In taking the oath as Louisiana’s next governor, John Bel Edwards will make history. Edwards, a Democrat, was elected amid widespread assumptions that in such a thoroughly red state, no member of his party could hope to capture Louisiana’s top post.
Edwards succeeds Bobby Jindal, who made his own history eight years ago by becoming the first Indian-American governor in the United States. Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, staked a different but no less compelling claim on posterity as Louisiana’s first woman governor.
For a generation now, Louisiana has brought to the Governor’s Mansion leaders who arrived there by defying conventional wisdom. We hope that reality demonstrates a willingness among citizens to think beyond traditional boundaries and embrace change.
Change must, in fact, be the order of the day as Edwards takes the reins of state government. Louisiana faces a huge budget deficit that threatens basic services, and addressing that quagmire will, by necessity, be the new governor’s first order of business.
Edwards’ election suggests that Louisiana’s voters are ready to look beyond party labels in selecting stewards of the public trust. That could be a refreshing alternative to the partisanship now paralyzing national politics in Washington, a form of stalemate that this state, so hungry for progress, cannot afford to indulge.
Edwards has promised a bipartisan administration. He’s honored that ideal in tapping outgoing Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican and former gubernatorial campaign rival, as his new commissioner of administration. Dardenne had crossed party lines to endorse Edwards after the gubernatorial primary.
Edwards’ overture to Republicans seems an acknowledgment that he will need the broad support of all Louisianians, regardless of party, to succeed.
By law and tradition, Louisiana’s governor has more power than most governors of other states. That practice has not always been good for Louisiana, creating a culture in which citizens regard the governor as a kind of benevolent dictator who can, with the sweep of a pen, make all things right. Such passivity reduces government to a spectator sport — sometimes entertaining but not in the best interest of a state obligated to compete in a global marketplace.
That is why today’s inauguration must be something more than the trading of one chief executive for another. It should be a call to reflection and service for all of our people, including those who hold this republic’s highest office — that of citizen.
We congratulate Edwards, and we wish our new governor well in meeting his obligations to the voters. We, in turn, have an obligation to remain engaged in the hard work of moving Louisiana forward.