Two candidates for governor, a Republican and a Democrat, found common ground Friday in blasting what they called the failings of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s nearly eight years in office.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who like Jindal is a Republican, said he was serving his roughly 70th day this year as “acting governor” — Dardenne’s designation when Jindal is out of state, often while he is campaigning for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
“I couldn’t get him on the phone now if I needed to,” Dardenne told a forum sponsored by the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana.
Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards told the group he is no latecomer to the chorus of Jindal critics, including skepticism about the 2012 Jindal-backed statewide voucher expansion bill and other issues.
On many fronts, Edwards said, Jindal has been an “unmitigated disaster,” singling out higher education funding problems and the overhaul of Louisiana’s public hospitals during Jindal’s tenure.
“We are not where we need to be as a people,” said Edwards, who, like Dardenne, criticized the governor without prompting.
The comments surfaced during a forum mostly devoted to public education issues.
Both major contenders praised a Common Core accord approved by the Legislature aimed at trimming controversy over the new standards.
The other contenders to succeed Jindal — Republicans U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge — did not attend.
The primary is Oct. 24. A runoff will be held Nov. 21 unless one candidate garners more than 50 percent of the primary vote, which is unlikely.
Dardenne, who has long given speeches tracing Louisiana’s history, said the state’s story is one of lost opportunities “because we didn’t have the leadership” and that the past eight years may fall into that category.
He said that when he is governor, his travels will be aimed at returning industries to the state to boost Louisiana’s economy, not any hunt for electoral votes.
“I am going to be a hands-on governor,” said Dardenne, a 15-year veteran of the Legislature before becoming secretary of state and then lieutenant governor.
Jindal on Friday was campaigning in Iowa, the site of the first key caucuses in 2016.
Asked if Jindal wanted to respond, Mike Reed, a spokesman for the governor, issued a statement that said, “There are some candidates running for governor who like to whine. But Governor Jindal’s record is clear — Louisiana has more people, more jobs and higher incomes than ever before.”
Edwards, whose wife, Donna, is a public school teacher in Tangipahoa Parish, renewed his call for less standardized testing in public schools. “The tests are robbing our children of the joy of learning,” he said.
Edwards, a House member since 2008, faulted Jindal for failing to push for increases in state aid for public schools.
He said that, in a sign of disrespect to teachers in recent years, educators were relegated to overflow rooms in the State Capitol in 2012 when some of the governor’s public school overhaul bills were debated.
While Dardenne and Edwards disagree on Common Core, both praised new state laws that, among other things, require public hearings in Louisiana’s six congressional districts on how to change the new academic benchmarks in reading, writing and math.
“I am the only candidate who has said all along that I support Common Core,” Dardenne said.
He said his stance was not dictated by checking the political winds, a verbal jab that he later said was aimed at Vitter.
Vitter, like Jindal, is a former Common Core backer turned opponent.
Edwards, who opposes Common Core, backed the accord that won legislative approval earlier this year and he said it will allow for vital public input.
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