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A new twist on Louisiana politics

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I grew up in Louisiana, but now live in Atlanta. The two things I miss most about Louisiana are the food and the politics.

Here in Georgia, politics are dull. It’s mostly black vs. white in Atlanta and Conservative White Democrats vs. Conservative White Republicans statewide. Not worth watching, if you ask me.

In Louisiana, of course, politics are sport; the state pastime.

And like most things about Louisiana, the state’s elections are different that the rest of the U.S.

First off, state elections are held in odd-numbered years, so 2003 is an election year down there.

Secondly, elections are held as open primaries. All candidates, regardless of party, are on everybody’s ballot, and if no candidate gets 50.1% of the vote, the top two vote getters – again, regardless of party – face each other in the runoff. Until the early 1980s, this meant the governor’s runoff was always Democrat vs. Democrat.

Thirdly, the state holds its elections on Saturdays, not Tuesdays.

Add to these oddities the characters of Louisiana politics, and it makes a damn fun thing to watch.

Everyone knows about Huey Long and many people know about his infamous brother Earl (played by Paul Newman in “Blaze”).

The modern-day poster child for Louisiana politics is Edwin Edwards; the scoundrel Cajun who managed to avoid federal prosecutors long enough to spend 16 years in the governor’s mansion between 1972 and 1996. (He’s in jail now).

Edwards faced off against David Duke in the state’s most notorious runoff back in 1991. “Vote for the crook, it’s important” was an actual bumper-sticker slogan for that race.

So I never expect to be surprised by Louisiana politics. But what’s happening this year is so strange I felt a need to note it here.

Come Nov. 15, Louisiana will have a new governor-elect. That person will either be:

a) a woman

or

b) a 32-year-old, Ivy League and Oxford educated son of Indian immigrants who’s never held elective office.

That there is a woman in the runoff isn’t too surprising, as she’s the incumbent Lt. Governor, and the state has already elected a woman – Mary Landrieu – to the U.S. Senate.

The woman in this race is Kathleen Blanco, a veteran politician and Cajun Democrat.

The shocker is Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a Republican, and has all the right positions for a conservative in Louisiana: anti-abortion; pro-Christianity (he’s a Catholic, not a Hindu); low taxes.

But in a state where the southern half is dominated by French Cajuns and the northern half is dominated by rednecks, it’s pretty amazing that an Indian could get the support he has.

Jindal finished first in the primary with 33% of the vote. Blanco pulled in 18%.

On paper, it would seem that Jindal has the clear advantage in the runoff. But of the 7 candidates in the primary, only one other was a Republican, and he got only 6% of the vote.

That means Republicans came out with 39% of the vote in the primary. And for Jindahl to win the runoff, he’s got to bring over at least 12% of the Democratic vote.

It’s always tough for Republicans to get majority support in Louisiana. The current governor, Republican Mike Foster, is a good-ole-boy self-made millionaire whose grandfather was governor a century ago. The only other Republican governors the state has had are Dave Treen, who came into office in the wake of Edwards’ first two terms, and Buddy Roemer, who was a Democrat when he was elected.

So, for an Indian man who’s just 32 and is more of a think-tank guy than a politician to pull this off would be pretty shocking.

Of course, I wouldn’t have banked on him to get this far, either.

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