If anyone wondered whether John Bel Edwards meant what he said on the campaign trail, he decided to make it clear by repeating it in his inaugural address — explicit promises to push for a higher minimum wage and expanded public insurance coverage for the working poor.
And if amid the pomp and ceremony of the inauguration, the new governor’s statements were not surprising, they included a plea for support across party lines in the Legislature.
“I cannot do this alone,” he said after taking the oath of office as Louisiana’s 56th governor.
As the surprise winner in a state that has not elected another Democrat statewide since 2008, Edwards’ appeal for bipartisanship is a matter of not only good manners but immediate necessity.
Although very politely acknowledging outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edwards focused on the unstable budget that he inherits. It is a structural budget deficit, he said, that hobbles Louisiana’s efforts to deal with problems across the realm of state government.
“If we don’t fix our chronic state deficits, we can’t fix our other problems,” Edwards said. “Those are the facts.”
As a candidate, Edwards decried cuts to higher education under Jindal. As governor, he said he would reverse that course, but as with so many other of his priorities, the crux of the matter will be money.
“Our top priority must be stabilizing the budget,” Edwards said. We agree with him, although we also agree that there are other issues inevitably facing the incoming administration.
He promised by Tuesday an executive order that will begin the process of expanding Medicaid health insurance coverage for the working poor, as authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act but until now blocked by Jindal and the Republican-led Legislature.
That is a positive move with good budgetary implications in the short term, as the “Obamacare” law provides for generous cost-sharing for new Medicaid patients. Louisiana is a poor state and health care is expensive; the health of our workers is fundamental to the success of our economy.
Without rancor, the repetition of his 2015 campaign themes in the speech promised a sharp turn from Jindal’s policies even as the outgoing governor watched. We liked the commitment from Edwards for the “unvarnished truth from this administration” for the budget problem, but action taken earlier in the day by the House of Representatives underlined that solutions have to be bipartisan in nature.
The House rejected Edwards’ Democratic choice for speaker and instead elected Rep. Taylor Barras, of New Iberia, a member of the chamber’s Republican majority.
“I was not a business-as-usual candidate,” Edwards said. “I will not be a business-as-usual governor.”
Given the House’s action, almost unprecedented in modern times, Edwards might not be dealing with a business-as-usual Legislature.