In announcing his White House candidacy today, Gov. Bobby Jindal will bring renewed national attention to his stewardship of Louisiana during the past eight years.
His presidential ambitions acknowledge a world much bigger than Louisiana, an awareness that was a chief selling point in his earlier candidacies for election and re-election as Louisiana’s governor. As a Brown University graduate, Rhodes scholar and policy wonk for the internationally respected McKinsey & Co. management consulting firm, Jindal was not only a native of Louisiana, but a bright young man of the world. He seemed capable of more deeply integrating Louisiana into the global marketplace that grows and sustains today’s economic prosperity.
In significant ways, Jindal fulfilled that promise, and voters rewarded him with a record re-election landslide. His administration maintained and expanded public education reforms initiated by predecessors Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco, advancing strong accountability measures for public schools and supporting charter schools. The reforms haven’t been perfect, but the gains have been impressive.
On Jindal’s watch, the state has reformed its workforce development programs to make them more responsive to potential employers and has been much more aggressive in courting new industry. Louisiana is better because of those efforts.
Jindal also replaced a system of state-run charity hospitals — the only such system in the nation — with public-private partnerships aimed at greater quality and efficiency. The transformation is still very much a work in progress, but that the change has happened at all is a testament to Jindal’s political skills. For generations, the charity hospitals seemed politically untouchable.
These seismic shifts will continue to shape Louisiana’s future long after Jindal leaves the Governor’s Mansion. That’s why Jindal could be the most transformational Louisiana governor since Huey Long, the last state political figure with serious presidential ambitions.
Politically, personally and culturally, no two governors could seem more different. But like Long, Jindal has, especially in his second term, too often engaged political service as a form of theater rather than substance — an endless exercise in campaigning, not coherent policy.
Jindal’s no-new-taxes pledge, obviously pitched to presidential primary voters, has led to devastating cuts in higher education, handicapping the state’s competitiveness in an information-based economy. His stance against Common Core educational standards he once supported, along with his refusal to accept federal Medicaid money that would relieve the suffering of thousands of the working poor, also have suggested that Jindal is more interested in Iowa, not the state he was elected to lead.
Whether that record will propel Jindal into the leadership of the free world is, at this point, very much in doubt. But regardless of how he fares in his bid for the White House, Jindal’s post-gubernatorial future is bright.
The more important question involves the future of Louisiana, which is why attention will now turn to this year’s campaign to elect a new governor. With today’s announcement of Jindal’s presidential candidacy, the post-Jindal era in Louisiana has essentially begun.