(by Jon Ward, WashingtonTimes.com) BATON ROUGE, La. – He is the future of the Republican Party, some say, and has risen so high for the age of 36 that his name is tossed about as a vice-presidential pick.
But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wants to keep his job, although he expects to lose popularity as he pushes his ambitious two-term plan to remake his state in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I told the voters of Louisiana this is a historic, one-time opportunity to change our state, and I want to be a part of that,” he said during an hourlong helicopter ride to an event in Shreveport last month.
“I’m exactly where I need to be,” said Mr. Jindal, who is the youngest governor in the nation and the son of Indian immigrants.
At 25, Mr. Jindal became Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals. At 30, he was nominated by President Bush to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.
When he talks about using his political capital and how he is “not a big believer in polls,” Mr. Jindal can sound like Mr. Bush.
The governor maintains a good relationship with Mr. Bush and members of his administration, but he is not afraid to criticize the president’s attempt to reform immigration and his opposition last fall to increased spending for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Mr. Bush laid a clear marker in the SCHIP debate as he tried to reclaim the mantle of fiscal conservatism.
Mr. Jindal said the Republican Party’s stance on SCHIP was a “great example” of how “the Republican Party stopped being the party of ideas.”
He said Republicans should have offered an alternative vision for health care instead of simply opposing expansive programs offered by Democrats.
“The Democrats had their ideas, but the Republicans said, ‘No, we don’t want to spend that much money. We don’t want to cover as many children.’ As opposed to saying, ‘Hey look, we think the delivery system is wrong. We agree that children should be covered, but we want to do it through private health plan. We want to help poor families afford private care. We don’t want bureaucracies making health care decisions,’ ” Mr. Jindal said. “Instead, they had exactly the wrong debate and the wrong discussion.”
On immigration, Mr. Jindal said, the White House should have restored public trust in the government’s promises by taking concrete steps to secure the border during the president’s first term.
“The fundamental mistake they made was misjudging the very real desire to have steps toward enforcement,” Mr. Jindal said. “The tactical mistake was starting all of it at once.”
Mr. Jindal is a man on the move. In his first three months in office, he has pushed through tax cuts for businesses and a large ethics reform package in a state long known for its political corruption.
“He’s changing the culture of Baton Rouge,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said during a speech in the state capital April 25.
At 28, in between health-policy stints, Mr. Jindal was president of Louisiana’s university system. Now he is positioned to be a conservative standard-bearer for health care and education, two pressing issues that have lacked leadership from the right.
“He is the future,” said political operative Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“He’s an intellectual politician, which is a rare things these days,” said Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who broke his own barriers in Virginia in 1989 by becoming the nation’s first black man elected governor.
“The test,” Mr. Wilder said, “will be whether he can translate that into pragmatism.”
Mr. Jindal has shown from a young age how pragmatic he can be. As a 4-year-old, he watched “The Brady Bunch” and decided that Bobby might be a better fit than Piyush – his birth name – for Louisiana, where he was born and raised.
Louisianans seem to like him no matter what he calls himself.
A recent poll showed the governor with a 70 percent approval rating, and even Democratic leaders in the state Legislature speak highly of him.
“After the hurricane, I think people were looking for a fresh new approach, and he represented that,” said state Senate President Joel T. Chaisson, a Democrat from St. Charles Parish in southeastern Louisiana.
“It’s got people in this state excited, Republicans and Democrats. I haven’t seen this much optimism in a long time. I feel good about it,” said Mr. Chaisson, though he conceded that Democrats do not agree with Mr. Jindal on how to reform health care and education.
During his trip last week to Shreveport to announce more funding for a crime lab, Mr. Jindal showed the energy and confidence – mixed with a dose of modesty – expected from someone his age who has accomplished so much.
The past two weeks have been busy for the father of three. Last month, he spent two days hosting and appearing with Mr. Bush at events in New Orleans for a North American leaders summit.
After his trip to Shreveport, Mr. Jindal had some legislative business at the state Capitol, then headed back to New Orleans for dinner with Mr. McCain. He also took Mr. McCain on a tour of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which was ravaged by Katrina.
Mr. Jindal rode to the neighborhood with Mr. McCain on the candidate’s “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus, sitting next to the senator in an easy chair and talking to reporters about the Bush administration’s failure to reduce red tape for New Orleans residents trying to return.
He maintained his high profile last week with an appearance on “The Tonight Show” on Monday and a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday.
Asked in New Orleans, Mr. McCain refused to say whether he would invite Mr. Jindal to be his running mate.
Mr. Jindal told The Times that he does not want to be asked, because he has so much he wants to do in Louisiana.
While he is riding high now, Mr. Jindal said, he knows his ambitious plans for reform will bring criticism down the road.
“I can guarantee that by using [political capital] our numbers will come down,” Mr. Jindal said. “I don’t care if this is the last political office I hold, as long as I do what’s right for my state. I mean that sincerely.”
Mr. Jindal, a convert to Roman Catholicism from his parents’ Hinduism, said his faith anchors him against the rocky days he foresees.
“It’s important to have an eternal perspective,” he said.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. a) Who is Bobby Jindal?
b) What is noteworthy about Mr. Jindal’s achievement of this office?
2. List Mr. Jindal’s achievements.
3. a) On which two domestic issues has Gov. Jindal criticized President Bush and the Republican party?
b) What specifically did he say about the Republican party’s failure regarding each issue?
4. a) How does Gov. Jindal say the Republicans should have handled these issues?
b) Do you agree with Gov. Jindal’s ideas on these issues? Explain your answer.
5. A good way to gain an understanding of a person’s character is to examine what he says, what he does, and what other people say about him. List some of the things that Gov. Jindal has said and done, and what others have said about him, that give you and indication of his character.
6. If offered, do you think that Gov. Jindal should accept the Republican vice-presidential nomination? Explain your answer.
Visit Gov. Jindal’s personal website at bobbyjindal.com.
And his official website at gov.state.la.us.