In a second term, Gov. Bobby Jindal said, he wants to cut wasteful spending, improve education and create better opportunities for Louisiana residents.
“We’re outperforming the South. We’re outperforming the country. We’re going to continue to work hard every day,” the governor said during a short telephone interview.
Jindal is seeking re-election Oct. 22 against nine challengers, most of whom characterize themselves as a needed alternative to the Republican governor. They criticize Jindal for the higher unemployment rate, a freeze in state dollars to public schools and persistent poverty during his four years in office.
Despite the criticism and the number of candidates in the field, the governor appears to be coasting toward re-election after building up a multimillion-dollar campaign war chest. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is unlikely to need to make good on his promise to come to Louisiana and show “a little attitude” if Jindal does not win by a huge margin.
Now 40, Jindal no longer is the “wunderkind” who landed the job of overseeing health care in Louisiana before he was 25 years old. He isn’t the nation’s youngest governor, either. That distinction belongs to South Carolina’s governor. Jindal’s daughter and sons with wife Supriya — Selia, Shaan and Slade — are growing up and now can easily scale the children’s gates at the Governor’s Mansion.
Jindal’s first few months after taking office in January 2008 were the typical honeymoon period for any newly elected public official. He easily persuaded legislators to back his push to accelerate the phase-out of business taxes and to change the state’s ethics laws.
He later dealt with back-to-back hurricanes, helped write his autobiography and lent his fundraising assistance to GOP candidates across the country.
The honeymoon appears to have ended with the intrusion of financial problems. Though successful in passing the bulk of his legislative program, Jindal was unable to coax enough legislators to support all of his budget balancing proposals.
Like the rest of the nation, Louisiana has been affected by a recession that began in 2008.
In the next four years, state officials will grapple with how well to fund education, how to reduce unemployment and how to eradicate poverty.
Basic state funding to public schools — called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP — has been frozen for several years, resulting in teacher layoffs.
Jindal would not commit last week to increasing the MFP in the fiscal year that starts July 1. He said it is too early in the budget process to make such a promise.
Jindal touts the creation of thousands of new jobs under his leadership. But unemployment in Louisiana, which stood at 3.8 percent when he took the oath of office, was 7.2 percent as of August 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Jindal said the state’s unemployment rate has remained below the national average every month he has been in office.
“We’ve made a great start on turning Louisiana around,” he said.
The 2010 U.S. census showed Louisiana had the second highest poverty rate in the nation.
Jindal said he is not holding summits on poverty as past governors did. He said he is bringing in new jobs. “The best way to fight poverty is to create jobs,” Jindal said.
Timmy Teepell, a campaign adviser to Jindal, released poll figures Friday that show the governor is far ahead of his opponents in the race.
OnMessage, Jindal’s polling firm, last week surveyed 800 voters across the state.
Asked which candidate they would choose for governor, 58 percent said Jindal and 24 percent were undecided. Only one opponent, Democrat Tara Hollis, approached double digits with 9 percent saying they would vote for her.
“I’m a Claiborne Parish schoolteacher that refuses to let Bobby Jindal go unopposed this fall,” Hollis told Democratic leaders last month.
Hollis is one of four Democrats in the governor’s race. Like two other of the Democrats, she only recently joined the party. She said she voted for Jindal in 2007 but grew disgusted with him because of the stagnant funding for public schools.
“I know there are many in the party who feel this is a lost cause,” Hollis told Democrats. “I’m asking you to stand with me and fight.”
Another Democrat in the race, “Niki Bird” Papazoglakis, said she is unhappy with Jindal because of legislation he backed limiting certain sex offenders’ access to social networking sites.
Papazoglakis, who says she was raped as a teenager and spent time in juvenile detention for being a runaway, said she was thwarted in her efforts to testify against the bill. She said the proposal was “feel good” legislation that will accomplish very little.
Fed up with what she viewed as political games, she said she decided to run for governor.
“People just don’t care anymore. There’s no hope in this government,” Papazoglakis said.
Baton Rouge engineer Leonard “Lenny” Bollingham, who has no party affiliation, said he is running to put Louisiana’s oil industry back on track.
David Blanchard, of Brusly, who also has no party affiliation, is unhappy that the Jindal administration fired him last year. “There are a number of things that I disagree with (on) the present administration’s policies,” he said.
Blanchard said the governor is putting the wrong people in charge and giving them broad power.
Gretna schoolteacher Ivo “Trey” Roberts, a Democrat and tea party participant, said Jindal has been a disappointment.
“He ran as a fiscal conservative,” Roberts said.
He complained that Jindal has allowed the state budget to swell.
Roberts said he wants to create a fee on oil processed in Louisiana and eliminate the state’s personal income tax.
Libertarian Scott Lewis, of Baton Rouge, said he jumped in after seeing Jindal’s slate of opponents.
“I really didn’t plan to do this. But when I looked up and saw who was running against the governor, I said, ‘They can’t beat him,’ ” Lewis said.
Attorney Cary Deaton, a Democrat who lives in Metairie, said he is concerned about higher education.
“If I’m elected, the tuition increases are over,” he said.
Jindal said he is not surprised that many of his opponents are dissatisfied with him.
“They wouldn’t run against me if they were happy,” he said.