Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards announced key cabinet appointments Wednesday, including state Department of Transportation and Development veteran Shawn Wilson to be the next secretary of the agency.
Also, Col. Mike Edmonson will remain as Louisiana State Police superintendent, Don Pierson will be secretary for Louisiana Economic Development and state Rep. Karen St. Germain will be commissioner for the Office of Motor Vehicles.
Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon will head the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Ironically, Melancon lost his challenge to U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2010, five years before Vitter was routed by Edwards in this year’s race for governor.
“We’re assembling the best team possible that is well positioned to tackle these challenges from day one,” said Edwards, who takes office on Jan. 11.
Wilson is a 10-year veteran of DOTD.
He is chief of staff for current DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas, who is the first woman to hold the job.
LeBas is paid $170,000 per year and announced last month that she planned to leave the post early next year.
Repeated efforts to come up with long-term solutions have died in the Legislature.
Wilson, who will be paid $176,900 per year, said making a dent in the problem will take time.
“You can eat an elephant,” he said. “You just can’t do it all at one sitting.”
Wilson said motorists spend $16 to $18 per month on state gasoline taxes, among the lowest in the nation.
“We hope at some point to find additional dollars,” he said.
Edwards said a variety of steps are needed before taxpayers are asked to spend more on transportation, including reallocating capital spending to boost transportation aid by $75 million per year.
“The challenge is daunting,” he said.
Edmonson, who has been superintendent since 2008, has been embroiled in several high-profile controversies this year, including pay hikes for state troopers amid state budget problems and a controversial push to recover dollars from motorists with lapsed insurance.
In addition, the endorsement of Edwards’ gubernatorial bid by the Louisiana State Troopers Association, a rare move, also sparked questions.
Edwards said Edmonson enjoys widespread support from the law enforcement community, including local leaders.
Pierson is senior director of business development for Louisiana Economic Development, and he will succeed Steven Grissom.
St. Germain, a Democratic state lawmaker from Pierre Part since 2003 who is being forced out by term limits, is chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee and has been one of the leaders in the bid to boost state aid for roads and bridges.
Edwards named Retired Col. Joey Strickland, who lives in Walker, to be secretary for the controversy-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs.
Twin investigations into conditions at nursing homes led to the recent resignation of former secretary David LaCerte.
Strickland, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, signed an open letter to Vitter during the campaign that blasted the Republican’s campaign and “abysmal record” in veterans issues.
Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis will remain as adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard.
Other salaries include Curtis, $192,566; Edmonson, $134,351; Strickland, $130,000; Pierson, $237,500; Melancon, $123,614 and St. Germain, $125,000.
Edwards also named Juana Marine-Lombard, an attorney, to become commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
Erin Monroe Wesley, who is executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, was named special counsel for the administration, Chief of Staff Ben Nevers announced.
Nevers also said Matthew Block, a Thibodaux attorney, will be executive counsel; former TV and radio journalist Julie Baxter Payer will be deputy chief of staff for communications, legal and special projects; Johnny Anderson, aide to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco will be deputy chief of staff, programming and planning; and Toye Taylor, who has held elected jobs in Bogalusa, will be deputy chief of staff for intergovernmental affairs.
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