Every four years, Louisiana pronounces itself at a crossroads, faced with the most important decision in decades as it selects a governor and a legislature. This year, several factors have aligned to make that old cliché ring truer than ever. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left southern Louisiana in shambles and exposed the consequences of decades of corruption, incompetence and injustice. Post-storm recovery has been painfully slow as local and state leaders have proved woefully ill equipped for the task. On top of all that, legislative term limits are forcing a majority of state lawmakers to give up their seats. All across Louisiana, change is in the air. Katrina and Rita were terrible tragedies, but they crystallized Louisiana's biggest problems like never before " presenting us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make life-changing decisions on a grand scale. Now it's up to Louisiana's citizens to answer the call. We think the best way to respond is by electing a governor who will fundamentally change our political culture from top to bottom and present Louisiana in a whole new light to the rest of the world. In our view, Congressman Bobby Jindal will be that kind of governor.
Jindal today is an older, wiser and more nuanced candidate than he was when we endorsed him in the runoff four years ago. Back then, he was a bright, fast-talking policy wonk. He speaks more slowly now; more important, he listens more as well " and listening is an often-underrated leadership trait. Long considered an expert on health care, Jindal has expanded his intellectual 'base" since 2003. His campaign platform focuses on economic development, education, crime, state spending and ethics.
On the all-important issue of health care, he supports an LSU-VA teaching hospital in downtown New Orleans, although he isn't convinced it needs 484 beds as proposed. For now, he says, the best available data support a facility of at least 384 beds, and possibly as many as 434, but he wants independent verification of regional needs. Overall, he supports the idea of a facility that can grow over time as local needs change. Most important, he supports a university hospital that is steeped in research grants, operates efficiently (and is allowed to plow savings back into operations and facilities), and develops a private patient base by offering specialized areas of treatment excellence. On a related note, Jindal supports the idea of 'medical homes" or neighborhood health-care centers, where the uninsured can see physicians and nurses who are familiar with their medical histories instead of seeking routine care at public hospital emergency rooms.
Crime is not typically the domain of governors, but Jindal promises to change that. In one of several departures from conservative Republican orthodoxy, Jindal vows to supplement aggressive pursuit of violent criminals and drug gangs by 'resurrecting" state drug rehabilitation efforts and expanding drug courts. Locally, he pledges to keep the National Guard and State Police in New Orleans until NOPD and the local criminal justice system can stand on their own.
As a local congressman, Jindal is keenly aware of the importance of coastal restoration and hurricane protection " two issues that he views as one. He proposes bonding out Louisiana's forthcoming share of federal Outer Continental Shelf mineral royalties and using the approximately $5 billion realized to begin coastal restoration projects immediately.
We note an encouraging change of style in Jindal since he has served in Congress, one that will serve him well as governor: He has learned that the legislative process involves compromise and collaboration, and that one cannot cling too tightly to dogmatic ideologies at the expense of good ideas. For example, he recently broke ranks with conservatives by voting for a post-Katrina housing bill sponsored by Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. 'On balance, I thought it did more good than harm," he says of the measure. He also opposes President Bush's so-called No Child Left Behind program, noting that school curricula should be set at the local level " and that Louisiana has been ahead of the educational accountability curve. These positions tell us that Jindal will be reasonable, not doctrinaire, in his approach to problem solving.
More than anything else, Bobby Jindal's integrity is above reproach. Given Louisiana's history of political corruption, that will be an immediate asset. As soon as he is sworn in as governor, he promises to call a special session to enact sweeping ethics reforms. That means full financial disclosure for legislators and an end to self-dealing among politicians at all levels of government.
Like many voters, we don't agree with all of Jindal's positions. On balance, however, we believe he will bring to the governor's office what Louisiana needs most right now " integrity, intelligence, independence, focus, foresight and, above all, fundamental change. We urge our readers to elect Bobby Jindal as Louisiana's next governor.