Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is rising as Mitt Romney’s possible pick for vice president, according to campaign sources.
Last month, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist touted Jindal for the vice presidential slot in an opinion piece for Politico.
|Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks during the NRA's Celebration of American Values.
Norquist tells me he wrote the piece knowing that “Jindal is a leading option.”
Jindal is rarely mentioned in speculation about Romney’s possible choice. A rising star in the Republican Party, he suffered a setback when he bombed delivering the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s first speech to Congress on Feb. 24, 2009.
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Adding Jindal to the Republican presidential ticket would bring to Romney’s fold neither a swing state nor a major ethnic minority. But such political considerations are not foremost in Romney’s mind. He has said he is only interested in choosing a candidate who would make a good president.
As he constantly points out, Romney is a conservative businessman, not a politician. He amassed a fortune of more than $200 million not by making cynical political calculations but by looking for the best — often novel — opportunities and by hiring people based on character, competence, and quality.
Jindal qualifies on all counts — and has an inspiring life story that epitomizes the American dream.
Jindal’s mother Raj was three months pregnant with him when his parents came to this country from Punjab, India in 1971. The daughter of a bank manager, Raj had a scholarship to study for a doctorate in nuclear physics at Louisiana State University.
The family was poor and had no car. But Jindal’s mother read to him each night. His father, Amar, had a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and eventually got a job with a railroad. He reminded his son almost daily how lucky they were to live in America. Amar was disappointed if his son earned only As in school. He had to bring home A-pluses.
Jindal’s name is Piyush Jindal, but at the age of four, he decided to take the nickname Bobby — after the youngest son in the TV series “The Brady Bunch.”
“Every day after school, I’d come home and I’d watch ‘The Brady Bunch,’” Jindal explains. “And I identified with Bobby, you know? He was about my age, and ‘Bobby’ stuck.”
As a teenager, Jindal competed in tennis tournaments and started a computer newsletter, a retail candy business, and a mail-order software company.
Jindal attended Brown University, where he led the College Republicans and graduated with honors in biology and public policy. He became an intern on the staff of Rep. Jim McCrery, a Republican from Louisiana. After days of performing menial duties, Jindal approached his boss.
“Congressman, I really appreciate the opportunity to be here in Washington and to be one of your interns,” Jindal said, according to McCrery. “For the last few days, I’ve been in the back office doing the filing and sorting and all of those things, and I don’t mind doing that, but I was just wondering, while I’m here, if you could give me an assignment.”
Impressed at Jindal’s pluck, McCrery said, “Write a paper on Medicare and how you solve it.”
Two weeks later, Jindal submitted the paper.
“I read it, and it was excellent,” McCrery says. “For him to grasp as well as he did the Medicare program in such a short period of time was nothing short of amazing.”
Jindal accepted a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University, where he studied public health policy.
Like Romney, Jindal’s first job entailed making companies run more efficiently. For a year and a half, he worked for McKinsey & Co., a leading management consulting firm.
In 1996 at the age of 24, Jindal was named secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the state’s largest agency. Jindal cut millions of dollars in waste and fraud. He found that Louisiana was paying lump sums to hospitals at the beginning of the year based on how many Medicaid patients they estimated they would treat. The state rarely checked to see if they had actually treated that number. State-financed clinics that employed a dozen people had no patients.
Jindal went on to be president of the University of Louisiana System. In 2001, President George W. Bush named him assistant secretary of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
After an unsuccessful run at Louisiana governor, Jindal was elected a congressman in 2004 and re-elected two years later. He was the second person of Indian extraction to serve in Congress.
In 2007, Jindal was elected governor of Louisiana and was sworn in on Jan. 14, 2008. Last October, he won re-election with 66 percent of the total vote.
As governor, Jindal has tightened ethics rules, fought government regulation, and six times reduced taxes, including the largest income tax cut in the state’s history. Under Jindal, the state’s credit rating improved. Previously near the bottom of the Better Government Association’s integrity index, Louisiana now ranks fifth in the country.
Jindal refused $98 million from President Obama’s stimulus bill, saying he would not participate in a program aimed at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage. After the federal money ran out, the state’s businesses would have had to pick up the slack by paying higher taxes.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, Jindal aggressively led the cleanup effort.
“The difference between him after the BP oil spill and his Democratic predecessor [Gov. Kathleen Blanco] after Katrina could hardly have been more stark,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has said. “He was decisive, he was knowledgeable, and he was working hard for his people.”
