Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards met for about an hour on Tuesday to discuss plans for the transition between their administrations.
Edwards, a Democrat, takes office Jan. 11, following a landslide win in the Nov. 21 governor’s race.
He and Jindal, a Republican, pledged during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion following their meeting that they will work together to ensure a smooth transition over the next month.
“I think it’s a good thing for the state — a good thing for the people of Louisiana,” Jindal said of the new bipartisan partnership they’re forging. “Today is not about partisan politics. It’s about making sure that Louisiana’s interests are served first and best.”
Edwards, a state representative from Amite who has served as the leader of the House Democrats, has been a frequent critic of Jindal — particularly as he campaigned for governor. He often sought to tie his Republican opponents to Jindal, who has seen his approval ratings drop as the state faced repeated budget problems and as he campaigned for president.
But the two say they are ready to put their differences aside — much like Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco did as Jindal prepared to take office eight years ago.
“We’re going to do it in a professional way,” Edwards said.
Jindal described the meeting, which also included Edwards’ Chief of Staff Ben Nevers, as “cordial” and “very productive” but was light on specifics, adding only that it focused on “big-picture issues, as well as day to day.”
“I want to make sure this process is as easy as possible,” Jindal said.
Even before the race between Edwards and Republican David Vitter was decided, Jindal had offered to do anything to assist, including placing the new governor-elect’s picks in interim leadership posts within his administration.
Edwards said he doesn’t plan to take up the interim appointment offer, but his leadership will be meeting with Jindal’s Cabinet members.
“The cooperation is there,” Edwards said.
Edwards said he’s been particularly thankful to the access to information before he formally takes office.
Jindal won 54 percent of the vote in an October 2007 primary election, which allowed him under Louisiana’s jungle primary system to avoid a runoff and gave him a longer transition period than the 11/2 months Edwards will have.
“Obviously, there is a lot of work to do in a short period of time, and cooperation makes a big difference,” Edwards said.
For Edwards, the quick transition goes beyond picking Cabinet members and outlining his agenda for the first anticipated special session in February.
Standing in front of two of the Governor’s Mansion’s many tall Christmas trees covered in elaborate ornaments, Edwards gestured with his hands and opened his eyes widely: “It’s a bit overwhelming, I have to tell you.”
Edwards said he expects that he and his wife, Donna, will meet with Jindal and his wife, Supriya, to talk more about the day-to-day life in the Governor’s Mansion. The Jindals have three small children who have spent the past eight years growing up in the mansion. The Edwards have three children, one still living at home.
Edwards said he’ll announce “soon enough” who will play key roles in his administration.
He said his administration will be bipartisan and reflective of the state.
Already, Edwards has upset some Republicans by his decision to back a Democrat as House speaker.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Edwards acknowledged for the first time publicly that he’s supporting state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, for that role. Leger has previously said he has the votes necessary in the chamber to win the leadership post and promised to name Republicans and Democrats as committee leaders.
The House Republican Delegation had sent a letter to Edwards saying it preferred a Republican speaker to reflect the chamber’s GOP majority.
“He’s a very capable and talented young man,” Edwards said of Leger, who has served as House speaker pro tempore. “I think he’s demonstrated his competence and his ability to work across the aisle.”
Edwards said he wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to operate in a bipartisan way.
“Walt Leger offers the best hope to continue that,” he said.