On May 16, Politico published an opinion piece by Grover Norquist and an Americans for Tax Reform colleague headlined, “Why Romney should tap Jindal.” The very next day, Politico posed the question to its “Arena” contributors, “Who should Romney tap for understudy?” Coincidentally, the two conservatives Politico tapped for their answers in its hardcopy edition, former RNC chairman Michael Steel and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth, respectively declared that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal would be a “damn good” and “excellent” choice to fill out the GOP ticket.
So is the left-leaning Politico subliminally working to convince Mitt Romney that he should select as his running-mate the man who infamously stammered his way through an excruciatingly unpersuasive Republican response to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address? Does the left see Jindal as perhaps the only short-list GOP candidate who might actually lose a vice-presidential debate to Joe Biden?
It’s impossible to know for sure. But it’s a safe bet that few of those singing Jindal’s praises as a possible vice president know that, as tort reformers see it, Jindal’s past is full of troubling ties to the parasitic personal injury bar. In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday that the governor’s office finally weighed in, if still unconvincingly, on a long-running statehouse wrangle over tort reform legislation that is key to Louisiana’s future as a major energy producer.
For years the governor has been unwilling to side unambiguously with Louisiana’s energy producers against the plaintiffs’ lawyers who’ve created a thriving cottage industry in what are known locally as “legacy lawsuits.” This litigation often fraudulently alleges that environmental damage was caused by past onshore energy production. My organization, the American Tort Reform Association, adduced evidence of this ongoing fraud earlier this year when it obtained and posted smoking-gun video of a consultant shamelessly teaching plaintiffs’ lawyers how to enrich themselves by filing bogus lawsuits. The consultant essentially instructs the plaintiffs’ lawyers to blame runoff from Southern Louisiana’s naturally occurring salt domes on energy producers, while making sure to target defendants with “deep pockets.”
A Louisiana State University study released in February shows that, during the past eight years, legacy lawsuits have reduced Louisiana’s economic output by more than $10 billion and prevented the creation of 30,000 jobs that would have cumulatively paid $1.5 billion in wages. With all this in mind, two weeks ago Louisiana’s House overwhelmingly passed a proactive reform bill that then stalled in the Senate, where trial lawyers and their generous campaign contributions hold considerable sway. To much fanfare yesterday, Jindal’s office announced a still ill-defined “compromise” that has yet to be written into legislative language. And as far as observers in Baton Rouge can see, there’s nothing in this so-called compromise that would ultimately preclude or punish fraudulent lawsuits.
In any case the clock is ticking. The legislature is slated to adjourn on June 4, and there’s a lot of work left to do if legacy lawsuit reform legislation is to survive the tort bar’s anticipated efforts to kill or weaken it before final passage. Meanwhile, Jindal’s past obstruction of much-needed asbestos litigation reform, to say nothing of the campaign contributions — reportedly in excess of $500,000 — he’s received from trial lawyers during his political career, do not fill tort reformers with confidence. Healthy skepticism probably better characterizes the attitude of those of us who’ll be watching the governor very closely these next few weeks. Will he aggressively fight for meaningful reform to boost Louisiana’s energy sector? Or will he help lawsuit racketeers survive and thrive?
Assuming Bobby Jindal may wish to seek a political future on the national stage someday, he’ll eventually be forced to choose between seeking support from pro-growth tort reformers or from the growth-sapping, job-killing litigation industry. What’s he waiting for?
Darren McKinney is the director of communications for the American Tort Reform Association in Washington.