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Bobby Jindal resurrected: Nothing like environmental crisis in Louisiana to make or break political career

May 26, 2010 | 10:26 am

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, and Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser speak while sailing near an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana, May 23, 2010. jpg

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been a disaster for the the region's ecosystems and ocean wildlife, a political minefield for President Obama and a potentially deadly blow to oil giant BP's future.

But the catastrophe has been a blessing for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a political opening to showcase a vigorous and compassionate activism as he fights the forces of corporate evil and government ineptitude. And he has used it deftly. The governor is briefed regularly on the fine points of the effort to cap the spill, huddles frequently with visiting federal officials, and often heads out to sea to inspect the coming environmental and economic threat to his state. If anyone has been keeping his boot on the throat of BP, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged, it's not the Obama White House but the Jindal administration.

For Jindal, a 38-year-old Republican and Louisiana native whose parents immigrated from India, the kudos he's hearing now must seem in sharp contrast to the boos that greeted his rebuttal to President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2009. Haunted by the disastrous performance of Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin after Hurricane Katrina, Jindal has become the most visible critic of Obama's strategy to deferring to BP, asking aloud the question that many Americans are wondering, "When will the federal government finally do something?"

In the process, Jindal has annoyed both parties -- Republicans are worried he's coming down too hard on oil companies, Democrats complain that he's unfairly attacking the president -- and endeared himself to millions nationally.

“He didn’t give the best speech of his life but, hey, his political career is still on the rise,” Louisiana Republican Chairman Roger Villere told Politico, adding, "He’s got real leadership capabilities. He’s got a brain that’s unparalleled in Louisiana.”

Louisiana is a wonderful state for politics -- full of larger-than-life characters, such as the populist Huey Long, called the Kingfish, and former Gov. Edwin Edwards, now 83 and serving a 10-year prison term after his conviction for corruption. But if Jindal is the smartest governor the state has ever produced, well, maybe that's damning with faint praise.

--Johanna Neuman

Photo: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser tour an island in Barataria Bay on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press

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