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Do-It-Yourself Government: An Interview with Governor Bobby Jindal

November 17–21, 2014   |   Vol. 121, Programs 36–40

What leads a person to serve in their community? Join us this week on Home School Heartbeat as our guest, Governor Bobby Jindal, explains how his personal heroes inspired him to get involved in state government.

“I think that some point, in all of our lives, we can either just sit there on the couch and criticize and say things should be better, or we can roll up our sleeves and get involved[.]” — Bobby Jindal

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What leads a person to serve in their community? Tune in now as our guest, Governor Bobby Jindal, talks about how his personal heroes inspired him to get involved in state government. That’s today on Home School Heartbeat!

Mike Farris: This week I have the privilege of talking to a champion of liberty and a really good friend of mine for a long time, Governor Bobby Jindal. Welcome to the program!

Governor Jindal: Mike, it’s such an honor and a privilege to be on the air with you, to be talking with you. And even before we start, I just want to thank you. I know for so many years you’ve dedicated your life to fighting for liberty and for families all across this country and for parents. Thank you for your dedication to that very important cause.

Mike: That’s very kind of you and I’ll pay you next time I see you. Thanks so much for your service as well. You’ve been involved in public service since 1996. Now you’re halfway through your second term as governor of Louisiana. What motivated you to take on the very daunting challenge of governing?

Jindal: You know, I was born and raised in Louisiana. I love my home state, and my wife and I now have three beautiful children. The reason I ran for public office in the first place was—I’d never run for office, I’d never been in politics, it wasn’t what I thought I was going to do when I was a child thinking about what I wanted to be when I grow up. The reason I ran for office in the first place, my first election, I tried to run for governor, was I was worried about the direction of my state. I looked around at my friends, the ones that I’d grown up with, and too many of them had to leave the state, they couldn’t find the opportunities to pursue their dreams, to get a great career, to raise their families, and I wanted to be a part of fixing that.

You know, I think that some point, in all of our lives, we can either just sit there on the couch and criticize and say things should be better, or we can roll up our sleeves and get involved. And I said, “You know what, it’s time for me to stop complaining about it and try to fix it!” I’d never done a poll, never raised a dollar, nobody thought we had a chance, but it was just one of those things that Supriya and I prayed about it, we thought long and hard about it, quit a great job, and decided that this was what I was being called to do.

And it’s been—now that I reflect back on the decision to do that, and I had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends at this start in my life—I look back and I just think, God’s got an amazing plan for each and every one of us and it doesn’t always make sense to us. There are things, yeah, I lost that first election and I ended up rebounding after that. But the amazing news that if we have faith in Him, if we have trust and confidence in Him, His plans for us are greater than anything we can imagine for ourselves.

Mike: Bobby, who are some of your personal heroes or mentors?

Jindal: Well, look, the most obvious, the most important person to start with is Jesus Christ, and I think it’s obvious we all look to the risen Lord as our, not only as our Savior, but as our inspiration, our role model. And after that obvious choice, if I had to pick another, I’d have to say I’d start with my father. He has lived the American dream. And I didn’t appreciate this as a child listening to his stories and his experiences.

My dad is one of nine kids. He grew up in a house without running water, without electricity. He was the only one that got any kind of an education going beyond the fifth grade. (My grandparents were illiterate.) And he and my mom, they came halfway across the world. They moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana nearly fifty years ago so that my mom could study at LSU. They came here because of the American dream. And so I just look at the sacrifices he’s made. I think of all the things he’s overcome. And I’ll be honest—I didn’t appreciate hearing all these stories when I was a little boy. Day after day you’d have to hear about these things and, Mark Twain said, “The older you get the smarter your parents become.” Now that I’m raising, with my wife, our three kids, I understand what he’s trying to teach us.

And here’s the amazing thing about their story. They get to Baton Rouge. They don’t have any money, so my dad does what comes naturally. They’re in married student housing, my mom’s going to school. He opens the Yellow Pages up and he just starts calling company after company looking for a job. And then finally, I don’t know how long it took him, finally some guy, sight unseen, says, “I’ll hire you, you can start work Monday morning at a railroad company.” And I love what my dad tells him, Mike. He’s got so much enthusiasm, he tells this new boss he hasn’t even met yet, he goes, “Great! I don’t have a driver’s license, I don’t have a car,” he tells his new boss, “You’re gonna have to pick me up on the way to work Monday morning.” And his boss did that! He was so taken! He was so, this guy wanted to work so badly, he said, “Of course I’ll do that!”

