With less than a month left in office, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is on a tour to try to define his legacy.
“There are moments where you are humbled that this job is bigger than you,” he said during the Press Club of Baton Rouge’s weekly luncheon on Monday. “You represent something to people.”
This kind of Jindal appearance — once a rare occasion — has typically drawn large crowds of people eager to hear from an administration that has often been guarded toward the media.
But on Monday, many of the seats in the Belle of Baton Rouge meeting hall were empty, including the extras brought in to accommodate a larger-than-normal crowd.
Some 50 miles to the east in Hammond, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards addressed a crowd of about 500 people at a chamber luncheon.
The administrations will formally change over on Jan. 11, but increasingly, eyes are turning to Edwards, a Democrat and former state representative from Amite, and away from the onetime GOP wunderkind Jindal.
“I will never regret the things we tried to do,” Jindal said. “I’ll always look back and wish we could do more.”
During the fall election to replace him, all four major candidates for governor — three Republicans and Democrat Edwards — were critical of his administration and promised to call lawmakers back to Baton Rouge early to address the state budget crisis, if elected.
But Jindal said he sees areas of education, health care and ethics reform, economic development and cuts to state spending as the achievements in his career.
“I know those changes weren’t always popular,” he said, setting the tone early on for what is shaping up to be a farewell speech of sorts. “Change is never easy.”
Jindal will spend the rest of the week making the case for how he hopes his leadership will be defined.
On Tuesday, he’ll tour St. Benedict the Moor school in New Orleans and visit with students and their parents as he highlights the state voucher program and school choice.
He’ll be in Lafayette on Wednesday to tour the University Hospital and Clinics facility and meet with hospital employees to discuss the “public-private” hospital partnerships he pushed.
And he’ll speak at the State Police Academy Graduation on Thursday.
The latest round of stops follows a tour of economic development projects in north Louisiana last week.
Overall, Jindal has remained upbeat about his time leading Louisiana, despite sagging poll numbers. He often was criticized as he made frequent trips out of the state to bolster his presidential campaign, which he ended last month after failing to gain traction on the national scene.
He said he hasn’t ruled out a future run for president, but he has no desire to run for the U.S. Senate seat that’s opening next year with Republican David Vitter’s retirement from the chamber. Several other high-profile Republicans have their eyes on that seat.
He said he hasn’t lined up anything after he leaves office, but he expects to enter the private sector in some capacity and live in Baton Rouge.
“We’ll be raising our kids here in Baton Rouge,” he said.
He noted that some of his plans weren’t successful — including efforts to merge Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans and his call to close some prisons.
He said his budgets have been the result of compromise, when he would have preferred to cut more spending, including to higher education when revenue fell below projections this year.
“It’s a negotiated process,” he said.