A star rising in the South

Dateline: 24 October 2007

Just occasionally you catch a glimpse of a rising star.

In 1956 John F Kennedy put his name forward to be Adlai Stevensonís running mate. He didnít quite make it. Some of his advisors Ė including, by some accounts, his father Ė thought this was a narrow escape. They, rightly, had Stevenson pegged as a loser and didnít want JFK linked to him.

Eight years later Barry Goldwater was running for President. At the convention a semi-retired actor doing publicity work for GE made a speech on his behalf. Ronald Reaganís speech electrified the convention in a way that Goldwater himself failed to do.

Have we seen such a moment? Itís hard to say for sure. A number of these shooting stars ultimately crash and burn. But I have a feeling that when you look at Bobby Jindal, governor-elect of Louisiana, you are looking at a future president.

Jindal is the first Indian-American to be elected a state governor. He is the youngest of the current crop of governors and the first non-white to be elected in Louisiana.

Fiercely intelligent, he is a policy wonk, but with a passion for practical plans and their implementation. He is particularly expert on healthcare. It was a brilliantly argued paper on the subject that got him a job with Congressman Jim McCrery (R. La.). By this time he was already a graduate of Brown University and a Rhodes Scholar and working for the consulting firm McKinsey. When he was 24, McCrery introduced him to Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, who appointed him Secretary of Louisiana Health and Hospitals Ė responsible for some 40% of the state budget.

From there he went on to run the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. This was followed by a stint as the youngest ever President of the University of Louisiana System. This brings us to 2001, when he was appointed Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services.

His first run for elective office was 2003, when he ran for Governor of Louisiana. He easily topped the poll in the open primary system, but was narrowly pipped by Kathleen Blanco in the run-off. Louisiana remains a little behind other southern states in shaking off the grip of the Democrats. Many conservatives still vote for the Democrats and Jindalís support in the rural north was below expectations.

Defeat did not put him off, and he barely let up in his campaigning. He was elected to Congress in 2004, and re-elected last year, but never took his eyes off the governorís mansion. After the chaos of Katrina, Kathleen Blanco bowed out of staging a re-match she knew she would lose. Popular former US Senator John Breaux considered a run, but ultimately opted out. In the event, the Democrats could not find a serious candidate. Jindal won 54% in the first ballot so is elected without the need of a second vote. His closest rival scored just 18%.

Jindal bubbles with policy ideas; he shows strong leadership potential; if he can add to that a reputation for executive competence then perhaps the White House beckons. At 36 he has time to buff his already impressive rťsumť.

Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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