Editor’s Note: a guest post by Congressman Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, who is gravely concerned about the poor performance of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards over the past four years.
For more than a year, we have been speaking in venues and media outlets all across our great state emphasizing the urgency and historical significance of the elections in Louisiana this fall. On October 12, voters will make fateful decisions in hundreds of state and local races, including—thanks to term limits—more than 60 open seats in the state legislature. Most importantly, we will decide who will serve as Louisiana’s governor for the next four years.
Everyone seems to agree this will be the most consequential state election in generations, and yet, the latest polls indicate that almost 20 percent of voters remain undecided. Our people are being bombarded by misleading ads and false information, so it is important to collect and review the facts. Doing so leads to one inevitable conclusion: Louisiana MUST ensure that John Bel Edwards is not re-elected governor.
In every election cycle, the primary objective is to carefully examine each candidate’s record over their rhetoric. When evaluating an incumbent this is an easier task, because we can review how that individual has actually led, how he has applied his philosophy of government and what the results have been. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” In the realm of policy, John Bel Edwards has a wagon full of fruit to inspect.
Let me clarify that what I present here is not meant to be personal. John Bel is a former colleague of mine in the Louisiana Legislature, and we have known each other for more than two decades. He graduated a year behind me at the LSU Law School, we have engaged in many amicable debates and served together on two legislative committees, and we have always kept our disagreements professional. It is not mean-spirited to critique a candidate’s record. To the contrary, it is vitally important for every citizen in a constitutional republic to do so.
My opposition to John Bel Edwards’ re-election is based purely upon his policies and political decisions—and my deep concern about the future of our beloved state. I believe that by any objective measure his leadership the past four years has been a terrible failure, and we simply cannot afford for him to serve a second term. The following is a carefully documented summary of the many reasons why. As John Adams famously said, “I will enlarge no more on the evidence, but submit it here to you. Facts are stubborn things.”
I. John Bel Edwards is the LEFT’s Standard-Bearer.
Even before he became governor, John Bel was recognized as the leader of the Louisiana Democratic Party, which is of course the state affiliate of the national Democratic Party. Voters should always remember that when an individual is elected to the governor’s mansion, his or her political party is as well, and that party’s positions and platform will inevitably direct and affect a countless number of the decisions that are made by that administration every day.
John Bel Edwards has spent millions of dollars in this election cycle trying to obscure the fact that his party now openly advocates for Socialist policies, bigger government, higher taxes, taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, open borders, “sanctuary cities,” amnesty for illegal immigrants, new moratoriums on oil and gas exploration and production, and all sorts of other far left agenda items. This is not your parents’ Democratic Party, and an objective, side-by-side comparison today of the Democratic and Republican platforms on major issues of concern to Louisiana is an eye-opener.[i] John Bel doesn’t want you to do your homework before you vote, but you must.
From the beginning of his career in politics, John Bel worked hard to earn his reputation as the most influential liberal in Louisiana. Through the many years, he proudly and boldly carried the banner for his party and advanced its agenda. We had some heated battles when we served together in the Legislature because I and others called him out routinely for opposing our state’s traditional moral values, religious liberty and core principles of economic freedom.
John Bel’s long record as a lawmaker speaks for itself, and by comparison with other Democrats, it distinguished him as arguably the MOST LIBERAL Louisiana legislator of the modern era. His lifetime score from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry was only 29 percent,[ii] which still stands as one of the lowest “F” rankings in our state’s history. I cannot find a single example where he ever, even one time, voted against a higher tax or new fee, and his disdain for small businesses and free markets has always been well known and well documented.[iii]
II. John Bel Edwards’ POLICIES ARE DESTROYING LOUISIANA.
1. Endless Taxation
Just like the national leaders of his party, John Bel genuinely believes that if government can just grow large enough—by way of higher taxes—it can solve every problem. Common experience and common sense, however, teach us that the very opposite is true. As Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the SOLUTION to the problem. Government IS the problem!” The Edwards administration has proven this without a doubt.
