Barack Obama. Mitch Landrieu. Bobby Jindal.
What do these three politicians have in common, other than a healthier-than-average level of personal ambition?
That’s easy. None of their names appeared on Saturday’s primary ballot for governor, and none will be candidates in next month’s runoff.
Voters might have missed that nuance, based on how often these three have been mentioned so far during the campaign season.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter accused Democrat-turned-Republican Public Service Commissioner and former Jindal aide Scott Angelle of having too much in common with the president, and the Republican Governors Association ran ads linking Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards with Obama.
Vitter bashed the New Orleans mayor for setting out to remove four Confederate and white supremacist-themed monuments from city streets, an initiative polls show is wildly unpopular across the state even if it’s entirely the city’s decision.
All four major candidates distanced themselves from the even-more-unpopular governor and struggling presidential candidate, particularly the three who never served in his administration. Vitter swore the governorship would be the last office he’d seek, and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne hammered Jindal’s chronic absenteeism, at one point joking that he’d spent so much time as acting governor that he may already be approaching term limits. Edwards had the best lines on the matter: He often pointed out that he opposed Jindal back before it was cool, and he nicknamed Dardenne “Jindal Lite,” Angelle “Jindal Incarnate” and Vitter “Jindal on Steroids.”
At times, it all got to be pretty entertaining. What it wasn’t was relevant. Obama’s got just over a year left. Landrieu is in his second term and may well be angling for a national post, perhaps in Hillary Clinton’s cabinet, given how tough it is for a Democrat to win statewide these days. Jindal’s term isn’t over, but he’s spending most of his time in Iowa.
Louisiana’s next governor, meanwhile, will need to quickly look forward, not back.
The RGA ads against Edwards focused on his attempt to “Expand Obamacare” in Louisiana, negative shorthand for his push to get the state to accept the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which would bring a flood of badly needed federal dollars and insure several hundred thousand poor Louisianans. Despite the ad, though, this has evolved beyond a partisan issue. The race will be on to come up with a plan the Obama administration will approve by early April, a deadline set in legislation approved last year that puts private hospitals on the hook for matching funds. So whoever wins, look for movement on this front much sooner than later.
Another item on the new governor’s short-term agenda could be the future of the Common Core education standards. The Legislature largely kicked the long-running controversy over to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, but the governor has three appointees on the 11-member board, so they may well determine the program’s fate.
Funding higher education, which is routinely vulnerable to cuts because so many other areas have guaranteed budget streams, also tops the next guy’s to-do list. Earlier this year, LSU made headlines by preparing what amounted to a bankruptcy plan, a move that was seen as a warning shot. Nobody wants to repeat that experience.
There’s also pressure building to come up with a way to better fund improvements to Louisiana’s outdated, crumbling, infrastructure. So look for plenty of talk about that, too.
And there’s no question the Legislature will have to gather soon after Inauguration Day to grapple with a mid-year budget shortfall, not to mention a long-delayed attempt to restructure the tax code. An Advocate series from 2014 found that the state is giving away more than $1 billion in tax exemptions to businesses and often receives little return on its investment.
Tax policy, of course, is both complex and difficult to discuss in a campaign setting, when potential winners and losers know who they are. Yet it’s the most important challenge that will face the Governor’s Mansion’s next occupant.
No wonder it’s been so easy to get distracted.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.