Coup in the bayou: New Governor Jindal promises change in Louisiana
Inaugurated Monday, he promises to clean up corruption.
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Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Jindal parlayed an Oxford education into a job with McKinsey & Co. in Washington. He has worked for the Department of Health and Human Services and also ran the state's university system before becoming a US representative, on the Republican ticket, all by age 36.Skip to next paragraph
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Connecting with rural voters
In the process, Jindal learned to slow his machine-gun speaking style and connect to the rural Anglo-Protestant voters, mostly in northern Louisiana, who once voted in force for KKK leader and gubernatorial candidate David Duke. "It was a huge hurdle," says one aide.
Once they met him, voters say they found Jindal humble and down-to-earth, a convert to Catholicism who shared their socially conservative values.
Not everyone is impressed. Some observers worry that he will try to impose his strict creationist philosophy on Louisiana's schools. Others are concerned that Jindal will go the way of past reform candidates, such as Edwin Edwards, who is now serving time in a federal prison. Still others wistfully remember the "viceroy" era of powerful governors in Louisiana, which changed when the state rewrote its Constitution in 1972 to give the legislature more influence in state affairs.
As he promised to get down to work after the inauguration Monday, Jindal says many Louisianans sense that what happens in the next four years may define the state for their lifetimes.
"We've underperformed because we have not expected better from ourselves," Jindal says. "The most important thing we can do is raise people's expectations to say, 'Why not Louisiana?' "
Although well-known in Louisiana because of a previous run for governor, Jindal had to work hard to win last year's election. After losing a runoff to Kathleen Blanco for the governorship in 2003, Jindal almost immediately hit the campaign trail again. His behind-the-scenes work in the aftermath of Katrina to procure trucks and ammunition for parish sheriff's departments also provided a poignant counterpoint to Governor Blanco's uncertain leadership in the wake of the storm. Hampered by her performance and ties to the much-maligned Road Home recovery program, Blanco chose not to run for reelection.
Jindal was also helped when his strongest potential opponent, former Sen. John Breaux, declined to run.