Bobby Jindal mirrors immigrant aspiration
As Bobby Jindal prepares for Washington to take his place in Congress, in many ways the "wonder-boy" of Punjabi heritage, born and brought up in Louisiana, presents the amalgam that goes to make this country.
It symbolises the opportunity every Indian American and perhaps every immigrant, aspires to. He broke racial barriers in a district that is majority white and conservative.
His grassroots campaign that got volunteers to walk miles and miles and knock on thousands of doors, was a textbook example of taking nothing for granted. And he is taking nothing for granted going to Washington. By the end of his campaign, Jindal began giving to the Republican National Committee ($25,000) and to the Louisiana Republican Party ($12,500).
And he also gave some $125,000 to 45 Republican candidates around the country building his support base in the Capitol. "We're doing this so when the time comes, we can go to those same colleagues and explain what issues are important for Louisiana," Jindal told New Orleans Times Picayune.
As predicted by virtually all pollsters, analysts and talking-heads, Jindal, 33, made history Nov 2 by winning a seat to the House of Representatives from Louisiana's 1st District in a landslide victory. Now he is busy thanking his constituents and key supporters, calling Republican bigwigs, and making sure to smooth his way once in Washington.
The fast-talking Jindal, who last year narrowly lost the race for Louisiana governor, bounced back to win a whopping 78 percent of the vote in this largely conservative district, avoiding a run-off on Dec 4 by a wide margin.
Jindal left his opponents biting the dust in the Cajun state to come into the US House nearly 50 years after Dalip Singh Saund made it there from California back in 1956 as the first Indian American in Congress.
Jindal hardly mirrors the usual junior legislator on the Hill. Coming out of an exultant victory, he is tackling the nitty-gritty of going to Washington - selecting the staff for the home base in Lousiana and his office on Capitol Hill, keeping his lines to powerful GOP legislators active to adequately fill the space that Senator John Vitter, a senior Republican Congressman vacated in the House to win the Senatorial seat.
"The point of all these activities, even before the election, was to try to get the most impact for the district once I get in office," Jindal told Picayune. Among those who called him with congratulations, was House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Jindal is an old hand in Washington. Not for him some lowly internships or even White House Fellowships. He started in the capital near the top, dealing with controversial national issues like medicare and health policy; his skill was recognized by no less than the president of the country; and he returns in a powerful position not just because he won so handily but because he gathered such a huge campaign war-chest, more than $2 million, that by the end of the race, he was contributing to other tighter Republican races around the country.
According to Federal Election Commission data, Jindal received exactly $2.13 million, of which $1.77 million came in individual contributions. Jindal ended his campaign with cash in hand of $1.04 million as of mid-October 2004, a comfortable position to be in going to Washington.
Now Indian Americans look to see what critical committee assignments the rookie legislator will get, though it is almost assured he will have a say in health matters with a background as policy advisor to the Bush administration and assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services till recently.
But Jindal has to answer to his Louisiana constituents because he will have to return two years from now to ask them to re-elect him. On this count, his earlier race for governor gave him an opportunity to flush out his plans to his constituents on what he wanted for his state. Now he has the obligation to bring home the bacon.