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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Catching a break

In case you didn't hear it last weekend, Louisiana just got a huge upgrade in the office of governor.

Bobby Jindal can't hold down a job: That's the joke circulating around Louisiana today about the election of Mr. Jindal, a son of immigrants from India, as governor. Mr. Jindal, a 36-year-old Republican congressman from the New Orleans suburbs, won 54% of the vote in Saturday's election, avoiding the need for a runoff next month.

When he takes office in January he will be the nation's youngest governor. But he has already held a glittering array of other positions of responsibility in his short career. As an undergraduate he worked as an intern for Rep. Jim McCrery, now the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Then he became a Rhodes Scholar, got a master's degree, and did a stint at McKinsey & Co. Gov. Mike Foster appointed him head of the state's $4 billion health-care system at age 24. He went on to serve as director of a national commission on Medicare at 26, became president of the University of Louisiana system at 27, and a U.S. assistant secretary of health and human services at 29.

Four years ago, at age 32 ,he narrowly lost a race for governor to Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who dismissed his calls for reform of the state's creaking bureaucracy as unnecessary. The next year Mr. Jindal won his congressional seat, but he never really stopped campaigning for governor. In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans, and Gov. Blanco's response was so inadequate that she was effectively forced to retire.

Part of his philosophy is that the federal government can't be Louisiana's salvation. "New Orleans has suffered from the trauma of three crises," he told The Wall Street Journal last year. "First was Katrina, second was the levees breaking, and the third has been a case study in bureaucracy and red tape at its very worst."

Bureaucracy busting is Mr. Jindal's specialty, and he has already announced he will call the Legislature into special session shortly after he is sworn in and demand an up-or-down vote on his anticorruption agenda, which has 31 points. "Ethics reform is the linchpin for change," he told supporters Saturday night.

But while he prepares to take office with high hopes and good wishes, there are some sobering obstacles that could impede his agenda. Louisiana ranks third in the nation in the number of elected officials per capita convicted of crimes. That means that some power brokers will have real incentives to preserve the status quo. In 2004, the agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office described Louisiana's public corruption as "epidemic, endemic and entrenched. No branch of government is exempt."

Government is not the ultimate answer, but good governance helps and lousy governance can hinder mightily. Good luck Governor Jindal and the people of Louisiana.


erp said...

Here, here!

Carl said...

Does the Governor of Louisiana have the legal power to remove local officials? If so, I hope Jindal removes N.O. Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Warren Riley and D.A. Eddie Jordan for gross misconduct, incompetence, & neglect.