Jim Beam column: Trump is major state player

Published 6:41 am Saturday, October 28, 2023

Someone took me to task after Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry was elected governor in the primary when I said that Louisiana “now belongs to former GOP President Donald Trump.”

Trump had endorsed Landry and Donald Trump Jr. was the AG’s champion during the campaign. This week, the former president gave a dynamic thumbs up for U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, who is Louisiana’s first-ever speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP whip, had been nominated for speaker but withdrew when Trump bashed his nomination, calling him a RINO (Republican in name only). “He wasn’t MAGA,” Trump said, referring to his Make America Great Again campaign slogan.

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Trump, at the New York courthouse where he’s on trial over a lawsuit alleging business fraud, said of Johnson, “I think he’s gonna be a fantastic speaker. He’s a tremendous leader. He’s going to make us all proud.”

Those comments aren’t surprising since turnabout is only fair play. Johnson helped Trump when he took the lead in filing a brief in a lawsuit that sought to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory. That claim, which The Associated Press said was widely panned by legal scholars of all ideologies, was quickly thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Johnson also echoed some of the wilder conspiracy theories pushed by Trump to explain his loss. Then Johnson voted against certifying Biden’s win even after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In congratulating Johnson, The Advocate said as speaker he is likely to look for constructive ways to navigate a divided party and a divided nation.”

We hope Johnson can do that, but it’s a mighty tall order. What is he going to do, for example, if he crosses the GOP’s far-right members who canned former Speaker Kevin McCarthy?

Particularly disturbing for many Americans is that Johnson voted against two different appropriations bills that provided aid to Ukraine, one in 2022 and another last month, according to The Hill.

The fact that Johnson is from Louisiana does bode well for a state that needs all kinds of help from Congress. However, we won’t know how beneficial that might be for some time.

Getting back to Trump, it’s obvious he helped elect Landry and Johnson. However, the former president failed to deliver on his promise to give us a new Interstate 10 bridge here over the Calcasieu River.

The administration of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards gave us an opportunity to get a new bridge, but that plan was torpedoed this week by our area Republican legislative delegation.

Our GOP state senators and representatives don’t like P3s (private-public partnerships) that are used by many states to build roads and bridges, and they hate tolls. Unfortunately, without both of those, a new bridge here doesn’t have much of a chance to become a reality anytime soon.

The story is much different in Texas where plans are underway for a new Interstate 14 highway across the gulf south — including through central Louisiana. The Advocate reported the plans for the new highway are “largely driven by officials from the Lone Star State.”

A 25-mile stretch of I-14 has already opened near Killeen in central Texas, and there are plans to expand this section in 2026.

Malcolm Morris, a lifelong Vernon Parish resident who supports a highway through central Louisiana, told the newspaper, “When they say they gotta build a highway in Texas, everybody starts getting ready because it’s going to happen. In Louisiana, you say ‘OK, sure.”

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has included I-14 in the state’s transportation plan, but a spokesman said there is no funding set aside for the project, which is estimated to cost $7 billion.

That comes as no surprise since the state has a road and bridge maintenance and construction backlog totaling $18 billion. And that is another reason why roads and bridges are difficult to construct in this state without P3s and tolls.

The $12.50 toll for trucks was a major reason why the legislative committee rejected the local bridge project. That is too high, but now there is no opportunity to negotiate on that issue, unless the committee has a change of heart, which doesn’t seem likely.

Trump and Biden didn’t come through on their promise to build us a new bridge, but the Biden administration did give Louisiana some funding for the project. Even that may be lost since the bridge job was rejected.