Jindal, First Indian-American Governor, Takes Office
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Bobby Jindal takes office today as the new governor of Louisiana. He has promised to root out corruption in a state legendary for its graft. And that will be part of an even bigger challenge, leading the state's efforts to rebuild from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It's been more than two years and much of Southern Louisiana is still struggling to recover, as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from New Orleans.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Parts of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans look like a war zone. Not a place that had recent fighting but one that suffered a protracted civil war, a war in which people fled. Dust, dirt and mud settled over everything and no one's had a reason to clean it up.
Along St. Claude Avenue, the plywood tacked over windows has faded to dull gray. Weeds poke through the debris of houses that collapsed in on themselves.
Unidentified Woman: Okay.
BEAUBIEN: Just off the avenue, a group of college students are trying to prop up a rusted chain-link fence outside the shell of an industrial building. Local activists hope to turn the site into a community center.
For Kelly Westfall, a sophomore at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, this is the first time she's been to post-Katrina New Orleans. She says she's surprised by how bad things still are.
Ms. KELLY WESTFALL (Sophomore Student, Wheaton College, Massachusetts): I couldn't imagine if something like this happened, like near our school in Boston, I feel as if it would be fixed, you know, it would be months. And I can't believe that, like, two and a half years later, some of this hasn't even been touched. It's kind of mind-blowing for us.
BEAUBIEN: And this is just one small part of the challenge Bobby Jindal faces as the next governor. From Lake Charles in the west of the state, all across the bayou to Mississippi, people in coastal Louisiana are still trying to recover from Rita and Katrina.
More than two years later, hundreds of thousands of people still haven't returned, and the financial toll of the storms is incalculable.
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BEAUBIEN: Despite the slow pace, New Orleans is recovering. Tax revenues have rebounded almost to pre-Katrina levels. Houses are getting rebuilt. In late December, the city's historic street cars started running again on St. Charles Avenue in front of the lush Tulane University campus.
Brian Brox, who teaches political science at Tulane, says Jindal comes into office with a strong mandate to stamp out graft in Baton Rouge. He says there's a perception in Louisiana that the state's reputation for corruption hindered federal disaster relief.
Professor BRIAN BROX (Political Science, Tulane University): A lot of voters think that we need to clean up the politics in Louisiana in order to help fulfill the recovery from Katrina.
BEAUBIEN: Bobby Jindal is something new in Louisiana politics. In a state with a reputation for fat cat, back-slapping, good-old-boy politicians, Bobby Jindal is a rail thin, Oxford-educated son of Indian immigrants. The 36-year-old who made a name for himself in Washington as a conservative Republican congressman will have to work in Baton Rouge with a legislature dominated by Democrats.
And Brox at Tulane points out that constituents in non-coastal areas have a long list of issues - from education reform to taxes, to job growth - that they also expect Jindal to take on.
Prof. BROX: He's really going to have to split his time - rebuild the hurricane-ravaged areas as well as improve the economic fortune of the entire state.
Mr. ARNIE FIELKOW (President, New Orleans City Council): 2008 may be the most important year in the history of New Orleans.
BEAUBIEN: Arnie Fielkow, the president of the New Orleans City Council, says Jindal's coming in at a time when significant amounts of recovery funds will finally be flowing into the region.
Mr. FIELKOW: We must show our citizens and the rest of this country that we're rebuilding. And if we do that, I think we are going to not only get our own citizens to stay with us, but we're going to get a lot of outsiders being inspired to invest in this great community.
BEAUBIEN: And like many other people in Southern Louisiana, councilman Fielkow is looking to the new governor to make all that happen faster.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, New Orleans.
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