Louisiana's governor-elect pledges to clean up state
KENNER, La. - Changing Louisiana's reputation for corruption would do more than just make over its image, Governor-elect Bobby Jindal said yesterday. It could help the state attract businesses and win federal aid for hurricane recovery.
A day after his historic election, the Republican US representative reaffirmed his campaign pledge to clean up the state, vowing to give Louisiana a fresh start. He has never talked about who or which agencies he thinks are corrupt. One of his first acts will be to call a special legislative session to reform ethics laws, he said.
Jindal, 36, will become the nation's first Indian-American governor when he takes office in January. The American-born son of Indian immigrants, he was making his second attempt to become Louisiana's first nonwhite governor since Reconstruction.
Jindal defeated 11 rivals with 54 percent of the vote in Saturday's election, drawing enough votes to avoid a runoff election next month. His nearest competitor in a field of 12 candidates was state Senator Walter J. Boasso, a Democrat, who had 18 percent.
"I think we're setting the bar too low when we say, 'Look, isn't it great that we haven't had a statewide elected official go to jail recently?' " Jindal said in an interview.
"The reality is there are a lot of practices that are accepted ways of doing business in Baton Rouge that are considered unethical in other parts of the country, that are considered illegal in other parts of the country," he said.
His two predecessors, Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Mike Foster, governed with no allegations of cronyism, but the state has long had a reputation for shady politics.
Four-term Governor Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, is serving prison time in a bribery and extortion case that involved the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. In the past decade, Louisiana has had an insurance commissioner and elections commissioner serve time in prison, and a litany of corruption cases are pending in New Orleans.
Jindal wants legislators to create new state laws requiring them to disclose their sources of income and their assets - a bill that failed to pass in the most recent legislative session - and to bar their family members from doing business with the state.
And while he acknowledges that some of the concerns are more about perception than reality, he said they can still harm the state's ability to attract businesses and its requests for aid to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Blanco, who defeated Jindal in 2003, decided months ago that she would not run for reelection. Her decision followed criticism of her performance after Katrina.
The governor-elect said he is not worried that in a state known for its brash and flashy politicians, he is seen as methodical.
"If I go down as one of the more boring but effective governors, I'll take that as a great compliment," he said at a news conference earlier yesterday. "Our people don't want to be amused by our politics anymore. We don't want to be entertained."
Just 32 during his first gubernatorial run, the Oxford-educated Jindal by then already had served as Louisiana's healthcare secretary, president of one of its university systems, and as an assistant health secretary under Bush. Foster tapped him to be state health secretary in 1996, when Jindal was only 24.
"My mom and dad came to this country in pursuit of the American dream," Jindal said at his victory party Saturday. "And guess what happened. They found the American dream to be alive and well right here in Louisiana."
In India, Jindal's family members celebrated with the traditional Punjabi folk dance, bhangra.
"We're very proud that he has reached such a high position in the United States," said Subhash Jindal, a cousin in the Jindal family's hometown in Maler Kotla in northern Punjab State.