Saturday, November 22, 2008

Possible 2012 candidate Bobby Jindal in Cedar Rapids

Jindal praises faith-based help in Cedar Rapids

“The heroes in these storms are not the federal government, they're the people,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told a Cedar Rapids crowd at a flood recovery event that looked a lot like a Republican Party breakfast.

The ballots aren't even counted yet, literally (Linn County is still working on a recount in the 14-vote Renee Schulte-Art Staed legislative race) but the opening shots of the 2012 Iowa caucuses are being fired. Mike Huckabee was here two days ago, now Jindal.

Ostensibly the speech was a non-partisan “Rapid Recovery” event, followed by a tour of areas damaged in the summer flood, but you wouldn't know it from the crowd. A partial list of GOP dignitaries in the crowd of 150: Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, state party co-chair Leon Mosley, ex-congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, ex-legislative candidate Emma Nemecek, Johnson County GOP chair Bill Keettel, new county supervisor Brent Oleson, state central committee member and blogger David Chung... the only way I knew this wasn't officially a Republican campaign event was the lack of patriotic ritual and rally music. The only Democrat I recognized was mayor Kay Halloran.

Congressional primary loser Peter Teahen spoke early; a civic thing or a political thing? He was on the ground doing Red Cross work at Katrina, so there's that connection. “There is a new age of leadership in Louisiana today.” Making recovery partisan? He wouldn't be the first to politicize the Katrina aftermath...heck, that's a big part of why Jindal even is governor. Of course, Bobby almost won in 2003. How would all this have been different if Katrina had been on Jindal's watch instead of Blanco's?

We'll keep an eye on Peter Teahen the next couple years; MMM is already looking like she's running again. “Faith based groups will attract donations that will not go to government agencies,” says Teahen, and he rolls with that a while.

No TV or national press present, just print (AP's Glover, Gazette's Lynch) and bloggers (EE/II's Waddington), plus a couple Louisiana press. Teahen pronounces “bureaucracy” as if he's saying “Barack-ra-see.” Maybe I'm just hearing that. Or maybe we just created a new GOP meme.

Jindal sat with Teahen and Northey (their official portfolios outranking the political titles for the day). The mayor was next table over.

Bob Vander Plaats, 2006 lieutenant governor candidate, got to intro Jindal; are we SURE this wasn't a campaign event? And is it Campaign 2012 or Campaign 2010? Both, I suspect; Vander Plaats has been high-profile since Nov. 4 with a “stick to your values, social conservatives” piece in the Register as the GOP regroups.

BVP talks at length about “character” in flood recovery. “We saw a whole different type of leadership (in Louisiana) because of character.” (Again, the implied Blanco dis).

After thanking Iowans for post-Katrina help Jindal compares notes: “People matter more than regulations and red tape.” (applause) “It's better to have to ask for forgiveness than permission, especially when you're dealing with the federal bureaucracy. You can always write an apology to the bureaucrats later.” He tells a story about bureaucrats looking for proof of insurance mid-hurricane. “You tell FEMA what you need, don't wait for the government to tell you what to do.”

Louisiana has had more colorful governors per capita than any state in the union. This man is filling the seat of the larger than life Longs, country singer Jimmie “You Are My Sunshine” Davis, and kleptocrat Edwin Edwards, after all. And Jindal, too, is a unique character: a young man in a hurry, governor at 37, and the nation's first Indian-American governor.

The story I remember is that Jindal, who was given a more traditional Indian name at birth, came home from kindergarten and told his parents that from now on his name was Bobby. He's a classic red white and blue first generation American. Jindal looks like he's the guy on the other end of the tech support line in Bangalore, but the voice is pure gumbo as “Saint Bernard Parish” and the occasional “y'all” drawls out of his mouth. “I was born and raised in my home state of Louisiana,” he says with pride.

“You need to see it through to the end, and the end is long after the national press had moved on,” Jindal says of disaster recovery.

“The faith community was critical to our recovery, we need to help them do their good work.” Lots of examples of private sector help at emergency time, bracketed by comments on how much more effective that was that government help. We heard “Lemme give ya three or four examples” a lot, and the talk was anecdote-heavy. Bobby is a storyteller, swift-paced and extemporaneous.

“I'm not here to beat up on the federal government,” Jindal disclaimed, yet that seems to be a theme. If this run does happen, look for a template something like this speech. “You've got to be ready to partner with the private sector and the faith based groups.”

Best line: “You really think people would volunteer to eat an MRE instead of the food we have in South Louisiana?” As chef Justin Wilson would say, I ga-ron-tee we'll see more of Jindal in Iowa.

Update: Douglas Burns at Iowa Political Alert caught the West Des Moines event.

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