Former Louisiana Republican operative and New Media Director to the 2011 Bobby Jindal campaign, Taylor Huckaby recalls the birth, life, and death of his confidence in the Jindal brand.
When I was 19, I babysat Governor Bobby Jindal’s three children.
Yes, changing diapers and making sure all the broccoli was fully eaten would be the opening salvo of my career in government and campaign communications. Each day after classes back in 2008, a female friend and I would make our way to the Governor’s Mansion gate and do our best to help First Lady Supriya Jindal and a few state troopers wrangle the kids. We’d had the good fortune of attending the same church as then-Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, who offered us the gig one Sunday after services. Naturally, we leapt at the opportunity.
I’d always found myself in a love affair with politics, being particularly drawn to the conservative brand from a young age. Whereas my friends would spend their days playing Xbox or chasing cheerleaders, I would find myself charting out a pilgrimage to President Bush’s Crawford Ranch or making plans to attend Sean Hannity’s newest book signing.
So it came as no surprise to anyone that I, then a freshman student in the LSU political communication track, would be thrilled to become a part of Team Jindal— even if it were in less-than-glorious capacity. He had just been elected to his first term, and as a kid who thought of himself as a highly intellectual Christian conservative, I then believed Jindal would be my express ticket to the heights of politics.
And the babysitting gig did indeed open doors. A few short months later, I found myself working for the Louisiana GOP, churning out content for their website and writing speeches for Chairman Roger Villere. Down the road, when Jindal ran for reelection, Teepell brought me onboard the campaign as New Media Director. I ran Jindal’s social media accounts, wrote press releases, edited opinion pieces, and crafted reams worth of letters to the editor. In fact, if you received a newsletter from the Jindal campaign in your email inbox during the campaign, there’s a good chance yours truly wrote it.
Yet as time wore on, my conservative fervor waned. I was exposed to arguments and ideas I had not previously considered, and faced a growing disconnect between my sexuality and the official stance of the Republican Party– to say nothing of Jindal’s on-the-record remarks about gay people.
By 2012, I could no longer square my chosen career in Republican politics with my personal beliefs, and left Louisiana feeling as though I had wasted four years. I still count many members of Team Jindal as close, personal friends — I came out as gay sitting in the Teepells’ kitchen, for crying out loud — but I had become irredeemably disillusioned and cynical about the message we were selling.
Today, in 2015, not even the slightest vestige of the Bobby Jindal I had once believed could occupy the White House remains.
Jindal now fashions himself more as a producer of Duck Dynasty than the wonkish political wunderkind I had once admired. He seems to be on an endless quest to prove something to America, though at this point, I’m not quite sure what.
He constantly wheedles to anyone with an open ear about pulling his state through repeated crises with little more than a star-spangled gleam in his eye and a generous helping of down-home guts and gumption. Any hint of gubernatorial malpractice he papers over with dark exhortations against the Obama presidency, patently false explanations involving falling oil prices, or the more generalized threat of liberals doing… things.
The Jindal recipe for public policy and governance is, in short, a magnificently bald-faced façade. To mix a bunch of metaphors, he’s an unraveling tapestry on display within a house of cards built on a swamp below sea level in the path of a hurricane.
Since Jindal’s ascent to the Kingfish’s throne in 2007, Louisiana has lurched from one budgetary catastrophe to the next— but these budget woes are as manufactured as the belt buckles he wears on tour in Iowa. It is a simple, time-tested political calculus which allowed Governor Jindal to perennially wreak havoc on Louisiana, escape the blame, and then be the hero all at once—but the limit exists, and now there’s no place for him to escape.
To gain political points from these budget disasters in years past, Jindal’s office shrewdly overstated the damage resulting from self-inflicted cuts. Then, the administration welcomed state institutions with open arms when they came crawling before him, begging for mercy as their budgets evaporated.
Efficiencies were then always summoned from the ether; favors doled out, programs shuffled here and there, and state property sold off in fire sales. Lo and behold, Jindal again had plugged the budget and saved the day with ever-tightening fiscal belt adjustments—never mind the hundreds of millions in tax payouts to corporations, the wholesale abandonment of the bipartisan Stelly Plan, or his flip-flop refusal to take federal revenue for medical care. Just ignore all that and remember: four legs good, two legs better, taxes bad. Taxes baaaaaaad.
