Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, steps out of the helicopter that has just taken him into the state’s oil-saturated marshlands. In khaki trousers and a long-sleeved blue shirt, he looks as neat as he did before the long trip that has left state and local officials beetroot red and sweating profusely.
He reads from a prepared statement lambasting the inability of BP and the federal government to contain the leak in the Gulf of Mexico, using words that have become catch phrases in recent days.
He calls the response “too little, too late’’; notes BP is the “responsible party”; and adds: “We need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable.’’
There is a little doubt the crisis could be a make or break event for Mr Jindal. Even before the leak he was among those who had sometimes – if fleetingly – been included among possible Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential ticket.
Mr Jindal was elected governor in 2007, becoming the state’s first elected non-white governor and the first US governor of Indian-American descent. His star waned after his performance was panned when he gave the Republican rebuttal to Barack Obama’s first address as president to a joint session of Congress
Now, he is saying what the people of Louisiana want to hear about a spill of national importance that could cause environmental damage for years to come. “We have been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late to stop the oil from hitting our coast,’’ he said.
Mr Jindal delivers the obligatory disclaimer about his domestic political ambitions. “I don’t really care about the politics,” Mr Jindal told reporters on the Louisiana beachfront this week. “The only thing I care about is protecting our coast.”
Ken Medlock, an energy expert at Rice University who has been analysing the political effect of the crisis, suggested there was a political opportunity for Mr Jindal. “As long as he remains proactive and receptive to what the local officials demand, he will win the hearts of the locals,’’ he said. He does not think the event will place Mr Jindal on centre stage in Washington yet, but added: “This is a story that is being written.’’
Some find Mr Jindal’s environmental activism at odds with his traditional pro-drilling stance. Steny Hoyer, Democratic House majority leader, this week issued a rebuke to Mr Jindal, saying he was once one of the “drill, baby, drill” proponents but was now blaming the government.
“Frankly, there are an awful lot of people who said this could never happen who are now saying, wringing their hands and saying, ‘Oh, why aren’t you doing something?’” Mr Hoyer said this week.
Others call Mr Jindal a hypocrite for demanding federal assistance after criticising the administration’s stimulus plan, even rejecting money earmarked for the state, calling the $787bn package “irresponsible’’.
But Mr Jindal has a history of hard work and success. A Rhodes scholar, he took charge of Louisiana’s health department, the state’s biggest bureaucracy, at the age of 24.
Devlin Roussel, of Reel Peace Charters, in Venice, says the governor presents a dilemma for competing politicians. “Jindal is a talented politician. He understands there is a game to be played, and he plays it.’’
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