Brownback and Jindal go down in flames: America’s worst governors proven bullies, liars, fools

Brownback and Jindal go down in flames: America's worst governors proven bullies, liars, fools

Nowadays, states are often referred to as “laboratories of democracy,” based on a line from Justice Louis Brandeis stating federalism allows that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Implicit in this formulation is the scientific method—trying things out, and learning from the results. But science is in ill repute with the increasingly rigid, ideological GOP these days. For them, the question of what’s to be learned is not how to produce beneficial results, but how to repackage and sell disasters as shining examples of “success.”

Which helps explain how it comes that two of America’s most ambitious GOP governors are now deep in denial that their imaginary budget schemes lie in ruins.

As their state’s legislative sessions came to an end, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal could both claim they were about to sign balanced budgets—by law, they had no choice—but Brownback did so only with a massive sales tax hike, while Jindal raided the piggy bank for one-time funds that will only make things more difficult for his successor.

Both men deeply antagonized their state legislatures in the process—legislatures dominated by their own party. Brownback once harbored White House dreams, but has since put away childish things. Jindal has yet to grow up. And why should he?  He’s much more popular in New Hampshire than in his home state, as USA Todaynoted in May.

Both governors’ budget shenanigans are reminiscent of how George W. Bush made the case for WMD in Iraq, but without even the thinnest veil of secrecy hiding the arm-twisting, manipulation and outright lying. Talking points and Fox News headlines—the only justifications GOP spinmeisters care about—leave both men in a credible light for those viewing them at a distance or through a partisan lens.

But on-the-ground blow-by-blow accounts reveal both men as bullies, liars and fools, who’ve gotten what they wanted—not their original goals, but (barely) face-saving measures—by threatening the most vulnerable and imperiling future generations. In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle story on the budget accord recounted the threats that were raised:

The Brownback administration warned Thursday that it would cut the budget Monday if lawmakers had not acted by then. Officials raised the specter of either a 6.2 percent across-the-board cut, which would cost schools nearly $200 million, or a veto of budgets for the state’s regents universities.

Rep. Jim Ward—a Democrat representing southeast Wichita—tweeted his translation: “Brownback message to Republicans-Do it my way or I shoot the hostages (school kids, college kids, disabled) #ksleg”

And Sen. Jeff Longbine—a Republican representing Emporia—said, “I am sick of being blackmailed.”

Kansas City Star opinion writer Yael T. Abouhalkah provided more details in his blog:

Figuratively, the governor appears willing to shoot the already-beleaguered schools in the foot, making them bear further financial pain because his cherished income tax breaks for businesses have drained money needed to provide crucial state services.

It’s the newest ploy being used by Brownback to force the Kansas Legislature to pass the largest tax increase in state history and close a $400 million budget gap.

On Tuesday, officials in the Kansas City, Kan. ($11 million in potential lost funds), Olathe ($10 million), Shawnee Mission ($8 million) and Blue Valley ($6 million) districts were scrambling to find out what they could do to protect the educational needs of their students.

In addition, higher education leaders were looking at cutbacks of about $50 million.

Brownback repeatedly threatened to veto any attempt to repeal the business income tax breaks, which are now more psychologically important to him than ever. The broad case for cutting taxes has become untenable—Brownback himself pushed for a sales tax increase to 6.65 percent, the legislature settled on 6.5 percent, up from 6.15 percent—leading Brownback to shift ground: taxing income is bad, taxing spending is good.

As the Star story explained:

Brownback praised what he called “a pro-growth tax policy” after its passage. “This bill keeps the state on a path of economic growth, creating well-paying jobs that benefit all Kansans. It continues our transition from taxes on productivity to consumption-based taxes,” he said in a statement.

But this revised claim is utterly bogus. We can see this in broad terms, as Kansascontinues to lag behind national job-creation rates, as it has ever since Brownback took office in January 2011. We can understand its bogosity more precisely by taking a close look at what it actually does, as the Kansas Center for Economic Growth did on its website with a May 28 post, “Business Tax Exemption Not a Roadmap to a Stronger Economy,” in which it pointed out:

Less than 1 percent of all Kansas small businesses saw a tax savings of just over $38,000. This might be enough to hire one worker full-time, depending on wage and benefits. But, if you were to hire a full-time employee with that money, after paying for benefits the take-home pay would be $26,600 or about $12.80 an hour. That’s barely above the federal poverty level for a family of three – not a roadmap to a stronger economy.

Given the magnitude of the lie Brownback was pushing, it wasn’t enough to just threaten children’s education; lawmakers themselves had to be bullied and abused. Daily Kos blogger Chris Reeves, whose Kansas budget coverage has been cited by the Columbia Journalism Review, focused on what the lawmakers had been through after a 4 a.m. final vote:

For one moment, I want to put aside the bill and talk about our citizen legislators, Republicans and Democrats, who subjected themselves to what the Geneva convention refers to as torture – a 24-hour period with no schedule of sleep available of more than 4 contiguous hours.

Such treatment is abhorrent for anyone, of course.  But what of those who should err on the side of more rest? A key figure Reeves writes about is Heinz Dierks, a man in his 70s whose wife, Diana Dierks, 71, a moderate Republican, represents Salina. “I’m here to look out for her,” Heinz Dierks said. And she was there to do her civic duty—a concept utterly foreign to men like Brownback and Jindal.

In some respects, what happened in Louisiana was even worse. The pure chaos and dysfunction in Louisiana—and Jindal’s utter failure as a political leader—was widely commented on by those who cover such things.

The tone was set back on May 20, just after the legislature had definitively killed action on Jindal’s proposed so-called religious freedom law, which, like Indiana’s hastily withdrawn version, would have been a license to discriminate, when Julia O’Donoghue wrote a piece for the Times-Picayune, “Louisiana lawmakers have trashed Bobby Jindal’s legislative agenda.” Not only had legislators rebuffed Jindal on the right to discriminate—the only piece of legislation he mentioned specifically in his opening speech to the legislature this year, and the subject of almost a third of that speech—but they also refused to follow his lead on two other top priorities:


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