When I was part of the Jindal political machine, we unanimously believed this strategy was not only viable for the length of two full terms but also supremely clever.
See, the yearly budget crisis would induce loud, apocalyptic prophecies from the liberals, which then provided the Jindal-controlled state Republican Party apparatus with the perfect opportunity to sneer back at them when boy-wonder Bobby came along with ever-more-novel sources of money. Plus, as an added bonus, it snapped any wayward education folks right back in line: curry favor with the administration, or face the end of your job (or, if you get uppity, your institution itself; sincere apologies to UNO).
Presidential aspirant Bobby Jindal plays a really, really mean game of hardball, folks. Think Frank Underwood’s understudy.
So what makes this year’s budgetary woes different than any other flavor of the now-expected yearly crisis?
In short, Jindal appears to have miscalculated the sustainability of his fiscal shenanigans. One may only sell off state assets, cut revenue, and cut programs so many times before the shell game necessarily has to end. We, back in our heyday, thought it would last the full eight years– but it looks like seven could be the maximum (less sincere apologies to David Vitter; you’re on deck, buddy).
The tell, in this particular year, is Jindal’s unprecedented capitulation on taxes. For the four years I worked in the Louisiana Republican machine, “NO NEW TAXES!” was the siren song to which the electorate was held in thrall. Deviation from this script was anathema— let me illustrate.
Back in June of 2011, I paced in a nondescript office across from the capitol, caught up in a heated discussion with my fellow Jindal colleagues. Timmy Teepell was there, as was his brother-in-law Matt Parker, then campaign manager for Jindal’s reelection effort after a nepotism-tinged stint as the Republican Party of Louisiana’s executive director. Also present was Curt Anderson, whom I believe to be the ghostwriter of Jindal’s first and only memoir, Leadership in Crisis, along with a few other communications folks.
The subject? The cigarette tax.
Whether the 4-cent tax was an existing tax or a new tax was a topic of much nuance and intrigue, and I had firmly come down on the pro-tax side of the argument considering we had A) renewed the tax before without so much as a peep, and B) the tax provided Louisiana a desperately-needed injection of tens of millions of dollars in direct and federal matching funds for its abysmally underfunded Department of Health and Hospitals.
We had been arguing for a while at that point, considering it would be me who had the thankless job of writing one of the governor’s public statements proclaiming the not-new-tax as a new-tax, and I’d had enough of the back and forth. I was the youngest person in the room by almost a decade; the kid with an acid tongue, but I’d at least earned a place at the table.
“This just flat out isn’t what’s best for the people of Louisiana!” I remember shouting.
“What’s best for the people of Louisiana,” Matt Parker shot back, “is getting Republicans elected. So shut up and do your fucking job, Huckaby.”
I stared at their smiles. The rest of the team nodded sagely in agreement.
Now I genuinely love Matt Parker and had enjoyed many a beer-and-pizza night with him, but I was stunned into silence at the sheer naked political honesty of his statement. I backed out of the room and shut the door behind me.
The cigarette tax was not renewed; revenue fell, and along with it quality of care.
This exchange marked the exact moment I knew I could no longer work for Bobby Jindal or Republican campaign politics. That willingness, even eagerness, to gut funding from one of the most vulnerable state departments in an effort to score political points made me ill. Thus, when I read in a recent New York Times article that Jindal was entertaining a motion to raise the cigarette tax, I knew things had gotten really, really bad for him.So in conclusion, let this story serve as a warning to those who would follow Governor Jindal: don’t let his folksy mannerisms and aw-shucks posture lull you into thinking for one second that he is anything but a manipulative, calculating political avatar for the most extreme elements of the conservative movement.
This is the type of man who hires a career political consultant to help write his book on leadership, the type of man who forcibly silences criticism from the Louisiana State University system even as he holds a knife to its throat year after year, the type of man who travels around the state handing out comically large checks backed with federal stimulus dollars while taking credit for providing the money.
Bobby Jindal sold Louisiana down the river for four cents on a pack of cigarettes back in 2011, and his team would do it again to anyone or anything standing in his way. Politics is the real portrait of the Jindal administration; actual Louisianians were never in the picture to begin with.