Jay Dardenne talks gubernatorial bid at Southern University _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne gives his opinion on a select topic during "2015 Governor's Race and Small Business: A First Look," Tuesday, sponsored by The National Federation of Independent Business, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Retailers Association. Other panelists were Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, State Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said one of the first things he’ll do, if elected governor this fall, is call a bipartisan panel to study whether Louisiana should seek a waiver from the federal government and tap into health care funding from the Affordable Care Act.

Dardenne, the latest gubernatorial candidate to take part in Southern University’s speaker’s forum, told the crowd Wednesday that he opposes the federal health care law frequently called “Obamacare” and thinks it should be repealed. But he said that as long as it’s the “law of the land,” Louisiana should examine the possibility of using it to the state’s advantage.

“I think Obamacare is a bad thing,” said Dardenne, a Republican. “It’s government taking too much control of health care delivery.”

Louisiana would get millions from the federal government if the state were to expand Medicaid eligibility and grow the state’s rolls of the health care program for the poor. The Medicaid expansion component was a key piece of the Obama administration’s health care law, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states couldn’t be forced into it. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits, opposes Medicaid expansion.

In the race to replace him, Dardenne faces Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who spoke to the same group earlier this month; Republican Scott Angelle; and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards. Edwards will take part in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences speaker’s series on April 29. Angelle has not been scheduled.

The election is Oct. 24, with a Nov. 21 runoff if no candidate gets more than half of the vote.

Dardenne fielded questions from the Southern University crowd on issues related to health care, incarceration and state funding for higher education.

Dardenne, who previously served in the Legislature and as secretary of state, said Louisiana’s budget outlook is the worst he’s seen.

“I hope this Legislature will do something to provide a fix,” he said. “If they don’t, you’re going to have a serious calamity on this campus and every other campus in the state of Louisiana.”

Interim Southern University Chancellor Flandus McClinton said the future of Southern University is at stake in the budget talks.

“We’ve been around for 135 years,” McClinton said. “When you think in terms of funding, it’s essential that we receive enough to stick around for another 135 years.”

During his speech, Dardenne didn’t directly take aim at his gubernatorial opponents, but he sought to set himself out as the “reasonable” candidate.

“You need to look at the people running for office and see who will work across the divide,” he said. “I do that. I bring people together.”

He asked students in attendance to vote for him and volunteer for his campaign.

“What this state needs right now is a leader solely focused on Louisiana,” he said, taking a clear swipe at Jindal, who has been mulling a run for president in 2016 and frequently travels outside the state. He said he won’t take an anti-tax pledge that Jindal has remained committed to. Jindal’s critics have argued that he puts the Americans for Tax Reform pledge and the group’s leader, Grover Norquist, above Louisiana.

“I represent the people of Louisiana; I don’t represent someone who lives in D.C.,” Dardenne said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.