While my fellow Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace concludes that, should he win the governor’s race, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards couldn’t significantly guide the state’s direction toward the left, that’s simply not the case. Even in the face of solid Republican legislative majorities, the discretion granted the office would allow Edwards to enact some significant changes that would moot, if not reverse, recent policy progress.
Grace acknowledges Edwards’ promise to put the state on course immediately for Medicaid expansion, but she claims policymakers seem set on that regardless of who wins the governor’s race. That misreads the position of Edwards’ runoff opponent, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, on the issue. Vitter has demanded fundamental changes to the program that the Obama administration would surely refuse for ideological reasons. This means Vitter probably wouldn’t commence expansion until a president entered the White House who was genuinely committed to creating a cost-efficient system that actually worked to improve health outcomes.
Also, Edwards as governor could thwart the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which issues vouchers to lower-income families whose children otherwise would enroll in substandard public schools. The vouchers allow these students to attend qualifying private and public schools. The money for the program requires an appropriation from the state’s general fund, and Edwards would have a big role in that funding decision.
While Edwards claimed in the most recent gubernatorial debate that he would keep the LSP, he said he would narrow it to children only in failing schools, meaning he could threaten line-item vetoes to shrink the program. Such a move would harm many families, reduce the program’s taxpayer savings and stunt vouchers’ beneficial effects. Those effects, verified through research, include improving public school student performance through competition incentives and increasing racial integration in public and private schools.
Perhaps no greater contrast between Vitter and Edwards on policy comes in the area of tort reform. Current law tilts heavily in the favor of plaintiffs and has made Louisiana one of the country’s worst legal climates for business.
Vitter has promised aggressive reform measures such as eliminating the jury trial threshold and limiting venue shopping and frivolous and legacy lawsuits. Edwards, a trial lawyer, wants none of that. His fellow litigators seem grateful. The Edwards campaign has netted nearly $3 million from trial lawyers, along with the assistance of political action committees that support him or attack Vitter.
But an Edwards administration likely would do more than stop tort reform. Edwards also supported the growing trend of regulation through litigation, and he almost certainly would invite his trial lawyer cronies working on contingency fee contracts to initiate government-sponsored litigation designed to bypass the Legislature. He spoke and voted against legislation, ultimately passed, that removed this overreach of power from a regional flood protection agency. Vitter has called for greater limits on those kinds of lawsuits in order to create a better investment climate in Louisiana.
And Edwards would probably have state government pick its legal battles in a way that expands the liberal agenda. For example, it’s hard to imagine him taking the same course as the Jindal administration when it resisted in the courts an effort by the Obama administration to weaken the influence of the voucher program by claiming the policy interfered with desegregation efforts. Last week, a federal appellate court panel agreed that the federal government went too far with its actions that would have limited families’ educational choices.
Even facing a GOP Legislature, another Gov. Edwards could perform plenty of policy mischief.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation in it (www.laleglog.com). Follow him on |Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.