Across Louisiana, new attorney general, lieutenant governor create Republican stronghold on statewide offices _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- Plaqueminbes parish President Billy Nungesser Friday, November 8, 2013.

Candidates in this year’s lieutenant governor’s race spent a good bit of time discussing what they would do to fight crime, improve education and promote economic development — areas of public policy in which the state’s No. 2 elected official has little or no formal authority.

Even so, those kinds of discussions have a rationale. The lieutenant governor is a heartbeat away from Louisiana’s top job, so voters should know where he or she stands on a broad range of issues facing the state.

But most of the focus for a lieutenant governor should be the responsibilities over which the state’s second-in-command has real control. The state constitution gives the lieutenant governor responsibility for Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which manages the state’s tourism promotion, the State Library of Louisiana, state parks and a number of historic sites.

Billy Nungesser, Louisiana’s newly elected lieutenant governor, has his work cut out for him in stewarding these institutions. They’re an important part of state government, but years of fiscal austerity have seriously compromised their missions.

Jay Dardenne, the outgoing lieutenant governor and an amateur historian, seemed to have a firm grasp of the state’s rich cultural legacy and the role that government can play in nurturing that legacy for future generations. But Dardenne’s tenure as lieutenant governor coincided with state budget policies that left many agencies without the resources they needed. The results of that neglect await Nungesser.

Consider the State Library, which operates in the shadow of the State Capitol. Community libraries across Louisiana borrow books from the library to serve local patrons. It’s a vital service for small library systems that simply cannot afford extensive collections. The library also offers specialized reading materials for the visually impaired and serves as a research collection for state government.

Because of the state budget mess, the State Library isn’t now open to serve patrons every weekday. Having the state’s premier library — the one a stone’s throw from the State Capitol — closed to patrons on some weekdays sends a terrible message to the rest of the world about Louisiana’s commitment to advancing literacy. That travesty is compounded by the depth of the need. In a state where, by some estimates, a fourth of the residents are functionally illiterate, expanding Louisiana’s community of readers should be Job One.

Other challenges abound in the institutions overseen by the lieutenant governor. Historic sites are also operating with reduced hours, and resources for maintaining and staffing parks and historic sites have been slashed.

Given the state’s budget hole, immediate relief doesn’t seem likely.

We wish Nungesser luck in his new role. He will surely need it.