A New Style and Tone for Louisiana Politics ; Kathleen Blanco's Election as State's First Woman Governor Gives Louisiana - and the Democratic Party - a New Voice

By Glynn Wilson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

A New Style and Tone for Louisiana Politics ; Kathleen Blanco's Election as State's First Woman Governor Gives Louisiana - and the Democratic Party - a New Voice


Glynn Wilson Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The election of Kathleen Babineaux Blanco as Louisiana's first woman governor marks a significant change in style and tone in one of the nation's most raucous political states - and a rare boost for the Democrats in the South.

As a low-key career politician and middle-of-the-road Democrat, Ms. Blanco is expected to move Louisiana away from the big- personality politics of the past and instead emphasize more mundane issues like the business climate.

Experts say the watchword here for the next four years may be tax codes and corporate flight rather than the flamboyance, and often corruption, that has dominated so much of the state's politics of the past from both sides of the aisle.

Almost overnight, Blanco will also become a prominent face in the Democratic Party nationally. Her victory Saturday, by a 52-to-48 margin over an Ivy League whiz kid Republican, gives the Democrats something to boast about. Finally.

After last week's loss of the governors' mansions in Kentucky and Mississippi, as well as the recent ouster of California Gov. Gray Davis in a recall vote, Blanco represents the first Democrat to carry a state so far this year. Perhaps more important, her victory keeps the Republicans from anointing a new star. Her opponent, Bobby Jindal, was vying to become the first Indian American to run a state in US history. Though only 32, he had already served as a senior health-policy official in the Bush administration, ran Louisiana's biggest cabinet-level department and its largest university system. The former Rhodes Scholar had captured widespread national attention as a politician to watch.

The outcome reflected both tactical elements and deeper forces at work in Louisiana. Political analysts here pin Mr. Jindal's loss, in part, on the failure to answer a series of negative political advertisements in the final week of the campaign. Blanco successfully shifted her strategy, trying to define the differences between the two candidates - particularly on health care and education.

Blanco also sought to portray herself as a warm, family-oriented public servant, while depicting her opponent as a heartless number cruncher. Her 20 years in public office - as a former state representative, the first woman on Louisiana's powerful Public Service Commission, and most recently as lieutenant governor - clearly resonated with some voters.

An election about change

Yet no matter who would have won, there is little doubt this election was about change. With the exception of a black Republican who served as acting governor for 35 days during Reconstruction, Louisiana has sent only white men to the governor's mansion. "This is about the New South emerging," said US Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), as she barnstormed across the state with Blanco in a Winnebago.

Moreover, many of the governors or would-be governors of the past have been colorful characters. David Duke, a well-known white supremacist, ran for governor as a Republican 12 years ago and managed to garner 39 percent of the vote. …

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