue.

While the national cameras are still down here, the governor should seize the opportunity to speak out on how Gulf exploration ensures national energy security and helps keep prices stable. He could say that no one understands the need for rig safety more than those who work on them, and that such can be assured by more vigilant federal regulation and inspections.

With the recent turnover in top positions in state government, what's surprising to some political observers is that the most enduring member of the Jindal administration has been the governor himself.

In the weeks leading up to last month's qualifying period for the fall elections, the rumor persisted that Bobby Jindal would jump into the U.S. Senate race, upend Sen. David Vitter in the primary, roll over Congressman Charlie Melancon in November and adios out of here by the end of the year.

The rumor is not dead yet, with on-line pundits now predicting Jindal won't complete his term or run for re-election. What keeps that talk going, besides wishful thinking in some parts, are Jindal's national ambitions, his career history of not staying long anywhere and a bleak budget outlook that will make his job increasingly difficult and unpleasant in the year and a half ahead.

The early-out scenario never made much sense to me. Now is the right time for Jindal to actually finish a job he started, a career first. The fiscal year ahead will be wrenching, but no worse than what other governors around the country will endure. Getting through it will earn him a conservative merit badge for balancing a hard-times budget without raising taxes. For whatever awaits him on the national scene in 2012 and beyond, re-election in 2011 would solidify his leadership status in the Republican Party for years to come.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a completely disinterested party. An esteemed colleague bet me $10 that Jindal won't serve a full term, so I have money riding on him.

His Cabinet has not been so steadfast, with about half of his original top appointments moving on, some on their own, some with a shove. This week's voluntary departures to the private sector by Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis and Secretary of Health and Hospitals Alan Levine underscore the trend.

As important as the Cabinet turnover, however, has been additions to the  governor's inner circle of advisors, though the core remains.

Campaign managers usually don't last long as chiefs of staff, but Timmy Teepell has maintained the confidence of his boss by acting as a vigilant gatekeeper and decisive problem solver, who doesn't care if people don't like him, for many don't.

Currently the top advisor is on loan to the Republican Governors Association for the election season, which builds up favors for Jindal and serves as a sabbatical for political animal Teepell. It also tunes him up for the governor's re-election campaign next year.

Filling in as chief of staff is Executive Counsel Stephen Waguespack, another campaign veteran whom the governor has relied on from the beginning. Jindal delegates broadly to his top lieutenants and backs up their decisions.

What's changed over the past year or so is that he has drawn into his circle some political talent from an unlikely source, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration.

Interim Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle is the governor’s point man on the effort to lift the drilling moratorium in the Gulf. After a new lieutenant governor is elected, Angelle is expected to return to his dual posts of Natural Resources secretary, which he was under Blanco, and legislative director, having proved to be a highly effective lead lobbyist for the governor's agenda.

The former St. Martin Parish president, who considered running for lieutenant governor and for Congress, has brought strong organizational ability and some Cajun vitality to the buttoned-down style of Team Jindal.

Paul Rainwater was a top official in Blanco's Louisiana Recovery Authority, where his Washington experience (legislative director for Sen. Mary Landrieu) was instrumental in Blanco's quest to get Congress to cough up an additional $3 billion to make the Road Home program whole.

Jindal tapped him to run the LRA, then made him executive counsel and now, with Davis' departure, commissioner of administration.

Rainwater's political aspirations are less obvious than are Angelle's, though, late last year, he was encouraged by some politically active business people to challenge Sen. David Vitter in the GOP primary, but he declined.

The two add some political seasoning to Jindal's top staff, which will need all it can get as it rolls toward the so-called fiscal year of the Cliff and on into the re-election campaign. Surviving that, it's no stretch to imagine them both on the statewide ballot themselves one day. After all, serving another governor is how this one got started.

by John Maginnis




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