Jindal ‘91.5 is first non-white La. governor

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Correction appended.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal ‘91.5, R-La., was elected governor of Louisiana Saturday with 54 percent of the vote in an open primary. A former Rhodes Scholar, consultant and congressman, Jindal is the first American of Indian descent elected to a gubernatorial position.

He is also the first to win an open seat outright in Louisiana since 1975, when the state adopted a unique electoral system in which all candidates run against each other in a primary regardless of party. If no candidate garners over 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will continue to a run-off.

Jindal’s main competitors in the race were Walter Boasso, a state senator who switched from the Republican to Democratic party in order to run, and businessman John Georges, who also left the Republican Party to run as an independent. With all precincts reporting, Boasso made the strongest showing among Jindal’s competitors, with 17 percent of the vote.

Jindal will be Louisiana’s first non-white governor since Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, a black man who held the position for several weeks in 1872 and 1873.

At only 36 years old, Jindal will be the youngest governor in the nation when he takes office in January 2008.

In 2003, Jindal ran for governor but lost to Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who decided not to run for re-election this year after she was widely criticized for her handling of post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. Katrina also cast a wide shadow on the race in the form of the state’s voting population. The total number of voters dropped from 1.4 million in the 2003 gubernatorial race to 1.3 million this year, including a drop from 121,841 to 75,880 voters in New Orleans alone, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Oct. 21.

Jindal’s victory speech was a message of optimism and change. “I’m asking you to believe that we can turn our state around,” Jindal said in a transcript posted on his campaign Web site. “I’m asking you to give Louisiana another chance.”

Jindal’s first measure will be to pass “real ethics reform with real teeth,” he said in his speech, aimed at corruption in Louisiana’s government. He also ran on a platform of hurricane recovery, health care, economic reform, education, crime and spending.

Jindal’s parents were immigrants from India who came to Louisiana so Jindal’s mother could attend Louisiana State University. Jindal’s father was the only child of nine in his family to attend high school. In his victory speech, Jindal said his parents “found the American Dream to be alive and well right here in Louisiana.”

Jindal’s parents originally named him Piyush, but as a young child he watched the television show “The Brady Bunch” and changed his name to that of the youngest Brady boy, according to an Oct. 21 article in the Washington Post.

At Brown, Jindal was admitted to the Program in Liberal Medical Education, but he decided to concentrate in biology and public policy instead.

“It was a tradeoff because as a politician I wouldn’t be able to impact people directly like I could as a doctor, but I knew my policies could affect many people every day indirectly,” Jindal told The Herald in 2006. Jindal was the president of the College Republicans while on campus.

After graduating from Brown, he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Jindal was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in 1996, executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in 1998 and president of the University of Louisiana System in 1999. From 2001 to 2003, he served in the Bush administration as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation of heath and human services.

After his failed bid for governor in 2003, Jindal was elected the next year to Congress as the representative from Louisiana’s 1st District. He was re-elected in 2006.

A headline in Monday’s Herald (“Jindal ‘91.5 is first non-white La. gov,” Oct. 22) imprecisely described the historical significance of Jindal’s election. Jindal is the first non-white Louisiana governor elected in modern history. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, a black man, was briefly governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction in 1872 and 1873.