The South surprises again

A most unusual political race is under way in the Deep South. A son of Asian Indian immigrants, Bobby Jindal is the Republican challenger for governor in Louisiana, a state that has sent white males to the gubernatorial mansion for the past 140 years.

And in this runoff election set for next month, he faces a Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a career politician who, if elected, would be Louisiana's first female governor.

Mr. Jindal, a former Rhodes Scholar and a McKinsey consultant, is a strong conservative whose political views diverge from most Indian- Americans, who tend to be liberal and Democrat. He's a convert to Christianity, wants the Ten Commandments displayed in public, opposes abortion in all cases, and supports teaching creationism in schools.

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But Jindal is also a keen policy wonk with a clean track record, who emphasizes his ideas over his ethnicity. When he worked for former Gov. Mike Foster, Jindal fixed the state's broken Medicaid program, cutting spending by $1 billion. He went on to become the youngest president of the University of Louisiana system. President Bush later made him an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services.

His campaign has also helped energize the 1.7 million Asian Indian community in the US, which just happens to be the most wealthy ethnic group in the country. (Noteworthy Asian Indians include Rono Dutta, president of United Airlines, and Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems.)

Asian Indians now have a presence in four state legislatures - Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, and New Jersey. If elected, Jindal would add to a growing ethnic mix of American governors: Hawaii's Governor Waihee was the first elected governor of Hawaiian ancestry and Gov. Gary Locke of Washington is the first Asian-American to be elected governor of a state in the Lower 48. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Hawaii's governor. The current governor is Linda Lingle.]

If he wins, Jindal has plenty to do. Louisiana has a sluggish, post-oil-boom economy, a flagging public education system, and an exodus of young people. But more important, Jindal's candidacy affirms the willingness of American voters to choose integrity over skin color, and the willingness of legal immigrant families to participate in American civic life.

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