Governor-Elect Tackles Louisiana's Image
Monday, October 22, 2007; 2:08 AM
KENNER, La. -- Changing Louisiana's reputation for corruption would do more than just make over its image, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said Sunday: It could help the state attract businesses and win federal aid for hurricane recovery.
The Republican congressman, a day after his historic win in an election that featured a dozen candidates for governor, pressed ahead with his campaign pledge, saying in an interview with The Associated Press that one of his first acts will be to call a special legislative session to reform ethics laws.
"I think we're setting the bar too low when we say, 'Look, isn't it great that we haven't had a statewide elected official go to jail recently?'" Jindal said.
"The reality is there are a lot of practices that are accepted ways of doing business in Baton Rouge that are considered unethical in other parts of the country, that are considered illegal in other parts of the country," he said.
The son of immigrants on Saturday won more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary election to make him Louisiana's first non-white governor since Reconstruction and the nation's first Indian-American chief executive. That tally averted the need for a November runoff election.
His two predecessors, Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Mike Foster, governed with no allegations of cronyism, but the state has a well-earned reputation for shady politics.
Four-term Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards is serving prison time in a bribery and extortion case involving the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. In the past decade, Louisiana has had an insurance commissioner and elections commissioner serve time in jail, and a litany of corruption cases are pending in New Orleans.
Jindal wants legislators to create new state laws requiring them to disclose their sources of income and their assets _ a bill that failed to pass in the most recent legislative session _ and to bar their family members from doing business with the state. Louisiana's ethics laws lag too far behind other states' requirements, he said.
And while he acknowledges that some of the concerns are more about perception than reality, he said they can still can harm the state's ability to attract businesses and its requests for aid to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck in 2005.
New Orleans and some surrounding parishes are mired in bureaucratic snarls that are slowing the repair of schools, homes and businesses. A homeowner repair and buyout program called the Road Home is billions of dollars short of what it needs to pay all eligible homeowners.
Blanco, who defeated Jindal in 2003 but chose not to run for re-election after heavy criticism of her performance after Katrina, is asking Congress for bailout money for the Road Home.
Jindal said he and Blanco will work together during his transition to lobby Congress for the assistance, saying it's a federal obligation. He asked President Bush _ who called Sunday to congratulate Jindal on his win _ for a meeting to talk about hurricane recovery needs, he said.
The president agreed to the meeting, which hasn't been scheduled, Jindal said.
"What is not an option is to break the promise that's been made to the people of Louisiana," he said.
White House spokesman Rob Saliterman confirmed that Jindal and the president spoke but said he wasn't prepared to comment on their discussion.
Jindal said that he will resign from Congress shortly before his January inauguration and that, after he takes office, will announce a date to fill his congressional seat representing suburban New Orleans.
The governor's race four years ago was Jindal's first attempt at elected office. He quickly rebounded from the loss, running for Congress a year later and capturing his seat easily. He had only token opposition when he ran for re-election last year.
But to many, it appeared that Jindal never stopped running for governor, even after he lost to Blanco. He continued to make appearances well away from his congressional district, showing up in the state's nooks and crannies and in areas where he fared poorly in the governor's race.
Just 32 during his first gubernatorial run, the Oxford University-educated Jindal by then had already served as Louisiana's health care secretary, president of one of its university systems and as an assistant health secretary under President Bush.
Republican former Gov. Mike Foster tapped him to be state health secretary in 1996, when Jindal was only 24.
His gubernatorial opponents criticized the millions of dollars he raised from special interests, his scripted campaign appearances and his refusal to participate in many debate forums.
But the attacks didn't gain traction with voters, who supported Jindal across party lines. He won outright in the state's open primary election, finishing atop the slate of candidates with 54 percent of the vote.
The governor-elect said he is not worried that in a state known for its brash and flashy politicians, he's seen as methodical and wonkish.
"If I go down as one of the more boring but effective governors, I'll take that as a great compliment," he said at a news conference earlier Sunday. "Our people don't want to be amused by our politics anymore. We don't want to be entertained."