When Bobby Jindal was campaigning for Louisiana Governor in 2007, Timmy Teepell, his Chief of Staff in Congress, liked to joke that he was a “road scholar.” It’s a clever play on words; his boss was a Rhodes Scholar, and Teepell never even enrolled in college.
Once Jindal was elected Governor, Teepell, once again, was tapped for Chief of Staff, which is, arguably, one of the most important positions in the administration. He was a home-schooled kid with a talent for basketball who, at the age of 18, decided to skip college and jump into political activism, primarily for Christian conservative causes.
Teepell is generally regarded as a hard-worker, and he’s obviously deeply loyal to Governor Jindal.
In August, Teepell took a temporary leave from his position with the Jindal Administration in order to work for the Republican Governors Association, a move that was obviously endorsed and embraced by his boss.
It’s not unusual or uncommon for an elected executive official to employ a political adviser. Most notably, President Bush employed Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, and recently, David Axelrod announced he would be departing the Obama White House; Axelrod will be replaced by David Plouffe, the man who ran Obama’s successful 2008 campaign.
But although Teepell may be a political adviser, his title, Chief of Staff, suggests a greater administrative responsibility and authority. Regardless of your politics, you have to admit: It’s highly unusual for a Governor to relinquish his Chief of Staff for a few months, even if it is during campaign season. Governor Jindal allowed, probably even wanted, his Chief of Staff to take a leave of absence in order to travel around the country promoting other political campaigns. Teepell, the original road scholar, would be back on the trail.
You have to wonder: What, exactly, does “Chief of Staff” mean for Governor Jindal and Mr. Teepell? Is it a serious position or simply a powerful-sounding title bestowed upon a loyal foot soldier?
Because if Chief of Staff is a serious position with serious, statewide responsibilities, then Governor Jindal’s decision to temporarily reassign Mr. Teepell seems to demonstrate a willingness to put his own national political ambitions over the hard work that he was elected to do here in Louisiana, only two and a half years after he was sworn in.
“You don’t think Jindal’s committed to the cause? Heck, he risked some of his own political capital and essentially donated his Chief of Staff to the Republican Governors Association.” Or so the logic would go.
But what does this say to those of us in Louisiana? In particular, what does this reveal about the seriousness of purpose with which Mr. Jindal treats his current job and the work we need to do here in Louisiana?
In fairness to Mr. Teepell, the story isn’t really about him. The overwhelming majority of Louisianans have never even heard of Timmy Teepell.
The story is about his boss. From almost the moment after he was elected Governor, Bobby Jindal has sought, even to the point of public humiliation, a desire to become a national political celebrity, a relevant and respected voice and valuable counterpoint in our national political discourse. And usually, that would be great for Louisiana. After the national embarrassments caused by the conviction of Edwin Edwards, the rise of David Duke, the fall of Bob Livingston (a man who seemed poised to become Speaker of the House), and the more recent conviction of Bill Jefferson, Louisianans craved a credible, ethical, and intelligent leader who could prove to the rest of the nation that Louisiana would never again be a state known for corruption. To be sure, I didn’t vote for Bobby Jindal in 2007, and I most assuredly won’t vote for him in 2011.
But I understand why he was a compelling political candidate. He had a great story to tell: The son of Indian immigrants who arrived in Louisiana on student visas, an Ivy League-educated Rhodes Scholar, head of the Louisiana DHH at the age of 24, a man who wrote earnestly (albeit awkwardly), as a college student, about reconciling his Hindu tradition with his decision to convert to Catholicism. By the time Bobby Jindal was thirty, he, arguably, had the most impressive political resume of any thirty-year-old in the country. All before he ran for Governor, the first time, and all before he became a United States Congressman.
I don’t fault Mr. Jindal for his resume. On paper, it’s wildly impressive.
I didn’t vote for him in 2007 because, despite all of the titles he had held and the stellar education he had received, I didn’t think he had actually accomplished much of anything.
When he took over the DHH, as legend has it, Jindal, the wunderkind, turned a $400 million Medicaid deficit into a $220 million surplus over three years (awesomely, this Wikipedia reference links to a Rush Limbaugh quote, but you can find others). As far as I can tell, that still remains Jindal’s most important achievement: Shutting down local clinics and downsizing care for children and the disabled, all the while relying on federal support from the Clinton Administration, in order to create the appearance, on paper, of mega-million dollar profitability. As if Medicaid, a taxpayer-subsidized program, was ever and should ever be measured by how much leftover money it has, particularly considering there are, literally, disabled Louisianans suffering and dying because of lack of medical care and lack of access to care. Medicaid is about effectively and efficiently delivering coverage and care to those who could otherwise never qualify. Granted, it has been ripe for abuse, but the takeaway from Jindal’s tenure at DHH wasn’t about eliminating abuse: It was about turning a deficit into a surplus, and it completely missed the point. What were we to do with that surplus? Return it to the taxpayers? Use it as a down payment for a bond to finance improved facilities and increased services?
Jindal wasn’t a complete failure as DHH Secretary. He just never understood his job. He was fresh out of a position with one of the world’s largest corporate consulting companies, and he probably viewed his new position in terms of maximizing profitability and eliminating duplication and waste. It may seem noble, but in the context of delivering taxpayer-subsidized health care to the otherwise un-insurable chronically ill and disabled, it’s profoundly and dangerously naive to brag about “surpluses” when thousands of people are waiting in line, their lives dependent on accessing care.
