If one nickname for New Orleans is The Big Easy, one could reasonably apply the term The Big Not-So-Easy to the long-overdue cleanup of the filthy bayou of Louisiana politics. Yet the new governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has managed to make some very impressive progress on draining that swamp. He has also managed to arrange for much-needed repairs to Louisiana's broken-down infrastructure.
Less than a month after taking office Mr. Jindal called a special legislative session to push an ambitious package of reforms aimed at transforming the state's image as an ethical cesspool. Though he encountered some minor resistance, Mr. Jindal managed to pass most of what he wanted, including broad financial disclosure requirements for state legislators and public officials, bans on awarding state contracts to politicians and their family members, and tight restrictions on meals, tickets and other legalized graft used by lobbyists to ply compliant lawmakers.
Some pills, however, proved too bitter for legislators to swallow. A bill that would have stripped those convicted of public corruption of their state pensions went down to defeat.
No sooner had the first special session wrapped up than Mr. Jindal announced plans for a second – this one focused on state finances. Contrary to common perception, the years after Hurricane Katrina have been pretty good ones for Louisiana's bank account. The flood of reconstruction money and soaring revenues from oil and gas production have left state coffers bulging. Outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco, widely reviled for her administration's bungling of the post-Katrina rebuilding effort – left Mr. Jindal a $1.1 billion budget surplus.
Though he ran as a fiscal conservative, Mr. Jindal saw the one-time surplus as a chance to pump cash into the state's dilapidated infrastructure. To that end, in a manic one-week spending spree, Mr. Jindal doled out $300 million to help fortify crumbling levees and rebuild eroding barrier islands. He allocated more than $500 million to repair the state's roads, bridges, ports and schools. He even found tens-of-millions to seed a biomedical research facility and pay down the state's looming pension obligations.
All this has been accomplished during special sessions of the legislature, where Jindal had broad control over the agenda. He will have much less say in the regular session, but he still has a mandate from the voters to clean things up. What he has accomplished to date is a very good start. Legislators would be wise to heed the popularity of what Jindal has done so far and not try to undo it. As the author of the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Douglas McCollam notes, Jindal appears to be in the right place at the right time to really make lasting, positive changes in Louisiana politics.