Bobby Jindal has begun his tenure as Louisiana governor with a splash. After just a few weeks on the job, he has forced the Democrat-controlled state legislature into a massive rehaul of its ethics rules and regulations, attempting to clean up one of the most corrupt governments in the US. He intends on rebuilding Louisiana into a place where investors don’t have to grease skids and bribe politicians, and to ride the economic boom that will follow to the highest levels in politics:
Downstairs, legislators gnashed their teeth, while upstairs at the Capitol here this week, the new governor claimed victory against the old customs down below.
Six weeks into the term of Gov. Bobby Jindal, an extensive package of ethics bills was approved here this week, signaling a shift in the political culture of a state proud of its brazen style. Mr. Jindal, the earnest son of Indian immigrants, quickly declared open season on the cozy fusion of interests and social habits that have prevailed among lobbyists, state legislators and state agencies here for decades. Mostly, he got what he wanted.
Mr. Jindal, an outsider to that rollicking if sometimes unsavory banquet, a Republican with a missionary’s zeal to smite Louisiana’s wickedness at one of its presumed sources, called on the Legislature to reform itself and its high-living ways.
Grudgingly, pushed by public opinion and business pressure, it went along. When the legislative session ended Tuesday, lawmakers had passed bills aimed at making their finances less opaque, barring their lucrative contracts with the state — some have been known to do good business with them — and cutting down on perks like free tickets to sporting events. The bills, which advocates say will put Louisiana in the top tier of states with tough ethics rules, now await Mr. Jindal’s signature, which should come early next week.
Jindal managed to turn the rudder on decades of a culture of corruption within weeks. Part of this success, Jindal himself acknowledges, comes from the twin disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When state emergency services utterly collapsed, especially in the first hurricane, residents of Louisiana began questioning what kind of incompetence and fraud they had financed. It gave an impetus for reform, and Jindal — as an outsider — embodied that sense of crusade.
At 36, Jindal became one of the youngest governors in American history. He has his work cut out for him in Louisiana, but if he can succeed in transforming the swamp that has been state politics into even passably ethical, he could write his own ticket. The danger for Jindal is that the swamp has usually defeated reformists, either by cutting short careers as interest and support dwindle or by co-opting them into the swamp.
At least with the latter, Jindal appears to have wisdom to avoid that. Jindal wants a shot at the brass ring, the opportunity to become the first Indian-American president. And he knows that the GOP is looking for heroes. The ranks of Republican governors has thinned, and opportunities will abound for a young crusader cleaning up the muck of politics as usual.
The next few years will belong to men like Mark Sanford and Haley Barbour. After that, Jindal could find himself on the short list for presidential hopefuls. In 2020, he’ll be about the same age as Barack Obama is now — but Jindal will have executive and legislative experience, along with the reputation as a clean-government activist. The Republicans may not even be able to wait that long to have Jindal as their national leader.
UPDATE: “Hundreds of years” would be difficult, since Louisiana entered the union 196 years ago. I’d bet the corruption goes even further back, but in the interest of accuracy and understatement, I changed it to “decades”.