Governor of Louisiana
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Piyush “Bobby” Jindal currently serves as the governor of Louisiana. The first Indian-American elected to that office in U.S. history, Jindal has long been seen as a rising star within the Republican party and is the youngest of the potential candidates.
Jindal handily won election and re-election to the governorship. Prior to becoming governor, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, amassing a conservative legislative track record as a strong supporter of the George W. Bush presidential administration.
Jindal’s achievements are remarkable, particularly for a candidate his age. Perhaps the most academically credentialed candidate in the field, Jindal graduated from Brown at the age of 20 and subsequently studied in Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He has long been regarded as a policy expert, particularly in the area of health care, which he has made a focus of his tenure as governor.
Long discussed as a presidential and vice presidential candidate, Jindal is generally considered politically conservative. While Jindal is himself Catholic, his social and economic views hue closely to those of evangelical conservatives. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and favors reducing the size and scope of government.
An active trader, Jindal has a personal fortune in the millions.1 He has earned endorsements and financial support from a wide range of groups including the Club for Growth, the American Medical Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.2
Jindal has created a policy group to advance his ideas and agenda, America Next. Jill Neunaber, a campaign veteran who managed Mitt Romney’s Iowa efforts in the 2012 race and served as deputy manager of his New Hampshire operation, is executive director at America Next.3
Other advisers include Timothy Patrick Teepell, the governor’s former chief of staff; and Kyle Plotkin, 2014 chief of staff to the governor’s office who also served as a senior analyst for Mitt Romney.
Jindal announced his candidacy for president in late June of 2015 and has focused much of his attention on social issues. While his appearances in Iowa, New Hampshire and other campaign stops have generally been well regarded, he has struggled to gain the attention or support of voters, and he has barely registered in the polls. His fundraising has been minuscule compared with his rivals; however, he only had six days of the reporting period to bring in funds compared to several weeks or even months for many of the others. The independent super PAC and other organizations supporting his candidacy have raised more significant sums, however, and could provide Jindal with the boost needed to propel him from the back of the pack into serious contention. While a long shot in a crowded field, Jindal has a resume and record that could be appealing to many Republicans looking for a conservative nominee, and it would be a mistake to believe Jindal is out of the running.
Jindal was born in Baton Rouge, La., on June 10, 1971, to recent immigrants from India. In 1997, Jindal married his wife, Supriya Jolly, who was born in New Delhi. They have three young children. A chemical engineer, Supriya heads the Supriya Jindal Foundations for Louisiana’s children, which seeks to improve educational opportunities for students in that state.4
In his youth, Jindal attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School. From there, he enrolled at Brown University, where he graduated with honors at the age of 20 with dual degrees in biology and public policy. Upon graduation, Jindal was offered admission to medical and law schools at both Harvard and Yale. He declined both institutions, and instead attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. While there, he earned an advanced degree in political science, with an emphasis on health care policy.
Jindal worked as a private consultant until 1996, when he was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He is credited with rescuing the state’s Medicaid program from bankruptcy during his tenure.
Jindal saw increasing responsibility in the public sector, working toward broad health care reforms in Louisiana, when he was tapped to serve as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by President George W. Bush. He resigned from that position in 2003, mounting an unsuccessful bid to become governor of Louisiana. Nonetheless, he earned 48 percent of the vote and was viewed by the press as an up-and-comer in the Republican Party.
Largely unfazed by his defeat, Jindal was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Louisiana’s 1st district, becoming only the second Indian-American to be elected to Congress. During his two terms (he was easily re-elected in 2006) he served on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the House Committee on Resources.
In 2007, Jindal again ran for the Louisiana governorship, winning 60 of 64 parishes and 54 percent of the popular vote. He was re-elected by an even larger margin in 2011, winning 66 percent of the vote.
Jindal’s personal religious story is rather unusual. Raised Hindu, he converted to Christianity at an early age, and later Catholicism. In public statements, he has referred to himself as an “evangelical Catholic.” In a commencement address at Liberty University, he talked of reading the Bible in the closet, concerned as to how his parents might react.5
While Jindal has proposed an ambitious plan to drastically reform Louisiana’s tax code, key provisions of that plan have stalled. He has been a strong and consistent opponent of increased taxation and has signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s Protection Pledge. As a legislator, Jindal was an outspoken supporter of Bush’s tax cuts, and he has cut taxes six times as governor, in accordance with campaign pledges.
