Addresses: Office —1205 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Website —http:// jindal.house.gov (congressional site). Website — http://www.bobbyjindal.com (campaign website).
Intern to U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery; consultant, Mc-Kinsey … Co.; director of Louisiana health and hospitals department, 1996-98; executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, 1998-99; president of University of Louisiana system, 1999-2001; assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001-2003; Republican nominee for governor of Louisiana, 2003; elected to Congress, 2004; Congressman, 2005—.
Bobby Jindal, only the second Indian American to serve in the U.S. Congress, has a resume as impressive as some politicians in their 60s or 70s. Yet Jindal was only 33 when he became a congressman. By then, he had already run for governor of Louisiana and almost won, directed a system of universities in Louisiana, a huge department of state government, and a national commission made up mostly of U.S. senators and congresspeople, and worked as an aide to President George W. Bush. Admirers attribute his success to his intelligence and a confidence that has converted many skeptics.
Jindal was born in 1971 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to parents who had just moved there from India to attend graduate school. They gave him the name Piyush, but when he was four, he told them he wanted to be called Bobby, after Bobby Brady in the television show The Brady Bunch. Though his parents are Hindu, Jindal converted to Christianity in high school. He attended Brown University, then went to England as a Rhodes Scholar for graduate work at Oxford University. He also worked as an intern for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery and spent a year and a half with the consulting firm McKinsey and Co.
In 1996, at age 24, the new governor of Louisiana named Jindal the director of the state health and hospitals department. He got the job by calling Mc-Crery. "In his spare time, Bobby Jindal told his old boss, he'd written a plan to salvage Louisiana's scandal-ridden Medicaid system, " the Washington Post 's Amy Goldstein recounted. Jindal told McCrery he would like to be Louisiana's next secretary of health and hospitals, and he asked him to recommend him to the Republican candidate who was leading the race for governor. McCrery asked Jindal if he would consider an assistant secretary job, but Jindal said no. When a different Republican, Mike Foster, was elected governor of Louisiana, Jindal called again to ask McCrery to recommend him, and he agreed. Jindal was one of six people interviewed. As Foster admitted to the Wall Street Journal 's Emily Nelson, he was not looking forward to the interview, but within a half hour, Jindal had convinced him he was the best person for the job.
State legislators thought he would be totally ineffective. The job seemed impossible for anyone. The department, which took up 40 percent of the state budget, was running a deficit of $400 million. The federal government was investigating its administration of federal Medicaid funds. But within three years, Jindal had turned the department around, exposed millions of dollars of waste and fraud, and eliminated its massive deficit.
Jindal discovered that the state paid lump sums to hospitals at the beginning of a year based on how many Medicaid patients they estimated they would treat, but the state was rarely checking to see if they really treated that number. He discovered clinics that employed a dozen people but had no patients, even a clinic that bused in schoolchildren to receive candy instead of care. Few could argue with fighting abuses like that, though a representative of state pediatricians, Charles Vanchiere, told Goldstein of the Washington Post that some of Jindal's budget cuts hurt people relying on legitimate programs. "He did not have the life experiences to understand … the effects of budgets on human misery, " Vanchiere said.
Meanwhile, Jindal earned a reputation for honesty and frugality by buying a car instead of accepting a government vehicle, by talking in simple terms about politics in front of the legislature, and even, when he got married to Supriya Jolly (whom he knew from high school), asking ethics officials how he should handle wedding presents from people he might regulate, then including that advice in his wedding invitations.
After his success with the health and hospitals department, Jindal returned to Washington in 1998 to be the executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. The committee was mostly made up of senators, congressmen, health care experts, and others decades older than him. While two senators acted as the commission's chairmen, Jindal was responsible for its dayto-day operations. Ever since then, Jindal has continued to bounce back and forth between Louisiana and Washington. After running the Medicare commission, in 1999 Jindal was named president of the University of Louisiana system, which includes eight schools and 80, 000 students. He held that job for two years. After George W. Bush became president, Jindal became an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which made him a senior health policy advisor to the president.
After that series of dazzling career moves, Jindal decided to add one more. In 2003, he ran for governor of Louisiana. He was not expected to do well in a state where white supremacist David Duke had been the Republican nominee for governor 12 years earlier. But Foster, the departing governor, endorsed him, and his intelligence, reputation for integrity, earnestness, religiosity and conservatism impressed voters. "That the sensation this political season in Louisiana is a dark-complexioned young policy wonk who neither hunts, fishes, drawls nor feeds from the public trough has astounded every political pro in the state, " reported Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post in October of 2003, just before Jindal won one of the two spots in the primary.
Jindal's radio ads attacked abortion, gun control, and gay marriage while stressing his Catholicism. Meanwhile, on television, he pitched himself to moderates as a problem-solver. In speeches, he would impress audiences by rattling off several detailed plans on a variety of issues. He promised tax cuts to generate jobs. "We've created a climate in Louisiana that's hostile to business, to progress, to taxpayers, " Jindal wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal just before the November election. "New Orleans was once the capital of the South, but 75 years of demagogues ranting in Technicolor ways about government being the answer to all our problems has taken a toll." He promised to eliminate Louisiana's unusual investment taxes, reform its tort system to lower the number of lawsuits, and ease regulations on businesses.
