It's not as if they don't exist, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a politically connected soul who's willing to support both Gov. Bobby Jindal and President Barack Obama. After all, one's a conservative Republican inching ever closer to the Far Right; the other's an increasingly centrist Democrat who now lives in the White House. In the end, both the Bayou State's governor and America's president are polarizing figures.
That's why it's surprising to find an Obama booster in Jindal's ranks. (Actually, she's among a handful of Dems and independents the governor has brought into the executive fold.) Her name is Camille Pampell Conaway, the governor's policy advisor.
While Conaway previously worked on foreign policy issues for the United Nations, she also has an online record of supporting Obama (http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/blog/cpconaway). She once blogged about his 2007 visit to Southern University in Baton Rouge and vowed, "Barack, we are with you! In your words: 'Let's get to work!'" Jindal supported GOP nominee John McCain.
When asked to confirm the blog post, Conaway replied cheerfully by email, complete with a smiley face, that she was "surprised" anyone could still find it. A Google search likewise reveals just how prolific Conaway has been as a researcher and writer. She's written everything from studies on post-conflict women's roles to articles about transitional justice. "Typically, the reports I authored on war and peace building for those organizations are the first up when someone Google searches my name," Conaway wrote.
In the hierarchy of Louisiana politics, Conaway probably ranks as a solitary and inconsequential link between Jindal and Obama. These days, the two are connected more directly by the governor in what is becoming a predictable tableau for the man once dubbed the GOP's rising young star. It's anything but coincidental that Jindal is hitching his wagon — in an oppositional way, of course — to issues connected to Obama. As a strategy, it brings him national exposure and arguably makes him look like presidential timber.
Jindal first took on Obama earlier this year by rejecting $98 million in unemployment assistance from the president's stimulus package. The governor stood on principles against the wishes of many state lawmakers — and won — but since then he's been quiet as millions from the stimulus kitty flowed into Louisiana. But that doesn't mean he hasn't found a way to take credit for the newfound fortunes. For starters, just consider that $1 billion is in the current fiscal year budget.
Then, there's the grandstanding that took place last Sunday after Jindal attended services at First Baptist Church in Anacoco. That's when he met with Vernon Parish officials and presented them with an oversized prop check totaling more than $521,000, of which every cent is the result of the federal stimulus — the same stimulus Jindal opposed. But the governor made no mention of the S-word during the public event that was covered by the Leesville Daily Leader. Instead, the gigantic check had Jindal's signature in the corner.
The federal recovery money in some cases is much more significant than Jindal lets on, and so far it's been his top lieutenants who are publicly welcoming the money. At least $70 million has been set aside in Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for green programs in Louisiana. Last week, the state Department of Natural Resources was charged with spending the initial $35.5 million allotment on a plan estimated to generate annual energy savings of 2.1 million BTUs and reduce CO2 emissions by 355,270 tons.
DNR Secretary Scott Angelle says DNR also will issue rebates for energy-efficient products and continue retrofitting state buildings — a Jindal-backed program that has seen new life through Obama's stimulus. Angelle adds that the various programs will "help homeowners, businesses and state and local government to save on energy costs for years to come."
Last week also saw Jindal climbing back into the national media spotlight. He did two days of television appearances on health care and penned editorials for The Wall Street Journal and Politico.com. It was his first round of high-profile interviews since his awkward (and widely panned) response to Obama's first address to Congress on Feb. 24.
The recent legislative session kept the governor off the national stage as well, but now he's back and ready to shred. "If it isn't bad enough that you may have lost your job and been fighting off foreclosure, the government now wants to make sure you, and every other American, pay more in energy costs so former Vice President Al Gore can be happy," Jindal wrote in his Politico editorial, regarding the energy tax that recently passed the U.S. House. "This here is a fine pot of gumbo."
All of this gumbo is building up to Jindal possibly becoming the GOP's face on the hot topic of health care reform. It's a smart move for a man who many believe still has a shot at the White House. He has administrative experience at the federal and state levels and the brains to handle the topic. (Think: not Sarah Palin.) "I know a little something about health care policy," the governor writes, "and I can tell you exactly the game that is currently afoot."
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.