John Bel has presided over ELEVEN legislative sessions in just four years, and he broke a central promise of his gubernatorial campaign almost immediately after his election by demanding billions more in new taxes from our hardworking citizens. Indeed, no one can forget how he resorted to scare tactics to get all those new taxes passed—shamelessly claiming that nursing homes, hospitals and TOPS scholarships would be cut, and even LSU football would be canceled, if he didn’t get his way.[iv] In just four years, he has used bullying tactics to expand Louisiana’s already bloated state government budget by nearly TEN BILLION additional dollars.[v]
All John Bel’s endless tax increases have been disastrous for our economy. The data on his legacy as governor is particularly outrageous when compared to the other 49 states. Every year, the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures publishes a comprehensive report on the tax policies of each jurisdiction, and Louisiana’s statistics have been jaw-dropping on John Bel’s watch.
The 2016 State Tax Report,[vi] for example, showed that of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only six raised taxes. When added up, all those actions together resulted in a net tax increase nationwide of $2.3 billion. Louisiana stood out as the number one tax-increasing state BY FAR, raising a staggering $1.5 billion of the nationwide total alone! It was also duly noted that the sales tax increase demanded by John Bel that year gave us the highest average sales tax rate in the nation. (For comparison, the distant second place state in 2016 was South Dakota, and they only raised $107 million in new taxes that year.) John Bel raised taxes on the people of our state 16.4% higher as soon as he took his oath as governor, and he has never stopped.[vii]
The 2018 State Tax Report,[viii] as another example, showed that only nine states raised taxes last year, and the total net increase of all sales and use taxes nationwide was calculated to be $847.1 million. Yet again, Louisiana reported the largest increases, at $466 million. That’s right—last year, because of John Bel’s additional sales tax rate extension, Louisiana alone raised OVER HALF (55 percent) of all those tax increases among ALL the states in our country.
In just three years’ time, John Bel and his supporters in the Legislature passed more than 30 new state laws to raise taxes on Louisiana businesses to the tune of an additional $3.2 billion.[ix] These layers upon layers of complicated and burdensome taxation and regulation have made it more and more difficult to open and operate a business here, and dropped our state further down the lists comparing tax competitiveness. Thanks to John Bel and those who have supported his legislative agenda, Louisiana is also ranked dead last for our legal climate[x]—which is set up to encourage easy paydays for lawyers who game the system, and explains the reason why our auto insurance rates are the second highest in the nation[xi] and nearly double the national average.[xii]
If all this sounds like a crazy economic policy conceived by Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that’s because it’s a strategy right out of their Socialist playbook. And it has been a killer. Because while John Bel and his accomplices in the Legislature have been hammering us with higher and higher taxes, our neighboring states have been doing exactly the opposite.
ALL of the other states in our region have been wisely REDUCING taxes and cutting regulations and red tape to create a much more hospitable business climate, where entrepreneurs and job creators and innovators are welcomed to set up shop and grow their businesses and expand. As Louisiana languishes, our neighbors have been busy working hard to maximize all the incredible opportunities that President Trump and our Republican-led 115th Congress created with our historic federal tax cuts and landmark regulatory reforms and reductions.[xiii]
2. Vanishing Jobs and Population
Tragically, John Bel has squandered Louisiana’s opportunities and made us fall further and further behind our competitors for jobs. While the rest of the nation has enjoyed the economic boom of the last three years—including record low unemployment and record increases in the stock market, consumer confidence and household incomes—Louisiana has been left in the dust. Last year, for example, we only managed a paltry 1.1% increase in our state’s gross domestic product, which was less than half the national average. (Our state GDP actually decreased in 2016 and rose only 0.1% in 2017.)[xiv] By way of comparison, over the border in Texas they have grown their economy almost three times faster.