Jindal’s support for school choice has seen him run afoul of the interests of the teachers’ unions. Despite that, he has been a statewide and national advocate for education reform, and he has taken the battle over his education plans to the Supreme Court.
While he is a self-proclaimed supporter of free trade, Jindal voted against CAFTA as a congressman, citing the need to protect his state’s sugar industry.6
Jindal has demonstrated a willingness to take on his own party over Iran, ISIS and military funding. He has chided fellow Republicans for what he viewed as weak responses on Iran in particular, and has been a consistent supporter of the war on terrorism. He is on the record defending George W. Bush and the CIA in light of the recent torture report.
Jindal is a supporter of offshore drilling and American energy independence. To this end, he opposed the politically popular moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill.
While campaigning for governor, Jindal promised to halt state employee pay raises, but tempered this promise by committing not to interfere with the state legislature. In a bold move, the Louisiana legislators voted to more than double their own pay. After some consternation, and a recall petition, Jindal vetoed the bill the day before it was to take effect.7
In general, Jindal opts to defer to the state legislature in matters of law. While this pose is made easier by the fact both legislative chambers are Republican-controlled, it does seem to extend from a strong ideological belief in the separation of powers.
As one might expect, given Louisiana’s reputation, Jindal ran on a platform of introducing ethics reforms. On that score, he has earned praise for his work in ending conflicts of interest, enforcing lobbyist disclosures, increasing government transparency and ending loopholes that allowed legislators to receive perks from lobbyists.8
Jindal has had a meteoric rise in the national political scene. Elected governor at age 36, Jindal presided over Louisiana’s health care system at age 24 and led the University of Louisiana at age 27. In 2013, he served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
He has written a book, Leadership and Crisis, chronicling his efforts in response to the BP oil spill, as well as bureaucratic incompetence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Generally considered to be his pre-presidential memoir, the book highlights Jindal’s battle against one of the most notoriously corrupt political cultures in the United States.
Jindal has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s fiscal policies. He accused the president of being overly concerned about public image after the BP oil spill and said the federal assistance was actually hindering cleanup efforts.
True to his background and education, Jindal has taken a leading role in reforming health care in his state. A fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), Jindal announced a health care reform plan of his own in 2014. Per Jindal, “Repealing all of Obamacare is a good and necessary step—but not one sufficient by itself to achieve the real health reform America needs.”9
Jindal was generally praised for his response to the BP oil spill. Media reports demonstrated him to be hands-on and highly visible throughout the crisis, in stark contrast to the perception of Bush’s and then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.
Jindal himself dealt with Hurricane Gustav. As governor, he had already initiated the “Get a Game Plan” program to encourage citizens to plan for hurricanes. He was slated to speak at the Republican National Convention in 2008 but canceled in order to devote his energies to the aftermath of Gustav.10 Prior to the convention, he was widely considered a frontrunner to be John McCain’s running mate.
Jindal’s reputation as a rising star was cemented when he was selected to give the Republican response to Obama’s address to Congress in 2009. His response, though criticized by some, nonetheless introduced Jindal to a national audience.
A talented and seasoned fundraiser, Jindal raised $11 million for his 2007 gubernatorial campaign. This was more than all of the other candidates combined. In 2011, he was re-elected in a landslide victory, after which he still had nearly $4 million in cash on hand.11
Jindal released his tax reform proposal in early October 2015. His plan would eliminate the standard deduction and personal exemption, and institute a 2 percent tax rate on the lowest income groups, which he explained by saying, “Every citizen needs to help row the boat, even if only a little.” In addition to the 2 percent rate his plan would include a 10 percent rate for income between $10,000 and $90,000 for individuals and 25 percent for income above $90,000 (thresholds would be doubled for married couples).12 All but five deductions would be eliminated, with the mortgage interest and charitable contribution deductions among the survivors.13
His plan would also completely eliminate the corporate income tax, aside from a one-time 8 percent tax on corporate profits currently held overseas.14 Capital gains would be taxed as ordinary income, and the Earned Income Tax Credit would be tied to payroll taxes but largely provide the same benefits as today.15 A new savings vehicle similar to IRAs would be created, the “Tax Free Savings Account,” allowing contributions up to $30,000 per year.