Jindal's Democratic opponent in the general election, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, the lieutenant governor, criticized him as inexperienced. "The ship of state does not come with training wheels, " Blanco said, as quoted by Hockstader in the Washington Post. She also claimed Jindal had thrown too many poor people out of Medicaid when he worked for the state. Also anti-abortion and anti-gun control, Blanco even showed off her hunting license during a debate with Jindal. But Jindal also defied typical partisan divisions by attracting more black voters than most Republicans. An endorsement from Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans and the most powerful black politician in Louisiana, helped. However, a tough anti-Jindal television ad ran just before the election; it criticized Jindal's actions as state health and hospitals director, but some of Jindal's defenders claimed its ominous warnings and dark photo of Jindal had racist undertones.
Though Jindal led in many polls before the election, Blanco beat him 52 to 48 percent. Within months of the election, Jindal announced that he would run for Congress, hoping to claim a seat that would open up thanks to the departure of a Republican congressman. Jindal fit the conservative bent of the district, which includes suburbs of New Orleans, including his home, Kenner, as well as a portion of New Orleans itself and rural areas separated from greater New Orleans by Lake Pontchartrain.
Jindal won the general election with 78 percent of the vote, making him the second Indian-American congressperson ever. Though he was only 33 when elected, the 23 freshman Republicans in Congress named Jindal their class president, and the House leadership named him an assistant whip. "He is one of the brightest people I've ever met. He's very attuned to listening to people, and what I call 'reconceptionalizing, '" Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, told writer Marilyn Werber Serafini of the National Journal. "A lot of people have experiences before they get to Congress, but rarely have they focused on particular policy areas like Bobby Jindal has, and also been in government at both the federal and state level."
Reporters found Jindal eager to talk about health care reform (built on individual choice, not government interference, he insisted), even though congressional leadership did not name him to a health care committee. With health care costs and the number of uninsured people rising, Jindal insisted that Republicans needed a positive vision of health care reform. "It has to be a proactive set of solutions that says, 'We're not in favor of a government-run system, but we do acknowledge gaps and challenges in the current system, '" he told Serafini of the National Journal.
Of course, his status as the only Indian-American congressman got him attention, too. News services in India often carried news about him. In July of 2005, Jindal and his wife were invited to a White House dinner with the prime minister of India. He also attracted notice for voting against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which most Republicans supported. (Sugar farmers in Louisiana felt the agreement would open U.S. markets to cheap sugar imports.)
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, Jindal and his family were among the hundreds of thousands of people displaced. While he was returning from a trip abroad, his wife and children left their home in Kenner, joined the evacuation, and met up with Jindal at his parents' home in Baton Rouge. When New Orleans filled with floodwaters, killing hundreds of people, Jindal spoke to national news organizations about the crisis. Most of his constituents had either been driven from their homes or had water in them, he told CNN on September 1.
CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien asked Jindal why the government had not prepared better for a large hurricane hitting Louisiana. Jindal seemed ambivalent, saying he did not want to criticize state or federal efforts during rescue operations, but he also said warnings from Louisiana lawmakers had not been heeded. "In Congress, we've been fighting for years, saying if we don't restore our coasts, if we don't improve these levees, if we don't improve these pumps, we're going to pay a much more serious cost in federal disaster relief, " he said. Asked about looting and other crimes taking place in the city, he called for zero tolerance of violence. A few days later, talking to Matthew Cooper in Time, he sounded more impatient about the federal response. "The bureaucracy needs to do more than one thing at a time, " he said. "It's appropriate to save people with helicopters, but it can't be done to the exclusion of everything else." A week after the storm, Jindal told a reporter that he still did not know if his home had survived the flood.
Even though Jindal had only been a congressman for less than a year in the summer of 2005, political observers expected he had ambitions to go farther. He had more cash in his campaign fund ($1.2 million) than any other congressperson or senator from Louisiana. Much of it was said to be left over from his campaign for governor. Observers were already predicting that he would run in 2008 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Mary Landrieu.
AP Online, July 18, 2005.
Esquire, December 2003, p. 205.
Gannett News Service, July 19, 2005; July 28, 2005.
Hill, September 6, 2005.
National Journal, January 29, 2005, p. 294.
New York Times, January 30, 2004, p. A21.
Time, October 6, 2003, p. 18; September 12, 2005.
USA Weekend, January 2, 2005.
Wall Street Journal, January 30, 1998, p. A1; November 14, 2003, p. A12.
Washington Post, November 10, 1998, p. B1; October 4, 2003, p. A6; November 14, 2003, p. A9.
Weekly Standard, December 6, 2004.
"Biography, " U.S. Representative Bobby Jindal, http://jindal.house.gov (August 28, 2005).
American Morning, CNN, September 1, 2005.