As a direct result of John Bel’s failed policies, thousands upon thousands of wonderful, hardworking people and their families have been forced to leave our state for better opportunities. Louisiana’s outmigration problem is quickly becoming a catastrophe, and it is creating a dangerous domino effect that could take many years for us to reverse. We are one of only a handful of states now continually experiencing a net loss in population. (We ranked fourth highest in the nation on that sad list last year, losing another 27,914 of our friends and neighbors to other locales.)[xv]
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Louisiana was also the ONLY STATE in America to lose jobs last year, just as all our neighboring states were once again adding to their workforces. While we lost another 1,000 jobs, Texas added 323,000 new ones, Mississippi added 19,000, Alabama added 40,000, and Florida gained 227,000.[xvi] Thanks to the policies of the Edwards administration, we are now officially ranked the worst state in America to find a job.[xvii] Obviously, this trend is not sustainable for us.
John Bel Edwards’ infamous war on the private sector and the oil and gas industry is clearly a root cause of our outmigration phenomenon.[xviii] His relentless strategy of litigation, regulation and oppressive taxation has had a devastating effect. According to the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association (LOGA), drilling activity in our state has hit an all-time low, with less than one tenth of the active rigs in operation now than we had during the worst of the oil bust in the 1980s. As LOGA’s president lamented, “This represents huge losses in revenue for our state… With the handcuffing of our energy sector, our communities are weakened and our state is weakened. Enough is enough.”[xix]
Every Louisiana citizen has been sickened by the never-ending string of headlines highlighting our sinking economy, and placing us at the bottom of every favorable list. Under John Bel’s misguided leadership, Louisiana finished 50th for three years in a row on the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the 50 states.[xx] Regardless of the publication, whether analysts are comparing economic opportunity, workforce development, quality of life, pollution, crime, education, technology, healthcare, infrastructure, judicial climate or any number of other metrics, Louisiana is stuck at the bottom of virtually every national ranking. And this governor is making matters worse by the day. For example, our state’s higher education ranking dropped from 36th in America in 2017, to 49th this year.[xxi]
3. Increasing Poverty
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we now have the 2nd highest poverty rate in the nation.[xxii] Those numbers have risen under John Bel Edwards, even as the poverty rate nationwide has been steadily declining. Clearly, more government is not the answer to our problems because John Bel has grown the size and scope of government exponentially. Analyzing the per capita spending levels of all the states in our region over the past three years shows that the Edwards administration has spent 40 PERCENT more per person than the Southern average.[xxiii] And what have we gotten in exchange for all that largesse? Are our roads and bridges repaired? All our public schools performing admirably? Are we building new amenities and public facilities, or solving our illegal drug crisis? Sadly, no.
III. John Bel Edwards’ MISMANAGMENT HAS BEEN SHAMEFUL.
One of the primary reasons for John Bel’s exorbitant growth in government has been the way in which he expanded Medicaid coverage to adults who are able-bodied, including tens of thousands of Louisiana residents who dropped their private health insurance to enroll. The costs of this decision so far have been staggering, in terms of taxpayer dollars and in human suffering. Louisiana spent nearly $3.1 billion on the expansion last year alone—which was more than double the original estimate by the Legislative Fiscal Office.[xxiv]
To make matters worse, because the state Department of Health (LDH) has so terribly mismanaged the program, Louisiana has simply been “throwing money away,” as a member of the Medicaid Fraud Detection and Prevention Task Force recently said.[xxv] A report this year by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor showed that 93 out of 100 Medicaid recipients chosen at random for a review did not qualify for all the benefits they have received, and had an average household income of $67,742. LDH was later forced to admit that at least 1,672 individuals making more than $100,00 per year have been allowed to qualify for taxpayer-funded Medicaid benefits.[xxvi]
The tragic effect of wasting these limited resources has been that tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens—those whom Medicaid was originally designed to help—have been forced on to waiting lists for the critical health care and community services they need. As documented by Chris Jacobs, a senior fellow with the Pelican Institute, “Since Louisiana expanded Medicaid in July 2016, at least 5,534 Louisiana residents with disabilities have died—yes, died—while on waiting lists for Medicaid to care for their personal needs.”[xxvii] This is not a game, and mismanaged bureaucracy is having a devastating effect on real people’s lives.
