Louisiana voters will be bombarded with good and bad political information and charges and countercharges from now until the Oct. 12 statewide election, and getting at the truth may be difficult. Most of the focus will be on the gubernatorial contest that now has four announced contenders, but all of the 144 seats in the Legislature are also up for grabs.
Candidates will quality Aug. 6-8. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is seeking a second term, and he has two Republican opponents. They are U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, and Eddie Rispone, a businessman from Baton Rouge.
Gary Landrieu, an independent and cousin of former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is also in the race. If past history is any indication, there will also be a number of others seeking the state’s highest executive office. However, it’s late in the game for others to put together a serious race.
Here is one example of why it may be difficult for voters to get at the truth. Edwards and his GOP opponents are telling different stories about the state’s economy, according to a July 21 report in The Advocate.
Edwards says the state’s economy and state finances have turned around since he took office over 3 ½ years ago. Average weekly earnings are up, the unemployment rate is down and the $2 billion budget deficit he inherited is now a surplus, the governor says.
Not surprisingly, Abraham and Rispone say the economy has floundered under Edwards. They say fewer people are working today than when he became governor and the state’s economic gains trail the national average.
Who’s right? Writer Tyler Bridges in The Advocate story says both sides are because most of the economic indicators are up since Edwards took office, but those indicators have grown more slowly than the national averages.
Confusing, isn’t it? And the same confusion exists, whatever the subject — taxes, growth of government and the federal-state Medicaid health care program for low-income Americans. A conservative member of the state House, for example, in a letter to The Advocate, called the state’s Medicaid program a disaster. A liberal state senator in a succeeding letter called it a lifesaving program.
Then, there are the business organizations that have started endorsing legislative candidates or rating their performances. They prefer businessoriented candidates, and that is not unusual.
The Louisiana Oil and Gas Political Action Committee last week announced its first round of legislative endorsements. Gifford Briggs, executive director of the committee, said it is proud to back candidates that celebrate the oil and gas industry and all that it brings to Louisiana.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry this week announced its 21st Legislative Scorecard, “highlighting legislative leaders who consistently voted in support of pro-business legislation … over the past four years.” Stephen Waguespack, LABI president and CEO, called the recent session “especially anti-business.”
Other statewide organizations like teacher unions, advocacy groups for the poor and the disabled and health care supporters will be making their wishes known as well. Since their needs may conflict with the interests of business groups, voters will be asked to make tough decisions about who can best serve their own interests.
How do we sort through the confusion?
The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report said what it called “three of the most well-respected policy organizations” in the state have come to the rescue. They are the Committee of 100 for Economic Development (C100), the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR).
The thousands of members of the three nonpartisan organizations for the first time have joined together to foster change in Louisiana in an effort called RESET, “a renewed vision and a strong effort to make Louisiana everything it can be.”
All of the organizations have been involved in helping create the community and technical college system, expanded access to quality pre-K education, school accountability, replacement of the state’s outdated charity hospital system, enactment of tax reforms to improve the state’s financial stability and adoption of a comprehensive master plan for the coast.
The organizations believe dramatic change is possible because the turnover in the state Legislature is the largest since term limits were imposed. Their four areas of focus are state finances, education, transportation infrastructure and criminal justice/public safety.
CABL said voters need to be on guard because there are a million issues that can get candidates a lot of publicity and redirect the attention of voters and the media to things that are noisy and distracting. Unfortunately, that gets the state nowhere, the organization said.
“We believe the message to candidates this year is straightforward,” CABL said. “The pledge they should make to voters is that they will move forward on the issues that for too long have held us back.”
Yes, hitting the RESET button is the answer, and we will talk more about that Sunday.