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Published: Friday, 10/26/2007

The new face of Louisiana

THE election of Bobby Jindal as governor of Louisiana was somewhat of a surprise, but also is cause for America to indulge in some self-congratulation.

The image of Louisiana politics in the minds of most Americans includes a somewhat unsavory past that includes Gov. Huey "The Kingfish" Long; David E. Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard as a member of its legislature; lynchings, and a culture of colorful corruption.

This picture was reinforced when the Louisiana government failed to distinguish itself during the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Jr., performed as dismally as some of the federal government's dimmer "stars" - remember President Bush's man, Brownie? - in that wretched affair.

Thus, the election of Bobby Jindal, 36, a son of Indian immigrants, who becomes the nation's youngest governor, a Republican in a state that is traditionally - let's say, notoriously - Democratic, is truly a watershed. In a crowded field, he received a clear 54 percent of the vote, giving him victory over his nearest opponent, a Democrat who received only 18 percent of the ballots.

It truly appears to be the case that Louisianans voted for Mr. Jindal on the basis of his abilities, his record as a congressman, his freshness, his reputation for honesty, and his demonstrated taste for hard work.

In a state with something of a reputation for racism over the years, it is also true that the vote for Mr. Jindal constituted a repudiation of racial politics. The last time a person who was not white was governor of Louisiana was in the 19th century, during Reconstruction after the Civil War, with federal troops still occupying the South.

Mr. Jindal's election also delivers an interesting message to those Americans who oppose immigration for the wrong reasons; that is to say, with an unstated racial agenda as opposed to a rationale linked to labor, taxation, or cost of social services.

All in all, Americans in general should be encouraged by Mr. Jindal's election and welcome him to the ranks of America's 50 governors. We should also wish him the best of luck. He will need it in wrestling with the very formidable problems facing his state.

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