And then six months later, I was born at the same hospital where two of our kids would be born much later, at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. My parents’ insurance didn’t cover me; I was a preexisting condition. What I love about this story is that they didn’t sign up for a government program, they didn’t sign a bunch of paperwork. He just shook hands with the doctor and promised to send him a check every month until he paid that bill in full. It was a simpler time. That’s just what you did. It’s just two guys shaking hands in a hospital. You know, I tease my dad about that. I say, “I don’t know how you pay for a baby on layway. If you miss the payment, do they repossess the baby? What do they do? What recourse do they have?” He goes, “That’s just how they did things. You would never miss a payment, you know? That was just how you took care of your family!”

And so my dad to me is a great role model, a great hero. I’m fortunate, you know; my brother and I grew up in a family where we knew we were loved every day, and sometimes that love included discipline. I didn’t always appreciate what my dad was doing for us when I was a child. But I appreciate him a lot more now.

Mike: Governor Jindal, when you were recently asked about what you thought was the most pressing issue facing Louisiana, you said education reform. What aspects of education need to be reformed?

Jindal: Well, look. There are two things we absolutely focused on here in Louisiana. And the first was that we wanted the dollar to follow the child, instead of making the child follow the dollar. Now what does that really mean? That means we trust parents to be the best people in the world—they’re their kids’ first and most important educators—we trust parents to be the best people in the world to make the right decisions about their children’s education. Seems like a pretty simple concept, but it’s profound when it comes to policy changes.

So what happened in our state? There was a massive outcry from those on the Left. One teacher’s union official here in Louisiana actually said, had the audacity to say, “Parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their kids.” And Mike, that’s such an offensive statement. I met with a group of moms the next day, and they said to me, they said, “Look, governor, we make choices for our kids every day. We know the needs of our kids better than the bureaucrats in Baton Rouge and Washington D.C.” But make no mistake about it, that’s what this argument is really about. And the Left—look, they don’t, they don’t think we’re smart enough to decide whether we should be drinking a Big Gulp; they don’t think we’re smart enough to exercise our 2nd Amendment rights; they don’t think we’re smart enough to have religious liberty; they don’t think we’re smart enough to choose the schools for our children, or choose how our children should be educated.

The reality is this: the Left thinks they know how to live our lives better than we do. And so we said, we’re going to fight hard; whether a parent decides to homeschool, whether they decide to do a Christian school, or a public school, or a dual-enrollment program, or an online program, we want to empower parents. And as we fought hard to get that done, and you see it in all across the state and I tell folks, “Look, every child learns differently. Every parent will make the best decision for their children.” We’ve seen tremendous growth in a number of choice programs.

The second thing we fought for was in our public schools, we want to make sure that we had good teachers. That means we’re actually hiring and evaluating and compensating teachers not just based on how long they’re there, but how effective they are, how well students are doing. The results are, today, we’ve got some of the best outcomes that we’ve seen in our state in a very, very long time. We’re seeing tremendous growth!

But the most important thing we have fought for is empowering parents. And you’d think that would be a pretty simple, pretty commonsensical concept. Unfortunately there are too many people on the Left all across this country that simply don’t trust families to make their own decisions.

Mike: Well, you are right on in saying that parents and teachers are the key to excellent education, and when parents are excluded from that process, teachers can’t be at their best either, so being a teamwork in a public school context is a great thing.

Governor, you’ve taken a strong stand against the Common Core recently. How has the Common Core affected education in Louisiana?

Governor Jindal: Mike, this is a very important battle, not only in Louisiana but for our entire country. The reason I’ve been so opposed to Common Core is—look, this started out as supposed to be a bottoms-up approach to setting high standards in our schools. The states were supposed to be able to make these decisions. I’m all for high standards. I’m all for empowering locals to decide what gets taught in their schools.

