Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

New La. governor targets ethics

His special legislative session seeks to better the state's image.

KENNER, La. - In a state known for its brash politicians, Bobby Jindal's methodical, wonkish style is strikingly different - and his first plan of attack as Louisiana's governor-elect strikes at the heart of the state's reputation for cronyism and corruption.

A day after his historic win in a field of a dozen candidates for governor, the Republican congressman pressed ahead with his campaign pledge to clean up the state's image. He said one of his first acts would be to call a special legislative session to reform ethics laws.

"If I go down as one of the more boring but effective governors, I'll take that as a great compliment," Jindal said yesterday at a news conference. "Our people don't want to be amused by our politics anymore. We don't want to be entertained."

He pledged to rid the state of those "feeding at the public trough," revisiting a campaign theme.

"They can either go quietly or they can go loudly, but either way, they will go," he said.

Jindal won outright in the state's open primary election, finishing atop the slate of candidates with 54 percent of the vote and avoiding the need for a November runoff election.

His nearest competitors were Democrat Walter Boasso with 17 percent, independent John Georges with 14 percent, and Democrat Foster Campbell with 13 percent. Eight other candidates divided the rest of the votes.

The newly elected governor, who will take office in January, becomes Louisiana's first nonwhite governor since Reconstruction and the nation's first Indian American chief executive.

He is taking the victory as a sign of support for the chief item on which he ran, a fight against corruption - although he never said which people or which agencies he were corrupt.

His two predecessors, Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Mike Foster, governed with no allegations of cronyism, but the state has a well-earned reputation for shady politics.

Four-term Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards is serving prison time in a bribery and extortion case involving the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. In the last decade, a Louisiana insurance commissioner and elections commissioner have served time in jail, and a litany of corruption cases are pending in New Orleans.

The Oxford-educated Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar who became Louisiana's health secretary at age 24, had lost the governor's race four years ago to Blanco. He won a congressional seat in conservative suburban New Orleans a year later but was widely believed to have his eye on the governor's mansion.

Blanco opted not to run for reelection after she was widely blamed for the state's slow response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Political analysts said Jindal built up support as a sort of "buyer's remorse" from people who voted for Blanco last time and had second thoughts about that decision.

"I think the Jindal camp, almost explicitly, [wanted] to cast it this way: 'If you were able to revote, who would you vote for?' " said Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist.

But the two multimillionaires in the race - Boasso, a state senator from St. Bernard Parish, and Georges, a New Orleans-area businessman - poured millions of their own dollars into their campaigns to try to prevent Jindal's victory.

Campbell, a public service commissioner from Bossier Parish, had less money but ran on a singular plan: scrapping the state income tax on businesses and individuals, and levying a new tax on oil and gas processed in Louisiana.

The race was one of the highest-spending in Louisiana history. Jindal alone raised $11 million, and Georges poured about $10 million of his personal wealth into his campaign war chest, while Boasso plugged in nearly $5 million of his own cash.

In India, Jindal's family members were proud, and said they were going to celebrate with the traditional Punjabi folk dance called bhangra.

"We're very proud that he has reached such a high position in the United States," said Subhash Jindal, a cousin who runs a pharmacy in the Jindal family's hometown in Maler Kotla in northern Punjab state.

Bobby Jindal said: "My mom and dad came to this country in pursuit of the American dream. And guess what happened? They found the American dream to be alive and well right here in Louisiana."