The media believes that the big story is that Senator Kennedy will not run against Governor Edwards. They missed it; that is not the big story at all. The big story is that based upon the potential field of opposing candidates for the first time in nearly thirty years we will have a choice.
It will be a choice between a governor whose world is limited to a dedication to status quo state politics against opponents, all of whom (so far, based on the identities of the three most talked about potential candidates) created their own success outside of his political world. In other words the citizens will choose between a political insider promising more of the same against highly successful outsiders offering a rejection of the past as a path to prosperity.
Let’s never lose sight that Louisiana has a governor-centric form of government. Sure, we have divided government, but our constitution and our statutes reward the governor with extraordinary powers. Further until a few years ago, tradition had allowed the governor to choose the leadership of the House and the Senate as well as the makeup and chairmanships of committees. Under the current governor in the Senate it is that way today, though the House refused to go along with the governor’s choices.
All taken, the governor of Louisiana has the power to drive the state to a new place, to maintain the status quo, or to force the state into retrograde.
The defenders of the occupant of the governor’s mansion are always fond of pushing blame for continuing failure onto the legislature. To an extent that is fair but, contrary to their goal, it really doesn’t create a defense for what is such a strong governor.
Until the House rebelled against tradition a Louisiana governor was assured, for good or bad, that he would get his way. Of late we have seen a resistance to bad policy proposals by the current governor, but that opposition has almost entirely come from that newly independent House.
So in effect the policies we have in place today are the direct result of historic bad leadership at the highest level coupled with acquiescence by legislatures that have refused to serve the check and balance role for which they were intended.
Our fundamental problems date back many decades and describing them as bad is an understatement. They are rooted in the longstanding overarching political philosophy of Louisiana as a top down, quasi-welfare state that looked to business for the bulk of its funding. The proof is that we rank 14th in personal tax policy and 44th in corporate tax policy. Clearly we want it all and we want someone else to pay for it.
We have long been ranked as a judicial hellhole, we are at the bottom in educational and other outcomes, we have three of the most violent cities in America, we have to use massive tax giveaways to attract business, and on, and on. In a nutshell our performance as a state stinks.
Think about this, based upon Medicaid statistics literally 1/3 of our people make less than 138% of the Federal Poverty level. And yet the governor’s response is not to revise those policies that cause such poor outcomes; his response is to grow the welfare state and increase taxes, the exact opposite of what President Trump’s strategy has been. Predictably the US economy is exploding and dragging Louisiana along, even as we continue down the road of high poverty aligned with high social ills.
Bad government is not a new phenomenon, but it is being perpetuated; no, exacerbated by the current governor.
So what does this a have to do with the gubernatorial field? Well, I believe that there is a direct correlation between the philosophy, experience, and history of success of a leader or a potential leader and that individual’s likelihood to effectively change the direction of this state. Beyond that I further believe that we are deeply mired in a destructive mindset that comes in two parts; first, just because someone is a good guy, is popular, or is amusing bears no relationship to their ability to be able to successfully lead. Second, just because someone has built a life in politics, or for that matter in law as so many lawyers gravitate to politics (Kennedy himself being an example), in no way is a guarantor of success as a leader.
Based upon the expected field of candidates, this election will be of a class of opponents, successful in their own personal history, running against a governor who, with the exception of a short stint as a captain in the Army, is a classic political creature, one that has been immersed in politics his whole life. Further, it will be a race between opponents who will demonstrate that the policies of the last four years have led us nowhere and have only intensified the bad outcomes of bygone generations.
In other words it will be a competition of the status quo versus fresh new ideas. The status quo of generations of Louisiana politicians incarnated in the present governor or new ideas grounded in an actual history of candidate success outside of the bubble of his political world.
This will be an exciting time. The voters will be treated to a debate in which the governor will have no choice but to defend the failures of the past in the face of contrary truth as he clings to the enabling policies. The opponents will be able to demonstrate their individual capabilities and how those apply to a vision of a new Louisiana, not a Louisiana hobbled by its own history.
As President Trump often says, the people should be asked “What do you have to lose?” The answers are clear; in the first case, from the governor’s perspective, the answer is more of the same. If the people think that this is the best we can do they will just vote to re-elect because what they see today is what they can expect over the next many decades. If on the other hand they believe as I do that Louisiana’s assets can be turned into a prosperity machine that would substantially increase everyone’s happiness then they will vote for new leadership.
No, the big story does not involve Senator Kennedy. The big story is after all the lost opportunities for prosperity will the people finally reject the politics of the past and reach for a brighter future or will they succumb to the sugar coated promises that have left us in the gutter for as long as anyone can remember.