The contrast between Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal could not be more stark. On the campaign trail this year, Obama serves up messages of hope and change. Last year, running for Governor of Louisiana, Jindal did the same. But Obama’s hope and change consists of platitudes. Jindal’s hope and change was premised on detailed plans and policy roadmaps to move people forward, get Louisiana on the road to recovery, and end the boom-bust economic cycles. Entering his fourth month in office, Jindal’s change has already proved to be change we can believe in.
Governor Jindal is a master of new media. To demonstrate the point, I was among a number of bloggers invited to dinner at the Governor’s Mansion last week for a mostly off the record chat. As we sat around the table, Jindal shared some of his ideas and his vision for Louisiana. To hear Jindal talk, you appreciate how rare a breed of politician he is — a policy wonk who can relate the policies to people’s pocketbooks.
“We did a survey of business leaders before entering office and found that the top three issues for them were ethics, taxes, and workforce. That helped us build our agenda,” the Governor said. Almost immediately after his swearing in, Jindal called a special session of the Louisiana Legislature to push through an ethics reform package. Getting almost everything he wanted from the session, Louisiana went from being one of the bottom 5 states in the nation on government ethics to the top state in the nation, according to several public interest watch dog groups. (As amazing as it sounds, before this year there was no prohibition in Louisiana against state legislators doing business with the state, nor were there significant disclosure requirements for elected officials and lobbyists.)
Jindal related the story of a plant manager from north Louisiana who approached him on the campaign trail with a list of taxes his business paid in Louisiana that were paid no where else. The man reminded the governor that his plant, the largest employer in his parish, is in annual danger of closure. “He looked at me,” Governor Jindal said, “and he says, ‘Governor, because Louisiana taxes new equipment purchases, the newest equipment in my plant is older than the oldest equipment in any of my company’s other plants.’” As soon as the legislature concluded its special session on ethics reforms, Jindal called them right back into session to deal with this issue.
Many newspaper reporters across the state were stunned a Louisiana Governor would actually govern on the same issues on which he campaigned, and they were even more startled that the Louisiana legislature passed all eleven of the Governor’s tax initiatives, mostly by near unanimous votes. The only controversial bill was legislation to give tax deductions to parents who home school their children, yet even it passed.
As Louisiana enters spring, the legislature prepares its return for its annual general session. Gov. Jindal, likewise, is preparing phase three of his initial legislative plans. It will center on what he knows will be controversial legislation, pitting him against teachers unions and creating some new allies for him in the legislature, while driving some traditional allies into the opposition. School choice and performance pay for teachers will be at the forefront of his agenda.
According to sources close to Gov. Jindal, the governor recognizes he is in for a fight against teachers unions, those opposed to parochial schools, those opposed to school choice in general, and assorted other groups. Nonetheless, he passionately believes in the issue and thinks it is necessary. Likewise, some of the same groups opposed to school choice will be opposed to Gov. Jindal’s other big idea, tying teacher pay raises to performance instead of tenure.
The governor will also push an innovative reform to train Louisiana workers. He wants to push forward with a plan to put small businesses in charge of vocational education in Louisiana. With this reform, Louisiana would promise to re-train workers for free if the workers are not job skilled on day one of their job.
Bobby Jindal’s plans have been quite ambitious. Fortunately for him, in addition to Louisiana craving the change he promised and is delivering on, legislative term limits, passed years ago by the legislature, but delayed for a decade in implementation, finally went into effect. Sixty percent of the State House of Representatives are freshman legislators. They are not wedded to the old ways. They are not skeptical or antagonistic toward reform. They have no pre-existing FBI investigative files. They want success.
There is one big issue left for Bobby Jindal — whether he might consider being John McCain’s Vice Presidential nominee. “No,” replied one advisor. Jindal himself has repeatedly been asked the question. While flattered, he too understands he committed to Louisiana and Louisiana committed to him. The vice presidency is not an option for Bobby Jindal in 2008.
Cross posted at Human Events