Jindal Faces a Test in Taming Louisiana Politics
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Jeff Brady reports from New Orleans.
JEFF BRADY: Louisiana loves its political characters and 36-year-old Bobby Jindal is the latest. Even his first name contributes to his legend. He replaced Piyush with Bobby after watching the "Brady Bunch" as a young boy.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)
BRADY: Jindal's election night speech focused on the same issue that he rode to victory.
BOBBY JINDAL: We've all become accustomed to thinking that we really can't do anything about the corruption and incompetence in state government. We just can't think that way anymore. I'm asking you to believe that we can turn our state around.
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BRADY: Here's Jindal at a press conference the day after the election.
JINDAL: You know, the Constitution actually says these are separate bodies of government, separate entities of government. I actually believe in the separation of powers.
BRADY: But just a few weeks later, Jindal held another press conference and announced who the new leaders would be, months before lawmakers were scheduled to vote for them. Jindal's campaign says he did not meddle in the selection process. That's not quite right according to political analyst John McGuinness.
JOHN MCGUINNESS: He didn't really pick the senate president and speaker of the house but he more or less blessed the ones who emerge as the leaders, who are accessible to him.
BRADY: And once that was done, competitors dropped out of the competition. But McGuinness says it would have been a mistake for Jindal to try to change tradition before fulfilling his campaign promises to clean up corruption and improve the economy.
MCGUINNESS: To do those things, he needs to have the power that governs he traditionally has, and if he kind of start seeing that, he may imperil some of the things he once done.
BRADY: McGuinness says people here seem to want a strong governor anyway.
MCGUINNESS: I tell you, most voters don't mind their legislators having some adult supervision, you know, even by a young adult.
BRADY: Jindal's ethics reforms would put lawmakers on a short leash. They won't be able to do business with the state. They couldn't work as lobbyists and legislators at the same time. And if a lobbyist takes them to an LSU game or an expensive steak dinner, that information would be public. Jindal says Louisiana government is about to become more transparent.
INSKEEP: If I can have your attention please, can everyone hear me?
BRADY: This public display of openness pleases Barry Erwin. He heads the Council for a Better Louisiana. It's largely comprised of big businesses worried about the state's reputation.
BARRY ERWIN: I think we've gotten away from a lot of that actual corruption at the top level, at the state level with the governor and that type of thing. But, you know, we still have it. It happens. It occurs from time to time. But I think because it happens in Louisiana, a lot of times it gets more play because we're a colorful state and we have this colorful history.
BRADY: And turning that image around is difficult. Political watchers here hope Jindal's high profile and a special legislative session next year focused on ethics will begin that process.
WENDELL LINDSAY: His proposals are good ones.
BRADY: Wendell Lindsay is president of Common Cause Louisiana, and while complimentary, he says there is an important element missing from Jindal's ethics plan.
LINDSAY: What is needed is something to outset the golden rule of politics, which says that them that gives the gold, makes the rules.
BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.
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