What worries me is this has now become an excuse for the federal takeover of local curriculum. That was never intended under the Constitution, never intended on the 10th Amendment, and it’s certainly not intended under existing federal law that says explicitly, “The federal government should not be making local curriculum decisions.”

What you’re seeing now is you’re seeing more and more teachers are realizing that this Common Core is a mistake. You’re seeing more and more parents frustrated as they look at the reading lists, as they look at their children’s math homework. They’re realizing this is not what they were told it was going to be. And so we’ve issued executive orders, we’ve gone to court, and we’re continuing to fight.

The challenge we’ve got is, you’ve got a bunch of elites who think, again, that they know better than us. They think this top-down federal approach—you look at what Arne Duncan is doing. He’s going out there saying, “If you want No Child Left Behind waivers, if you want Race to the Top money in previous years, if you don’t want your funding cut,” he threatened Oklahoma, he says, “well, you better go towards Common Core.”

This was never supposed to be about the federal government telling our local schools what they were supposed to teach, what kind of curriculum they have to have. I’m for rigor, I’m for standards. I’m for making sure our kids can compete with anybody in the country, in the world. This is not the right way to do it. I would encourage any parent that’s on the fence or undecided about this, go and look at the math they’re trying to teach our kids today. It’s the “new new math,” is what I call it. Or go and look at the reading list and—you know, look, I’ve got elementary school age children. And I looked at them, I worked with them on some of these math sets, and it is frustrating to them. They can get the right answer, but they don’t understand why they have to do it this particular way, and it’s not common sense to them.

So to me this is a huge, another example of the huge overreach by the federal government and it’s just another example. You had Obamacare where they’re trying to put bureaucrats between us and our doctors. You had the EPA trying to strangle our economy. You’ve got the federal government getting larger and larger, more and more intrusive. This is just the most recent example.

Mike: Governor, you are known as an advocate for cutting government spending. What changes have you been able to implement in Louisiana on that score in the last six years?

Jindal: Mike, you’re exactly right. Here in Louisiana we’ve cut our state budget by about 26%; that means a 9 billion dollar reduction. We’ve got 28,000 fewer state government jobs; that means fewer state employees, government employees, than we’ve had in decades. The result of that has been a tremendous growth in our private sector economy. Today in Louisiana we’ve got more people working than ever before, earning more money than ever before. We reversed decades of out-migration. We get fifty billion dollars and eighty thousand new jobs coming into our state.

But it started with discipline. At the beginning of my first year as governor, I said very clearly, “I will not raise any taxes as long as I’m governor.” I said, “I will veto any tax increase that gets to my desk. I’ll fight any tax increase in the legislature.” And that forced the legislature—I had a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate my first term, and we switched them both to Republican majorities my second term—but it forced even the Democrats as well as the Republicans in the legislature to work with us to cut government, wasteful government spending.

What you find is that government grows and grows. And unfortunately in DC, government spending has grown under Democratic leadership; it has grown under Republican leadership; it’s now consuming more and more of our economy. You look at seventeen trillion dollars of debt! All we are doing right now is mortgaging our children’s future. We are leaving them the bill to pay, which is incredibly irresponsible. We must not become the first generation that mortgages our children’s future, that leaves fewer opportunities than we inherited from our parents—but if we don’t change course in DC that’s what’s going to happen.

And here’s the frustrating thing! Even the Republicans and the Democrats, too many of those “smart people” in DC, tell you, Mike, “Well, you just can’t change this.” They’ll tell you, “You can slow down the growth, maybe, of spending. But you can’t cut spending. You can’t cut the number of federal employees. You can’t repeal Obamacare.” And that’s ridiculous! We have got to live within our means. Families have to do it every day. Businesses have to do it every day. Local government has to do it every day. Our federal government needs to do it as well.

Mike: Amen to that!

Bobby, I meet a lot of homeschoolers who are interested in getting involved in state government. What advice do you have for them?

Jindal: Well first of all, I would strongly encourage them to do so. I’ve been very, very blessed and fortunate to see homeschoolers come volunteer in my campaigns, as well as other campaigns, and they’re a tremendous asset and they do a phenomenal job.

