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Bobby, We Hardly Know Ye

Governor Jindal’s unheralded success story.

Dec 12, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 13 • By FRED BARNES
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That’s changing. As a result of disclosure, transparency, and ethics enforcement reforms, the Better Government Association lifted Louisiana from 46th to 5th on its Integrity Index. The Center for Public Integrity places the state 1st in its ranking of legislative disclosure requirements.

Ethics reform plays a significant part in Louisiana’s improved business climate. In 2009, the Gallup Job Creation Index ranked the state number three in the country. In 2010, Site Selection magazine rated its business climate number one in the nation. There’s no dispute that Louisiana’s economy is vastly better than it was.

Jindal still has things he wants to prove. New Orleans once had “the worst of the worst school systems,” he says, but now it’s America’s “only charter city.” Its school system, with 70 percent charter schools, has scored gains recently. “If it can work there, it can be done anywhere,” the governor says.

And he’d like the city to rise as a major hub again. It lost to Miami as South America’s “gateway” to this country, to Birmingham as the South’s leading medical center, and to Houston as the home of the energy industry. New Orleans has a long way to go.

Jindal’s political strength comes from his popular support around the state. Earlier reform governors—notably David Treen from 1980 to 1984 and Buddy Roemer from 1988 to 1992—got entangled in legislative machinations in Baton Rouge and lost bids for reelection. Their reforms were mostly undone. Jindal has spent more time around the state, visiting all 64 parishes each year. He won all 64 in the October election. In his new term, Jindal can broaden and lock in his reforms.

Despite his clout, Jindal is not a budding Huey Long, though he says there was a “positive side” to Long. “He brought Louisiana kicking and screaming into the 20th century.” But as a conservative who favors limited government, Jindal says “you don’t want the people to come to the state government for everything.”

Jindal has an amazing personal story. He grew up in a Hindu family in Baton Rouge, converted to Catholicism as a teenager, graduated at 20 from Brown, was a Rhodes Scholar, ran the Louisiana hospital system and colleges, then lost his first race for governor in 2003, but was elected to the U.S. House in 2004. He spent three years on Capitol Hill and returned home to win the governorship in 2007.

It’s a résumé that no politician in America can match. And like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio,  he’s a 40-something conservative Republican. His future after he steps down as governor may be hazy, but it’s awfully bright.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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