Nov 9, 2013 1:57 PM by KATC
When Gov. Bobby Jindal was named leader of the Republican Governors Association, he said it wouldn't take his focus away from running his home state. But an Associated Press tally shows that it's definitely taken him away from home.
During his term as RGA chairman, Jindal has regularly left Louisiana this year for campaigns, fundraisers and speeches.
The AP review - based on announcements the governor's office made about his travel schedule - shows that Jindal, considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016, has traveled out of state at least 69 days this year, much of it to meet with RGA donors, fundraise for the organization and work on strategy for Republican gubernatorial races.
The governor was on the road and away from Louisiana at least 1 out of every 5 days of the year so far, AP found, using the information provided to the media by Jindal's office when he leaves the state.
Jindal said his RGA chairmanship gives him the chance to help his gubernatorial colleagues while spreading good news about education improvements and economic development in his home state.
He said it doesn't keep from attending to state business.
"I do think it's possible to chew gum and walk at the same time," Jindal said in an interview. He added, "With today's technology, certainly when I'm not in the state, it's possible to stay in contact with my staff when we make decisions on important issues."
The trips boost Jindal's political profile, keep him squarely in the mix of national discussions, and take him to locations and people that could be critical in launching a White House bid.
They also continue despite polling that suggests the hefty out-of-state travel schedule is unpopular with many folks back home - and despite criticism even from some Republicans that Jindal is more focused on national ambitions than state troubles.
"Being out of state is worth it nationally to him. I think they've been willing to take the hit on it," said Baton Rouge-based pollster Bernie Pinsonat.
The governor's approval ratings have sunk well below 50 percent in Louisiana, and the frequent trips away from home are among the criticisms lodged against Jindal.
Pinsonat said Jindal's steady out-of-state travel doesn't sit well with many Louisiana residents because the state's had so many financial problems, with steep cuts to higher education and some health care services.
"If things were better and we weren't cutting, they would give him some slack," Pinsonat said. "Those are really tough headlines, and the natural inclination is that if the guy is not in Louisiana, then he's not doing his job. Whether that's fair or not doesn't matter. It's perception."
This year, Jindal drummed up contributions for the RGA in Florida, South Carolina, California and Washington. He mingled with the association's donors at an event hosted by Koch Industries, whose owners are billionaires that regularly help conservative candidates and causes. He campaigned with failed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
Not all of the dozens of trips were tied to his RGA role.
The governor, who is term-limited and can't run for re-election, also spoke to Republican groups in Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan and Georgia. He attended GOP fundraisers in the pivotal presidential primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa.
On Wednesday, he headed to Arizona to speak to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. In August, he was in Canada to talk about his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The number of trips this year has exceeded Jindal's out-of-state travel for every other year he's been in the governor's office except 2012, when he was regularly on the road for Mitt Romney in the presidential race and other GOP candidates.
Jindal said he tries to limit his trips to same-day travel or to weekends. He defended his time in office, talking of boosted job creation in the state and improved health services through new LSU hospital privatization agreements. And he noted that he's also been traveling Louisiana for several months as part of a statewide tour, which he's done nearly every year he's been governor.
"I travel all over the state and talk to folks and listen to their concerns," he said.
Jindal's term as RGA chairman ends this month. He'll be vice chairman for a year after that, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie takes over the leadership spot.
Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who has clashed with Jindal on financial and education issues, said he understands the need for a governor to travel and promote the state. But he said Jindal's done that in "an excessive amount."
With the RGA chairmanship wrapping up for Jindal, Henry said, "Hopefully he'll be able to come back to Louisiana, refocus all of his energy on solving our problems and dealing with our important issues. I would hope so, because that's why he was elected."