During his days as Louisiana governor, Mike Foster did at least two things that continue to shape the state’s political culture. Foster brought a young Bobby Jindal into his cabinet as a health secretary, and Foster also enrolled as a part-time law school student while still in office.
Foster’s appointment of Jindal helped advance the young cabinet secretary’s political career, and Jindal eventually became governor himself. Meanwhile, in signing up for law school while still serving as governor, Foster created the impression that leading Louisiana is a part-time job — a pastime that leaves plenty of hours open for sideline interests.
Jindal seems to be doing Foster one better in treating Louisiana’s governorship as but one item on his weekly to-do list. Last year, Jindal spent almost one day of every four traveling outside the state, mostly speaking, campaigning for GOP candidates and fundraising around the nation. GOP supporters and campaigns picked up the tab for Jindal’s lodging and airfare, although Louisiana taxpayers shelled out $65,000 to feed, house and — in many cases — fly his security team.
In a state budget of some $25 billion, this $65,000 expense isn’t very much, but we think there’s a larger price incurred by Jindal’s travels. The governor’s extensive travel schedule gave him less time to focus on the state’s problems, which are huge.
A state that consistently ranks at or near the bottom in key quality of life indicators sorely needs a full-time chief executive to address its challenges. In Jindal, we have a governor who treats Louisiana as a refueling station for his seemingly eternal road tour.
Jindal’s national political ambitions are clear. Whether he ever runs for president — and many people believe that he will — the governor is obviously passionate about national GOP matters and enjoys the national spotlight.
We like governors to be attuned to what’s going on outside the state. We also know that many people are flattered that our governor is so frequently welcomed outside the state as a national conservative voice.
But true conservatism values personal responsibility, and Jindal’s first responsibility should be to the voters he pledged to serve as Louisiana’s governor. That’s good policy, and also good politics.
An effective way to build credentials for national leadership, after all, is to be a good governor. It’s a job that should be treated as full-time work, and not merely a title on a résumé.