Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)
Elected: 2007, term expires Jan. 2012, 1st term.
Born: June 10, 1971, Baton Rouge .
Education: Brown U., B.A. 1991, Oxford U., M.Lit. 1994.
Family: Married (Supriya); 3 children.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 2004-2007.
Professional Career: Secy., LA Dept. of Health and Hospitals, 1996-98; Exec. dir., Natl. Bipartisan Comm. on the Future of Medicare, 1998-99; Pres., U. of LA System, 1999-2001; Asst. sec., U.S. Dept. of HHS, 2001-03.
The governor of Louisiana is Bobby Jindal, a Republican elected in October 2007. Jindal grew up in Baton Rouge, the son of immigrants from India who came to the United States so his mother could do graduate work at Louisiana State University. His given name was Piyush, but as a boy he insisted on being called Bobby, after his favorite character in the television series The Brady Bunch. As a teenager, he converted from Hinduism to Catholicism. He was an honors student at Baton Rouge High School, went on to graduate from Brown University with degrees in biology and public policy, then studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
|Bobby Jindal (R)||699,275||(54%)|
|Walter Boasso (D)||226,476||(17%)|
|John Georges (R)||186,682||(14%)|
|Foster Campbell (D)||161,665||(12%)|
After college, Jindal worked briefly for McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C., then landed his first job in politics as an intern for 4th District Rep. Jim McCrery, a Republican. He quickly built an impressive resume. When McCrery assigned him to work on health-policy research, Jindal holed himself up in the Library of Congress for two weeks to master the complexities of the Medicare program. He eventually plopped on McCrery’s desk a thick report spelling out possible solutions to the financial problems confounding the gigantic government-run medical program for the elderly. A few years later, Jindal, then age 24, set his sights on becoming the new head of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals and asked McCrery to introduce him to the governor, Republican Mike Foster. “Bobby knocked their socks off,” McCrery told the Baton Rouge newspaper, the Advocate. Foster gave Jindal the job of running a 13,000-employee agency that accounted for about 40% of the state budget. Jindal managed to erase a $400 million deficit within two years. He returned to Washington and, at age 27, became executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, co-chaired by Democratic Louisiana Sen. John Breaux and U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, a Republican from California. Next he served as president of the 80,000-student Louisiana state university system. In 2001, he became assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
In 2003, Jindal ran for governor, his first race for elective office. He campaigned as a policy expert with ideas for restructuring state government, and he attracted national and even international attention; his candidacy was front-page news in India. In the October 2003 primary, he ran first, with 33% of the vote, ahead of three Democrats: Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, with 18%; Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, with 16%; and former U.S. Rep. Buddy Leach, with 14%. Between the primary and the runoff, Blanco ran ads raising doubts about Jindal's success as the state health-department chief, to which Jindal failed to respond forcefully. In the November runoff, he lost to Blanco 52%-48%, but he carried the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Monroe metro areas. Blanco carried her home area, the Cajun country, by a wide margin; Jindal carried only one of the northern parishes that most Republicans have won in other statewide races.
In 2004, Jindal considered running for the Senate when Breaux retired, but deferred to U.S. Rep. David Vitter, a Republican who won the seat. He then decided to run for Vitter's vacant House seat, ideally situated in a congressional district where Jindal’s wife’s family lived and where he had won 68% of the vote in his campaign for governor. Republican state Rep. Steve Scalise abandoned his campaign in August after trailing badly in fundraising and the polls, and Jindal was endorsed by state GOP leaders. He won 78% of the vote in November and was elected without a runoff. He was the first Indian-American elected to Congress since Democrat Dalip Saund won in the 29th District of California in 1956.
In the House, Jindal’s voting record was moderate to conservative and his approach was earnest. With help from McCrery, he lobbied Republican leaders for an assignment to the Energy and Commerce Committee. But no freshman had been assigned there for years, and Jindal instead got seats on the Homeland Security and Natural Resources committees. He was elected president of the Republican freshman class and spoke out early for the GOP proposal to create private retirement accounts in the Social Security program. Following the devastation of Louisiana and other Gulf states by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he worked on revamping the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal flood-insurance program and financial aid to state and local school boards. Perhaps his most significant achievement was enactment in December 2006 of a bill that opened more than 8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling, and mandated that a substantial portion of the revenues go to Louisiana and other Gulf states with Katrina damage.
Jindal never stopped thinking about running again for governor. He kept a campaign-style schedule during congressional recesses, traveling around the state to give speeches and hold fundraisers. Blanco had been widely criticized for her response to Katrina, and her job rating was low. In March 2007, when she announced she would not seek another term, Jindal was ready. Other prominent Louisiana politicians who might have given him a tough fight stayed out of the race for various reasons. Breaux considered running, but he had established residence in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, and he decided not to run after Jindal supporters made it clear they would challenge his eligibility to run. Two other Democrats, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and former U.S. Rep. Chris John, also decided against running.
