1) This was the wonkiest debate so far, and again U.S. Sen. David Vitter passed on a chance to answer state policy-minded questions.
"David Vitter only plays home games," Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle said in his closing
But the most dramatic exchange veered off the subject and into campaign tactics. Fellow Republicans Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both of whom have been targeted by Vitter on television, let the absent senator have it.
"He's ineffective, he's vicious, he's lying, and I'm sick of it," Dardenne said, after launching rapid-fire responses to specific allegations.
"He's vicious, he's mean, he's divisive," Angelle chimed in, before noting that a tracker linked to Vitter was in the room filming his opponents. Angelle also made the most direct reference to the question he said Vitter doesn't want to answer, whether he broke the law back during his prostitution scandal.
Vitter hasn't really gone after Democrat John Bel Edwards, who would clearly be his choice as a runoff opponent. So Edwards went after a Republican Governors Association ad criticizing him for wanting to expand "Obamacare" in Louisiana. Yes, Edwards advocates accepting the Affordable Care Act's largely federally-funded Medicaid expansion for lower income residents, many of whom work, he said. But so do his Republican opponents.
2) A question on Medicaid expansion drew out a key difference between how the three men who attended would proceed.
Edwards said he'd tap into the money immediately, and brushed of his Republican opponents' insistence on market-oriented reforms. Gov. Bobby Jindal already instituted such measures, he argued, when he introduced the Bayou Health managed care program (of course, Jindal has refused to consider expanding Medicaid despite his own reforms).
Dardenne said he'd apply for a conditional waiver to access the money quickly, then proceed with reforms. The timing is key because of the state's budget shortfall, and also because private hospitals are set to pick up the local match if an agreement is reached by April 1.
Angelle said he'd seek a waiver to develop a Louisiana-specific program before accepting the expansion. He insisted that, against all odds, the state and the federal government would work things out in a few months, not a year or two.
3) The only debate that Vitter has attended so far, on WDSU in New Orleans, was roundly criticized for including no budget questions. This one started with three, and the candidates ventured a bit into the weeds. Answering a question about which statutory dedications the candidates would preserve, Edwards said he'd keep or increase motion picture tax credits and earned income tax credits. Dardenne picked historic district tax credits and angel investor credits. Angelle wouldn't say without consulting economists.
And all three said they expect to call two special legislative sessions before this year's regular session, to deal with the current fiscal year's expected shortfall and to address system problems with the state's tax structure. So break out the big suitcases, lawmakers. You're going to be spending a lot of time in Baton Rouge.