Louisiana senator David Vitter, who is running to succeed governor Bobby Jindal next year, surprised many on Friday when he announced his support for the Common Core educational standards. That puts him squarely at odds with Jindal, who has gone to great lengths to withdraw Louisiana from Common Core, issuing a series of executive orders to do so after a number of legislative proposals failed.
Vitter took a swipe at Jindal in his announcement, telling the Associated Press, “I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Governor Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the school year is very disruptive.”
Louisiana blogger Robert Mann says this is an about face for Vitter, who sent a fundraising letter for his gubernatorial campaign telling supporters he’s “prepared protect our citizens from ObamaCare, the president’s insane environmental regulations, heavy-handed big government policies like ‘Common Core,’ and all the rest.” Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar tells me the reference to Common Core was a drafting mistake by the mail company.
Viewed through the lens of politics, Louisiana’s Republican Rhodes Scholars are running to appeal to two different constituencies: Jindal is eyeing the 2016 presidential nomination, Vitter the governorship.
Withdrawing Louisiana from the standards may have gotten Jindal sued, but it will surely generate enthusiasm from the Republican base, which has revolted against them. That’s obviously important in a presidential primary. Jindal was an early supporter of Common Core but said he changed his mind due to the unanticipated federal intrusion it brought.
Vitter needs to win voters across the state next year in a place where several Republicans — Jindal appointees, to boot — are standing by Common Core, and the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is vowing to implement them regardless of Jindal’s position. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also a major backer of the standards, and supporting them will surely be helpful when it comes to raising money from the business community.
But Vitter may never have to talk about the issue on the stump. With two lawsuits in state court right now — one arguing Jindal overstepped his constitutional bounds, the other seeking to stop the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s implementation of the standards — the issue dividing Louisiana Republicans may be resolved before he hits the campaign trail.