Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has been on lock-down these days, as the Republican governor was repeatedly mentioned as a possible running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Interview requests have been ignored as Jindal travels the Romney campaign trail, and the trips typically aren’t announced until the last minute.
Statements by cabinet secretaries have been issued rather than allowing phone calls to talk about the nuance of issues that can be complex, like health care cuts and education revamps.
Document requests have been denied, as agency leaders seemingly shielded anything that could throw the tightly controlled administration off message.
Lawmakers complain they’ve been unable to get information about their budget questions and the administration’s policy decisions.
For a man who ran in 2007 on the gold standard of ethics and transparency in government, questions have been raised about whether Jindal practices what he preached only a few years ago.
Instead, the governor and his staff appeared to be trying to dodge scrutiny because of Jindal’s national political ambitions, hoping to avoid anything that could create unwanted attention that could endanger his hopes of a prominent job with a potential Romney administration.
With Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan picked this weekend for the V-P slot, the question is will that approach change?
Unfortunately for Jindal, there’s no lack of controversies at home, even if he doesn’t want to talk about them:
– His hand-picked education superintendent, John White, is launching Jindal’s new statewide voucher program that will use tax dollars to send children to private and parochial schools amid concerns about the quality and type of education students will get in those schools.
– Jindal’s health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, stripped millions of dollars from the LSU public hospital system, raising concerns about the long-term viability of a system that cares for the poor and uninsured and trains many of the state’s medical professionals.
– Budget problems are in the air, with the state facing a shortfall in its Medicaid program in the current fiscal year and the administration at odds with lawmakers about whether the plans to fill the gap are legal.
The governor only has answered questions if reporters catch him at a handful of scripted appearances around the state that are announced a few hours, at most, before he arrives. And then, he took just a few questions before his handlers ushered him away.
Interview requests repeatedly made by The Associated Press since mid-June have been rejected. Recently, the administration has simply ignored the requests without response.
Meanwhile, Jindal’s leaders have stonewalled on providing certain information, arguing privileges to keep documents hidden from the public.
Since taking office in 2008, Jindal has refused efforts to open more of his records to public view, successfully defeating attempts by lawmakers to limit the public records exemption given to the governor’s office.
Last month, Jindal’s budget office refused to release most records involving the state’s alternative fuel vehicle tax credit, claiming they can be kept confidential.
A lawyer for the Division of Administration said records sought by AP are being kept from public view as part of an exemption in public records law involving the governor’s “deliberative process.” The shielded documents include items involving a controversial ruling – subsequently rescinded by Jindal – over the kinds of vehicles that would qualify for the tax credit program.
The move keeps hidden documents on the state tax credit that could offer insights into a contentious issue that raised fears of state budget troubles and appears to have prompted the resignation of a cabinet secretary.
White is withholding records from deliberations over how schools were chosen to participate in Jindal’s voucher program, saying he’ll release the documents in September, after voucher enrollment is set in a Sept. 1 student count.
The Department of Education claims “a deliberative process privilege” cited in two court rulings that have nothing to do with education, but involve legal battles over what records should be available to the legislative auditor’s office.
The News-Star in Monroe reported that it’s asking its lawyer to sue White’s department over a similar refusal to provide voucher program documents to the newspaper.
The veil of secrecy comes from a governor who campaigned on making “our state the standard-bearer for ethics, transparency and government accountability.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.