Forces trying to discredit Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards are attacking him on two major fronts — his support of criminal justice reform and his administration’s handling of Medicaid contracts for poor and low-income citizens.
The justice reform critics are not members of an organized group but some of them are district attorneys and sheriffs who believe the prison release system important to success of the effort isn’t working well. Others are citizens who believe in “locking them up and throwing away the key.”
The Medicaid opposition is unmistakably spearheaded by Republican conservatives in the Louisiana House who are members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is their ringleader to whom they give unanimous allegiance.
House Republicans on the joint committee Friday, for the third time in a month, blocked a 23-month extension of five Medicaid management contracts.
As for justice reform, the Times-Picayune in a story last week said its critics are looking for the next Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who became a central figure in the 1988 presidential election. Horton was released from a Massachusetts prison under a furlough program and then raped a woman and brutally assaulted her fiancé.
Then-Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president, had supported the furlough program but wasn’t involved in its implementation. The part the Horton incident played in the defeat of Dukakis is unknown, but it certainly didn’t help his cause.
State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner and a justice reform supporter, lost a Jefferson Parish Council seat last month. Martiny’s support for justice reform became a major part of the winner’s campaign.
Fortunately for Gov. Edwards, the criminal justice reform effort had support from some powerful conservatives both inside and outside the state. They include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Gene Mills, president of the Family Forum, a conservative Christian advocacy group.
The Times-Picayune noted that Charles and David Koch, conservative billionaires who fund many Republican election efforts, were advocates of criminal justice reform. The newspaper added that Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax group, is another supporter.
You can be sure those same groups will be actively opposing Edwards’ re-election in 2019. However, they were all on the same team this time around.
Mills and Craig DeRoche, a senior vice president at Prison Fellowship, wrote a column saying their organizations “were honored to support Louisiana’s criminal justice reforms.”
“After years of debate, the Pelican State finally moved beyond platitudes about being ‘tough on crime’ and decided it was time to get smart on rehabilitation,” the two men said. They added that claims of a great threat to public safety have been exaggerated.
Like many others, they said the reforms should be given a chance to work for the good of taxpayers, families and crime victims.
“The time for simply cursing the darkness, or one another is over,” they said. “It’s time to introduce the light in Louisiana corrections. Crime prevention and smart sentencing policies will work as we honor valid concerns, work together to remedy unintended gaps and allow the reforms to demonstrate effectiveness.”
Problems will surface, no doubt about that. However, the two men are right when they say unintended gaps can be corrected through “cleanup legislation, rather than undermining reforms before they have had time to succeed.” They said a smarter justice system will respect the dignity and value of each person impacted by crime and incarceration.
Yes, Edwards supported the reform legislation, but remember it was also approved by a Legislature that is controlled by Republicans.
As for the Medicaid situation, don’t look for any change of heart by House Republicans. They are going to stall these contracts as long as they can even though it puts the health care of 1.6 million Louisianans, 800,000 of them children, in jeopardy.
Edwards called it a partisan spectacle led by a vocal minority in the House. He said the contracts were carefully written and thoroughly vetted and are far superior to the initial contracts. No question or concern raised went unaddressed following months of review and more than three public hearings, he said.
It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating. These are some of the same Republicans who approved the original Medicaid contracts when Republican Bobby Jindal was governor. Those contracts were approved even though they contained blank pages.
The 2019 gubernatorial election is a long way off. Unfortunately, obstructionist Republicans have been waging the next campaign since they were shell-shocked by Edwards’ victory in 2015.