Jindal Takes Helm of Troubled Louisiana Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's new governor, takes over a state that's still struggling to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While Jindal handily won the governor's race, many are still leery of a government they think let them down after the storms.
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Jindal Takes Helm of Troubled Louisiana

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Jindal Takes Helm of Troubled Louisiana

Jindal Takes Helm of Troubled Louisiana

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Louisiana today, a new governor was sworn in. Bobby Jindal is just 36 years old, and he has some serious challenges ahead of him. In his inaugural speech, he pledged to clean up state government and boost the economy.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): We don't live in a poor state. We've had a state with poor leadership.

SIEGEL: As Jindal takes office, one big question is whether he can speed up the recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita more than two years ago.

NPR's Jason Beaubien visited several struggling communities where people are still trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Cameron is a small, gritty port town in the western Louisiana bayou near the border with Texas. Boats that service the oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico tie up along Cameron's docks next to shrimp and fishing boats. Before Hurricane Rita, the town had 2,000 residents, immediately after, it had none.

Mr. WILLIAM DOXEY (Seafood Business Owner): Nothing's here. I mean, nothing, nothing at all. Everything was gone. Even the cement blocks. Like, see that block? There were not - I had a boat bigger than that. It was gone.

BEAUBIEN: Seventy-eight-year-old William Doxey runs a small seafood business. He buys and sells oysters and shrimp. Hurricane Rita hit here on September 24th of 2005, less than a month after Katrina slammed into New Orleans. The storm surge from Rita drove 14 feet of water through Doxey's property. The water took his house and business with it. Doxey now lives in a beat-up, second-hand trailer that he's parked next to the concrete slab of his old house. After the storm, he got $37,000 from the Road Home program. He says it's not enough to rebuild, but now, he's sick of fighting about it.

Mr. DOXEY: I'm not looking for it. I'm not looking for it. Because it's been two years. Was that two years? We'd go to meetings, we send papers off and everything, whatever. Nothing comes of it.

BEAUBIEN: If he had the money to rebuild, new zoning regulations would require him to elevate his house 14 feet above sea level. Doxey says it seems to him that the government is trying to drive people out of the coastal areas.

Mr. DOXEY: So I don't look for nothing now. I don't look for nothing.

BEAUBIEN: But why do you stay here?

Mr. DOXEY: What?

BEABIEN: Why do you stay here? Why don't you go somewhere else?

Mr. DOXEY: I was born here, man. I work here. Why should I go somewhere else and starve? They're not going to feed you once you move out of here.

BEAUBIEN: Doxey doesn't expect things in his part of Louisiana to change with the inauguration of Bobby Jindal as governor. If Cameron gets rebuilt, he says, it will be as a result of the locals, not the politicians in Baton Rouge.

(Soundbite of bells tolling)

BEAUBIEN: Thirty miles north of Cameron, straight inland, the city of Lake Charles was also battered by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and it's still dealing with the effects of that storm. The airport terminal still hasn't been rebuilt. Some houses are still draped in blue FEMA tarps. As the economy continues to sputter, Macy's announced last week that it's closing its department store in Lake Charles.

The mayor, Randy Roach, says the Rita recovery effort in southwest Louisiana is making progress, but it's been hampered by so many contractors heading east to deal with the Katrina damage in New Orleans.

Mayor RANDY ROACH (Lake Charles, Louisiana): This is a significant time for Louisiana. It's a - it's probably the most significant time in my life. And my prayer is that there will not be another event like this in my lifetime.

BEAUBIEN: By capturing 54 percent of the vote, Bobby Jindal won the governor's office outright in the primary. Mayor Roach says the rush of voters to Jindal was, in part, a response to the storms.

Mayor ROACH: I think they made people recognize, you know, and think about what's really important here. You know, what's - what do we really need to be focusing on and what do we really need to be doing and how do we want to go about doing it? Bobby Jindal offered a state in need of a vision and in need of leadership that.

BEAUBIEN: Jindal is a conservative Republican and a devout Catholic. He was first elected to Congress in 2004. He's young, just 36. But Roach says Jindal's youthful energy is one of his greatest assets.

Two hundred miles east of Lake Charles, New Orleans continues to clean up from the worst natural disaster in American history, although many city residents say the damage from Katrina wasn't natural.

Ms. DARLENE MARTIN (Gentilly Neighborhood Resident): My house was undamaged by that hurricane.

BEAUBIEN: Darlene Martin in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans says the flooding of her neighborhood that followed the storm was the fault of the government. If the Army Corps of Engineers had properly maintained the city's levee system, she says, she would have been back in her home two days after Katrina hit.

Ms. MARTIN: And I think the government should compensate us for what we have endured — eight months living in isolation up in Baton Rouge, commuting back and forth, and then having to live in my house while it is being rebuilt.

BEAUBIEN: Martin had flood insurance, and thus, got no state compensation for the $200,000 in damages to her property. More than two years later, her neighborhood is still a long way from normal. Some houses, like Martin's, are completely rebuilt - the lawns are mowed, Mardi Gras decorations are up. But the new homes are often right next to gutted houses with weeds and debris covering the yard.

Martin is angry at how the government has dealt with Katrina and its aftermath. Her neighborhood is coming back, she says, not because of government, but because of volunteers. Ask Martin, however, about Bobby Jindal taking over as governor, and her tone softens. She praises Jindal as bright, capable, energetic. Despite her frustration and anger towards the public sector right now, she's hopeful the new governor can do, in her words, a lot of good for Louisiana.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, New Orleans.

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