Gov. Bobby Jindal will fade out of the limelight in the coming weeks, his term ending Jan. 11 when Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards is inaugurated. But for now, he seems to be enjoying his last few days in Louisiana’s brightest spotlight.
A jovial Jindal appeared easygoing today in a speech before the Press Club of Baton Rouge to recap his eight years in the Governor’s Mansion. He routinely cracked jokes and told stories about his children, all while continuing to ardently defend his policies that have come under fire the last few years.
Jindal even swapped handshakes and hugs and thanked the press corps—among his biggest critics the last decade—for their hard work despite facing dwindling resources and readership.
Oddly enough, there wasn’t an overflowing crowd on hand to hear Jindal speak. About 10 minutes before his speech, the room was at least half empty, and it only filled up so much when he took the podium—a possible sign that the spotlight is already turning away, especially when Edwards was giving a speech in Hammond today.
Despite the small crowd, the forum felt like a goodbye of sorts from Jindal to media and the public alike. The native Baton Rougean thanked the citizens of Louisiana for elevating him to the state’s highest office, saying the governorship was “the best job I’ll ever have.”
Jindal said he took on “big challenges” during his tenure, naming ethics reforms and slowdowns of outward migration among some of his biggest accomplishments. He also pointed to what he said was $60 billion worth of private sector investment and 90,000 new jobs coming to the state in his tenure.
But of all the issues Jindal tackled, the outgoing governor says his education overhauls will have “the most lasting impact on our state.” Those changes included expanding the state’s voucher program and toughening the requirements for teachers to obtain tenure protection.
“I wasn’t the kind of guy that was just going to sit here and not rock the boat,” he said. “Some people didn’t like those changes. Some people still don’t like those changes.”
Jindal, though, found himself again under the microscope for his monetary policy, amid frequent budget shortfalls the last few years that have been plugged by spending cuts and fund raids.
The governor defended his fiscal methods, saying raising taxes—which Jindal vehemently opposed—would have hurt Louisiana citizens and stymied private growth. Jindal also said the Legislature rejected some larger cuts he had proposed, such as merging the University of New Orleans and Southern University-New Orleans and closing certain prisons.
Maintaining two key points of his administration, Jindal continued his crusade for the costly TOPS scholarship program and his assault against Medicaid expansion, which Edwards has said he’ll try to do. Jindal, though, did say he would direct his team to provide Edwards whatever information or statistics the new governor would need in his quest for Medicaid expansion. He also said he’ll reserve any commentary on Edwards’ administration once Edwards has been in office for a while.
Jindal said his only regret is not being able to tackle even more tasks in office. He also lamented being unable to push through his 2013 proposal to axe the state’s income tax in favor of higher sales taxes.
Jindal said he has no future plans to run for office as of now, and he has already ruled out a U.S. Senate bid for 2016. For now, Jindal appears tanned, rested and ready to enjoy life in the private sector, continue his work with his Washington, D.C., based-think tank, America Next, and raise his family in Baton Rouge.
“No governor gets everything they want,” Jindal said. “Though we did get a lot of what we want. I’m not complaining.”