Casting an early vote for Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was a no-brainer. Edwards inherited a state in financial turmoil and he and a Republican-controlled Legislature have stabilized state government.
During my over 50 years of covering the state Legislature, I have witnessed the performance of eight Louisiana governors. I didn’t hesitate to give Mike Foster high marks for his successes, and Edwards has worked well with Republican lawmakers to get the state back on its feet. Republicans Dave Treen and Buddy Roemer were both reformers, but they had to contend with former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards who was always on the sidelines looking for his own opportunities. Treen and Roemer made some decisions that played into EWE’s hands and he defeated them both.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was also an effective chief executive, but Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 caused her political problems and she didn’t run for re-election. She and Foster made significant gains in higher education and K-12 education that were lost during the eight years Bobby Jindal was governor.
Higher education has always been a major concern of mine because a B.A. degree from McNeese and an M.A. degree from LSU have helped me achieve personal and professional successes that a youngster born in the Depression years never thought possible. Understanding the value of proper health care, for example, has helped my wife and I live into our mid-80s.
With high hopes, I voted for Jindal twice. However, his signing of a notax pledge and his decision to seek the presidency affected his political decisions. State financial support for higher education dropped from 70 to 30 percent during his two terms, and parents and students are now paying 70 percent of the support.
Jindal didn’t want to repeal the income tax increase in the Stelly plan that made it possible to end state sales taxes on food, prescription drugs and residential utilities, but he went along with repeal for political reasons. The state lost vital state revenues and state trust funds were plundered in order to balance state budgets.
Democrats and half of the Republican House members helped bring back budget stability in 2016 by approving a two-year, 1 percent increase in the state’s 4-percent state sales tax. When the 1 percent increase went off the books, the Legislature in 2018, again with Republican support, approved a seven-year, 0.45 percent increase in the state sales tax to continue stability.
Education in all areas became a top priority for Edwards. Higher education funding was stabilized for two years and got a $47 million budget increase earlier this year. K-12 teachers and public schools also received their first pay increases and extra funding in a decade. Edwards was also the first governor to get $20 million in funding for early childhood (birth to age 3) education.
Edwards expanded Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income Americans. Many thousands of Louisiana citizens are now being treated for serious illnesses that would not have been otherwise detected. There have been some problems with the massive program, but they are being corrected.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, the two major Republicans challenging Edwards’ re-election, and their state party have fabricated many falsehoods about the governor. Recent polls have shown that voters aren’t buying their stories.
GOP critics of Edwards don’t like the fact that Jindal’s name has surfaced during the campaign, but it can’t be ignored. Abraham and Rispone are echoing the same “we’re going to reduce taxes and cut the budget” slogans that were so popular with the former governor. That is exactly what got the state in serious financial trouble.
The state’s economy is also in good shape, but Edwards’ critics would have voters believe otherwise. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is higher than it has ever been, and unemployment is the lowest it has been in over a decade.
Edwards has been consistently high in public opinion polls, and two of the latest have him still there. A Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy poll done for six Louisiana Gray Television stations had Edwards at 45 percent, Rispone at 22 percent and Abraham at 17 percent. A Verne Kennedy poll done for a group of businessmen had Edwards at 51 percent and Abraham and Rispone at 19 percent each.
If there is a runoff between Edwards and Rispone, the Mason-Dixon poll showed 51 percent would vote for Edwards, 42 percent for Rispone and 7 percent were undecided. In a runoff with Abraham, Edwards would get 53 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Abraham, with 9 percent undecided.
The Kennedy poll found Edwards enjoys a 56 percent favorable rating, Abraham a 33 percent favorable rating and Rispone a 30 percent favorable rating.
It’s no surprise that the poll numbers are bringing President Trump to Lake Charles Friday to try and help the Republican candidates. However, it’s late in the game. The outcome won’t be known until late Saturday evening, but I am convinced — without a doubt — that my vote for Edwards was the right one.