Thursday, July 23, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LOUISIANA GOVERNOR MAKES BIG SPLASH
AT NATIONAL GOVERNORS’ CONFERENCE
By Jim Brown
It was like old home week at the National Governors’ Conference in Biloxi, Mississippi this past weekend. The Louisiana Governor seemed to be the center of attention, with other state governors coming up to greet, give hugs and pay respects. When Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour welcomed the various state chief executives and their numerous staff members in attendance, he only acknowledged one governor in the crowd. Louisiana’s. But we were told Gov. Bobby Jindal wasn’t going to show? And he didn’t.
So how could he be in Biloxi? Well, stick with me here now. It’s a really good story you did not read or hear about any place else. Are you ready?
I drove over to Biloxi to hear Johnny Mathis perform at the Beau Rivage this past Friday night. Since I had read about the National Governors’ Conference being held there, I thought “what the heck.’” I’m with the press, so let’s get media credentials and stop by. I registered on line as a medial representative from Clear Channel Radio, picked up my badge when I arrived at the Beau Rivage, and headed for the opening Friday night reception for all in attendance.
I walked into the main conference room on the hotel’s second floor, and the place was packed. Open bar, great food, and a good band playing southern music. I recognized a number of faces from national news stories. Of course Gov. Barbour, as well as Gov. Brian Schweitzer from Montana, and Gov. Joe Manchin from West Virginia. I greeted Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who I knew from the 1980s when we both served as Secretary of State from our respective home states.
But the Governor who was obviously garnering most of the focus was from Louisiana. OK OK. No more suspense. The Louisiana Governor getting all the attention was Kathleen Blanco with her husband Raymond. They were both working the crowd a la Bill Clinton, and getting a fine reception from Democrats and Republicans alike. Then Gov. Barbour took the stage and seemed to go on and on with praise for “my former colleague and dear friend,” Kathleen Blanco.
Gov. Blanco was coy when I quizzed her about why she was here, and should I read anything in to her attending. “Just visiting a number of old friends,” was the best she would offer. Her husband, “Coach” Blanco was more animate. He made clear his feelings that the present administration has more than one billion 500 million dollars more to spend than did the Blanco Administration, and there was no justification for cutting higher education in Louisiana. “Coach” indicated he would have some strong words to say about the present legislative wasted spending in comments to the Morning Advocate.
He did unload a few days later by writing in a letter to the editor: “During the first session in which the Tucker Gang was in charge, they spent money like drunken sailors, with nothing of great value to show for it. Convincing themselves that Louisiana would be immune to a national economic downturn, Tucker’s gang increased state spending by an unheard of $1 billion in one year, naturally creating a spending problem.”
The “Coach” listed Tucker, but it was obviously a hit at the Jindal Administration. Which, of course, lead to my next question to Gov. Blanco. “So are you running next time? Will we see Kathleen Blanco on the ballot in 2011?” I asked. She smiled and said her focus for now was the book she is writing. “We will let the future take care of itself,” she said. But she kept the gleam in her eye, and there seemed to be little doubt that if she thought there was a chance, she would seriously consider running again for Governor.
The consensus of most political observers is that if Katrina had never happened, Blanco would have been re elected. She had beaten Bobby Jindal to win the governorship initially, and with no real controversies or major stumbling in her first two years in office, Jindal had little opening to mount a major race again, even though he had been elected Congressman from the New Orleans area. But her gubernatorial momentum came to a crawl when she blinked for a moment and turned down the President’s request that the Louisiana National Guard be nationalized and the feds take over the Katrina recovery effort.
As even ole’ Edwin Edwards said at the time, he would have given the President such authority in a New York second. “It would then have been all George Bush’s headache,” Edwards surmised. So in that brief moment of indecision, Blanco gave Jindal the opening to jump into the recovery fray. And although he had no real authority, Jindal’s travels though out the state gave him many opportunities to be in the news fighting for the state’s recovery.
Would Blanco have any real chance to defeat Jindal? Some of the luster on the present Governor’s star has certainly dimed in recent months. One year ago, Jindal’s favorability rating was in the mid 70s. In April of this year, he was holding at 66 % in a poll by the Public Policy Institute. But in a new poll by the same group released this week, Jindal’s positives have dropped to 55 %. Still good numbers for any governor. But if the trend continues, there seems little doubt that Kathleen Blanco will give the race a good look.
The rumors of Blanco’s interest might even be a wakeup call for Jindal. The present Governor seems to be standing still, holding the line on spending, and putting out daily brush fires. But expectations were much higher for the Rhodes Scholar policy wonk. Many thought they were electing a new kind of Governor; one with vision and much higher expectations. He seemed to have the talent to set out a scenario of state goals for many years to come. Perhaps the daily grind of governing has kept him out of sync. Or maybe the expectations of the Louisiana electorate were not realistic.
For whatever reason, voters are expecting much more from Jindal. If he does not rise above the minutia of government, he will have Kathleen Blanco looking over his shoulder as 2011 gets closer.
“A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”
~James Freeman Clarke
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears weekly in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. You can read all his back columns by going to www.jimbrownla,.com. You will also see a number of relevant videos and current updates on this website.