Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will announce he is running for President of the United States. As a native Louisianian, I have seen first hand the transformation of the state for the better under Bobby Jindal’s stewardship.
I am from East Feliciana Parish. The per capita income in East Feliciana is $15,428. Growing up, most everything in the parish was state owned. The state’s insane asylum is there. One of its major prisons is there. A retirement home for war veterans is there. So too is a retirement home for state employees. Then there’s a prison for the criminally insane. It goes on and on.
When my family moved back from Dubai, I started out going to the Wilkinson County Christian Academy, a thirty minute drive into Wilkinson County, MS, but as gas prices soared above $1.50 (!!!) due to the outbreak of the Gulf War, my parents decided to send me into the public school system. My first week in tenth grade, I heard a student ask what the world “liberty” meant.
Graduating from high school, I was one of the few who fled the state, having received an academic scholarship to get away. Most of the students I graduated with went to work for either the state or for Exxon, the largest private employer nearby. Few people ever really left.
East Feliciana Parish is some of the most beautiful country in the United States. It has some of the nicest people and the best food. And it existed as, essentially, a welfare state until Bobby Jindal came along.
Jindal lost his first election for Governor. Kathleen Blanco, the Democrat, ran an openly racist campaign darkening Jindal’s skin in mail pieces and referring to him as “Piyush,” his given name that no one calls him. After her disastrous four years, the state welcomed Jindal. Four years later, the Democratic Party in Louisiana was virtually extinct and Jindal swept the state with only nominal opposition.
In his nearly eight years as governor, Jindal has privatized much of the state’s industry. Friends and relatives of mine hate him for it. They lost comfortable, near guaranteed state jobs and had to go into the private sector. But Jindal made Louisiana more efficient. He also cleaned up corruption in the state. Major corporations no longer had to wonder who had to be bribed. They could move into the state free of government officials looking for handouts.
Going home to see my parents, I have seen how Baton Rouge has spread as more people have moved into the area. Farm land is now suburban. Many of my lower income friends now have higher paying jobs.
But it has come at a cost. Jindal has fought long and hard for school choice and education reform, but he has not always had a cooperative legislature. Likewise, many of his critics say he kicked tough budgetary issues down the road and those issues are now bigger and worse. Jindal, however, has more than once insisted one time money not pay for all the time projects. The legislature has often ignored him and now needs more money.
The people of Louisiana, eight years into Jindal’s administration, seem ready to move on from him. Those candidates running to replace him are, in some cases, Republicans openly blaming Jindal for Louisiana’s problems. There is no love lost between U.S. [mc_name name=’Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’V000127′ ], who covet’s Jindal’s job, and Jindal. Vitter has been openly critical of choices Jindal made — painting Jindal as an outsider.
And it is true. Jindal is an outsider. An Indian-American, Jindal is not a cajun good ol’ boy. But then the cajun good ol’ boys left Huey Long’s slowly crumbling welfare state in place with no desire to fix it. Jindal fixed it. For many, it was and is tough medicine.
That may ultimately be the biggest problem Bobby Jindal faces on the road to the White House. He was the Governor that Louisiana desperately needed, but is, because of that, now the Governor it no longer really wants. He did what had to be done, but possibly at the expense of his future career.
Bobby Jindal is a good man. He will be one of the smartest men ever to run for the White House. He has the skill set in healthcare and reform that the nation needs. But he is anchored by a boot state that, in its soul, resents Jindal forcing it out of the nineteenth century. Because of Bobby Jindal, I can go home again. Politically speaking, I just do not know if Jindal can.