A new face rises in bayou politics
If Jindal wins Nov. 15, he'll be Louisiana's first non-white governor since Reconstruction.
(Page 2 of 2)
Jindal's parents emigrated from India to Baton Rouge in 1971 so his mother could study nuclear physics at LSU. Their first child, Piyush Jindal, was born six months later. At age 4, Piyush informed his family he wanted to be known as "Bobby."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He says it was his father, a civil engineer, who encouraged him and his younger brother to take advantage of the opportunities they had and, in turn, give back to the community.
"He was always pushing us to be better, always pushing us to work harder. He was the kind of father who, when we brought home a 90 percent, he wanted to know about the other 10 percent," says Jindal.
So it was that he grew up pushing limits. He graduated from college early. After whizzing through a number of high-profile jobs, he was named secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals by Gov. Mike Foster (R), who isn't running for reelection because of term limits.
After cutting $400 million from that budget, Jindal moved on to become president of the University of Louisiana system and then assistant secretary in President Bush's Department of Health and Human Services. He left that appointment in February to run for governor. The Sunday after the primary, Mr. Bush called to congratulate him and offer his support. Governor Foster also backs Jindal and helped fill his campaign coffers.
The Jindal campaign began slowly but gained momentum over the summer. He spoke on economic development, honesty in government, strong education, and affordable health care. He believes the No. 1 challenge facing the state is its brain drain.
"We are the only state in the South losing its people, and it's because we don't have the economic opportunities. People don't feel like they can pursue their dreams here in Louisiana. So first is creating jobs, and second is fixing our schools so our kids can compete."
So far, though, these ideas aren't garnering much support among certain groups. Jindal won 24 out of 64 parishes in the primary, but he received very few votes from African-Americans, who make up 30 percent of the state's population.
Many have long felt disenfranchised by the steady stream of white men into the governor's mansion, say political analysts. But it's going to take more than a dark-skinned candidate to alter their overwhelmingly Democratic voting record.
"I find it very odd, the connection that's being made between Asian-Americans and African-Americans. The kinship is not there," says Dr. Parent. "African-Americans have such a distinct history of discrimination."
But Jindal's youth and energy may bridge some of those gaps. College student Alan Brown says every one of his friends voted for Jindal. "Things are changing," he says, studying economics at a local coffee house near the LSU campus. "This is the first time we haven't had a white man running for governor, and everybody's excited. I guess we finally got tired of good old boys."
More important, says his friend Greg Mancina, "We wanted a governor with integrity, somebody who wouldn't wind up in prison."