So now what?
Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards began answering those questions Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after being elected governor, as he hired a chief of staff, named six co-chairs to oversee the transition and backed away from his campaign promise to expand Medicaid to the working poor on his first day in office.
In the coming days, Edwards, who takes office on Jan. 11, will have to hire dozens of top appointees, assemble a leadership team in the state House and Senate, formulate a plan for the $1 billion budget deficit he will inherit and begin to satisfy the many different constituencies that helped elect him — plus deal with dozens of other smaller issues.
“Decisions will be coming at him a mile a minute,” said Andy Kopplin, who helped oversee the transition from Gov. Mike Foster to Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003 and is now New Orleans deputy mayor and chief administration officer.
Edwards promised to carry out the transition — and govern — in a bipartisan way to move the state forward.
“We certainly have our plate full, and it is complicated by the fact that the state of Louisiana is not doing well” with the budget, Edwards told reporters at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, where he stayed up late celebrating his 12-point victory. “We’re up to the challenge.”
He said he expects to call a special session in February on the budget. A look at the calendar suggests it would occur after Feb. 9, which is Fat Tuesday.
Edwards also told reporters that he would like to see a new state superintendent of Education — John White, who was backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, currently holds the job — and that he has had no discussions with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne about naming him as commissioner of administration as has been widely speculated.
One of the first questions Edwards will face is when to carry out the Medicaid expansion. Edwards said that a legal uncertainty may force a delay, adding that he remained committed to carrying it out as one of his priorities.
“We will expand Medicaid as soon as we can,” Edwards said, noting the legal question related to the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 75, which the Legislature approved in 2015 to pave the way for the expansion.
Edwards announced that outgoing state Sen. Ben Nevers will be his chief of staff and oversee the transition, and he named six transition co-chairs who represent different political constituencies that are important for Edwards.
They are: state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge; Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend; Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo; businesswoman Laura Leach, of Lake Charles; and Richard Lipsey, a Baton Rouge businessman.
“He has a pretty diverse group,” said Rolfe McCollister Jr., founder and publisher of Louisiana Business, which publishes the Baton Rouge Business Report, and the chairman of Jindal’s 2007 transition.
Edwards said the transition team will work out of the 12th floor of Kirby Smith Hall, which is named after a Confederate general. Jindal used the same space eight years ago when he was governor-elect.
Nevers, 69, served five years in the House and 12 years in the Senate. A populist Democrat from Bogalusa, he championed Medicaid expansion. Nevers founded and co-owns NECO, an electrical contracting company for industrial businesses now run by his son. It has up to 100 employees, he said.
Edwards, asked if Nevers has the managerial experience to be the chief of staff of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, said Nevers had served as a mentor to him when Edwards entered the state House eight years ago.
“He has my complete confidence,” Edwards said. “He is a gifted and talented man.”
State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, who has been mentioned as a possible House speaker, said of Nevers: “Everybody likes him. It sets the right tone.”
Broome is an outgoing state senator who is running to be mayor of Baton Rouge.
Mayo, a Democrat, has been mayor of Monroe since 2001 and was an early supporter of Edwards’ campaign for governor.
Lipsey, who serves on the Louisiana Board of Regents, owns Lipsey’s, a wholesale firearms distributor. During the primary, Lipsey supported Dardenne, who lost in the primary and subsequently endorsed Edwards. The governor-elect cited Lipsey as a supporter during the runoff when his opponent, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, claimed he was no friend of business.
Normand, who appeared in a TV ad denigrating Vitter during the runoff, is a Republican sheriff from Jefferson Parish.
Leach, with her husband, Buddy, has substantial oil and gas and property holdings, as well as a large beef herd. She served on the LSU Board of Supervisors for 18 years, during the terms of Govs. Edwin Edwards, Foster and Blanco. Jindal did not reappoint her.
Townsend is an attorney who served in the state House as a Democrat from 2000-2008.
McCollister said that while the campaign may have been frenetic, the pace would even accelerate during the transition.
“Going from the campaign to the governor-elect transition is like going from drinking out of a garden hose to drinking from a fire hydrant,” McCollister said, forecasting 18-hour days, Monday through Sunday. “You have to name the right team. That will make or break you.”
McCollister said he received 265 calls and emails in 2007 within a day of being named Jindal’s transition chief.
Besides meeting with the press, Edwards also held a series of private meetings Sunday that he declined to discuss with reporters. One of them took place with about 20 lobbyists and high-powered businessmen and other top officials, to discuss how to finance the transition and inauguration. It all has to be raised privately since the state budget contains no funds for them.
Those seen leaving the meeting included business lobbyist C.J. Blache; New Orleans developer Darryl Berger; and Stephen Perry, who is president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and managed Foster’s transition in 1995.
“I’ve seen governors come out of a campaign looking worn down,” Perry said. “He looked totally energized.”
Editor's note: This story was altered on Dec. 1, 2015, to correct Andy Kopplin's job title.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.