As a campaign season closes, Louisiana could be poised to get its first full-time governor in years, which is something the state has desperately needed for a long time.
The gubernatorial tradition of part-time governors extends at least as far back as the final term of Mike Foster, who led the state from 1996 to 2004. In the sunset of his administration, Foster decided to study law at Southern University, apparently concluding that being governor still allowed plenty of time to squeeze in an avocation as an aspiring attorney. Foster did many good things as governor, including strong support for higher education and school accountability. But his law hobby suggested an administration in no particular hurry to address Louisiana’s business — an unusual attitude for the chief executive of a state that ranked at or near the bottom in many national rankings.
Kathleen Blanco, Foster’s successor, worked very hard as governor, and her support for higher education and school accountability invaluably extended Foster’s legacy. Blanco was also a champion of juvenile justice reform, courageously tackling an issue few politicians wanted to address. But Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in 2005 obligated the governor to spend most of her time on disaster recovery and relief. She put in long hours after the storm, yet had little opportunity to consider Louisiana’s long-term interests.
In succeeding Blanco, Bobby Jindal promised a newly energized commitment to making Louisiana a progressive, 21st century state. He made significant gains in attracting new industry and shifting Louisiana away from an antiquated, state-run charity hospital system. But Jindal’s ill-advised campaign for president left Louisiana on autopilot as he spent much of his time out of state.
We hope Louisiana’s next governor will do the job voters elected him to do — govern. There is, after all, so much to do. The state’s finances are in a mess, its higher education system is under deep strain, and the continuing problem of providing health care to the poor demands the resolve of a fully engaged chief executive.
Louisiana still performs poorly in national rankings on key indicators such as literacy, poverty and public health. And in the generation since Mike Foster took time off to pursue a law degree, the stakes have gotten even higher. Louisiana is no longer competing only with Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, but the whole world. In a global marketplace, leading Louisiana cannot be a sideline occupation.
The state needs a fully engaged leader, each and every day. We hope Louisiana’s next governor answers that call.