Jindal Presents A Face of Calm During the Storm

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, left, and Mayor C. Ray Nagin, behind, in New Orleans before the storm hit.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, left, and Mayor C. Ray Nagin, behind, in New Orleans before the storm hit. (By Pat Semansky -- Getty Images)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

BATON ROUGE, Sept. 2 -- He talks about "helo assets," military-speak for helicopters. He delivers recovery statistics rapid-fire. And in a nod to local sporting passions, he frequently resorts to football analogies.

"The evacuation was the pregame," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced at a press conference Tuesday, appearing calm and unruffled amid the commotion of Hurricane Gustav. "We're not yet at halftime. We have a lot more work ahead of us."

Thrust in the spotlight by Gustav, Jindal, 37, a political whiz kid in office for all of eight months, is asserting mastery over his state's response to the natural disaster -- just the sort that can have serious consequences for politicians.

Three years ago, Jindal's predecessor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D), sometimes seemed overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina, nervous and frowning before the cameras. Her popularity slumped afterward, and she chose not to run for reelection.

Now Jindal, a rising star in the Republican Party whose name was once bandied about as a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), is at the helm as Louisiana weathers Gustav. He had been scheduled to address the Republican National Convention but canceled his plans as the storm loomed.

"Bobby Jindal has been pitch perfect during Gustav," said Douglas Brinkley, who wrote "The Great Deluge," which describes the chaos after Katrina. "He promised to be a hands-on administrator, and I think he delivered. He had such an easy factual grasp of the situation. It's almost the exact opposite of Blanco and [New Orleans Mayor C. Ray] Nagin during Katrina."

Gustav presented a far lesser challenge than Katrina did: The levees didn't break, and New Orleans didn't go under. But whether Louisiana has triumphed over a potentially catastrophic storm or whether the state had a bit of meteorological luck is a matter of political debate.

At the 25-minute news conference Tuesday morning, Jindal emphasized that Hurricane Gustav was a major disaster.

"This is a serious storm that has caused serious damage in our state," Jindal said. "We're pleased we haven't seen breaches in the levees. We're pleased we haven't seen major flooding in New Orleans or the places that flooded before. But there are serious challenges."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, speaking immediately after Jindal, likened Gustav to Katrina.

"I just want to echo what the governor said about the seriousness of the storm," Chertoff said. "Yesterday I got a number of questions in which people seemed to say, 'Well, wasn't it really kind of like a false alarm?' Nothing could be further from the truth. This storm came ashore as -- depending on who you listen to -- as either a low Category 3 or a high Category 2, which is frankly comparable to Katrina in terms of intensity."

Regardless of whether Gustav was anything like Katrina, Jindal has proved adept at handling voluminous details of the recovery and the minutiae of the bureaucracy. Since becoming the state's secretary of health and hospitals at 24, he has enjoyed a reputation as being on the fast track.

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