If you are not impressed with 37-year-old Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of blue state Louisiana, then you are not paying attention. He has shown what a conservative Republican can accomplish if he has the courage to outline and then implement a program of conservative policies. Of course here in Illinois you would be hard-pressed to find the words “Republican” and “courage” in the same sentence.
Jindal was elected governor in October of 2007 defeating his Democratic opponent by a healthy 6 per cent. The son of Indian immigrants, his first statement after being elected was “In America and here in Louisiana, the only barrier to success is your willingness to work hard and play by the rules.” In this age of “grievance politics” that is about as politically incorrect a statement as you will hear from a politician.
Jindal made government ethics reform the centerpiece of his 2007 campaign for governor. He maintains that strengthening Louisiana’s ethics laws will help the state attract investment and jobs.
And true to his word his first effort was to propose and pass new ethics legislation. Prior to his legislation, Louisiana ranked as the 3rd most corrupt state only slightly ahead of Illinois which is ranked 5th. The new disclosure requirements include spouses and other family members:
- Sources of all income in detail.
- All real property owned and transactions related thereto.
- All stock and bond holdings and transactions.
- Ownership interest in private companies.
- Board and committee positions public, private and non-profit.
- Job title and description of all employers.
- Lobbying by relatives is prohibited while in office and for 1 year after leaving office.
And those affected by the ethics reform include not only elected officials but also governor hires, department heads, county officials, school boards, and commission/board appointees. As of July 1, 2008 at least 130 people have resigned, including 9 from the Board of Ethics no less, rather than report their income sources and property transactions. Here’s the article.
Imagine what would have happened with Cellini, Levine, Rezko, et al if this kind of legislation had been passed in Illinois.
His second reform was school vouchers. With the help of city Democrats, the state legislature passed a bill allocating $10 million for scholarships to private schools for low-income families. Charles Hokanson of the Alliance for School Choice said the following:
“This new program represents a major victory for New Orleans families, We commend Governor Jindal, Senator Duplessis, Rep. Badon and the many courageous legislators who have made quality educational opportunities a priority for New Orleans students.”
There’s that word “courageous” again.
So politicians receiving praise for reforming the sclerotic education system in the state’s largest city proves education reform is possible. Jindal made it happen in New Orleans, why can’t Illinois Republicans make it happen in Chicago?
The third important reform presented by Jindal was “Economic Reform.” Chief Executive magazine rates Louisiana 46th and Illinois 43rd in “Worst States To Do Business In.” In addition in a Federal Reserve study titled “States Attracting the Lowest Percentage of College Educated Workers,” Louisiana was ranked 50th, Illinois 45th. Jindal’s reforms are designed to make Louisiana friendly to new business. Two important parts of “Economic Reform” were the ethics reform and education reform outlined above. Other planks in his “Fresh Start Proposal” for encouraging new business in LA include:
- Make LA ethics laws and enforcement the “Gold Standard” best in the country
- Eliminate anti-business business taxes on investment and utilities.
- Guarantee a fair, predictable and speedy regulatory process for employers.
- Provide a “Day One Guarantee” to businesses that LA workers are prepared.
- Dedicate the recurring transportation taxes to funding the current backlog of projects.
- Improve accountability efforts to assure projects are done on time and on budget.
- The governor should be the state’s top salesperson in recruiting new business investment.
Although Jindal has other reform plans, including health care, these three are the most important and ones that can be directly compared to Illinois. Perhaps Louisiana only became a candidate for reform because of Katrina but I think more voters are ready for extensive reform than the media or serving politicians believe. No little crumbs thrown to placate the masses, no “go along to get along”, no “wink and a nod” but real, systemic reform that cannot be abrogated or ignored. Jindal has proven it can be done and has even given us the template for successful reform.
As Bobby Jindal said “All we needed was the courage to rid the system of fraud and corruption.”
Millions of Illinoisans are waiting for a courageous Republican to stand up. Let’s hope we don’t have too long to wait.
Bill Zettler is the owner of a computer-consulting firm in Illinois.