Here’s the most important thing I think that I would say: They have to have courage in their convictions. They’re growing up in a world much, much more secular than the world in which their parents grew up—and that’s the honest truth. And as they get involved in elections, in government, they’re going to find that not everybody shares our views, and not everybody shares our faith, and not everybody shares our worldview; and some folks will try to convince them to turn their backs on their convictions. Some folks will try to ridicule them, or try to encourage them to abandon their beliefs.

God doesn’t call us to conform to the world. I think right now, more than ever before, America, our society, our world needs us to be salt and light in the world. One of my favorite verses, Mike, is where Jesus tells us, “If you’re not embarrassed of me when you’re on earth, I won’t be embarrassed of you when you come to my Father’s house up above. If you don’t deny me here on earth, I won’t deny you up above.” And there are two parts to that verse. One is that we worship a faithful God. He is telling us, “I’m going to be faithful to you for all of eternity.” The other part of that phrase, however, is He is telling us (and He tells us elsewhere in the Bible) that we’re going to be rejected, we’re going to be called foolish in the world’s eyes, we’re going to be tempted to deny Him by the world. And He predicts that for us in Scripture. He tells us that’s what’s going to happen. I absolutely guarantee it’s going to happen. But I don’t think that should discourage our kids from going out there and getting involved—I think it should encourage them. It gives them one more reason why they need to get out there and be involved in this process and help shape the political process.

So I’m such a believer that the people closest to our children know what’s best—which means their parents—and I want to thank the parents who’ve given their children such a great gift by investing their time in their children. That’s one of the greatest gifts of love that a parent can make. It’s much more important than the stuff you buy for your kids. So I strongly encourage them to get involved. I tell them now more than ever the world needs them to be salt and light, now more than ever the world needs them to make a difference.

Mike: Bobby, when homeschoolers look at potential presidential candidates, one of the things they want to know is what do you know about homeschooling? What experience, what exposure you’ve had. And we’ll talk about your views of homeschooling in a minute, but just tell us: Who do you know that’s been homeschooled, and what’s your relationship, and how have you been exposed?

Jindal: One of the first formative experiences for me—one of my closest friends, he’s served in a number of capacities for me, both as chief of staff, as a campaign manager, but more importantly, just a close friend—has been Timmy Teepell. He himself has been homeschooled. His wife was homeschooled as well, Sarah. Timmy grew up here in Louisiana; Sarah grew up in Virginia, one of several children. And both their parents had made that decision.

So as Timmy got more involved with my campaigns and my different administrations, whether it was in Congress or here at the state level, I got to know him well. His younger brother Taylor has also worked for me and with me; we’ve spent quite a bit of time. And through his family, as well as through Sarah’s family, we’ve come to meet and know a lot of homeschool children. Many of them have volunteered on our campaigns. Many of them come to work in our administration. We’ve got several that work at many different levels.

We’ve had homeschooled children come and work in our communications shop, in our policy shop, in all different offices here in state government as well as when I was in DC. Here, and every year, I’ve been blessed to be able to participate. We’ve got a number of different projects here, where homeschool children in Louisiana will come to the state capitol and take the time to meet with their leaders and hear about the issues of the day and ask good questions.

Here’s the thing that I always walk away with—here’s been my takeaway experience from this. One: It certainly reinforces my belief that parents are the best and first educators and know what’s best for their children. But here’s the second thing: I always tell people, do you ever get cynical or discouraged about Americans? Sometimes it’s easy to think, “Well, you know, things are getting rough and things are tough out there.” I say, “Go meet, go meet some of these students.” Not only are they—and I don’t want to stereotype or speak in general terms—but at least, disproportionally, the kids I’ve met (and I’m old enough that I can call them kids), they are polite. They are respectful. They are well-informed. They know the foundations of our western civilization. They ask incredibly good, thoughtful, incisive questions.

And I tell you, you meet young people like that and it does give you hope, because they know how to speak to adults, they know how to handle themselves, they are dedicated to their studies. They are well-grounded in the classics. They are thoughtful, they think for themselves. And I just think, not only as a governor but as, you know, as a parent, I look at these students, I look at these kids, and I think, these are future leaders. These are going to be the future men and women who run businesses and help to lead our government and will be doing a number of instrumental, critical things in our society.

