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Jewish World Review
Oct. 23, 2007
/ 11 Mar-Cheshvan
Tipping Louisiana to the Republicans
Bobby Jindal, who was elected governor of Louisiana last Saturday, may not be a freak of unnatural Louisiana politics, but he's an unsoiled anomaly. The temptations of office, which flower in abundance along the bayous, lie still ahead.
That's the cynical view, but one widely held in Louisiana, a state battered by nature (most recently Hurricane Katrina), and human nature (the examples never end). "Corruption in Louisiana," a one-time agent in charge of the FBI office in New Orleans once said, is "epidemic, endemic and entrenched." Graft three ways, as it might appear on the menu at a Chinese takeout. Louisiana is always ready for a party "Laissez les bon temps roulez," as the locals say. Let the good times roll. But now Mr. Jindal insists the party's over.
He promises to throw out the rogues, rascals, scoundrels and scamps, and maybe he will. If he does, George W. should send him to Baghdad. Louisiana is not really Southern, the author A.J. Liebling shrewdly observed, but Middle Eastern. Intrigue is the state sport.
The governor-elect is a technocrat, and a bureaucrat as well, born of immigrant parents from India, where bureaucracy is the national sport. He vows to make war on sloth as well as rot, to banish evildoers to the unemployment lines if not to prison. "They can go quietly or they can go loudly," he said during the campaign, "but they're going to go."
He intends to call in the Legislature, which is not reform-minded insofar as anyone has ever noticed, to enact a code of ethics. He's likely to invite more resistance than repentance. "You might find an ethic in the Legislature," a former governor once said, "and you might find a virgin in a bordello. But it's a heckuva place to look for either one."
Nevertheless, Bobby Jindal appears to be a phenomenon, and has turned the state's politics upside down and destroyed stereotypes. He's the first ethnic a politic way of saying someone of "dark skin" to be elected governor since Reconstruction, that infamously failed attempt to make new men out of old Confederates. Reconstruction ended in Louisiana when Democrats resumed control of the state government 130 years ago, but this is "only yesterday" as the deeply embedded culture measures the decades. Bitter memories come with the inherited DNA.
Four years ago, narrowly losing to Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Mr. Jindal stayed close to the Catholic and Cajun southern tier of parishes around New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, avoiding the rural, Protestant north where he calculated there was lingering resentment of those with the dark skin. This time he took his message to the north, visiting the northern parishes 77 times. He carried 62 of the 64 parishes (counties), with majorities in a majority of the parishes in north Louisiana. In certain parishes he increased his share of the vote by 10 points over his first race. Some pols attribute this to "buyer's remorse" for voters having first chosen Mrs. Blanco, widely scorned for her performance in the wake of Katrina.
None of this is good news for the Democrats. The election results show a sharp decline of votes cast in New Orleans, which has always been treated by Democrats as if New Orleans were an enormous ATM, dispensing votes, not dollars. Four years ago, 121,841 Orleanians cast ballots in the gubernatorial race; this year only 75,880 did so. This reflects not poor turnout but vanished voters. Many who voted four years ago now live in Houston, Atlanta, Memphis and other Southern cities and aren't going home.
This is particularly bad news for Sen. Mary Landrieu, the two-term Democratic senator who must run for re-election next year. She was first elected in 1996 in an extremely close race, fraught with the usual Louisiana "irregularities," and was saved by the New Orleans ATM. Next year could be a year of Democratic reckoning and Republican redemption.
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