I start writing this as I am still listening to a phone press conference by Jindal Chief of Staff Kyle Plotkin, about the governor’s meeting with State school superintendent John White regarding procurement contracts relating to the state’s school tests (which, of course, are related to the overall debate about the Common Core standards, although Plotkin went to great pains to say that the meeting in this case was only about procurement and not about the Core). I write to suggest that Plotkin should walk back some of his comments, or at least disavow some unfortunate implications thereof.
Clearly, there is a dispute between Jindal and White both about Common Core and about how the testing contract was done (sole-sourced, or no-bid, rather than openly bid). There seems to be a difference of legal opinion as to whether that bid process is in accordance with state law. It seems to me at very first glance that Jindal’s team has the better legal argument, but that is immaterial to the point I am about to make. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Jindal is right about the law. Even so, it could well be that White or his staff misinterpreted the law, or were unaware of its provisions, or some other honest explanation.
Yet, repeatedly in the phone conference, Plotkin stressed that Jindal made a great point with White of recounting the state’s history of “corruption” and of stressing that such corruption is what Jindal has pledged to put an end to. In that light, said Plotkin, Jindal stressed how important it is that White follow the law.
Note the context. This goes beyond Jindal explaining what he thinks the law is, or why his interpretation of the law must govern White’s actions, or any other legitimate reason why White should cry uncle. This goes beyond any assumption that there is an honest difference of opinion. The obvious subtext is not just that White is wrong, but that he is willfully and deliberately wrong. One doesn’t bring up “corruption” in such circumstances unless one is insinuating that there is corruption afoot. (Or, it could be a hamhanded way of scene setting by Jindal, trying to explain why he must be an absolute stickler for the law, in light of the past corruption, but without intending to suggest corruption on White’s part. It’s a stretched interpretation, but at least it’s possible.)
But here’s what is troubling: If it was just a vague scene setter, rather than an insinuation of something worse, why would Plotkin mention it repeatedly in the press conference? Why would he continue to raise the specter of “corruption” rather than of just a legal disagreement?
I asked, quite specifically, if Plotkin really meant to raise the possibility of deliberate malfeasance. I think it was clear that I meant to give him a chance to walk back the noxious inference, made about Jindal’s hand-picked superintendent.
Plotkin didn’t budge. He refused to offer any olive branch at all to White. He left my question hanging, by saying (and, alas, I didn’t get the exact quote) again words to the effect that “White must follow the law, period.”
Look, I oppose Common Core. I also think Jindal is right that the testing contract should have been open to public bid. But I have seen not an iota of evidence to suggest deliberate malfeasance, or “corruption,” on White’s part. And I think it behooves the Jindal administration to quickly, publicly, and graciously clear up such a misimpression.
If not, then it obviously is not an unintended misimpression, but instead a virtual allegation of wrongdoing. Now, unless the administration has evidence we don’t know about — in which case, the evidence should be released, forthwith — then the insinuation must be assumed to be a deliberate assault on White’s reputation for integrity. From what I’ve seen, such an assault is unwarranted.
And if it’s unwarranted, there’s a word for what the administration just did. The word is “smear.” It’s dirty pool. And it should not stand.