It could have been worse. Suppose I'd been watching 'Gilligan's Island'?" Bobby Jindal says it with an easy smile. He should be smiling. He has a job he's wanted for a long time, if anything qualifies as a long time when you're only 36 years old. He's governor of Louisiana.
"I wanted this job because I know I can do something. It really is our last chance." Jindal and I are talking near the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans. We've spent the previous few hours at a Habitat for Humanity job site in the West Bank, a less publicized, but just as Katrina-devastated portion of the city.
"Five hundred thousand volunteers have come to Louisiana and New Orleans in the last few years. Habitat for Humanity is the single biggest home builder in the state over that time. It's great. We're thankful for the volunteers. But it's not right." Jindal is talking about billions in federal monies that are tied up in red tape. Tape that is strangling the rebirth of housing in the city. No housing, no people. No people, no city. Simple.
"We don't need any more money. What we need is some common sense. Common sense that says of the hundreds of millions in community development block grants, we should be able to build at least one new school. But under the terms of the funding, we have to build the school exactly where it was before the hurricane. We can't build it where the kids actually are. We have to build it where they used to be! Does that make sense?" There's just a touch of frustration in his voice. Give him time and there will be more. He's only been in office two weeks.
Bobby Jindal is the youngest Governor in Louisiana history, and the youngest sitting Governor in the nation. By all measures he's a "whiz kid". An Ivy League educated Rhodes Scholar. He was the head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 24. At 30 he was in the Bush administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services. He ran for Governor in 2003 and lost by four percentage points. In 2007 he won.
Oh, one other thing. He happens to be an Indian-American, the first non-white Governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction.
"So you're an All-American success story. Emblematic of the American Dream," I say to him as the deep baritone whistle of the Natchez river boat sounds in the background.
"I think my father is, "he says. "He came here with nothing more than a fifth grade education. Worked hard, got an education. My mother got an education. And he raised all us kids to think we could do anything we wanted."
"And now he's got a kid who is Governor," I say. He smiles. Nothing else needs to be said.
Okay, maybe one other thing. The whole "Bobby" thing. It is not the name his Indian parents gave him at birth. But growing up in Baton Rouge he had a favorite TV show--The Brady Bunch. One day when he was four, he came home from school and announced he had a "new" name---Bobby, after the littlest boy on the show.
"It just stuck," he smiles.
"MOA" will be in New Orleans the rest of the week getting ready for Mardi Gras. You can see the video versions of our adventures on Power Lunch on CNBC.
Let's see, when I was four my favorite show was, "Kookla, Fran and Ollie"... imagine, "Kookla On America", sings doesn't it?
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