As governor, Jindal has been a stalwart against excessive taxation. With a mission to overhaul Louisiana’s onerous tax code, Jindal has proposed to eliminate state personal and corporate income taxes, as well as the state’s franchise tax on capital stock.16
As of 2014, Jindal has cut taxes six times, having signed into law the largest income tax cut in the state’s history. He has also signed into law bills that extend tax credits to the film industry.17
Jindal has earned strong marks from the libertarian Cato Institute for his fiscal policy. However, that organization has been critical of Jindal’s propensity to support tax incentive programs. The group also expressed disappointment with his failure to enact his ambitious tax reform plan.18
More recently, Jindal has been criticized for using gimmicks to mask tax hikes for higher education spending in Louisiana in the 2015 budget. The proposal relies on assessing a fee on students while also providing them tax credits to pay the fee, and counting the tax credits against other revenue raised by eliminating corporate tax credits.19
Jindal is a signatory to the Americans for Tax Reform’s Protection Pledge.20 As a representative, Jindal supported making the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent.
Budget & Spending
Jindal was critical of Obama’s response to the 2013 sequestration that imposed modest cuts in federal spending, calling on him to “stop scaring people” and to send Congress a list of prioritized budget cuts to avoid cutting important programs.21 He also criticized the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling, arguing it should have been used to get a balanced-budget amendment pushed through.22
According to his own campaign’s calculation, his tax cut proposal would add $9 trillion in federal debt over the next 10 years, but Jindal has said he would be releasing a spending-cut plan at a later date, although it’s unclear if those cuts would match, exceed, or fall short of his tax cuts.23
His track record on minimum wage laws is somewhat mixed. As a representative, Jindal voted to raise the federal minimum wage, and he has stated he is not “ideologically opposed” to such hikes. However, as governor, he has not increased Louisiana’s minimum wage.24
Jindal voted in 2006 against a proposal to implement net neutrality, a government mandate that Internet providers treat all content providers the same, forbidding some from paying for better services.25
As governor he has pushed for the privatization of state-run hospitals in Louisiana.26
Well steeped in health care policy, Jindal has emerged as one of Obamacare’s fiercest critics. He has been particularly forceful in opposition to the plan’s expansion of Medicaid, suggesting it will take insurance away from those who need it.
Not content to simply oppose the plan, Jindal has authored a market-based plan of his own, titled “The Freedom and Empowerment Plan: The Prescription for Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Reform.” His plan would repeal all of Obamacare, provide block grants to states for Medicaid,27 eliminate costly benefit mandates, cap the tax deductibility of employer-provided insurance, and provide grants to states to ensure access to affordable insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.28 It would also expand Health Savings Accounts and reform medical malpractice laws.
He has strongly opposed any plans to replace Obamacare that include tax credits to purchase health insurance, something that is a staple of most conservative health reforms.29
Jindal has been a strong and consistent supporter of introducing private accounts into Social Security and praised George W. Bush’s Social Security reform plan.30 He has otherwise said very little about entitlement and welfare reform.
In an effort to address widespread corruption in his state, Jindal signed into law a bill prohibiting mandated project labor agreements in his state.31 Jindal sees opportunity in Louisiana’s recovering job market. To that end, he has devoted taxpayer dollars to job training programs in an effort to meet business demand.
As governor, Jindal has been active in pursuing international trade. He has led trade missions to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, stating, “For the past six years, we have focused mainly on cultivating existing companies in Louisiana, and attracting investment from companies based inside the United States. But that alone will not create a sustainable pipeline of jobs for future generations of Louisianans. We need to diversify and go beyond our country’s borders.”32
In 2005, Jindal voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement on account of the sugar industry in his state. He also opposed Bush’s efforts to ease sugar tariffs on imports. More recently, Jindal came out in opposition to giving Obama the trade negotiating authority to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying, “This particular president must not be given any more power to do anything else to harm this country. He cannot be trusted.”33 He did reiterate in his statement, “I’m for free trade. I’m for free trade agreements.”
