Next week, Louisiana residents will be obliged to think of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration in the past tense — a striking reality given the outgoing governor’s habit of living in the future.
Young and energetic, Jindal entered the Governor’s Office eight years ago as the bright face of tomorrow. A policy wonk who had become a state-level cabinet secretary at age 24 after earning an Ivy League degree and studying as a Rhodes scholar, Jindal was obviously a man in a hurry, and his ambition seemed an unalloyed good for Louisiana.
In a state that had suffered a tragic exodus of many of its best and brightest residents, the governor stood as a promising exception. He was a talented, youthful leader who had nevertheless decided to remain here, and his personal biography was a heartening sign that a new generation of Louisianians could, indeed, make a go of it in the place where they were born.
The Jindal brand traveled well, at least initially. Louisiana benefited from having an accomplished young governor who could hold his own in corporate boardrooms and other halls of power here and overseas. How refreshing to have a Louisiana governor getting national attention for his intelligence, not his ethical lapses.
That stature — and Jindal’s abiding sense of a larger world beyond Louisiana — brought tangible benefits, especially in economic development.
Just a few days before the end of his second term, Jindal announced the location of a new software company in Baton Rouge. Just days before that, there was a major announcement of expansion of petrochemical manufacturing in the Lake Charles area.
These are among the reasons the governor deserves congratulations as he leaves office, even if there is a popular rebellion against his policies and his politics. Jindal remained to the end a vigorous spokesman for the state as a business center. Traveling far less than his predecessor on economic development missions, he nevertheless engaged a strong team headed by Stephen Moret; Jindal worked the phones for new jobs in the state, speaking the Fortune 500 tongue of the McKinsey consultant he had once been.
Sadly, Jindal’s biggest strengths — his capacity for thinking ahead, and his passion for performing on a national and international stage — evolved as the very factors in his political downfall. In his zeal to be president, Jindal pursued devastating state budget policies based on presidential primary politics, not Louisiana’s long-term interests. The impact of that hubris will be felt here for a generation.
Another irony is that Jindal, once lauded as a no-nonsense technocrat who would change Louisiana’s culture of politics as theater, indulged in his own forms of headline-grabbing farce, as when he suggested that perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court should be abolished.
History is probably not finished with Bobby Jindal, and we’re confident he has many accomplishments ahead of him, whether in politics or other arenas. He should be heartened that civic memory in Louisiana tends to be forgiving, often allowing unpopular leaders to rebound in public esteem after they leave office.
That is a future, perhaps, that this forward-thinking governor can look to with a smile.