Big Mysteries Await New Year

Who will be our next president? And just how powerful will Gov. Bobby Jindal be in 2012?

We will have our answers to those questions a year from now. Meanwhile, the interim promises to be filled with national campaigning on a grand scale and unprecedented political maneuvering in Baton Rouge.

The presidential election has already claimed the No. 1 story position on the national scene as we begin 2012. And the quicker Republicans decide on a candidate to oppose President Barack Obama, the sooner they can quit killing off one another.

The state forecast is looking an awful lot like a repeat of 2011. Budget problems are expected to continue, and Jindal’s education reform agenda he started last year promises to spark more interest and stir controversy. It appears at first glance that no one since Gov. Huey P. Long has enjoyed as much political stroke as Jindal will have to start his second term.

This is also a good time to look back over some major events of 2011 that may offer some clues about what’s ahead for the new year.

Reapportionment dominated the legislative scene during a special session that convened in March. Louisiana lost one of its seven U.S. House members, and two incumbents could face one another in the fall elections. U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is the incumbent in what will become the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District that includes this corner of the state. He could face U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, who represented the former 3rd District.

Boustany and members of the Southwest Louisiana legislative delegation served us well during reapportionment. They were able to derail efforts to carve up Calcasieu Parish or place it in a congressional district in north Louisiana.

The prospect of facing a $1.6 billion state budget deficit opened the regular legislative session, but it almost appeared to be a false alarm. Some fancy juggling of the books erased the shortfall, and voters were wondering why there had been so much advance doom and gloom. However, some state workers and services did get caught up in budget trimming.

Jindal didn’t fare so well during the session, and he decided it wasn’t going to happen again. He lost efforts to merge the University of New Orleans with Southern University of New Orleans, legislation to create a superboard for higher education and a plan to sell some state prisons to private companies.

Louisiana Democrats saw the continued demise of their influence in state politics as they were unable to field a credible candidate to oppose Jindal. The governor carried all 64 parishes and picked up 66 percent of the vote.

Democrats consoled themselves by reminding voters they were able to hold onto their legislative seats despite fierce opposition from Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La. Jindal and Vitter were competing for GOP dominance, and Jindal was clearly the winner in that effort.

No previous governor has endorsed as many candidates for the Legislature and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as Jindal. He even endorsed 56 legislators who were unopposed. His goal is obvious. The governor is determined to continue reform of the state’s public education system, and he needs legislators who are willing to follow his lead. Goodness only knows what else he may have in mind.

Jindal hand-picked state Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, as speaker of the House and Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, as president of the Senate. Election by their colleagues is a foregone conclusion. Kleckley will become the first representative from Calcasieu Parish to serve as speaker, which will give this corner of the state some exposure it has often failed to receive in the past. We wish him well.

Two former governors emerged from the shadows during 2011.

Buddy Roemer is running for president, but is having a difficult time getting the attention he needs for voters to take notice. Even so, he hasn’t lost the ability to woo audiences with his words and phrases. More media coverage would have enhanced his chances.

Edwin W. Edwards became a free man in July after serving over eight years in federal prison. A successful sale of his biography has helped him stay in the limelight, and he is as bold and brash as ever.

“I really feel like I came out of prison more popular than when I went in,” Edwards said.

We can argue that point. However, it’s more important to remember that the governors who followed him have helped make this a better state than it was.

The old year was a special one for me as I celebrated 50 years with the American Press. That half century was more enjoyable and rewarding than I could have ever imagined. What a privilege it is to be able to continue to serve our readers who have been so faithful through the years.

The American Press family and mine wish each of you a healthy and prosperous new year.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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