In an appearance Tuesday at Southern University, Democrat gubernatorial contender John Bel Edwards portrayed himself as a longtime ally of the school and other historically black colleges that he said are under siege by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies.
Edwards also said that, at the outset of Jindal’s “disastrous” policies on higher education and other areas, he opposed them while Republicans David Vitter, Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne stood by.
“Where were my three opponents at that time?” Edwards asked. “They were cheerleaders and enablers.”
The Democrat’s appearance was one of a series at the school that has featured other candidates, including Dardenne and Vitter.
Edwards gave a 30-minute speech and then fielded questions from students and others.
He told the group that historically black colleges and universities are in danger because some politicians see little need for them after integration.
“I want you to know that is not my mindset,” he said.
Edwards said tuition for students at Southern has risen by 90 percent since Republican Jindal took office in 2008. “Do you believe people doing that think there is a future for Southern University?” he asked.
Edwards said he also successfully fought Jindal’s bid to close Southern University in New Orleans after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 2011, Jindal proposed merging SUNO, which has struggled academically for years, with the University of New Orleans.
The plan died.
During the debate, Edwards said, Angelle was working for Jindal, Vitter was urging state House members to back closure of the school and Dardenne was on the sideline,
The Democrat also repeated his support for the expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana, raising the $7.25 per hour minimum wage and equal pay for women.
Edwards, who has taken pains to distance himself from the national Democrat Party, downplayed the fact that he missed Democrat presidential contender Hillary Clinton’s visit to Baton Rouge on Monday.
“I had my own meetings yesterday,” he said.
“Just like she is running for president, I am running for governor,” including a gubernatorial forum at the Press Club of Baton Rouge that overlapped with Clinton’s appearance.
Edwards said he will not endorse any presidential contenders until 2016.
Vitter is a U.S. senator from Metairie.
Dardenne is lieutenant governor and lives in Baton Rouge.
Angelle is a member of the Public Service Commission and lives in Breaux Bridge.
Five other longshot contenders are also in the Oct. 24 primary.
The runoff is Nov. 21.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/