Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was handed a leadership test in June. He not only passed it with flying colors — he set an example for other leaders while doing so.
Last month, the state legislature in Baton Rouge voted itself a pay raise — more than doubling their salaries, from $16,800 to $37,500 (with more to follow).
The move put Jindal in an awkward position. He had promised the largely Democratic legislature that he would leave them alone — that he wouldn’t veto a pay raise. Slapping them down would promise to be a headache for Jindal, who has a long to-do list that has to get through the statehouse. Refusing to veto the pay raise, however, would contrast with the reform governor and conservative rising star’s image — and campaign platform. His profile as a refreshing, clean-living leader for Louisiana would be tarnished.
On Monday Jindal did the right thing and said the words a politician rarely utters: He said he made a mistake. At a press conference, Jindal announced that he had “clearly made a mistake by telling the legislature that I would allow them to handle their own affairs,” Jindal said. “As with all mistakes, you can either correct them or compound them — I am choosing to correct my mistake now.”
Jindal added: “I have opposed this pay raise at every turn and from the very beginning. A doubling of legislative pay is clearly excessive and it takes effect prior to the next election, which I believe is bad policy.” Governor Jindal said: “This bill would also have set up a system to give legislators automatic pay raises in the future without additional legislative votes — which is a lack of accountability that we cannot accept.”
Jindal was considering letting the unpopular raise stand, in the hopes that the legislature would be more cooperative on the to-do list he and the state’s voters are counting on getting passed in the coming months. But having vetoed the pay raise — which would have made the Cajun legislature the best-paid legislature in the south — Jindal can hold legislators to a much higher standard than political compromise: their obligations to the voters of Louisiana, so in need of good representation, ethical politics, and responsible spending and governance.
Bobby Jindal’s move on Monday wasn’t some procedural goo-goo move, it was about honesty and leadership. As conservatives keep an eye out for rising stars and Americans hope for a future of responsible leaders, Jindal’s star this week continues to shine bright and hang high. His move on Monday also reminds Republicans, ironically, why he is the wrong choice for John McCain’s running mate this year: Louisiana needs him to keep raising its political standards. And conservatives need him to show that conservatism can work, even in a state that’s a political basket case.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.