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Jindal faces challenges ahead as Louisiana governor

October 21, 2007 16:55 IST

Bobby Jindal, the Oxford-educated son of Punjabi immigrants who scripted history by winning the Louisiana governor race, faces daunting challenges ahead when he takes over one of the poorest and most uneducated states of the United State from incumbent Kathleen Blanco.

Born on June 10, 1971, in Baton Rouge in Louisiana, Republican Jindal, a rising star of President George W Bush's party, impressively defeated his opponents in the gubernatorial poll in a state that usually picks its leaders from deep in the rural hinterland and has not had a non-white head since the Reconstruction era.

Jindal, who was twice elected to two-year term each for Congress from Louisiana's First Congressional District based in the suburbs of New Orleans, is currently a member of the House of Representatives and will retain the post till January 2008 when he assumes charge as governor, the youngest person to hold the post in the country.

He faces significant challenges as the chief executive of Louisiana, a state which was devastated by hurricans Katrina and Rita.

Incumbent Blanco had faced severe criticism for her handling of the situation in the aftermath of the hurricanes.

Jindal, who was born as a Hindu, but converted to Catholicism, attended high school at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.

In 1991, he graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, with honours in biology and public policy.

Afterwards, he received a master's degree in political science from New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Jindal is the second Indian-American to serve in Congress after Dalip Singh Saund, a Democrat who represented California's 29th District from 1957 to 1963.

Jindal was chosen by Scholastic Update magazine as "one of America's top 10 extraordinary young people for the next millennium."

In 1997, he married Supriya Jolly and the couple has three children -- Celia, Shaan, and Slade.

While running for the top state post, Jindal did not have the support of a majority of African-Americans, about a third of the population, who usually vote Democratic.

Yet Jindal, with his decisive victory on Saturday, appears to have overcome a significant racial hurdle that blocked him in 2003.

Jindal made a particular campaign target of conservative northern and eastern parishes of Louisiana by visiting them frequently and bringing his brand of devout Christianity to their rural churches.

His social-conservative message teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in public schools and total ban on abortion would have been welcome in these areas.

Jindal campaigned as a cautious reformer, promising a more ethical government, with greater transparency from lobbyists and legislators.

However, he faces significant challenges as he takes over what is now one of the poorest, most uneducated and most unhealthy state of the US.

Jindal has many notable legislative accomplishments since being elected to the House of Representatives, including the successful passage of legislation to bring significant offshore energy revenues to Louisiana for the first time.

He continues to focus on rebuilding Louisiana out of the destruction of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and providing affordable access to high-quality health care.

Jindal has promised to give attention to the state's ports, roads and research universities, which have received little investment.

Prior to his election to Congress, he has held various high-level posts. In 1995, Jindal, then 24, was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, an agency then representing about 40 per cent of the state's budget and he served from 1996 to 1998.

From 1998 to 1999, he was executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.

He was also the youngest-ever president of the University of Louisiana System between 1999 and 2001.

Bush appointed him assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation, a post he held from 2001 to 2003.

Jindal came to national prominence during the 2003 election for governor of Louisiana, which he lost to Blanco, a Democrat.

He formally declared his intention to run again on January 22, 2007, and eventually won the race.

Jindal is expected to take the oath of office on January 12, 2008, and will be the youngest governor in America at the age of 36.

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