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Governer-Elect Promises a 'New' Louisiana - 2003-11-17

In the southern state of Louisiana, Governor-elect Kathleen Blanco is savoring her victory in Saturday's election and meeting with members of her transition team. Meanwhile, political observers are busy trying to figure what this election will mean for the future of the state and its politics.

Even before the first vote had been cast, pundits were speaking of this election as "historic." That is because Louisiana voters would elect the state's first woman governor or its first non-white governor.

Either choice would have resulted in dramatic change for a state where ethno-centrism and deeply conservative traditions have often played a big role in politics. In the end, it was the rise of a woman that held the promise of breaking the old patterns.

As Mrs. Blanco makes clear in her victory statements, this election will bring change. "We have sent a new message out to the nation that this is a new Louisiana," she said.

The 60-year-old career politician, who spent the past eight years as lieutenant governor, says she wants to meet with business leaders from across the nation to attract more jobs to her state. She also wants to concentrate on improving Louisiana's health and education programs. The state ranks near the bottom in most statistical comparisons with other states in terms of public education.

There is also speculation about what is next for defeated Republican candidate Bobby Jindal, who would have been the first non-white elected governor of Louisiana and the first Indian-American governor in the United States. Mr. Jindal says he is not yet thinking about what his next step will be.

"I would want to talk to my family and pray about whatever we are going to do next," he said. "I will say this, I firmly do believe that when God closes one door, he opens another."

There is general agreement among political observers in Louisiana that Mr. Jindal will have the opportunity for some future political role. He is only 32 years old and he came within a few percentage points of winning this election.

The change that Kathleen Blanco promises to bring the state has less to do with race and more to do with gender. Men have dominated Louisiana's political scene until recently, but this election showed women gaining considerable strength. Besides Mrs. Blanco, a handful of other female candidates in local races who beat male opponents.

New Orleans political analyst Silas Lee says men who are not used to women in power had better start adjusting to the new reality represented by the Blanco victory.

"It will allow men to understand the need to work with women," she said. "For some men that might be a difficult reality and for others it will be an easy transition and something that they are already doing."

For the past two days analysts have been poring over the results from Saturday's voting to see what factors led to Mrs. Blanco's victory. The results appear mixed.

On one hand, Mr. Jindal gained a large percentage of votes from both blacks and whites in some parts of the state. But, on the other hand, Mrs. Blanco gained 52 percent of the vote in northern Louisiana, an area where former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke won 70 percent of the vote in a gubernatorial race 12 years ago.

That performance in the mostly white, deeply conservative north was complimented by Mrs. Blanco's edge among voters in New Orleans, especially in black communities. Mr. Jindal had the endorsement of some blacks, including New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrat who crossed party lines to back Mr. Jindal. But most black community leaders remained in the Democratic camp and analysts say the Nagin endorsement may have backfired.

In the weeks before the January 12 inauguration, Mrs. Blanco and her team will be working to unify the Democratic party and assemble a team that can deliver on the promises she has made to the people of Louisiana.