This year, Jindal won impressive legislative victories, signing into law bills that cut state agency spending, allow parents to apply public school financing to private school education with tuition vouchers, tie teacher tenure to student performance, make it harder for newly hired teachers to secure tenure, and replace traditional pension plans with 401(k)-style retirement plans for newly hired state workers.
Like Bill Clinton, Jindal is a policy wonk who overwhelms reporters with statistics. Local reporters try to ask him multiple questions so he won’t spend the next 10 minutes spewing out facts about one issue.
Jindal is married to Supriya Jolly Jindal, whom he first met her when they both attended high school, the Baton Rouge Magnet School. Born in New Delhi, Supriya is the daughter of Indian immigrants. He asked her out, but she turned him down because her family was moving.
“She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen,” he said later.
After becoming secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Jindal asked her to attend a Mardi Gras ball when another date canceled on him. On their second date, they had dinner at Bella Luna in the French Quarter and went on a river boat cruise. They became engaged a few months later.
Supriya graduated magna cum laude with honors from Tulane University in chemical engineering and has a master’s degree from Tulane in business. She is working toward a Ph.D. in marketing from Louisiana State University.
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At her first job at a Monsanto Co. plant along the Mississippi River, she could be found climbing a tank vessel wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots. For fun, she says, she solves calculus problems.
“Kathleen [Blanco] is right, I married better than I deserve,” Jindal has said, referring to his Democratic rival during his first run for governor.
The Jindals have three children: Selia, ten; Shaan, seven; and Slade, five. Bobby delivered Slade at home before an ambulance could arrive. A nurse helped out by telephone.
“It was the most amazing moment of our 10 years of marriage when I was able to hand her our son,” Jindal say. “We had to have confidence and trust in each other. It was a miraculous moment.”
At 40, Jindal looks like he is in his 20s, but he does appear older now than when he gave the Republican response to Obama’s speech to Congress in 2009.
Jindal himself has described his response as a disaster. He read from a single teleprompter and delivered the talk in a sing-song tone. Normally a rapid speaker, he tried to slow himself down with artificial swings in his voice. But he left the impression he was talking down to his audience.
“Look, I’ll be honest, I’ll take responsibility for it,” Jindal said later. “The delivery was awful. It turns out I can’t read teleprompters, turns out I’m much better talking to people.”
Now Jindal eschews teleprompters and relies on a polite, self-deprecating manner to win over his audience. In his second inaugural speech as governor, Jindal leaned over backwards to pay tribute to his predecessor and rival Blanco.
In Norquist’s Politico piece, “Why Mitt Romney Should Tap Bobby Jindal,” the ringleader of the conservative movement points to Jindal’s support of school choice and the fact that he has kept his pledge as governor not to raise taxes.
“Jindal has balanced a budget every year as governor and never resorted to higher taxes,” Norquist wrote in the piece co-authored with Patrick Gleason, ATR’s director of state affairs. “Jindal has sought to make his state as economically competitive as possible.”
While a firm conservative, Jindal is known — like Romney — as a problem solver rather than an ideological politician. He is a hero to gun advocates, having sponsored the so-called Katrina bill that barred law enforcement from confiscating privately owned guns during federal emergencies.
“I can’t think of a governor who’s done more to stand up and protect the Second Amendment than Bobby Jindal,” Chris Cox, the National Rifle Association’s chief lobbyist, says.
Jindal is a hot commodity at GOP fundraising events, including with Americans of Indian extraction, whose median income is twice the national average.
Evangelicals love Jindal’s talks when he gives testimony to his conversion from being a Hindu to a Roman Catholic. Explaining how his journey as a teenager to Catholicism began, Jindal has said, “I was touched by the love and simplicity of a Christian girl [whom Jindal was dating in high school] who dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court justice so she could stop her country from ‘killing unborn babies,’” referring to abortion.
“Jindal is one of the smartest guys in any governor’s office or in politics,” Dave Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells me. “He is totally qualified to be vice president.”
Rush Limbaugh refers to Jindal as the “next Ronald Reagan.”
While Jindal may not move a major demographic, the presence of a non-white on the Romney ticket would signal that Republicans are inclusive.
Former Mississippi Gov. Barbour remembers that when Bill Clinton first ran for president, people said the only thing they knew about him was that he gave a terrible speech at the Democratic convention in 1988. In the end, says Barbour, “that didn’t turn out to be the only thing they knew about him. The same is true with Bobby.”
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Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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