For a guy who’s not running for governor, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu can give a heck of a stump speech.
The headline out of his Monday appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge, of course, was Landrieu’s confirmation during a Q&A that he won’t be a candidate in the fall election to replace Bobby Jindal. The secondary, related news was that he’s not, as of now, supporting a candidate — not even the only announced Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards.
Despite Landrieu’s stated reason for staying out — that New Orleans has made “tremendous progress” but still has a “very long way to go” — there’s something else at work here.
Landrieu fares far better than any other Democrat in the polls, and he happily reminded the capital’s press corps of that during his appearance. But Louisiana is still hostile ground for candidates who run with a D behind their names. Landrieu knows that practically firsthand, having spent the fall working on sister Mary’s failed bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate.
As he mulled his decision, people close to him said a primary consideration was whether he could envision a path to victory. His announcement suggests that he could not, and his nonendorsement strongly hints that he doesn’t see any other Democrat as particularly viable, either. All that said, the 40-minute barn burner leading up to Landrieu’s announcement was as clear, comprehensive, detailed and passionate as anything we’ve heard so far from the actual candidates.
When Jindal took office, Landrieu noted, he inherited a $1 billion surplus, a full rainy day fund and various trust funds that were flush with cash. But rather than take on tax reform and invest in higher education, bridges, roads, mental health and other priorities, “we have gone in the exact opposite direction.”
“The philosophy of the last eight years has been very, very clear and very, very simple,” he said. “Cut taxes at all costs; never, ever, ever raise one; give away the farm; put everything on the credit card; spend recklessly; cut mindlessly, put off tough decisions; and pray the economy grows you out of having to live within your means. And try to divide and conquer on the wedge issues that attempt to distract us.”
Landrieu’s proposed solutions: Restore the Stelly income tax rollback that Jindal signed in his first year, raise cigarette taxes to the national average and get rid of the horizontal drilling tax exemption that supports fracking. Don’t eliminate the inventory tax paid to local parishes — something the Legislature is considering, since getting rid of the corresponding state rebate is one of the few revenue-enhancing options Jindal supports — because it would shift huge costs for local services to homeowners. And by all means, take the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion money now, put it into the economy, fully fund hospitals and provide health care to hundreds of thousands of working Louisianians.
“If we’re not beholden to Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, this should be pretty simple,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Landrieu sees a model in his own stewardship of New Orleans and his record of righting the listing ship he inherited from Ray Nagin.
“We cut, we reorganize and then we invest in the people’s priorities,” he said. “No sacred cows, no gimmicks and it’s got to actually work.”
More interesting was that Landrieu laid out a vision for transcending the sort of poisonous partisanship that doomed his sister and that has driven many of Jindal’s policies.
In pitching the cigarette tax hike, he invoked the record of Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s former governor and a towering figure in GOP politics. In pushing for Medicaid expansion, he pointed to market-driven formulas adopted by conservative states such as Arkansas and Kentucky; he also noted that Ohio Gov. John Kasich — like Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate — has chalked up his support for expansion to his Christian faith. In calling for prioritizing higher ed funding, he cited two other Republican governors, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and Jindal’s own mentor, Mike Foster.
In truth, Landrieu’s approach on these issues isn’t so far off from what we’re hearing from the candidates themselves — even the conservatives. All of them — Edwards plus Republicans David Vitter, Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle — have said they’d call a special section to address the state’s structurally unsound tax code. All have said they’d be willing to look at curtailing some tax exemptions, something Jindal has routinely fought. All three Republicans would consider accepting the federal Medicaid expansion that Jindal has refused to consider (Edwards has long favored doing so). Everyone seems to have had it up to here with the governor’s fealty to Norquist.
There may not be a market for Democrats right now, and there’s probably not much interest among the GOP contenders in reversing the Stelly income tax cuts. But perhaps we’re seeing a growing consensus that it’s time to put ideology aside and focus on problem-solving.
If that’s the case, then maybe we’re already starting to heal from the last eight years.