A couple of years ago I was out in California for a meeting and ran into Bobby Jindal and his wife. They were in the same hotel. I’ve know the Governor of Louisiana for a number of years. I’m a native of Louisiana. We caught up on life and I mentioned I had not been home in quite a while to see my parents.
We parted company and I went to my meeting. That evening the phone in my hotel room rang. The Governor’s Chief of Staff was calling to tell me Governor Jindal wanted me to fly back to Louisiana with him the next day. He knew I had a day of down time before my flight, had not seen my parents in a long time, and could hop a flight back to Atlanta the next day.
I agreed. We got to the airport the next morning and Governor Jindal looked at me, smiled, and said, “Good. If you didn’t come I was gonna call your mama and tell her you had the opportunity and refused.” We both laughed hard.
When I decided it was time to retire from RedState, Governor Jindal was the first elected official in the nation I talked to about it. He was encouraging and told me he thought I could pull off departing and starting over with no problem. When I was doubting, he gave me a shot of confidence to leave.
Governor Jindal also gave Louisiana a shot of confidence. I fled that state after the Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke race where my parents had a sticker on the back of their car “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.” I never even considered I could return home to what I considered a third world hell hole. Hell, a family down the road from us literally kept a cow on a cinderblock in the front yard for milk. Everyone I went to high school with it seems either wound up working for the state, working for Exxon, or going to jail. Louisiana was a state without a lot of hope.
When Katrina blew through I was well settled in Georgia, but my parents were and still are in the Felicianas where we have a family farm. My parents now live in my grandparents’ home in Jackson. The roads are still crumbling there and the biggest industry is still the prison system. But there is something new — suburbs stretching from Baton Rouge up a nicely paved Highway 61. Baton Rouge is growing in every direction.
After Katrina, the Democrats in the state imploded. The old ways and old bureaucracy collapsed. Bobby Jindal kiar lost to Kathleen Blanco in his first run for governor. The Democrats ran a blatantly racist campaign in which they intentionally darkened Bobby’s skin in mail pieces and referred to him as “Piyush Jindal,” which is his actual given name that no one calls him. In 2007, Bobby came back to beat Blanco after Katrina. He never looked back.
Bobby Jindal oversaw a fundamental transformation in Louisiana. State industries were downsized and privatized. People were forced to compete in the private sector. The state payroll stopped serving as an extension of the welfare state. Ethics reforms were pushed through the legislature quickly. Legislators fought Jindal, but Jindal used his mandate effectively for change. Soon, businesses started pouring into Louisiana. More and more industry came in providing more and more people a way out of poverty.
Four years after his first term, Jindal got re-elected with only nominal opposition. He won with 53.9% of the vote and saw Democrats and others pick up several parishes (the state has parishes, not counties) in 2007. In 2011, he won every single parish and 65.8% of the vote. The Democrat got just 17% of the vote. The legislature headed toward the GOP as well.
Bobby Jindal gave Louisiana a lot of hope. Unfortunately, he was never able to capitalize on that in a Presidential race. He couldn’t find a reformist message and was crowded out. At home, resentment with his budget cuts and politics led Republicans to start vocally criticizing him. On the campaign trail, Jindal became known more as a bomb thrower than a policy wonk. With Louisiana as his base, he did not have the deep pocketed billionaires other candidates had just by virtue of residency in states with those billionaires.
At the age of 24, Bobby Jindal became the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. At 28, he was the president of the University of Louisiana System, overseeing more than 80,000 college students in the state. At 30, President Bush appointed him Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services. By 33, he had become a congressman. He was a Governor before turning 37. It is a pretty damning indictment on the whole debate process this year that a man with that resume could not make it on the main debate stage in any of the Republican debates.
Bobby Jindal is the smartest Governor in America, one of the great reformers of the twenty-first century, and a genuinely kind soul. He is returning to Louisiana to finish out his second term with a population that is ready to move on from the Jindal era. The Republicans in Louisiana, with David Vitter as their nominee, are crumbling and, should Vitter manage to turn the tide and win, look set to roll back parts of Jindal’s legacy.
Bobby Jindal may not be the man Louisiana wants right now, but he is Governor the state needed. I probably will never move home, but I know now that I could. It is thanks to the single minded determination of a native son of the Bayou State whose parents were immigrants to our nation. I suspect we have not heard the last from Bobby Jindal and it would be our loss if this was the end of his career in politics.