Can Bobby Jindal catch on in 2016? Six things to know about his record

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is the 13th Republican to declare for president. His state budget is a mess and his job approval has tanked, but he is dogged. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks during the Road to Majority 2015 convention in Washington, Friday, June 19, 2015.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the latest entrant into the 2016 presidential race, was long known as the Wunderkind of the Republican Party.

Before many peers had even finished their schooling, Governor Jindal had run his state’s health department and university system, then served in the administration of the first President Bush.

Jindal’s first run for governor, in 2003, was unsuccessful, but he immediately pivoted toward Congress, won two terms in the House, then tried again for governor, this time successfully. Now he’s in his second term. And on Wednesday, he becomes the 13th  Republican to announce for his party’s presidential nomination.

At this stage, Jindal’s odds appear steep. He barely registers in polls of Republican voters. But it’s early, and he brings a rich conservative record to the race. This son of Indian immigrants also adds diversity to the GOP field, though he rejects a “hyphenated” identity: Call him a just plain American, not an Indian-American, he says. As a child, he chose to be called Bobby – after the character on “The Brady Bunch” – and not his given name, Piyush.

Here are six things to know about Jindal’s record:

On Louisiana’s budget and taxes: Jindal is an avowed opponent of tax increases. When he took office in 2008, the state had a budget surplus and he sought tax reform. But his plan to eliminate the state income tax and replace it a with higher sales tax proved unpopular, and Jindal dropped the proposal. He also signed tax cuts for higher-end earners to the tune of $700 million a year. Meanwhile, relief money for hurricane Katrina dried up, and oil prices fell, sending the state’s budget deficit soaring to $1.6 billion.

Jindal’s solution has been a series of short-term measures that adhere to his anti-tax pledge: no increases in the tax rate without a correlative cuts in other taxes. But in the process, as he has traveled outside the state in preparation for his presidential run, he has become quite unpopular at home. In May, his job approval rating hit an all-time low of  31.8 percent. 

In addition, Jindal-era cuts to the state budget have resulted in the loss of 30,000 state jobs, including teachers, health-care workers, and university employees.

On education: Jindal was once a staunch supporter of the state-driven education standards known as Common Core. But by April 2014, he had changed course – a flip-flop he acknowledges, blaming the federal government for stepping in. Jindal has launched lawsuits and legislation against the initiative, saying it violates the Constitution.  

On health care: Given his background, Jindal probably knows more about the health-care system than his competitors. Not only did he hold state and federal government positions in health care, he also studied health policy as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. But in the end, he comes to the same conclusion as every other GOP candidate: The Affordable Care Act must go.

In its place, he proposes a market-based system that he says would bring down health-care costs.

On social issues: As a teenager, Jindal converted from Hinduism to Christianity, and has been a devout Catholic since college. In 2008, Jindal signed a law allowing the teaching of Intelligent Design in Louisiana public schools. He opposes same-sex marriage and abortion without exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the woman’s health.

On foreign policy: Jindal’s fiscal conservatism contains an exception: He supports an increase in defense spending. He also believes Congress should have a say in any deal the US makes with Iran on its nuclear weapons capability. And he supports a more aggressive US stance against the Islamic State, with more air strikes.

Jindal’s limited background in foreign policy came back to bite him during a trip to London earlier this year, when he asserted the existence of Muslim “no-go zones” in Europe. Now he is making additional overseas trips to boost his credibility on foreign affairs.

On immigration: Jindal supports the GOP position of securing the US border first, then addressing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. If elected president, he would immediately reverse President Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive action granting deferred deportation to childhood arrivals (DACA) and to undocumented immigrants with family in the US legally (DAPA).  

Jindal has said he would be willing to grant guest-worker visas to illegal immigrants. He also supports a pathway to legal status and then citizenship for those in the US illegally. But a secure border must come first. 

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