Thursday, 22 May 2014 13:34

Jindal's Absenteeism Attracts Legislators' Attention

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Jindal-Meet-the-pressWritten by Tyler Bridges, The Lens.

The state Legislature was in session April 2, but Gov. Bobby Jindal was in Washington, D.C., trashing Obamacare and playing coy with national reporters about his presidential ambitions.

 “It is no secret it’s something I am thinking about, but right now I am focused on winning the war of ideas and also focused on winning these [mid-term] elections in 2014,” Jindal told the reporters over breakfast.

If the war of ideas includes fighting for or against the Common Core education benchmarks, the governor was about to lose a round — further evidence to friend and foe alike that Jindal’s chronic absenteeism has begun to impair his effectiveness as governor.

Back at the state Capitol that day, the House Education Committee took hours of often heated testimony on the pros and cons of Common Core. Once an enthusiastic Common Core supporter, Jindal flipped to the opposition that night, directing a staffer to send the committee a green card indicating the governor favored a bill that would thwart Common Core.

Despite the governor’s support, the measure failed. Jindal had not exerted the considerable powers of his office. He had not returned to Baton Rouge to make his case before the committee in person. He had not even called committee members to support the measure, which was sponsored by state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.

He had moved on that night to a political event in New York City, and in the weeks since, Jindal has not strategized on the issue with Geymann or state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, another leading Common Core opponent.

“From what I’ve read, he’s on our side,” Geymann said in an interview this week. “He didn’t reach out to us. But I’m glad to have him.”

A distant figure to most legislators in recent years, of late Jindal has become even more remote as he steps up out-of-state travels in his all-but-declared presidential campaign.

In all, Jindal has been out of the state on 16 of the 42 days that the Legislature has been in session this year, according to information from the governor’s office and the legislative website. During the 2013 session, he was gone eight days.

“A partnership cannot work when you have an absent partner,” said state Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, chairman of the Retirement Committee which must deal with the state’s huge unfunded pension obligations. “I thought there would be much more of a working relationship. I thought you’d be able to talk with him: ‘Here are my concerns, here are my views.’ Instead, I’ve talked with a mostly ever-changing staff.”

Pearson is not the only ostensible Jindal ally now expressing deep concerns.

“There’s been no interaction with the governor except through the press,” said Chas Roemer, a Republican who is the president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I find it offensive.”

“This is not a part-time job,” Roemer continued. “This is not one that can be done from New York or Washington, D.C., or wherever his latest fundraiser is.”

Governors — including Jindal — typically meet with legislators in the weeks leading up to a session both to pitch their planned legislative package and to find out what issues matter to them. Last year, in a variety of gatherings, Jindal met with almost all lawmakers as he sought support for a controversial plan to scrap the state’s income tax, a plan he ended up withdrawing after failing to win them over.

This year, Jindal met with only a handful of legislators before the session began on March 10. Many rank-and-file legislators said they have seen the governor only once during the session — when Jindal gave his opening-day address. In the following weeks, when they have wanted to discuss legislation with the administration, they have spoken with the governor’s staff, not him.

Jindal has kept in contact on a weekly basis with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. Both men said they are satisfied with their access to the governor. “I’ve met with him more this session” than last year, Kleckley said.

Besides the House Speaker and Senate president, the most powerful legislators are the chairmen of the legislative committees. They choose which bills get heard and when. Jindal has met with the Senate committee chairmen only twice this session and once with the House chairmen, for a total of three meetings.

In contrast, he has held seven meetings outside of Louisiana with America Next, the “conservative policy group” that is coordinating his national ambitions.

Common Core isn’t the only issue impacted by the governor’s aloofness.

On May 2 federal health officials rejected the administration’s financing scheme for privatizing the state’s pub

Read more of this article by Tyler Bridges in The Lens.


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