Louisiana governor Jindal takes active role in dealing with spill

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO -- Strapped into a National Guard Black Hawk, peering down at green water mottled with oil sheen, the most serious man in Louisiana is starting to sound ridiculous.

Over the helicopter's intercom, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is explaining to the mayor of New Orleans two of the state's efforts to keep back the oil slick. One is named for a Mexicanentree. The other is named for a Cajun sausage.

The "burrito levee" and the "boudin bag" are part of a vast effort, overseen by Jindal, to hold back a slick that is already spitting tar balls onto the state's coast. He also has a plan to create more Louisiana, building new barrier islands in the oil's path.

"It makes so much sense. It's so obvious. We gotta do it," Jindal said into his headphones. His call for a major government response stands in apparent contrast to his previous calls for small government.

Indeed, in a crisis marked by desperate improvisation -- where the search for solutions has turned to golf balls and top hats -- nobody is matching Jindal's frenetic vigor. Local observers say the oil spill is testing the promise that almost three years ago made this son of Indian immigrants governor: that he could keep his catastrophe-scarred state safe, through good data and hard work.

"He's there because of Katrina, he's there because of the failed response to a disaster, and I think he recognizes that," said Kirby Goidel, a political science professor at Louisiana State University. "He absolutely has sort of over-learned that mistake."

On Monday, Jindal said his state would not slow its response, despite the news that the oil company BP was siphoning about 1,000 barrels of oil a day out of a pipe that began leaking around April 22 -- a fraction of the total spill.

"We are nowhere close to the finish line," Jindal said in a statement. He noted that oil has already been found along 29 miles of the state's coast: "Oil continues to pour into the gulf and hit our shores."

Jindal, 38, was elected governor in 2008, his political rise starting when he was appointed at age 24 to head the state's Department of Health and Hospitals. He still struggles with political aesthetics: In the first days after the crisis, Jindal showed up wearing a blue blazer at a news conference in a broiling marsh. Only recently has he donned the standard governor-in-crisis uniform of rolled-up shirt sleeves.

And Jindal was widely thought to have blown his first real test as a national politician. Last year, he was chosen to give the Republican response to President Obama's first address to a joint session of Congress. But his speech -- urging smaller government and criticizing money for monitoring another source of natural disasters, volcanoes -- was criticized as flat and over-familiar.

But now, Jindal's skills seem as right for this moment as they were wrong for that one.

"Bobby Jindal is a first-class, straight-A warrior," said Chris Moran, who owns a marina, a restaurant and a charter-fishing business in the oil-field hub of Port Fourchon, La. He said he liked that Jindal had visited his area (although Moran wished the governor had stayed for a steak) and admired his efforts to have National Guardsmen use huge sandbags to plug holes that bring gulf water to inland marshes. "He's probably the most-suited governor for a natural disaster."

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