Ray Nagin's election as mayor of New Orleans has given a lot of hope to business folks across the state as they look toward the governor's race later this year. They're hoping a new face will emerge from the sidelines and galvanize the business community -- and the electorate -- as Nagin did here.
Several would-be candidates on the Republican side appear to be vying for that mantle: former Health Secretary Bobby Jindal and former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle. Like Nagin, neither has held elective office, and both carry reform credentials. Both also have the potential to ignite their supporters.
As of press time, neither Jindal nor Kyle had formally declared his candidacy yet, though Kyle was expected to make his announcement early this week. Both have been actively testing the waters and lining up potential support. Both are said to be getting lots of encouragement, although possibly for very different reasons.
Jindal, 32, is the state's No. 1 whiz kid, and his supporters hope to lure him back home to Louisiana. He moved to Washington several years ago to help President George W. Bush formulate his health care policies; he reports directly to the prez. Bush lured Jindal away after the young secretary overhauled Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals during Foster's first term.
Kyle, 65, has been the state's No. 1 corruption investigator for years. No doubt some of the early encouragement he received came from folks who want him out of the auditor's job. His audits of various state and local agencies have launched criminal investigations, but his take-no-prisoners style has earned him some powerful enemies. He can't be bought, but some wonder if he's being stroked into the race (he is said to have a big ego).
Right now it's impossible to say which, if either, of these men will be the Ray Nagin of the governor's race. The only thing that's certain is that a lot of folks aren't happy with the field as it is -- there are no new faces among the declared candidates. In this first governor's race of the new millennium, many believe Louisiana needs a new type of candidate, one who will change the electoral and governmental paradigm the way Nagin has done in New Orleans.
Could Bobby Jindal or Dan Kyle be that candidate?
Jindal is the darling of the Foster crowd, but also of many traditional Republicans and even portions of the Religious Right. He's probably the one person who could get Gov. Warbucks' support without suffocating under his baggage. All the same, if Foster really wants to help Jindal, he should do it as quietly as possible. The one thing that's clear after talking to Jindal is that he's no Mike Foster. That's a good thing. He's extremely bright, energetic, articulate and personable. "He has a plan," says one early supporter, "not an agenda."
Kyle has been a darling of the media since taking the auditor's job in 1989 because of his boldness in taking on official corruption and incompetence at all levels. Whereas Jindal cleaned up one large agency, Kyle, a former accounting professor, has ripped open the books of state and local officials in every corner of the state. It will be interesting to see how he segues from political ass-whupper to politician.
"I like to say I'm not political, but I am politically astute," Kyle told reporters.
For now, these two are the ones to watch as Louisiana waits for another Nagin to emerge.