So I’m very grateful. Every time I meet with a group of homeschoolers or an individual who’s been homeschooled, I thank their parents. I know it’s a sacrifice, I know it’s a gift of time and love. So I’m very, very grateful that parents are willing to make this choice. And I also know there are some parts of this country, unfortunately, where they are scorned, where they are looked down upon, where they are discriminated against, and so I also applaud them for their faith. Ironically, Timmy and his mom had gotten him involved in politics at a young age and got involved in activism. And as you know, Mike, a lot of it started around homeschooling issues. Brenda was, Brenda Teepell was very involved here in Louisiana, and that’s what got her son, now, he’s grown up into politics and that’s how he spends his career. It really started with homeschooling issues here in Louisiana!

Mike: It did indeed, and so—well, Bobby, I know that the atmosphere, the legal and political atmosphere for homeschooling in Louisiana is excellent.

If God leads and the people agree with God’s leading and you end up being the President of the United States, what do you think is the right approach for the federal government, relative to homeschooling?

Jindal: You know—well, first of all, thank you for your description of what’s happening here in Louisiana. I’d start by saying, before we get to the federal government, here in Louisiana, even in a state where we’ve worked very hard to make it a friendly place for homeschoolers, their families, their students, their children, we still find resistance. And so for example, we’ve got an entity that governs high school athletics here that’s been very resistant, despite state law instructing them—we’ve passed state laws, and we just passed another one this year to reinforce it!—they’ve been very, very reluctant to allow children that are homeschooled to participate in extracurricular activities. It’s really discrimination; it’s the only way to describe it. And so even in a state like Louisiana, we’ve had to fight hard.

At the federal level? On one hand, I don’t want to see a large federal role in education. That has primarily been a local and state issue. But I think what the federal government can do is fight against discrimination, and that it’s an appropriate federal role to say, “Look, these are our children. These sons and daughters have every right. We want them to be able to participate, whether it’s in extracurricular activities. We don’t want them to be discriminated against.”

And I think you’re beginning—we’re not quite where we need to be yet, but you’re beginning to see more institutions, and I think where the federal government can help is, for example, you’re beginning to see more higher education and other institutions realize these are great students! These are great kids, and these are kids we should be recruiting! You’re seeing more companies realize, hey, these are kids that, this is a great resource for us. I think there are things that the federal government can do to make sure that children that are homeschooled are eligible for the scholarships that are out there, are eligible for extracurricular activities out there, are eligible to participate fully in all that our society has to offer.

So we’ve made great progress. We’ve done things like the tax deduction and other things here in Louisiana, and I know that many other states have done other things as well. We mustn’t forget, though, there are still folks that resist, and there are still folks that, they like that monopoly. They don’t like the idea that there are different ways to educate our children. And you see even in a state like Louisiana, the bureaucrats are still trying to keep some of these kids off the sports fields. At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at adults and say, “Why in the world do you want to tell this child they can’t participate? How in the world does that benefit anybody to deny this child a chance to just compete and participate?” We should all want that to happen.

Mike: Well said. I know that your time is not endless, so I’m going to ask you just one last question. It’s on a subject you mentioned earlier, and that is, we’re leaving our kids basically with a big debt that they’re going to have to pay; we’re mortgaging their future. The federal budget—I had a meeting with speaker of the House of Virginia Legislature this last week. And he told me that if the federal interest rate, the rate of interest we pay on the national debt, rises to the reasonably predictable level of 5%, that (with that adjustment to the current trajectory) in the year 2020, 94% of the federal spending will go for interest on the national debt and the entitlement programs—and that all the military spending, all other forms of federal spending, will be limited to 6% of the current budget formulas. What in the world can we do about something like that?

Jindal: Well, first of all, your perspective is exactly right. And to the Left, the answer is easy: they’ll just print more money. When they can’t do that anymore, they’ll just raise more taxes. But obviously we know that’s not sustainable. This only way I think this changes is if we make structural changes in DC. I’m a conservative. I’m a Republican. I’d love to see more Republicans elected in DC. But that’s not going to be enough to fix things. We’ve had Republican majorities before and the deficit continues to grow.

