NEW ORLEANS, La. – Another page has turned in the post-Katrina history of Louisiana.
Bobby Jindal, the 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was sworn in as the state's governor today. A two-term Republican congressman, he takes over from Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who was at the helm when the storm hit and was blamed both for her handling of floods' immediate aftermath and for the slow pace of the state's recovery.
|AFP - Getty Image|
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal smiles at his wife Supriya Jindal after taking the oath of office in Baton Rouge on Monday.
Voters in the state cast their ballots for change, and with Jindal they certainly have a fresh face. He's the youngest currently serving governor in the United States and the first ever of Indian descent.
Fast rising star
Jindal's parents immigrated to Louisiana in the early 1970s, settling in Baton Rouge, where the new governor was born. His given name is Piyush, but as a youngster he asked his family to call him "Bobby," picking that up from watching "The Brady Bunch" on television.
Converting in high school from Hinduism to Catholicism, Jindal graduated from Brown University and studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. A fast-rising political star, he served in the Bush administration in the Department of Health and Human Services and then as a congressman from the first district of Louisiana.
Elected to the governor's mansion with 54 percent of the vote last November (his closest competitor had 17 percent) Jindal takes over at an extremely dire time in the state's history.
Katrina battered what was already an economically and socially challenged state, and Jindal will have to deal with ongoing crises in health care, crime, insurance issues and infrastructure all amidst a background of continuing population shifts.
But it is ethics – long the bane of Louisiana politics – that Jindal says will be top of his priority list. In a state with a long history of cronyism and corruption – former Gov. Edwin Edwards is currently serving time in a federal penitentiary – it's that image as a reformer that Jindal's supporters tout as his biggest asset.
Past reform-minded governors in Louisiana have had short-lived careers, though. It remains to be seen whether Jindal will be any different. He certainly has the goodwill of the public right now. The New Orleans Times Picayune, in an editorial, even went so far as to label him "a brave new hope."
Though some critics have accused him of being inaccessible and vague with details of his plans, he's starting off with a clean slate, and even his detractors seem willing to give him a shot.
A lot of people will be watching to see what he does with his chance.