Politico on the move
Piyush Jindal was born in Baton Rouge in 1971 to Indian immigrants who arrived only months before. He says he nicknamed himself “Bobby” as a young boy.
“Every day after school, I'd come home and I'd watch The Brady Bunch,” Jindal told 60 Minutes in 2009. “And I identified with Bobby, you know? He was about my age, and Bobby stuck.”
Raised as a Hindu, he reportedly became enamored with Christianity while attending Baton Rouge Magnet High School. He was baptized as a Catholic while attending Brown University, from which he graduated with honors before attending the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
As a young man, Jindal witnessed a purported exorcism, according to an article he penned for the New Oxford Review, although he questioned whether what he witnessed was in fact “spiritual warfare.”
“I began to think that the demon would only attack me if I tried to pray or fight back; thus, I resigned myself to leaving it alone in an attempt to find peace for myself,” Jindal wrote.
After a stint with McKinsey & Company, Jindal became a “whiz kid” bureaucrat as Gov. Mike Foster's 24-year-old Department of Health and Hospitals secretary. Jindal helped turn a massive deficit in the state's Medicaid program into a surplus.
He left DHH after two years to direct the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, beginning a job-jumping pattern he would continue for the rest of his career. He led the University of Louisiana System and worked as assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before making a run for governor in 2003.
The young upstart made the runoff against Kathleen Blanco, but lost after failing to carry several conservative north Louisiana parishes. However, the increased name recognition helped Jindal win two elections to the U.S. House of Representatives before running for governor again in 2007.
With Blanco out of the way—she decided not to run for re-election after the oft-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina—Jindal cruised to victory, accompanied by a bevy of new legislators determined to break from the past. Ethics was the primary focus of his first year, and while critics argue that Jindal's calls for openness often exclude his own office, the perception of the state among business interests and in the national media unquestionably has improved.
“The new standards for transparency and accountability, including Gov. Jindal's most important proposals, are the most comprehensive ethics overhaul since the code was established in 1964—and one of the strongest statewide reforms in recent memory,” gushed The Times-Picayune in 2008.
In his time as the state's top executive, Jindal has never been truly challenged politically; he won another landslide against token opposition in 2011. Some early supporters grumble that, since the ethics special session of his first year, he's often been too cautious and too stingy in spending his political capital.
But in the first session of his second term, Jindal seemed to step up his ambition and achieved major victories on the education front, greatly restricting teacher tenure and expanding a New Orleans-based voucher program statewide. However, the constitutionality of some of those wins will be challenged in court, and he butted heads with conservatives in the Legislature who objected to how he balanced the budget.
Jindal often is accused of being more concerned about polishing his national image and ascending to higher office than actually running the state. For awhile, he was thought to be on the short list to join the Cabinet, or even become vice president, in a potential Mitt Romney administration. The latter post went to Paul Ryan.
While his first appearance in the national spotlight—the Republican response to a 2009 speech by President Barack Obama—was widely considered a disaster, Jindal still routinely is mentioned as a rising star in his party. But for every national pundit that lauds his conservative credentials, you can find a local one who argues that Jindal isn't nearly as conservative as his reputation would suggest.
Jindal rode into the governor's office in 2007 on a wave of post-Katrina reform fervor. The nation's first Indian-American governor was handed an unprecedented opportunity for historic change, and perhaps history ultimately will judge his time in office based on whether he truly seized his opening.
“I really do tell my Cabinet officials and my staff that years later we're going to look back and we're not going to regret all the things we did or the battles we fought or the challenges we tackled,” Jindal told Business Report this year. “I think we'll look back and regret that we didn't do more. We need to make the most out of every moment.”
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