Published January 14, 2008
BATON ROUGE, La. – Bobby Jindal, the 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was sworn in Monday as Louisiana's 55th governor and immediately moved to make good on a campaign promise, saying he will call a February special legislative session on ethics to help cleanse the hurricane-battered state's corrupt image.
Louisiana's first nonwhite governor since Reconstruction, the nation's first elected Indian-American governor and the nation's youngest sitting governor, Jindal pledged to overcome the stereotype of the state as a haven for cronyism and self-serving politicians.
"We have the opportunity -- born of tragedy but embraced still the same -- to make right decades of failure in government," Jindal said, referencing hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit the state in 2005.
Jindal, a second-term member of Congress when he was elected, took the oath from the state Supreme Court's chief justice, Pascal Calogero. Jindal's wife Supriya held the Bible. In his speech, he made numerous references to a "new Louisiana" and a "new beginning" for the state.
"We can build a Louisiana where our leaders and our people set the highest standards and hold every member of our government accountable, a Louisiana where incompetence is not a synonym for government, a Louisiana where corruption does not hold us back," he said.
Jindal did not provide details on what types of proposals he will ask lawmakers to enact in the special session. After ethics reform, Jindal said, economic development would be his next priority.
A conservative Republican who has held a series of high-profile positions since heading the expansive state health department at age 24, Jindal won 54 percent of the vote in October's primary election. He takes over from Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who had defeated him four years earlier. Blanco, her image battered by the state's response to Katrina and Rita, did not seek re-election.
Blanco attended the inaugural ceremonies with three other former Louisiana governors. The state's only other living ex-governor is Edwin Edwards, who can't attend because he is serving a federal prison sentence for corruption.
While Jindal thanked the former governors for their service, he tried to separate himself from the politics of the past. Standing among numerous veteran Louisiana politicians, Jindal repeated his campaign theme that the state's problems were rooted in incompetent and corrupt leadership.
"In our past, too many politicians looked out for themselves. Too many arms of state and local government did not get results. And the world took note," the new governor said.
Also taking office Monday were Louisiana's other statewide elected officials: the incoming attorney general, James "Buddy" Caldwell and incoming agriculture commissioner Mike Strain, along with Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, Treasurer John Kennedy, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
While Jindal has focused on rehabbing the state's shady reputation and overhauling ethics laws, he inherits an array of problems that have dogged his predecessors. Louisiana is among the nation's most unhealthy and poorest states, its students still perform below average on national educational tests, and its population is dwindling.
Worsening the state's long-term history of problems, back-to-back blows from hurricanes Katrina and Rita two years ago devastated much of south Louisiana and left New Orleans struggling to recover. The pace of hurricane rebuilding has been sluggish, with thousands of homes left abandoned, thousands of residents displaced and basic government services destroyed.
The boyish-looking Jindal will be the youngest U.S. governor in office, but he's used to being among the youngest faces in the room at many of his previous posts.
By the time he first ran for governor at age 32, Jindal already had served as Louisiana's health care secretary, president of one of its university systems and an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush. Republican former Gov. Mike Foster tapped Jindal to be the state's health secretary in 1996, when Jindal was only 24.
Earlier Monday, newly elected legislators unanimously backed two of Jindal's choices for leadership posts. Republican state Rep. Jim Tucker was elected Speaker of the House, while Democratic state Sen. Joel Chaisson was elected president of the Senate. Both were elected without opposition.
On Sunday, Jindal attended a prayer service where churchmen from around the state read scripture and offered support. Jindal, a Roman Catholic who converted from Hinduism as a teenager, sat in a front pew next to wife Supriya and other family members at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge.