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RED MEAT: Jindal attracts social conservatives while trouble looms back in Bayou State

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is among the Republicans vying to be the next president.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Covering Louisiana news and politics for The Town Talk newspaper, based in the central Louisiana city of Alexandria, was a real treat, those years between 1999 and 2005. 

It was an amazing time in Louisiana. A time of transition. It was at that time that the state authorized tax credits that drew Hollywood film productions to the state. I remember chasing the Coen Brothers crew around Avoyelles Parish while they were filming scenes for their box office bomb The Ladykillers.

And then there was the summer of 2005. I covered a story for The Town Talk involving a large sign being made by the Bunkie-based Kojis Sign Company. It was the new Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign, lined with lights, and destined for the new Hard Rock Cafe and hotel on the coast in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was told the sign could withstand hurricane-force winds.

And for the most part, it did, a few months later, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall out of the Gulf of Mexico, just east of New Orleans. The sign survived, the lights lining the edges of the giant guitar did not, as I reported on August 31, 2005.

Meanwhile, Louisiana's Democat governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, was truly fumbling the response to help the neediest hurricane victims, as was President George W. Bush and FEMA Director Michael "Brownie" Brown. Both would later take responsibility for their bungling at the state and national level, respectively.

Which takes us to today. A lot of good things have happened in my old stomping grounds. Bobby Jindal is now in his second term as governor of Louisiana and is getting blasted left and right by critics who seem him as aloof, ineffectual and not willing to compromise, all while running for president and ignoring the real needs of the state.

Chad Rogers, who operates Louisiana news website The Dead Pelican, and inspired me to start Red Dirt Report here in Oklahoma in 2007, has been a fair critic of Jindal over the years and the latest issue has to do with Jindal essentially issuing a "decree" this last week. This was where Jindal, in dictatorial fashion, released the "Marriage and Conscience Order" which he put into place after Louisiana's conservative legislature rejected what amounted to a flawed religious-freedom bill directed at advancements made by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in recent years, something that offends social conservatives - like Jindal. There was also a concern it would hurt Louisiana's influential motion-picture industry.

In fact, some say it is a hostile deflection of the expected ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court next month, defending same-sex marriage. The state representative who penned the failed bill, Mike Johnson, wrote as much in an editorial in The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, claiming his bill was about freedom and tolerance." And yet Jindal ignored the vote of the people's representatives in the legislature and forced it on the state anyway. Where's the freedom and tolerance now? (As a side note, the House also wants to rein Jindal in because of his travel expenses, making his office pay for it rather than it coming out of the State Police budget, since they provide his security detail).

Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans (home of LGBT-friendly Southern Decadence event each Labor Day weekend) fired off an executive order in the wake of Jindal's business-unfriendly decree, reaffirming the Crescent City as friendly and accepting of all people.

And Stephen Perry, with the Greater New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau made their position clear, as reported by The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune"We perceive this as largely a political statement by our conservative governor in support of his national position on the issue. That is certainly his right. ...However, since under the Louisiana Constitution and statutes, and according to on-point court executive order of a governor may create substantive law, even in an emergency situation." 

Could Gov. Mary Fallin follow in Jindal's footsteps? Legal minds indicate it would be difficult. But then again, Fallin isn't planning a run for president. This was likely more about his national aspirations than anything else.

But Fallin is sympathetic to Jindal and his positions. Co-hosting the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here in Oklahoma City yesterday, Fallin praised the shrewd, 43-year-old political climber who has opted to embrace red-meat, social conservatism like a drowning man grasps driftwood as his ship plummets to the bottom.

Religious liberty is a big deal to this Roman Catholic. Jindal - who has not officially announced he is running, but has formed an "exploratory committee" - has decided to embrace the Hobby Lobby-ization of American politics - "religious liberty."

He said as much yesterday during his SRLC speech, as we reported: "The United States of America did not create religious liberty," Jindal said. "Religious liberty created the United States of America."

My one and only encounter with Jindal while reporting for The Town Talk was in 2002, when he was at a political event there in Alexandria. I had heard this Baton Rouge native and political figure appointed by President Bush to be assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation, was present and that I should talk to him. Someone mentioned his name to me and I tracked him down. After my quick interview I asked him his name and to spell it and he seemed to take great offense. He acted as if I should know exactly who he was. It struck me as petty and the reaction of a thin-skinned politician. Running into Jindal out in the halls of the Cox Convention Center this weekend, however, his mood was much brighter.

But hearing Jindal yesterday blast the "secular left in Hollywood" and embrace the north Louisiana-based Robertson family and its controversial, anti-gay patriarch Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, told me that he is doubling and tripling down on the reactionary, right-wing stance he has decided to take in his state and as he stumps across the country.

Yes, people like his story of growing up in an immigrant family that came to Baton Rouge in the early 1970's from impoverished India. It's a great story. An American story. But Jindal seems to forget that this all-inclusive nation of ours is one of differing opinions. Of different beliefs. In ancestral India, the hostilities between different castes, religious groups and political beliefs run deep (read my review of the rise of the Naxalite movement in India).

What I heard yesterday from Bobby Jindal were words of a man who wants to take his ball and go home, screw everyone else. That's not the sort of divisive and extreme personality we need running the country. And for the moment, as Jindal flails and the real needs of Louisiana are largely ignored, a real opportunity for a true rising star with a great back story and an amazing education (he's a Rhodes scholar for crying out loud, not some backwoods Goober) are seemingly thrown by the wayside. Jindal is so far right he makes Jeb Bush look like one of the Kennedys.

And while the wild-eyed rightist Jindal received cheers and wild applause from the SRLC audience at times, he did not rank in the top three of the SRLC straw poll. That honor went to Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz.

Perhaps even conservatives are beginning to see through Jindal's rhetoric. We know red-staters in Sportsman's Paradise are. A recent poll shows Jindal as being more unpopular than Barack Obama.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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