Bobby Jindal is a fast talker. He has to be, to get through all the ideas he has about what he’ll do if he wins the race for governor of Louisiana. Ask him about the state’s economy, or health care, or education, and you’ll generally get a quick four-point response.
On education, for example, Jindal wants school choice, including private schools. He wants more charter schools: “The Fordham Foundation gave our charter-school process a D. It’s too politicized.” He is for paying teachers more “but also treating them as professionals” — which means they will have to be regularly certified and paid on the basis of results. He thinks universities should be able to help schools without worrying about restrictive union rules.
Jindal’s first order of business on the economic front would be to eliminate three corporate taxes: the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, the corporate franchise tax, and the property tax on offshore equipment. Few other states have such taxes, and as a result, he says, Louisiana is losing business. In the long run, Jindal would like to see income taxes brought down. He has taken Grover Norquist’s no-tax-hike pledge.
I think that all took about three minutes.
But speed is only the third thing you notice about Jindal. The first is that he’s of Indian descent; his parents moved to Louisiana just before he was born. The second is that he’s young: He just turned 32 in June.
He’s got an impressive resume for his age. He has been a Rhodes scholar, a consultant for McKinsey, the head of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, the executive director of the Breaux-Thomas commission on Medicare reform, president of the University of Louisiana system, and an assistant secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Jindal claims credit for converting the state’s Medicaid deficit into a surplus while he ran the state health department (media observers have also credited him).
Jindal is one of three Republican candidates for governor. The first round of the election is on October 4. A runoff will take place a month later. Earlier this year, Democrats were boasting that they would win the top two slots and that the runoff would thus be an all-Democrat affair. They had two candidates who hold statewide office, lieutenant governor Kathleen Blanco and attorney general Richard Ieyoub. Republicans, including those working for Jindal’s campaign, were worried that their party would not coalesce sufficiently to prevent that scenario. Some worry still remains — Jindal would certainly like it if the other two Republicans dropped out — but the Democratic boasting has faded as the polls have changed. The latest one has Jindal within one point of Blanco, the leading candidate. (Ieyoub has now slipped to third place among the Democrats and fourth overall.)
Jindal is also the candidate endorsed by the incumbent governor, Republican Mike Foster. That fact has worried some conservatives, who have been at loggerheads with Foster, especially on taxes.
Jindal is, however, running on solid conservative issues. He is not pledging to undo Foster’s tax policies. He is, however, pledged to eliminate some particularly onerous business taxes, as mentioned above. When Jindal visited my office in July, he criticized the federal government’s $20 billion bailout of state governments because “it required no efficiencies from the states” — a position that puts him well to the right of most Republican governors. (Bailouts mean that “states expand Medicaid in good times and go to the federal government in the bad times,” he explains.) Jindal is pushing a state version of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, and he is interested in seeing if the pro-marriage welfare reforms of Oklahoma can be implemented in Louisiana. Moreover, the next strongest Republican, state representative and former Democrat Hunt Downer, has a record on taxes and gambling that Louisiana conservatives cannot support.
There is, of course, the question of how Jindal’s race affects his electability. Some Republican strategists think it may help him. Some voters, they theorize, would be more hostile to a black liberal Democrat than to a white one. But some of these voters would also be willing to support a non-black, non-liberal, non-Democratic minority candidate. Donna Brazile, a national Democratic strategist who’s from Louisiana, says, “I think [Jindal's] age will be more of a factor than his ethnic background. We tend to like politicians who are a little bit more seasoned.”
If he makes it to the runoff, Jindal predicts, “I think this will be a classic populist vs. conservative race.” But he thinks that Louisiana populism has run its course. “We’ve been promised a lot of things over the years. If we don’t change things, we’ll continue to have to make long-distance calls to talk to our children and get on planes to see our grandchildren.”