Bobby Jindal to give Republican response to Obama addressFebruary 25th, 2009 - 1:26 am ICT by IANS
Washington, Feb 24 (IANS) Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been given the crucial role of delivering the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s address to the Congress, catapulting the 37-year-old Indian American into national spotlight.
Jindal, who gives his address Tuesday night, is being portrayed as the Republican rising star and as capable of helping reshape the party and jockeying for the 2012 presidential nomination. He is a a first-generation American born to Punjabi parents.
“The speech is very important. This is his coming-out party,” said G. Pearson Cross, head of the University of Louisiana’s political science department, who has observed Jindal’s political rise. “His speech will put a face on the name,” CNN quoted him as saying.
The Republican party, still reeling from the election beatings in 2006 and 2008, is looking to revamp itself by rebuilding from the states up and reaching out to young voters. At 37, the popular Louisiana governor embodies that mission, experts say.
“The job is very important in framing the Republican message really for the rest of the year,” said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, referring to the response speech Tuesday. “He’s one of the smartest policy minds in the country. He’s not perceived as a overtly political person.”
Being tapped for this prime-time speech, a job normally for congressional leaders, has helped to elevate Jindal’s standing in the party dominated by old pros, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, as well as personalities, such as Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The governor is a “textbook Republican” who is “scary smart,” Cross added.
And, having an accomplished minority figure represent your party’s message doesn’t hurt, he said.
“The Republican Party very strongly wants to have a new look,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re not just a party of old white guys’ and he’s part of that appeal.”
Born Piyush Jindal in Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge, he called winning his first election in 2004 to the U.S. House of Representatives “the ultimate embodiment of the American dream.” He was only 33.
By age 28, the former Rhodes Scholar had already served in three high-profile jobs, including head of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals and president of the University of Louisiana system.
Aside from his rapidly paced career moves, his ethnic background and the making of his American identity have been points of interest. Jindal, while his legal name remains Piyush, publicly goes by “Bobby” — a nickname he reportedly picked up from the youngest “Brady Bunch” character as a preschooler. A Hindu by birth, he converted to Catholicism after his grandfather’s death.
Jindal, in a statement, said he is looking forward to hearing Obama’s address and that he’s honored to be delivering the Republican response immediately following the president’s speech.
The governor has been a vocal conservative critic of the stimulus package, highlighting what he considers waste at a White House meeting with governors on Monday. Jindal spoke to a large group of reporters after the session Monday, noting items such as $1 billion in added spending for the national census and $50 million in federal spending for the arts.
It’s “not apparent to me why they had to be in the stimulus package,” said Jindal, while adding that his fellow Republican governors nevertheless wanted to give Obama “every opportunity” to succeed in sparking an economic recovery.
Jindal has announced plans to reject $100 million of stimulus funding for his state, saying it would require Louisiana to change its unemployment laws. Several other governors have expressed similar concerns.
Jindal made history in 2007 when, at 36, he was elected the nation’s first Indian-American governor and the youngest in office. And he drew major national attention last year when he was widely thought by pundits to be on then-Republican presidential John McCain’s short list for vice president.
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