Energy & Environment
The topic of offshore drilling has become a source of controversy during his administration. As governor, Jindal has opposed any moratorium in response to the BP oil spill. He is also on the record in favor of fracking and has declared his support for the development of the Keystone XL pipeline.34 He is generally opposed to ethanol subsidies and favors the gradual removal of the ethanol mandate in fuels.35
Jindal is a strong supporter of American energy independence. As governor, he wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency to state his objections to the agency’s proposed 2009 greenhouse gas regulations.36 While he believes humans may have an impact on world climate, he is skeptical as to the extent and does not favor regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions.37
The son of immigrants himself, Jindal has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration. He voted in favor of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and even co-sponsored a bill establishing English as the official language of the United States (the bill did not make it past the committee stage).38
He described the current immigration policy by saying, “We have low walls and a narrow gate” and said he favored “high walls and a broader gate, meaning we need to secure the border and after that’s done, make it easier to get here legally.”39
Following the murder of a San Francisco-area woman by an illegal immigrant who was free because of the city’s “sanctuary city” policy, Jindal proposed making local officials criminally responsible as accessories to the crimes committed by illegal immigrants free because of the policy.40 He would also give families of victims standing to sue local, state and federal officials who fail to enforce immigration laws.41
Jindal has proposed that direct farm subsidy programs be replaced with insurance-based supports that would only pay in “dire situations.”42
Banking & Finance
Jindal heavily criticized the Wall Street bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which he characterized in an op-ed as “bailouts for American International Group and others, CEOs of bankrupt businesses that receive billions of tax dollars running off with millions in bonuses.”43
He voiced support for elements of the Dodd-Frank banking regulations, including the Volcker Rule to prevent banks from engaging in trading on their own account.44
He has come out in opposition to legislation that would give Puerto Rico the option to declare bankruptcy on its massive debt.45
In 2009 Jindal announced a deal with the New Orleans Saints that, while an improvement over previous leases, continued to hand significant benefits to the team’s owners, including a $6 million per year “inducement payment” plus $85 million in taxpayer-funded stadium upgrades.46 He also has praised and significantly expanded the state’s tax credits for filmmaking, another key form of corporate welfare.47 48
Regarding another form of corporate welfare, Jindal voted for the renewable fuels standard as a member of Congress, mandating that gasoline include a certain percentage of ethanol or other biofuels, but he now favors phasing out the mandate.49
Jindal said in a radio interview that “a stronger American defense leads to a safer country and leads to more global stability. I think this president has proved that leading from behind doesn’t work, that simply hoping for peace doesn’t work. The best way to avoid war is to actually, ironically enough, prepare for it.”50
Jindal referred to Obama’s opening of ties with Cuba as “appeasement” of the country’s ruthless communist dictators51 and also said the U.S. should arm Ukraine against Russian aggression.52
War on Terror
A longtime defender of George W. Bush’s execution of the war on terrorism, Jindal voted in favor of the Iraq War.53 He has been quite outspoken on the threat posed by ISIS and sharply critical of Obama’s ISIS response, which he has described as weak.54
He has said the U.S. should not increase the number of refugees it accepts in response to the Syrian crisis, and blames the Obama administration’s policy for causing the crisis.55
Jindal has advocated a tougher stance on Iran, having opposed a 2013 nuclear deal because it did not require sufficient concessions from the Iranian government.56
He has called the current deal negotiated by the Obama administration “a bad deal for the United States, for Israel and our allies,”57 citing the agreement’s weak inspections provisions and failure to address Iran’s support for terrorism.
Jindal has spoken out against Islamic extremism, noting that “Islam has a problem” and “Muslim leaders must make clear that anyone who commits acts of terror in the name of Islam is in fact not practicing Islam at all.”58
A longtime supporter of the Patriot Act, as a representative Jindal voted to make its provisions permanent.59 He also voted in favor of allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant.60
Military Preparedness & Budget
Jindal supports reforming the U.S. military to weed out corruption in the procurement process. In particular, he has voted in favor of restricting no-bid military contracts, and he has sought to extricate domestic politics from foreign policy endeavors.61
While he favors a “smarter” military, Jindal seems to favor expanded funding for national defense. He is on the record in support of raising the defense spending floor to 4 percent of the GDP (an increase from the 3.5 percent stipulated in the 2014 budget).62
Speaking at an American Enterprise Institute event in October 2014 on American defense policy, Jindal criticized Obama’s views on American exceptionalism:
“When President Obama rejects American exceptionalism, what he is really doing is embracing the idea, long-held by progressives going back a century, that we are simply members of a global village, all of us sharing principles and cultures of equal merit. No country has principles that are better than another’s. There is no nation, no system of government or understanding of rights that is exceptional.…
“The danger of this idea is that it ignores the unique and distinct role the United States is called to play in the world because of her strength, her resources, and her historical commitment to freedom and human dignity. Ideas do have consequences. It is only when you conclude that we are all just citizens of the world, with ideas that are just as valuable as anybody else’s, that you would come to the conclusion that the United States should lead from behind, which really means, of course, not leading at all.”63
Judiciary & Crime
Jindal has criticized the Supreme Court as “completely out of control, making laws on their own, and has become a public opinion poll instead of a judicial body” and suggested that “if we want to save some money, let’s just get rid of the court.”64 He has suggested that, if he could, he would get rid of six of the court’s justices.65 He has called judicial activism a “threat.”66
Jindal didn’t specifically criticize the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits), but did say that “the Supreme Court had its say; soon, the American people will have theirs.”67 Jindal was more directly critical of the court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage), saying the decision “will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians” and warning that the ruling “must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.”68
Jindal has some notable legislation under his belt in terms of fighting crime. He signed legislation increasing penalties for street gangs, human traffickers and sex offenders.69 He also signed into law a bill allowing for chemical castration of certain offenders.70 An ardent supporter of the death penalty, Jindal would extend its use to cases of violent child rape.
