In some ways, this year’s New Year’s prediction column is pretty painless to write, because 2018 ended with some big questions about the future already answered.
No, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy will not challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards for reelection, and nor will any other Republican who can match the incumbent’s high profile. So 2019’s marquee election starts off with a genuine stature gap between the Democratic Edwards and his currently announced Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone (Edwards was just as unknown when he ran the first time, but there was no incumbent, which makes all the difference).
Edwards will continue to have to answer for his party affiliation to an electorate that, in a vacuum, tends to side with the GOP. But he still starts off the year holding an enviable hand. My best guess: Four more years with Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion — along with four more years of resistance from legislative GOP leaders, plus some offstage jockeying among Republicans to be the 2023 standard-bearer.
Also asked and answered is the solution to Louisiana’s fiscal woes. Edwards and the Legislature spent the first 2-½ years of their terms battling over a plan, and ultimately chose the path of least resistance, a sales tax extension that will carry through the next term. Abandoned are any serious attempts to restructure the tax system, and — given the new lack of urgency, the epic fights over mere fractions of pennies that marked the last round, and the looming elections — there’s pretty much no chance of additional action.
We also now know that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise will not be house speaker or majority leader, although he’ll still be minority whip. Instead, the Louisiana representatives to watch this term include the only member of the majority, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who’ll assume the new post of assistant to the majority whip, and U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson from north Louisiana, who’ll take over the leadership of the Republican Study Committee, a post that helped Scalise climb the ladder.
Still, there are some matters that remain unsettled.
One is the future of former St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain, whose handling of a privatized work release program has already netted serious charges for two close associates who are expected to plead guilty and cooperate. There’s also word of allegations of sexual abuse of teens. So I’ve got to predict more bad news for him in 2019.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni survived his own allegations involving a sexting relationship with a teenager and ended the old year with some promising poll numbers on job performance. Even if he decides to run for reelection this fall, though, his luck will likely run out this year.
East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome can start 2019 with some swagger in her step, following hard-fought passage of taxes to fund road improvements and mental health services. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell would like to follow in her footsteps and pass a recreation tax renewal. This may be complicated by a separate, earlier millage vote on services for the elderly, which the City Council placed on the ballot without the mayor’s support.
Statewide, I predict that Edwards and the Legislature will agree on a teacher pay raise, although not without the type of partisan fighting that has marked their relations to date. It's started already, in the unlikely venue of the state's Revenue Estimating Conference.
Up in Washington, the Republican-heavy Louisiana delegation faces its best chance in a long time to write a new flood insurance bill, rather than just keep extending the old system. This, ironically, is due to a change in leadership of the House Financial Services Committee, from Republican and government flood insurance skeptic Jeb Hensarling to Democrat Maxine Waters.
Waters, of course, has been a prominent combatant with Donald Trump, and the biggest question hanging over the new year is what will become of the ever-more-embattled president. We all know where Waters, Richmond and the Democrats stand, but more important is whether Republicans — including both Louisiana senators and five of its six representatives — finally distance themselves and start exercising checks and balances.
Predictions over whether that will happen? You’ve got me.