The types of structural changes we need? We need a balanced budget amendment in the Constitution; it’s just common sense. You don’t spend more than you take in. Secondly, we need a supermajority vote before they ever raise any of our taxes in Congress. Third, we need to have a requirement that the federal spending doesn’t grow faster than the private sector economy—and again, it should take a supermajority before they can spend more quickly than the rest of the economy is growing. Fourth, we need term limits on our members of Congress so they’re not there forever, they’re not career politicians. The Founding Fathers never intended for this to be a permanent career. They expected the farmers, the businesspeople, the folks to leave their companies, leave their jobs, leave their farms, go serve us part-time in the nation’s capital, and then come back home and live under the same laws that they were passing for the rest of us. They didn’t expect this permanent separate governing class that lives with their own perks, their own rules, and then go on and become wealthy lobbyists.

Now, people will tell you that all these things—and by the way, not only term limits, I think we need a part-time Congress as well; it wasn’t that long ago it was a part-time job, so you don’t have this ever-growing government—people will tell you these are crazy ideas. Mike, all of these ideas are in practice in Louisiana! It’s one of the reasons we’ve reduced our state budget while growing our private sector economy.

I would add one more idea out there that I don’t think will go very far in Congress. But in many legislatures, like Louisiana, we pay our guys, our men and women in the legislature on a per diem base instead of an annual salary. They get a per diem when they’re in session. I think we should move Congress to a per diem payment—but we should pay them for every day they stay outside of DC rather than for every day they go to DC. You know, Mark Twain said “You wallet’s safest when the legislature’s not in session.” I think that would be the best change you could make. But I don’t know that they’d let us do that in DC.

But on a more serious point, the only way we’re going to balance our budget is through structural changes. Otherwise it doesn’t matter who we elect, it seems; as soon as they get to DC they keep spending more of our money. So we need structural changes to reign in that spending.

Mike: I don’t know if you’re aware, but I’m leading the project to try to call a Convention of States to make some of these structural changes. And we passed applications for that purpose in Georgia, in Florida, and in Alaska last year. And we’re trying to call an Article 5 convention to make the term limits, and balance budget, and spending restrictions and regulatory restrictions. Have you taken any position on these Article 5 applications?

Jindal: We have! We actually had a resolution and we had it here in Louisiana. We had some folks, legislators, offering a resolution on the balanced budget amendment. I’m absolutely in favor of that. I’d love to look at some of these other ideas. We do need regulatory restrictions. I think if any of these regulations have a cost above a certain amount, they need to go back for a vote by Congress; we can’t have these unelected bureaucrats just growing the size and the expense and the scope of the federal government with no accountability. We absolutely need term limits. So I’m all in favor; if they won’t do it themselves in DC, the states need to force them, and we need to get these things done. So we were very supportive here in the legislature.

Again in Louisiana, I know that there have been resolutions introduced on the balanced budget amendment in particular. But absolutely, I’m in favor of that concept. I’d like them to do it themselves. I’d like our elected leaders to vote on these amendments. And people forget, in the ‘90s we came within a vote in the Senate of getting the budget amendment done. But unfortunately, too many of our leaders now in DC in both parties say, “Ah, you just can’t do this.” So I applaud you for trying to do it at the state level, because at some point, we know that this is not sustainable. As you said, the interest rates are going to go up, the Chinese are not going to keep lending us money to keep growing our government, and it’s up to us.

Our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, said, “Freedom is one generation away from extinction.” Basically he was saying that every generation has to choose for itself to renew these principles of freedom. We’re blessed to live in the greatest country in the world. But it is up to us to choose to renew those principles of freedom so our children have that same blessing, that same opportunity. And I think that time is coming upon us.

Mike: Amen and thank you so much for your time. I know our members and listeners and friends are going love listening to this conversation. Thank you so much, Bobby.

Jindal: Thanks, Mike.

Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal is currently serving his second term as governor of Louisiana. He graduated with honors in biology and public policy from Brown University and then completed studies in political science as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Bobby has worked as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, as executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, and as president of the University of Louisiana System. He was also appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2004, Bobby was elected to the 109th United States Congress representing the First District of Louisiana and was re-elected to Congress in 2006. As a U.S. representative, Bobby served on a number of committees, including the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Bobby and his wife Supriya reside in Louisiana and are the proud parents of three children.

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