Bobby Jindal’s political ambitions are vastly outstripping reality. Louisiana’s Republican governor is determined to make a bid for the White House in 2016, but if recent polling is anything to go by he may struggle to even make it to the Fox News debates. Consistently at or near the bottom of a large field of candidates, Jindal needs to stand out in a crowded field of me-too Clinton-bashers and immigrant-aggravators. Unfortunately, he’s all too keen to toe the party line on the vast majority of issues — particularly LGBT matters.
Jindal has a long history of opposing gay equality. He converted to Christianity at a young age, eventually becoming a self-described evangelical Catholic. To quote the man himself, when he was introduced to the Bible by a friend in high school, he “was struck, and struck hard.” Factor in his politics — Jindal is a fiscal and social conservative, and Governor of one of America’s most conservative states — and it’s hardly an ideal recipe for breeding tolerance.
Certainly not helping matters is a scathing editorial this week by Jindal’s former New Media Director, Taylor Huckaby. Writing for the New Orleans Advocate, Huckaby offers an insight into the right-wing, religious extremism Jindal surrounds himself with — and that ultimately influences his policymaking. Huckaby notes that, during his time working for Jindal, he witnessed the birth of the “fire-and-brimstone Jindal,” who clamored to “stand in the church house door and refuse Americans their individual right to marry the one they love.”
Jindal’s extremism is “equal parts religion and politics,” a product of the “virulently anti-gay company he keeps [that] has come to define him in the same way chameleons take on the color of their surroundings.” It should come as no surprise that Jindal includes the homophobic stars of A&E’s Duck Dynasty in his various social circles. Religious and conservative extremism is “surrounding, insulating and shrouding the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion,” according to Huckaby.
“I regret nothing more than my complicity in the state’s relentless attacks against my fellow LGBTQ citizens,” he writes. “Being anti-gay was (and is) a system requirement for working in Louisiana conservative politics, and it bred a powerful self-hatred.”
Jindal’s “signature strategy of rallying bigotry” is diminishing, however, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage. The governor’s attempts to block or limit the advancement of equality will be “fruitless, petty and ultimately unsuccessful.” In a devastating final blow, Huckaby anticipates the day “Jindal fades into irrelevance,” taking his “dishonest, destructive administration” with him and paving the way for leadership that embraces “fairness, charity, dignity, prudence and kindness above all.”
Unfortunately, for Louisiana’s LGBT citizens, Jindal won’t leave office until next year. If his actions so far are anything to go by, he’ll do everything he can to prevent further advancements for equality.
In May, despite protests from gay rights groups and businesses that have operations in the state, Jindal signed an executive order granting business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT customers. Adapted from “religious freedom” laws, it had originally been proposed by the state legislature, though they sensibly killed it once objections were raised. Jindal, “disappointed” that bigotry had failed, promptly appropriated it.
Despite tech giant IBM telling Jindal that the bill “will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees” and asking him to “ensure this legislation is not discriminatory,” Jindal signed his order. IBM promptly cancelled a ribbon-cutting at a new headquarters in Baton Rouge. Fearing a backlash in tourism, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued his own executive order proclaiming “[New Orleans] welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms.” Gay rights groups, both in-state and nationally, decried Jindal’s attempts to discriminate against his state’s LGBT residents. The ACLU was so incensed that their Louisiana branch last week sued the governor, challenging the validity of his order.
Jindal was unmoved. “This is even bigger than marriage,” he said, The Times-Picayune reports. “It’s the right to live your lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to your sincerely held religious beliefs.”
It was the latest in a long line of anti-gay, anti-marriage equality statements from the governor. He told MSNBC that his order was “not about discriminating against anyone or about judging people,” despite it allowing for discrimination and judgement. He told the Washington Examiner last year that “marriage is between a man and a woman…. I’m not a weather vane on this issue and I’m not going to change my position.”
In the wake of the last month’s marriage equality ruling, Jindal proclaimed, “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that. I will never stop fighting for religious liberty and I hope our leaders in D.C. join me.” In a failed attempt to fight the ruling, Jindal searched for ways to block the issuance of marriage licences in his state. It was for naught — two days later, he told NBC News “We don’t have a choice. Our agencies will comply with the court order.”
Jindal’s religious fervor extends to the company he keeps. He is an ally of Tony Perkins, president of the notoriously homophobic Family Research Council. Jindal has appeared on Perkins’ radio show to denounce marriage equality and espouse the value of protecting “religious liberty.” When Jindal announced appointments to the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family, Perkins was included due to his “expertise in community programs and assistance.” Right Wing Watch also reports that Jindal has courted religious activist David Lane — who is funded by the homophobic American Family Association. Lane organized Jindal’s prayer rally, held in Baton Rouge earlier this year, which utilized promotional materials that proclaimed gay marriage and abortions to be the cause of Hurricane Katrina.
Jindal’s descent into the more extreme folds of the Republican Party is astounding for a man who just two years ago stated that the GOP “must stop being the stupid party.”
“We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments,” he told the attendees of 2013’s Republican National Committee Winter Meeting. “[We need to] stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”
Since then, Jindal has presided over a staggering implosion in Louisiana’s finances, while reaching further into the GOP’s far right for votes. If his Presidential campaign — which has never reached above 5% in polls, according to Real Clear Politics — is anything to go by, the Jindal who once reformed his state’s Medicare, who graduated a Rhodes scholar, who espoused responsible conservatism, is long gone.
Now, he’s desperately campaigning for relevancy in a party filled with similarly bigoted candidates. In a bitterly ironic twist, Jindal’s mismanagement of Louisiana’s fiscal priorities has led to a $1.6 billion hole in its budget. As the Washington Post reported in May, the state is now so poor that it can’t afford to budget for the primaries Jindal hopes to compete in as a candidate.
Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, perhaps best summarized Jindal’s leadership skills in the wake of his anti-gay executive order: “It’s foolishness our families cannot afford.”
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