As Jin­dal con­sid­ers higher of­fice, his ap­proval rat­ing drops

Re­li­gious free­dom bill, bud­get cri­sis are fu­el­ing anger in Louisiana

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY TYLER BRIDGES na­tional@wash­post.com Bridges is a free­lance writer.

ba­ton rouge — Just weeks be­fore he is ex­pected to an­nounce his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Bobby Jin­dal is at the nadir of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

The Repub­li­can gover­nor is at open war with many of his erst­while al­lies in the busi­ness com­mu­nity and the leg­is­la­ture. He spent weeks push­ing a “re­li­gious free­dom” bill that failed to pass, while hav­ing lit­tle con­tact with leg­is­la­tors try­ing to solve Louisiana’s worst bud­get cri­sis in 25 years.

Jin­dal is now so un­pop­u­lar in deep-red Louisiana that his ap­proval rat­ing plunged to 32 per­cent in a re­cent poll — com­pared with 42 per­cent for Pres­i­dent Obama, who lost the state by 17 per­cent­age points in 2012.

“This is very much a low point for Bobby Jin­dal,” said Pear­son Cross, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Louisiana at Lafayette who is pre­par­ing a book on the gover­nor.

Much of the trou­ble swirling around Jin­dal is con­nected to his unan­nounced pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and his regular trav­els to early pri­mary states, which have an­gered many of his fel­low Repub­li­cans in the GOP-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture.

In re­cent months, Jin­dal has fo­cused his po­lit­i­cal en­ergy here on try­ing to ap­peal to so­cial con­ser­va­tives na­tion­ally by push­ing the Mar­riage and Con­science Act, which would have pro­hib­ited the state from tak­ing “ad­verse ac­tion” against those op­posed to same-sex mar­riage. But the mea­sure died last month in the leg­is­la­ture amid op­po­si­tion from ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions that feared boy­cott threats by gay rights groups view­ing such mea­sures as sanc­tion­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The leg­is­la­ture is also in the fi­nal days of grap­pling with the bud­get cri­sis, which was caused, in part, by per­sonal and cor­po­rate tax cuts passed un­der Jin­dal’s watch that haven’t paid for them­selves.

Yet he has kept up his thinly veiled 2016 trav­els, hav­ing ap­peared at po­lit­i­cal events Mon­day in New Hamp­shire and Tues­day in Florida. Jin­dal will an­nounce his plans in New Or­leans on June 24.

Jin­dal will need a se­ri­ous bump in pop­u­lar­ity if he hopes to com­pete: Cur­rently, he doesn’t make the Top 10 cut in na­tional polls to par­tic­i­pate in the first Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate, to be held Aug. 6 in Cleve­land.

But Jin­dal told re­porters re­cently that he is merely pay­ing the price for mak­ing hard choices in cut­ting the num­ber of state em­ploy­ees and re­fus­ing to raise taxes. He also vowed to do the same if he won the White House.

“If I were to run for pres­i­dent, it would cer­tainly be based on the premise that this coun­try needs big changes,” Jin­dal said. “We need some­body who will go to D.C. and res­cue the Amer­i­can Dream from be­com­ing the Euro­pean night­mare. This pres­i­dent has presided over an ex­pan­sion in fed­eral gov­ern­ment spend­ing, tax­ing, bor­row­ing and reg­u­lat­ing that is hurt­ing our econ­omy.”

A Rhodes scholar long de­scribed as a whiz kid, Jin­dal headed Louisiana’s state Depart­ment of Health and Hos­pi­tals at 24, moved on to a se­ries of high-level gov­ern­ment jobs, was elected to Congress at 33 and now, at 43, is com­plet­ing his sec­ond and fi­nal term as gover­nor. Un­til re­cently, he was de­scribed as a ris­ing star in the Repub­li­can Party.

“A lot of peo­ple dis­ap­prove of his na­tional travel at a time of a bud­get cri­sis,” said Bernie Pin­sonat, whose firm, Ba­ton Rouge based South­ern Me­dia & Opin­ion Re­search, con­ducted the poll show­ing Jin­dal at 32 per­cent fa­vor­a­bil­ity.

“There’s been no end in sight to the red ink and head­lines over con­cerns about state cuts to public hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties,” Pin­sonat said.

The gover­nor has cham­pi­oned a busi­ness-friendly en­vi­ron­ment in Louisiana, sup­port­ing tax breaks for com­pa­nies, re­vamp­ing the state’s worker-train­ing pro­grams to bet­ter suit the needs of busi­nesses and de­plet­ing a $450 mil­lion eco­nomic-devel­op­ment fund to sub­si­dize new plants and fa­cil­i­ties.

But his right­ward turn ahead of a likely pres­i­den­tial run has also put him in con­flict with the busi­ness com­mu­nity. Jin­dal dropped his sup­port of the busi­ness­backed Com­mon Core ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards and this year pushed the leg­is­la­ture to aban­don them; state law­mak­ers paid him no heed.

With Louisiana fac­ing a pro­jected $1.6 bil­lion bud­get deficit this year— 20per­cent of the state’s gen­eral fund — Jin­dal sought to elim­i­nate $526 mil­lion per year of tax re­funds given to busi­nesses.

Nix­ing the re­funds — which Jin­dal calls “cor­po­rate wel­fare” — ad­heres to the guide­lines of Amer­i­cans for Tax Re­form, the in­flu­en­tial anti-tax group run by Grover Norquist. But busi­ness lead­ers say Jin­dal is try­ing to raise their taxes.

In the mean­time, Jin­dal made pas­sage of the Mar­riage and Con­science Act one of his three leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties this year. He said it would pro­tect those who op­pose same-sex mar­riages.

“In In­di­ana and Arkansas, large cor­po­ra­tions re­cently joined left­wing ac­tivists to bully elected of­fi­cials into back­ing away from strong pro­tec­tions for re­li­gious lib­erty,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed in late April. “It was dis­ap­point­ing to see con­ser­va­tive lead­ers so hastily retreat on leg­is­la­tion that would sim­ply al­low for an in­di­vid­ual or busi­ness to claim a right to free ex­er­cise of reli­gion in a court of law.”

IBM, Dow Chem­i­cal, the New Or­leans Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Bureau and gay rights groups all op­posed Jin­dal’s bill, and law­mak­ers wanted no part of the con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion in an elec­tion year. They gave it a sin­gle com­mit­tee hear­ing late in the ses­sion be­fore it was killed on a 10-to-2 vote.

Two hours later, Jin­dal is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch from tak­ing ac­tion against any­one who op­poses same-sex mar­riage.

“We per­ceive this as largely a po­lit­i­cal state­ment by our con­ser­va­tive gover­nor in sup­port of his na­tional po­si­tion on the is­sue,” the con­ven­tion bureau said in a state­ment, adding that the or­der was­not likely to have any prac­ti­cal im­pact.

Buddy Roe­mer, a for­mer Repub­li­can gover­nor, said many are dis­ap­pointed in Jin­dal and doubt his abil­ity to mount a cred­i­ble pres­i­den­tial bid.

“Sev­eral times aday, I get phone calls from busi­ness peo­ple who are con­cerned,” Roe­mer said. “They are irate, an­gry and be­wil­dered at how he thinks he can amass a na­tional po­lit­i­cal fol­low­ing. The next gover­nor will have to spend four years mak­ing tough de­ci­sions that Jin­dal hasn’t made.”

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