Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal is giving Louisiana citizens cause to believe in our state's future again. That's quite a feat, considering he doesn't take office until Jan. 14. Jindal, the 36-year-old Republican congressman from Kenner, defeated three major opponents in the Oct. 20 primary with 54 percent of the vote. His election alone is historic, and it generated favorable international headlines for Louisiana overnight. An Ivy League-educated Rhodes Scholar and son of immigrant parents from Punjab, India, Jindal is the nation's first Indian-American governor and the first person of color to head our state since the Reconstruction Era. His political mentor, former Gov. Mike Foster, describes him as highly intelligent, extremely hard working and 'very honest." That's a rare combination in any leader, but particularly in a Louisiana politician.
We welcome Jindal's energy and focus, but we also recognize that these are hard times for our state. 'Louisiana is the nation's poorest state, measured by per capita income; one of its unhealthiest; the worst in infant mortality; and the least educated," according to an Oct. 17 story in The New York Times. 'It is last in attracting new college-educated workers. Tens of thousands of people remain displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the police department in New Orleans still operates largely out of trailers, and neighborhoods are still trying to rebuild."
Fortunately for Louisiana, Jindal is a young man in a hurry. He has already made good on a campaign promise to create the 'sense of urgency and action" needed to attack our state's many problems. Just days after his election, Jindal set the tone for his administration by declaring an end to campaign acrimony, extending a hand to voters and elected officials who supported other candidates. 'The time for partisanship is over," he said. 'It doesn't matter if they are Republican, Democrat or independent, that's how I'm going to run my administration. We need to be Louisianans first."
Jindal and outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco have set the stage for a seamless transition. A Democrat, Blanco narrowly defeated Jindal in 2003 but chose not to run for re-election. 'She was extremely gracious," Jindal said of their latest post-election conversation. 'I know that we are going to have a very smooth transition." The two leaders discussed her recent trip to Washington to secure more federal funding for the Road Home program as well as federal commitments made to Louisiana post-Katrina, the congressman said. 'I intend to help her by calling on some of the congressional leadership as well," said Jindal, who plans to resign his own congressional seat in January, shortly before his inauguration.
Indeed, the fate of our state's recovery lies in Washington. Jindal received a congratulatory call from Republican President George W. Bush the morning after his election. He wisely wrangled an invitation to the White House to discuss the recovery; that meeting will occur before he takes office as governor. Jindal says he hopes to secure promises that Louisiana will not be required to put up 'an unreasonable amount" of money for $7 billion in flood control projects that the President has asked Congress to fund. 'Given the failure of the federal levees, given the status of the economy, we have to make sure [the White House] is flexible" on the state's share of funding the projects, Jindal said.
Jindal also kicked off a three-day 'thank-you" tour of the state. Along the way, he called for support for a special session on ethics reform " one of his main campaign promises " which hopefully will go a long way toward improving Louisiana's political image. Speaking of politics, Jindal pledged to stay out of several contentious statewide runoffs " and dozens of legislative showdowns as well " that remain on the Nov. 17 ballot.
All of these first steps are positive. Looking ahead, however, we wonder how Jindal will handle his campaign promises with regard to social issues. He is a social conservative who may feel compelled to appease the religious and political ideologues who helped him attain power. As governor, he must rise above narrow agendas and focus on meeting the broad, pressing demands that affect all of Louisiana: coastal erosion, hurricane recovery, health care, economic development, tax and spending reform, highways and infrastructure, Louisiana's accrued long-term debt and continued improvements in public education reform.
Jindal has always impressed us as a guy who prefers to take the high road when confronted by challenges and adversity, overcoming them with hard work, intelligence and honesty. Those are the values that got him where he is today. As he assumes his new role as governor, we would add to his list of values compassion and coalition building " reminding us always to focus on the best that we all have to offer. The governor-elect put it well: 'We need to be Louisianans first."