Bud­ding Repub­li­can su­per­star Jin­dal is happy where he is right now

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jon Ward

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 po­ten­tial vice pres­i­den­tial pick.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal says he wants to stay in his job while ex­pect­ing to lose pop­u­lar­ity as he pushes for­ward his am­bi­tious twoterm 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 Shreve­port April 23 for an event.

“I’m ex­actly where I need to be,” said Mr. Jin­dal, who is the youngest gov­er­nor in the U.S., and the son of In­dian im­mi­grants.

When he talks about us­ing his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal and how he is “not a big be­liever in polls,” Mr. Jin­dal can sound a lot like Pres­i­dent Bush.

But while the gov­er­nor main­tains a good re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Bush and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, he was not afraid to crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent’s at­tempt to re­form im­mi­gra­tion, as well as Mr. Bush’s op­po­si­tion last fall to in­creased spend­ing for the State Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram (SCHIP).

Mr. Jin­dal said the Repub­li­can Party’s anti-spend­ing stance on SCHIP was a “great ex­am­ple” of how “the Repub­li­can Party stopped be­ing the party of ideas.”

It was the pres­i­dent him­self, how­ever, who laid down a clear marker in the SCHIP de­bate, as he tried to re­claim the man­tle of fis­cal con­ser­vatism.

Mr. Jin­dal — who at 25 was Louisiana’s sec­re­tary of health and hos­pi­tals and at 30 was nom­i­nated by Mr. Bush to be an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary at the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices — said the party should have of­fered an al­ter­na­tive vi­sion for health care in­stead of sim­ply be­ing against 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,” he said.

On im­mi­gra­tion, Mr. Jin­dal said the White House should have re­stored pub­lic trust in the gov­ern­ment’s prom­ises to se­cure the border by tak­ing con­crete steps to do so in 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.”

In Louisiana, Mr. Jin­dal is a man on the move who al­ready has pushed through a large ethics re­form pack­age in a state long known for its po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, and tax cuts for busi­nesses in his first three months in of­fice.

“He’s chang­ing the cul­ture of Ba­ton Rouge,” the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona said dur­ing a speech in the state cap­i­tal on April 25.

And Mr. Jin­dal, who in be­tween health-pol­icy stints was a 28-yearold pres­i­dent of Louisiana’s univer­sity sys­tem, is po­si­tioned to be a con­ser­va­tive stan­dard-bearer for years on health care and ed­u­ca­tion, two of the most press­ing is­sues, where lead­er­ship from the right has been lack­ing.

“He is the fu­ture,” said Repub­li­can 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 4year-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 his party does not agree with Mr. Jin­dal on how to re­form health care and ed­u­ca­tion.

Dur­ing his trip two weeks ago to Shreve­port to an­nounce more fund­ing for a crime lab, Mr. Jin­dal showed all the en­ergy and con­fi­dence — mixed with a dose of mod­esty — ex­pected from some­one his age who has ac­com­plished so much.

The past few 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 a neigh­bor­hood in New Or­leans’ Lower 9th Ward that was rav­aged by Ka­t­rina.

Mr. Jin­dal rode to the 9th Ward 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.

Mr. Jin­dal kept up his high-profile last week. He ap­peared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on April 28, and on May 2 he spoke at the Na­tional Press Club in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. McCain re­fused, when asked in New Or­leans, to say whether he will ask Mr. Jin­dal to be his run­ning mate.

But Mr. Jin­dal told The Times that he does not want to be asked, be­cause he has so much he wants to do in Louisiana.

Yet, while he is rid­ing high now, Mr. Jin­dal 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.

The one to watch: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal

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