Jindal has taken a moderate stance on drug regulation. He signed into law legislation softening penalties for marijuana possession by parolees. He has said that he would consider signing legislation legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.71
Jindal is an outspoken supporter of increased school choice.72 As governor, he has implemented one of the most ambitious voucher programs in the nation. That program has earned the ire of teachers unions, which have mounted furious (and successful) legal battles.
He has criticized Obama’s Common Core plan on constitutional grounds, arguing that it infringes upon state sovereignty.73 As governor, Jindal filed a lawsuit against the administration, claiming that the U.S. Department of Education is forcing states through financial coercion to adopt Common Core standards.74
Free Speech & Religious Liberty
When asked about campaign finance reform, Jindal said he favored free speech, suggested that disclosure was the best approach,75 and voiced support for the Citizens United decision.76
In unveiling ethics reforms for Louisiana, Jindal did not include any campaign finance reform measures.77
He has sided with a Kentucky county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses because of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, saying “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions.”78 He also signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from revoking the tax exemptions or deductions, any state contracts, or other agreements with the state based on a person’s opposition to same-sex marriage.79
Jindal has a pro-life record, having earned a 100 percent voting record from the National Right to Life Committee.80 As governor he signed legislation imposing a waiting period for abortion, banning the procedure after 20 weeks, and requiring an audio of the fetal heartbeat be played to women considering an abortion.81 He signed legislation imposing safety regulations on abortion clinics that abortion-rights supporters fear will close them down,82 and favors a “human life amendment” to the constitution declaring that life begins at conception.83
Jindal has voiced staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, although he announced shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue that the state would comply with the decision.84 He has said he would push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman if elected president,85 and declared that “I think it is wrong for the federal government to force Christian individuals, businesses, pastors, churches, to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate our sincerely held religious beliefs.”86
Jindal is an advocate of gun rights. He said that Obama’s call for tougher gun control following a mass shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015 was “shameful” and an effort to score “cheap political points.”87 He has signed several gun bills into law, primarily aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill,88 and has touted Louisiana’s background check system as a model for the country.89 He has frequently been invited to speak at NRA events, and he received an A+ from the National Rifle Association.90
Jindal was broadly criticized for his rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union speech in 2009. In a low-key response that some felt was oversimplified, Jindal failed to demonstrate his broad grasp of policy issues. Opponents on the left quickly pounced on his rebuttal, accusing Jindal of being unknowledgeable. It seems unlikely this characterization will hold as Jindal develops as a candidate.
Jindal was the recipient of $30,000 in illegal contributions from a landfill company that also gave widely to politicians throughout Louisiana and was the center of a criminal corruption probe that led to several indictments and convictions of public officials, including former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard.91 Jindal was never implicated in any wrongdoing however, and does not appear to have done anything in support of the company’s interests. He also received $55,000 in illegal contributions during his 2007 run for governor from a bank, which unlike the River Birch donations his campaign returned. Jindal again appeared to have done nothing to support the bank’s interests, and later signed an order for the state to take it over as it failed.92
While Jindal has remained relatively scandal-free, his reputation as a reformer sets the bar very high in this regard.
It remains to be seen whether Jindal’s youth will work for or against him. While he might appeal to younger voters, older voters (and those fatigued by the current president) might be inclined to shy away from a candidate who is not yet 50.
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