Put another way, if, during his tenure as DHH Secretary, Bobby Jindal had discovered a way to reduce costs, maximize efficiencies, create a balanced budget, and ensure coverage for everyone in need (who qualified) without a single penny of federal money, then we should do away with term-limits and let the guy be Governor as long as he wants to be.
But that’s not what he did. He cut services and then championed “surpluses” that were generated, in large part, by the federal government.
Incidentally, as Governor, Bobby Jindal pushed for Senator Mary Landrieu to add $300 million in funding for Louisiana Medicaid to the recently-passed landmark health care bill, but once the provision was derided by conservatives as the “Louisiana Purchase,” Jindal stayed silent.
Bobby Jindal didn’t make Louisiana Medicaid solvent. Today, as Governor, he’s still scrambling to make cuts. Most recently, he announced his plans of pulling “more than $250 million from doctors, hospitals, and emergency services.” He needed that $300 million Mary Landrieu was attempting to provide him, but instead of standing with her and being bold, he is now also considering “reducing provider reimbursement rates, eliminating the CommunityCARE program, placing stricter limits on emergency-room visits for adults and restructuring certain financing methods.”
Put simply, Bobby Jindal is destroying the program that he had once championed as having saved. As we know now, Bobby Jindal never saved Medicaid, he just made the balance sheets look better for his boss.
I’m using Louisiana Medicaid as a prime example because it’s a program near and dear to my heart, but the same can be said about Jindal’s decisions to make massive, debilitating, perhaps even paralyzing cuts to higher education. It may take generations for Louisiana to recover from these arbitrarily-administered, across-the-board cuts to education.
A couple of days ago, Politico reported that Bobby Jindal has another bold, new proposal. He thinks Congress should be a part-time job, like your local City Council.
Again, I didn’t vote for Bobby Jindal, but I know many people who did– and I know why they did: They wanted an intelligent, full-time governor who would dig in and really tackle the problems facing Louisiana.
We’re still recovering from Katrina and Rita and Ike and Gustav.
The oil spill was a huge scare, but instead of being honest about it, Jindal used it as an opportunity to advance his own political celebrity and perpetuate ridiculously disconcerting and almost masochistic myths about the effects of a deepwater drilling moratorium, none of which turned out to be true. He spent more time posing for the cameras and tagging along with CNN than practically anyone else, yet, in his “memoir,” it’s the Obama Administration who cared about media perception, not him. As an example, he cites a letter he delivered requesting an increase for federally-subsidized food stamps, suggesting that the Obama Administration delayed on their response. According to White House officials, Jindal’s formal request was delivered on the same day that Jindal called a press conference decrying the delays. Pure political theater.
But most importantly, when Jindal says Congressmen should spend more time at home, he should probably listen to his own advice. During the last couple of years, Jindal’s become more known for the things he has done outside of Louisiana than for anything he has done here in Louisiana. Before the November elections, he spent weeks touring the country to support fellow Republican candidates, and only two weeks after the election, he embarked on yet another nationwide tour, this time promoting his memoir.
Until Bobby Jindal came along, I never realized that being Governor of Louisiana was a part-time job. I’d honestly believed, after he was elected, that he would spend the capital and credibility he had built in the national media in order to promote change in Louisiana, but it seems he’s far more interested in promoting himself.
And that’s fine. Sarah Palin’s doing the same thing.
But at least she was wise enough to realize that you can’t govern an entire state, while, at the same time, promoting yourself as a national media personality, particularly if you’re only a first-term governor with a very limited track record.
In the meantime, someone is going to have to figure out Medicaid and higher education. Someone is going to have to be able to speak to the unique needs of Louisiana, instead of merely regurgitating hackneyed and disconnected lines about the federal government.
Bobby Jindal is not the federal government. He’s the leader of the Louisiana State government, and there are real, pressing problems here in Louisiana. We can’t afford to have a governor who treats the people of his State as his own personal stepping stone to higher office, particularly if he refuses to do the real job of governing.
His ethics reform efforts were laughable. He campaigned on a promise of the “gold standard;” we didn’t realize, at the time, that this “standard” included everyone except for the Governor’s Office. He essentially gutted the State Ethics Board and reassigned much of the oversight to “administrative” law judges. His Secretary of Transportation and Development had to resign after making the controversial statement that Louisiana should compete for federal commuter rail money. Remember, Jindal had gone on national television and lampooned and lied about a rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Jindal wants us to spend tens of millions to help subsidize a poultry farm in North Louisiana that, on the face of it, seems to primarily service poultry farmers from Arkansas. He slashed millions in local, shovel-ready projects all over the State in order to subsidize a steel plant. He’s dramatically cut funding for the arts, while promoting “intelligent design” education as an alternative to evolution. He zeroed out funding for cultural centers and places that form the backbone of our thriving and emerging cultural economy.
This isn’t governing; it’s just a playground for someone else’s overly-ambitious and overtly-ideological desire to become President, or Vice President, or Secretary of Something.
And by the time 2012 rolls around, Louisiana really won’t matter. It’ll be someone else’s problem by then, right?
At this point, Louisiana isn’t about Leadership and Crisis; it’s, once again, about Crisis in Leadership.