The record of rampant fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars under the Edwards administration is well known and infuriating—but it is not surprising. During the 2016 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, my last year to serve in Baton Rouge before I was elected to Congress, I had an opportunity to question John Bel Edwards’ hand-selected Secretary of Health, Dr. Rebekah Gee, during the House debate on her department’s $12 billion budget. (The video of that exchange went viral because it was so unbelievable, and you can still access the archived footage today.)[xxviii]
Pursuant to the House rules, I was only allowed enough time that day to question Secretary Gee about less than ten lines, on just one page that I turned to at random, from her 230+ page budget. Answering my questions about a mere two or three line items that I happened to choose for my inquiry, she was forced to admit that: 1) a local board being allocated $459,000 to pay for just the salaries of only three employees was really “off mission” and unwanted; and 2) the $2.6 million budgeted again for her “Medicaid Fraud Detection Unit” had yielded only a 0.5 percent return on the investment in recoveries the previous year, because, as Secretary Gee was forced to explain, LDH “had staff out to pasture. They were literally barking up flagpoles, not doing relevant caseloads…”
I would like to have taken the Secretary line-by-line through every single page of her enormous budget that day, but some of John Bel’s floor leaders leapt to their feet to bring motions to further limit the debate time (and even expressed outrage that I would have the audacity to ask such questions). I am certain that Secretary Gee would have been forced to admit to a myriad number of other areas of waste and abuse that day if I had been allowed the time to go through it all. In the end, all she could say was, “We can do better.” The evidence shows they haven’t. And yet, since that time, pursuant to John Bel’s demands, the LDH budget has actually been expanded by another $3 billion.
Because the Edwards administration includes certain people in key positions of authority who operate from a different worldview than most Louisianians, their resulting ideas have frequently caused controversy. Dr. Gee, for example, may be a nice person, but like her boss, she is no political moderate. She moved to Louisiana from Boston, where she completed her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital,[xxix] formerly served on the national board for Planned Parenthood,[xxx] and as a health adviser for President Barack Obama.[xxxi] She gained national notoriety as a liberal activist in 2006, when she brought a high-profile lawsuit to force all Walmart stores to stock the controversial Plan B “Morning After Pill,” an emergency contraceptive that can “act instead as an abortifacient, eliminating all embryos likely to have been conceived.”[xxxii] Dr. Donna Harrison, a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has explained, “In a woman who is already pregnant, [Plan B] will cause an abortion, just like RU-486 does, because it’s the same kind of drug.”[xxxiii] As Dr. Gee gloated in a 2008 Ohio State University newspaper interview, “Everyone liked the story [of her lawsuit] because everyone loves to hate Walmart.”[xxxiv]
When the underlying philosophy of an administration and its personnel is wrong, its policies will be misguided and controversy will be a recurring theme. This month, parents of middle school students in Louisiana were outraged to learn that John Bel Edwards’ Office of Public Health has been giving school health centers across the state a “screening survey” for children that asks graphic and inappropriate questions such as this one:
“Have you ever had any type of sex — vaginal, anal or oral sex? Have you ever been attracted to the same sex? Girl to girl or guy to guy? Or do you feel that you are gay, lesbian or bisexual?”[xxxv]
The student surveys have been funded by a grant from LDH, and are reminiscent of a state law (HB 393) that John Bel tried get passed back in 2014.[xxxvi] He is adamant in his support of these policies, as I learned during a heated House debate in 2015, when John Bel helped support a bill to require “comprehensive” sex education in New Orleans public schools for children as young as third grade (HB 359).[xxxvii]
John Bel’s implementation of the state’s 2017 bipartisan criminal justice reforms continues to be the subject of major controversy as well. While virtually everyone was in agreement that something needed to be done to address Louisiana’s faulty prison system and sky high incarceration rate, many citizens and many of the state’s top law enforcement officers and elected officials remain convinced that John Bel jumped the gun by releasing dangerous offenders too quickly without first creating the necessary rehabilitation programs to help them break the cycle of recidivism.[xxxviii]
