Gov. John Bel Edwards marked his 100th day in office by fielding questions from people from around the state during the launch of his new monthly call-in radio show.
How will the state protect the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students?, several people wanted to know.
What’s the plan for the state to shore up its finances?, another asked.
What do you think about cities trying to limit the use of plastic bags?, one New Orleans resident quizzed.
Can you help me get a presidential pardon?, asked a man from Alexandria.
The first episode of “Ask The Governor” had Edwards, a Democrat who was sworn into office on Jan. 11 after an once-improbable win in the governor’s race, addressing a broad range of topics -- some he answered with ease, others he pivoted to smoother talking points.
“The show was obviously created to begin an open dialogue,” Edwards said.
The call-in show is a throwback to former Gov. Mike Foster, who hosted a weekly “Live Mike” radio show.
Edwards’ first hour on the airwaves was relatively tame -- minus one caller who was cut off after she launched into a criticism of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and asked whether he owes the state money for the current financial crisis.
“I don’t think I’m going to touch that one,” Edwards said, segueing to the next call.
All of the callers on Tuesday’s program were generally positive toward the governor, who wore reading glasses and jotted down notes as he sat in the Louisiana Radio Network’s studio off Coursey Boulevard.
“You made me proudly eat my words because I didn’t think a Democrat could win in this state,” one caller, identified as “Steve in Mandeville,” told the governor.
The radio show will air live on stations across the state on the third week of the month. The first episode was facilitated by local radio personality Jim Engster. Edwards, a Democrat, announced his run for governor on Engster’s own show two years ago.
Edwards’ new radio show is his latest attempt to provide more direct access to the Governor’s Office, after eight years of Jindal’s leadership that had the governor increasingly traveling outside the state’s borders.
In the three months since taking office, Edwards taken time to speak to several groups and conferences — from the Public Affairs Research Council’s annual luncheon to this year’s Delta Sigma Theta Red & White party. He’s testified three times in legislative committees and made a special visit to the House floor to mark the birthday of Rep. Sam Jones, a Franklin Democrat who was Edwards’ seat-mate when the governor served in the state House.
Shortly after taking office, Edwards made a rare live statewide televised appearance to address the state budget crisis, which has become a frequent talking point in his speeches since.
After a 25-day special session and six weeks of regular session, Edwards during his radio show stressed his continued optimism about the direction the state’s heading, despite the looming $750 million shortfall still left in the budget that begins July 1 even after several tax hikes.
“I remain very excited about the state, our future and being governor,” Edwards told listeners.
Edwards plans to call a second special session after the regular session ends June 6, because state law prohibits legislators from raising revenue during this year’s regular session.
“The problem we have is a general fund shortfall. Simply put there’s just not enough money to fund what we all believe to be important programs,” Edwards said on his radio show, describing his special session as coming in late June, though some legislators have said they would prefer that it come later in the year.
He said he sees next year’s regular session, when lawmakers will focus on the state’s finances, as an opportunity for long-term solutions and plugged a task force that has been created to provide recommendations.
“We are gearing up toward comprehensive tax reform, long-term structural reform for 2017,” Edwards said.
The budget crisis has created uncertainty for the TOPS scholarships that Louisiana college students receive from the state to help cover tuition costs. TOPS and higher education funding generated more calls than any other topic during Edwards’ first installment of his radio show.
Edwards said he’s worried about the program’s viability, as the state works to shore up its budget. He also took the opportunity to push blame onto the backs of state legislators, arguing they could have raised more revenue or made deeper cuts during the special session.
“TOPS would have been fully-funded,” he said.
As for the caller’s pardon, Edwards said he wasn’t sure how much he could do, and he demurred on the question about plastic bags. The city of New Orleans has considered an ordinance that would make shoppers pay more for disposable bags, but legislation that’s been proposed at the State Capitol would block the effort.
“I believe in local control over most issues,” Edwards said.