Jindal and his reform movement had the good fortune and timing to storm the political establishment during the first election season affected by a 1995 term limits law. The attrition of the old guard left him with 60 new legislators of 105 who weren’t wedded to the old ways.
He was also helped along by members like Charmaine L. Marchand of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, who whined about the meal cap, "If it's $50, I think we're going to be eating at Taco Bell." A local radio station sponsored a contest to see who could spend $50 at Taco Bell, and the governor’s office chalked it up to a cheesy, crunchy P.R. victory.
The success earned him praise even on the front page of the New York Times, whose pre-election coverage deemed his reform talk “conscientiously detailed” but “hardly revolutionary,” and his newfound support among white voters all over the state as a “racial breakthrough of sorts… with qualifiers.” Jindal had lost the governor's race to Blanco in 2003, partly due to misgivings among very conservative, white voters in Northern Louisiana, a region he's since visited more than any other Louisiana governor.
A second special session was just as productive, as the legislature approved an end to the tax on manufacturing equipment—one of only three such taxes in the nation—eliminated taxes on capital investment and business utilities, and passed a tax deduction for private school tuition, homeschool families, and other educational expenses.
Jindal’s simple theory: “If you want to discourage something, tax it. If you want to encourage it, don’t tax it.”
Up next? A host of aggressive school reforms that already have the teachers’ unions squirming.
“That’ll be the biggest fight of the session,” he said. “But we campaigned on this. It’s no surprise.”
To Jindal, the big-government response to Hurricane Katrina betrayed conservatives’ lack of confidence in their own ideas, and his first three months in office have gone a long way toward showing he has all the courage of conviction he needs.
The Republican Party remains the party of ideas in Louisiana, under Jindal’s leadership. And, as the unabashed policy wonk runs through four-point plan after four-point plan in his detailed recipe for Cajun-style reform, his 3-year-old son big-wheeling through the foyer of the governor’s mansion, one can’t help but think, “So this is what real change looks like.”