…which will outline 20 reforms we’re going to suggest that Louisiana undertake in 2020 – the first year of the next gubernatorial term.
We’re going to have to assume Louisiana will have a new governor in 2020 and that some, presumably Republican, challenger will knock John Bel Edwards out of the governor’s mansion in 2019 in order to create that new regime. Edwards’ latest approval number is at 58, which is too high, but many political experts will tell you that’s a high water mark for him which won’t likely persist throughout his term and a strong GOP challenger will have a good shot at beating him. There will also be a significant turnover in the House and Senate in 2020, as about a third of those seats will have new people due to term limits.
John Alario will be gone from the Louisiana Senate thanks to term limits. He ought to be gone from the state legislature as a whole, though it’s not a certain proposition that he will be; there are rumors which hold that Alario will run for the House seat he used to occupy before he was termed out of it; it’s currently held by an independent named Joe Marino who probably couldn’t hold that seat against Alario in a pitched battle. And if Alario went back to the House there is a bit of fear that he’d run for Speaker and have a not-terrible shot at winning – he’d get all the Democrat votes and that would mean if he could pull a few Republicans he might just be able to get to 53.
Assuming that Edwards loses his re-election bid and somehow Louisiana can free itself of Alario in charge of one house of the state legislature, though, 2020 might be a year in which the public and the Capitol are ready for substantive, massive changes to how Louisiana does business.
It’s our theory that elections in this state are never, ever decided on policy. Elections in Louisiana are conducted as popularity contests, and voters here are motivated by scandal and old-fashioned branding. Edwards, for example, never would have won on his record in the legislature; he was pitifully out of touch with what the voters say they want, so he promised he wouldn’t raise taxes, he ran on God and guns, he did a commercial saying he was so pro-life he wouldn’t abort his own kids (seriously, that happened) and he made a big deal about being a West Point cadet and how committed he was to the Honor Code…and he talked incessantly about hookers and how David Vitter fraternized with them 15 years before.
That’s the kind of stuff that wins in Louisiana. It’s not that the voters are stupid, though Louisiana can’t lay claim to a highly intellectual electorate. It’s that they’re cynical. This state has seen so many con artists and cutthroat politicians come down the pike that the voters assume every one of them is just like the others. You can’t sell policy to Louisiana voters because they doubt anything actually works, and also because they think anything a politician proposes is just a cover for a scheme to steal more money.
And none of that is going to change until there are policy changes put in place in this state which actually work. Louisiana has to move the needle in terms of doing things which reduce the power and money held by its political class, grow its economy, punish the crooks with their noses in the trough, deliver more efficient and higher-quality services to the public for our tax dollars and show a real commitment to honest, earnest government.
That’s probably too high a standard to ever fully achieve. But there are a lot of mileposts between where we are and that place, and passing each one could do this state a lot of good. That’s why we’re going to begin to offer the 20 for 2020 series; we want to start a conversation about what kind of state we can build if we get a chance.
Many of the items in the series our readers will have already seen in these pages. We’ve talked about downsizing the amount of money flowing from the state capitol to the local governments and offsetting that by giving the locals more power to fund themselves; one way to do that is to set the homestead exemption free and let the parishes decide what level it should be within their borders. A $75,000 homestead exemption might be a good number in Jefferson or East Baton Rouge but it certainly doesn’t make sense in Tensas or West Carroll. Last week Stephen Waguespack talked, in a terrific column about how technology could be used to restore voter confidence in government, about the Ohio Checkbook, a website in that state which contains every public expenditure from the state government all the way down to the smallest town, accessible by anyone with just a few clicks. Louisiana needs an Ohio Checkbook in the worst way; one of the biggest problems with our annual budget crisis is nobody outside of the executive branch really knows where the money is going. We’ll have a lot more on that, as well as ideas on roads and infrastructure, a more competitive tax system, a reorganization of public colleges and other reforms our readers might have seen in previous posts.
Some of the items, though, will be new. For example, there are some groups beginning to demand Louisiana adopt the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) like the one passed in Colorado. After the post-Katrina experience in which Louisiana’s government grew from $16 billion to $30 billion per year, something like TABOR is sorely needed to restrain the size of government. We’ll have more on that. We’ll have some discussion of where to go with public education and how to leverage the 21st century sharing economy to create more and better choices for parents. We’ll have some suggestions on law enforcement, on regulations, on public employee pensions, legal system reform and a whole host of others.
So be looking for the 20 for 2020 series as the weeks go by. The first installment will be coming before the end of this month.