Thursday, July 9, 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
IS BOBBY JINDAL STILL VIABLE NATIONALLY?
By Jim Brown
“Whatever happened to Bobby Jindal?” That is the question posed in this month’s Economist Magazine. “At one point he was the great hope of the GOP and now we hardly hear a word about him.” So is it time to begin writing obituaries about the Louisiana Governor’s once rising nation political ambitions? Maybe not yet, but Jindal obviously has his work cut out for him.
After Jindal’s less than stellar response speech to the President’s State of the Union address, the criticism came raining down, and he all but disappeared from any national view. The conventional thinking among Jindal’s staff of advisors was for him to lay low and let the “Kenneth-the-Page” fiasco pass. Let time be the healer, and then find the right opportunity for Jindal to re appear on the national scene.
The problem for Jindal is that by not staying visible outside Louisiana, the only impressions many political observers have of him is the “Little Ole’ Bobby moment” seen by millions this past February. The Governor did have his hands full in the recently ended session of the Louisiana Legislature. But timing can be everything in politics. And with other potential presidential contenders dropping out right and left (Governors Palin and Sanford, and Sen. Ensign to name the latest), Jindal could be missing important opportunities that could lead to a revitalized stature on the national scene. Just what could he begin to do that would draw favorable national attention?
First, jump head first into the national healthcare debate. When he was running for governor, Jindal played up his credentials as a healthcare policy wonk. He served in Washington as Executive Director of a major bipartisan healthcare commission set up by former Senator John Breaux. Jindal is supposed to know health issues forward and backward. He missed a grand opportunity in the past legislative session to set out a solid reform agenda in Louisiana that could be transposed nationally. It is still not too late for such a Louisiana effort, and the issue could well justify a special session of the legislature that, coincidently, would be widely viewed all over the country since healthcare has moved to the front burner of major national concerns.
Louisiana has applied for a medical waiver from the federal government to implement Jindal’s Health First Initiative to direct Medicaid recipients to special primary care providers or “group homes” so as to build continuity in continuing care. This, in theory, gives better care and saves money in the process. The program could be part of an overall medical reform plan that Jindal should espouse nationwide. But so far, he has left selling and implementation to the bureaucrats. When a major overhaul took place in Massachusetts a few years ago, then Gov. Mitt Romney was in the forefront, and traveled the country discussing his concept. The Louisiana plan needs more work and more “meat” that widens the coverage net, but it’s a good and timely platform for Jindal to climb aboard.
Secondly, he should take off an afternoon to read Malcolm Gladwell’s informative best seller, The Outliers. How do you find a way for Louisiana to jumpstart its’ mediocre educational apparatus so as to at least come close to the innovations taking place in many other states? Gladwell points out that merely trying to “keep up with the Jones” in today’s competitive educational climate is not enough. Other states, ranked significantly higher than Louisiana in educational performance, are also experimenting and looking for new ways to get better results. Something dramatic has to be done to make a significant jump.
Just released results on Higher Education from the Southern Regional Education Board lists Louisiana as having the lowest graduation rate in the 16 state group, with only 37 percent of full-time freshmen graduating within six years from beginning their studies. It is more than obvious that Louisiana has huge strides to make up. So where to begin? Maybe the word “internet” might serve as a catalyst. It’s great to go off to college, cheer on the home team, and take in the keg parties. But if the state is truly in an economic war to keep jobs where we have to pour $50 million into a plant to hire chicken pluckers, the Governor should consider building a new LSU in cyberspace.
With major budget constraints, Jindal can either tell educators to do less with less, or he can charge them with the calling of quickly developing and implementing a cyber class system, giving students “anytime” options of lectures by the best faculty for the entire higher ed system. The choices are unlimited. Science labs could be made available on weekends, and at night. The social networking technologies are available (email, text messaging, visual direct communication with a computer camera) to support student interactions with instructors and each other.
Hey Governor, when you are in a crisis, the best offense is often innovation. Sure there are many issues to work out but you have the moment; the chance to put high quality higher education within reach of tens of thousands more Louisiana students in a cyber-campus that could deliver state-of-the-art options online. It is timely, it’s the right thing to do, and the efforts would be closely observed all over the nation.
And finally, to “go national,” Jindal should go international. There are bountiful opportunities throughout Latin and South American for international trade with Louisiana. A new nonstop flight began last week to Mexico City. The Legislature just passed new tax credit help for ports along the river making it attractive for shippers to come through Louisiana. I wrote at length in a recent column about the range of Louisiana natural resources in demand through Latin America as well as India, where the Governor has strong blood ties. Economic development trips can be profitable for the state, and good politically for Jindal. He can meet a number of international leaders that he can refer to in the months to come showing a grasp of international issues, something few governors, particularly Sarah Palin, have been able to do in the past.
The expectations for Bobby Jindal were lowered a bit several months ago when he was baptized by fire in his first nationally televised address. Bill Clinton bombed in his first national exposure back in 1988. But he regrouped and bandied his Arkansas successes. Jindal needs to be results oriented. These three listed ideas are a good beginning. There is still time for Jindal to also be considered as the “comeback kid.”
“Every day that’s another day of lost opportunity. I don’t think we can do this soon enough.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to www.jimbrownla.com.