Two days after Mardi Gras, newly-elected Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sobered up the state in a speech televised statewide and, in so doing, dispelled any notion that his predecessor, Bobby Jindal, should ever be considered “one of the best governors in America.” As a direct result of Jindal’s negligence and blind allegiance to Grover Norquist’s draconian anti-taxation platform, the new governor and the state’s dysfunctional and increasingly radicalized legislature must now, somehow, figure out a way to immediately plug a $940 million deficit. Oh and then, they’re going to need to solve an additional $2 billion shortfall projected for next year.
On Thursday night, Gov. Edwards reminded Louisianians what exactly was at stake: College scholarships for 50,000 students; health care for disabled children, the elderly, and the indigent; the future of public higher education in all corners of the state; and most importantly to many, the survival of LSU football.
None of this will be easy.
Hours before Gov. Edwards went on air, Americans for Prosperity, the Orwellian-sounding organization founded and funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, revealed the findings of their most recent poll: Taxes are unpopular in Louisiana. Surprise, surprise.
A conservative blogger who recently earned thousands of dollars from the gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Sen. David Vitter proposed a recall effort against Gov. Edwards, before he’d heard or read a single word of the governor’s speech.
We should all be clear and honest: The Jindal experiment failed.
Louisiana should no longer be considered the laboratory for disaster capitalism.
We cannot and will not cut ourselves into prosperity. We are deluding ourselves whenever we expect to gain more by providing less, and we are worse off as a state and as a people when we buy into the tempting belief that our burdens are the result of doing too much and not too little. Louisiana is a poor state, home to the most unequal town in the entire nation; we lead the world in mass incarceration; we rank at the very bottom of almost every metric used to determine quality of life.
Eight years ago, Gov. Jindal swept into office promising to cure all that ailed us through lowering taxes, privatizing vast portions of the government, and reforming education. He’d get us off all of those bad lists, he said. Louisiana wasn’t a poor state, he said. Now, it is abundantly clear: He and his pliant and uncurious allies in the legislature actually made things significantly worse.
After Gov. Edwards’ speech on Thursday, State Treasurer John Kennedy provided the “Republican response,” which amounted to nothing more than an obnoxious and disrespectful effort to promote his own candidacy for U.S. Senate and which should probably have never been allowed to air in the first place (considering that the Equal Time Rule, which was invoked by the Louisiana Republican Party, did not actually apply and that he is currently a candidate for federal office).
Kennedy, whose only real authority is determining the agenda of Bond Commission meetings, took the opportunity to rehash the same, folksy half-baked solutions he’s been offering for years, none of which add up and many of which amount to nothing more than ignorant dog-whistling against people who are most in need: disabled children and the elderly who rely on Medicaid, people who have to turn to emergency rooms for basic care because they lack health insurance, and families who rely on assistance to purchase food. He claimed that he had submitted over 400 proposals to solve the state’s budget deficit, but even by his own admission, taken together, his proposals wouldn’t even close half of Louisiana’s shortfall. And perhaps more importantly, many of them are absurd and almost certainly unconstitutional.
(There is one thing John Kennedy could actually do to solve part of the state’s budget problem: If he is elected to the Senate, he could pay the millions necessary to conduct a statewide special election for his replacement as State Treasurer. If he is elected Senator, the State of Louisiana will be on the hook, less than a year after he took an oath to serve as Treasurer. Aside from the bond houses that he controls, the State of Louisiana would essentially be his largest campaign contributor).
We need to get real, and we need to do so promptly.
We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that the common good can ever be achieved by defunding the common purpose. “Everyone knows the tow truck driver is to blame for getting you in the ditch,” my friend Jeremy White joked.
As Thomas Hagan noted on Twitter, only minutes after John Bel Edwards wrapped up his speech on Thursday night, “Edwards did more governing in 20 minutes than Jindal did in the last 5 years.”