Louisiana voters elected the country's first governor of Indian descent Saturday (Oct. 20) and gave the Republican Party control of yet another state executive suite in the South. Bobby Jindal also will become the youngest sitting governor at 36.
U.S. Rep. Jindal (R-La.) garnered 54 percent of the vote over his challengers during the state's open gubernatorial primary, needing 51 percent to win outright under Louisiana law. Democratic state Sen. Walter Boasso, who was a Republican until recently, won 17 percent of the vote, followed by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D), with 12 percent, and John Georges (Independent), with 14 percent.
With Jindal's win, the GOP now stands to wield power in seven of the 11 southern governors' mansions as Jindal succeeds Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, who narrowly beat Jindal in 2003.
However, Democrats could wrest a seat from the GOP next month when Kentucky voters go to the polls Election Day Nov. 6. There voters will decide whether to give Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), who has been dogged by a hiring scandal for the past two years, another term in office, or to oust him and elect former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.
The third and final governors' contest this year also is in the South. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi appears in a strong position to best Democrat John Eaves, an attorney.
Kurt Corbello, associate professor of political science and director of the Southeastern Louisiana University's recent polls on the race , said Louisiana voters appeared hungry for change. "Voters are more comfortable with someone who is not the typical Louisiana politician. Jindal is young and of Indian descent. … He's not typical." Jindal, 36, a Rhodes Scholar, was born in Baton Rouge of parents who emigrated from India . Jindal is young but California elected the youngest governor in 1855. James Neely Johnson won the governorship of California at the age of 30 and was the youngest man ever to assume the office, according to the National Governors Association.
Blanco opted not to run for re-election this year after she was roundly criticized for her performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Jindal became only the third Louisianan gubernatorial candidate in more than 50 years to win the office without a runoff, said Henry Robertson who heads the history and political science division at Louisiana College in Pineville , La . "That's a really important milestone."
Others who were victorious in a primary were Edwin Washington Edwards, a scandal-tainted four-term governor who eventually went to prison on extortion charges but who won outright in 1976, and Earl K. Long, brother of legendary Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long, who did it in 1956. Both were Democrats.
If Jindal had failed to post a majority, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would have squared off Nov. 17.
This year may be the last time Louisianans get to vote this way. Observers are closely watching a case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Washington's primary system , which has a similar "top-two" run-off system. If the Washington system gets tossed out, some expect a legal challenge in Louisiana .
Louisianans know only too very well that their unusual primary system sometimes can benefit fringe candidates. In the 1991 gubernatorial race, one of the two top vote-getters was David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan , who ran as a Republican. "There's no way the hierarchy of the Republican Party wanted Duke running as a Republican," Corbello of Southeastern Louisiana University , said. Duke then lost to Edwards in the runoff.
Even without a lawsuit, voting for federal offices in Louisiana will change next year. The Legislature voted last year to let only registered members of political parties vote in primary contests for federal offices, but left the open primary system for state and local elections.
The 2007 election also marked the first time that term limits hit the Louisiana Legislature, threatening more Democrats than Republicans and putting the GOP in striking distance of taking control of the one of the statehouse chambers for the first time since Reconstruction. Results of the Nov. 17 elections will determine party control.
All legislative seats in Mississippi , New Jersey and Virginia also are on the ballot this year but are not affected by term limits.
Voters in Louisiana also took up four constitutional amendments Saturday. Voters approved two measures affecting salaries for police officers and another that focused on the administration of state and city retirement benefits, but rejected a measure that would have exempted jewelry from property taxes. Those ballot measures are among nearly 40 that voters in seven states will take up this fall. Oregon , for example, will weigh in on property rights. Stem cell research is on tap in New Jersey , and Utahans will decide if they want to launch the nation's broadest statewide education voucher program.