Speaking to a crowd that he hasn’t always seen-eye-to-eye with, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards promised that his administration will work to bring people together and bridge differences.
“I know that there are areas where people tend to disagree because of party affiliation, but if we only focus on the areas where we disagree, we will never find the common ground where we can come together,” Edwards said during his keynote speech at the Council for a Better Louisiana’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
Edwards is preparing to take office Jan. 11, following a landslide win in the Nov. 21 election. He has spent the week deep in transition mode, planning to roll out a series of advisory committees that will guide him on key issues — the first of which he named just after Wednesday’s speech.
Edwards met for more than an hour Tuesday with Gov. Bobby Jindal to discuss the transition between administrations.
The CABL appearance was his second major keynote address since defeating Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Just two days after winning election, he spoke at the annual convention of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, a labor groups that represents school employees.
CABL is a nonpartisan think tank that advocates on state issues, particularly those related to ethics and education.
Edwards, a Democratic state representative for the past eight years, said he knew some people in the room were worried that he would “govern from far left” after eight years of Republican leadership, but he said he’ll walk a center path.
“We have to bring people together,” Edwards said. “I am absolutely serious when I say this, ‘We are going to be Louisianans first.’?”
Other high points of his speech included calls for stable higher education funding and a repeal of the “SAVE” tax credit that was used to fund higher education this year. SAVE has been widely panned as a scheme that only served to help Jindal keep an anti-tax pledge.
“I have never signed such a pledge. My pledge is to the people of Louisiana,” Edwards said of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge Jindal and several state legislators signed.
CABL director Barry Erwin said that disagreements with Edwards have always remained cordial, and he was glad that Edwards agreed to speak to the group.
“All of these things show the type of governor that we have elected,” he said.
The gathering of several hundred civic and business leaders also included some people Edwards has disagreed with over support for raising the minimum wage and other priorities.
Edwards reiterated his support for a minimum wage hike, expansion of Medicaid (which CABL supports) and closing the gender pay gap.
“I am not going to back away from any of that,” he said.“Those things will improve Louisiana, as well.”
Edwards said he expects to name some key members of his administration by the end of next week.
The first wave is expected to be those closely involved with the budget, as Edwards plans to call a special session in February to address the state’s fiscal crisis.
Edwards’ transition committee on fiscal affairs will be tasked with finding ways that the state could address the budget deficit, fund K-12 and higher education and improve access to health care. It will be co-chaired by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Sharon Robinson, a former state Inspector General and Assistant Legislative Auditor.
The 34-person panel also includes a diverse, racially mixed group of budget advisers that span previous administrations and represent different political leanings.