Three serious opponents did enter the race. Democratic State Sen. Walter Boasso spent personal money liberally and argued that he had worked to reduce patronage politics at levee boards. Businessman John Georges also spent millions and ran as a nonpartisan political unifier. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, ran on a proposal to replace the state income tax with a levy on oil and gas producers. Jindal stressed his work in Congress on post-Katrina aid and promised to clean up the state’s famously corrupt politics and rejuvenate Louisiana’s economy. “We need a plan that won’t just rebuild things the way they were, where we were 50th in health care and 50th in the best places to do business. We need to move to the top of those lists and others,” he said. Jindal led in polls throughout the campaign and won 54% of the vote, more than the 50% required to avoid a runoff. The opposition was split: Boasso won 17% of the vote, Georges 14%, and Campbell 12%.
Taking office Jindal called a special session of the Legislature in February 2008 and won passage, with only minor changes, of an ethics bill requiring elected and appointed officials to disclose their personal finances and of another measure banning them from doing business with the state. Then he called a second special session in March to “eliminate unorthodox business taxes that are holding Louisiana’s economy back.” Almost without demur, the Legislature voted to accelerate $367 million in phaseouts of taxes on utilities, machinery purchases and corporate debt and to pass $20 million in tuition and home-schooling tax credits. In addition, he persuaded the Legislature to spend much of the $1.1 billion budget surplus on infrastructure—roads, bridges and ports—and on hurricane protection and coastal restoration. Also funded were repairs at public university buildings and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Another bill gradually reserved tax revenues from car and truck sales for transportation projects. “We should not be sitting on the sidelines of global economic competition while cities that were once small towns become giants of economic vitality,” Jindal said.
In the regular session that followed, the Legislature did not always ratify Jindal’s initiatives. The state House cut health and education funds in his budget and declined to pass his proposal for merit pay for teachers. He was dogged as well by his campaign’s failure to report $100,000 in financial aid from the state Republican Party and by newspaper stories that one of the businesses benefiting from his Terrebonne Parish port expansion was a big contributor to his campaign. Jindal in turn vetoed $16 million of legislators’ special projects. But his biggest misstep involved a raise in legislators’ pay, stuck at $16,800 to $37,500 for many years. During his campaign, he had pledged to oppose a pay increase. On June 16, 2008, after the Legislature passed one, he said he would allow it to become law without his signature. There was widespread protest, and on June 27, papers were filed for a recall petition. He responded by vetoing the pay raise.
Jindal’s early successes brought him into the national spotlight. He spent Memorial Day weekend at Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s home in Sedona, Ariz., together with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. The next month, “Jindal for VP” bumper stickers were circulating in Baton Rouge. But he was not a finalist for the job, and he canceled a speaking date at the Republican National Convention in September when Hurricane Gustav was headed toward New Orleans. Some 1.9 million people were evacuated from coastal parishes. Jindal gave frequent press conferences, rattling off wind speeds, shelter populations, damage descriptions, phone numbers and websites, seemingly in total command of the state response. Later in the month, he traveled to Washington to lobby Congress for relief. He rejected the idea of another Road Home program like the one following Katrina as too bureaucratic and slow moving.
Jindal’s campaigning in 2008 and his trip to Iowa to deliver two speeches after the election stimulated talk of a presidential candidacy. “I am not running for the White House in 2012,” he said. “I don’t have any intent of running for any other office. I’d really like to go back to the private sector.” He was chosen by Republican leaders to deliver the rebuttal to Democratic President Barack Obama’s address to Congress in February 2009. In a speech he wrote himself, he talked about his immigrant heritage and attacked high government spending. But his delivery was uninspiring, and the critical postgame analysis was almost entirely negative. His response: “People ask, ‘Well, did you have a debate coach or a speech coach?’ Obviously, I didn’t.”
In 2009, Jindal, like most other governors, was no longer dealing with a state budget surplus but with a budget shortfall amid a deepening national recession. In March 2009, he presented a $26 billion budget that cut spending on health care and higher education and eliminated hundreds of state jobs. It included nearly $1 billion in federal economic stimulus funds, but he rejected stimulus unemployment benefits conditioned on a permanent increase in state spending levels. Jindal also called for redesigning the health-care system, with Medicaid being administered through private insurance companies. His plan required federal as well as legislative approval. Well before the 2011 state election, he had raised more than $3 million in campaign funds.