While in Congress he became a darling of conservatives. He earned a 100 percent pro-life voting record, opposed embryonic stem-cell research and voted to make the Patriot Act permanent.
“It’s a great honor to be picked to give the response,” said James Pinkerton of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington public policy think tank. “It used to be the minority or majority party leader in Congress - (Sen. Robert) Byrd or (former House Speaker Jim) Wright or people like that - would give the response.”
Before serving in elected office, Mr. Jindal was appointed by then-Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, a fellow Republican, in 1996 to lead the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals. He won praise for steering the state’s indigent health-care plan from bankruptcy to a budget surplus in three years.
In 2001 former President George W. Bush nominated him to be assistant secretary of health and human services for planning and evaluation, serving as the chief policy adviser to the HHS secretary.
Mr. Jindal’s speech Tuesday may be the most important of his young political career, helping to introduce himself to voters beyond his home state.
“Four years ago, nobody heard of Barack Obama, and then he gave his speech in Boston at the (2004) Democratic National Convention, and look where he is now.” Mr. Pinkerton said. “Not to play up the expectations game here, but Obama’s speech put him on the map. And (Mr. Jindal) certainly has a compelling story.”
Mr. Jindal isn’t shy about butting heads with Democrats or to make waves politically. Last week he announced he would refuse part of his state’s share of the $787 billion stimulus bill, saying Louisiana would not participate in a program aimed at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage.
He said accepting the money would have required changes in state law on eligibility for unemployment benefits and, after federal money runs out in three years, would have led to a $12 million increase in taxes on his state’s businesses to keep funding the benefit.
“Increasing taxes on our Louisiana businesses is certainly not a way to stimulate our economy. It would be the exact wrong thing we could do to encourage further growth and job creation,” Mr. Jindal said last week, although the Louisiana legislature could override his decision.
Democratic leaders have blasted Mr. Jindal for his position, accusing him of playing politics at the expense of his constituents and calling his stance hypocritical.
“It seems to me like Governor Jindal is bluffing,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, on Tuesday. “The incentives in the economic recovery package to help states cover more unemployed workers will not cause states to increase taxes.”
Mr. Clyburn added that “funding to provide unemployment assistance and save or create 3.5 million jobs nationwide shouldn’t be hamstrung by a governor’s political ideologies or presidential aspirations.”