Leaders such as Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator have raised alarm that the newly modified definitions and resulting confusion about what constitutes a “non-violent crime” in Louisiana have created a perilous situation. “We’re designing the bus while we’re driving the bus,” he said, “and somebody is going to get killed, and people are getting killed…”.[xxxix]
Why, one might ask? Because, as Attorney General Jeff Landry explained, “It really [wa]s just a poor approach [by the governor] to score a political victory… Certainly you don’t help the criminal justice system by simply opening the jail house door and letting people out without properly vetting them.”[xl] U.S. Senator John Kennedy summarized the situation simply: “Well, the governor and I just disagree. He thinks our problem in Louisiana is we have too many prisoners. I think our problem is we have too many people committing crimes.”[xli]
While he acted too hastily in the implementation of the criminal justice reforms, John Bel has been much, much slower in helping our people obtain critically needed disaster relief. He and his administration have made national headlines for fumbling and unnecessarily delaying the recovery efforts following Louisiana’s historic floods of 2016. After almost 20 percent of the homes in our state were flooded, John Bel waited until April of the following year to even begin his homeowner assistance surveys program.[xlii]
Although Congress appropriated nearly $1.3 billion to help cover Louisiana homeowner losses, more than 18 months later, only $207 million of those funds had been awarded to eligible recipients.[xliii] When called before a Congressional oversight committee to answer simple questions about the long delays and extraordinary fees of the state’s contractors, Governor Edwards was so woefully unprepared for the televised hearing that the committee chairman famously accused him of being “clueless.”[xliv] To this date, now more than three years after the historic floods, a huge portion of the appropriated relief funds remain undistributed.
It is ironic that the governor who loves government giveaways has allowed that particular pile of federal money to collect so much dust. Especially since he wasted so much of the other huge pile of taxpayer dollars that were supposed to help people suffering after the first round of flooding in 2016. In case anyone has forgotten, in March of that year, John Bel’s administration was roundly rebuked for its irresponsibility in allowing the loss of millions of dollars through brazen acts of fraud.
After an investigative journalist in Bossier City published drone photographs of thousands of people rapidly descending upon a technical college parking lot where state officials were haphazardly handing out debit cards preloaded with disaster relief funds as high as $1,000 each, the story attracted nationwide attention. It was ultimately revealed that tens of millions of Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) dollars were distributed to thousands of people across 23 north Louisiana parishes over a five-day period—with almost no system in place to ensure that the money was being given to actual flood victims.
After I questioned the Edwards administration assistant secretary in charge of the distribution program during a House Health and Welfare Committee hearing weeks later, the incredible video of that exchange[xlv] went viral because the secretary so casually admitted to the allegations of widespread fraud. When I asked at one point, incredulously, “So, we gave out over a million dollars approximately, in one parish, in two days, to people that we are not sure were eligible for those funds—is that right?” The administration official shrugged his shoulders and responded, “That is correct.” When I fired back, “This is the kind of thing that makes people crazy, and it should!” He simply nodded his head and smiled and said, “I understand.”
Again, the problem with John Bel Edwards and his administration is not the people who are involved, but rather their ideas and their approach to governing. Instead of carefully guarding and wisely directing the use of our precious taxpayer dollars, they have too often squandered them—and come back to our beleaguered folks over and over again demanding more and more. Accountability has been thrown out the window the past four years, and as a consequence, so has the hope of too many of our hardworking citizens.
IV. LOUISIANA DESERVES SO MUCH BETTER.
John Bel tries very hard to avoid these issues on the campaign trail as he pretends to be a fiscal moderate. However, his long record clearly contradicts his rhetoric. Whether working constantly to pass higher taxes and create new government programs, expand entitlements,[xlvi] or allow illegal immigrants to receive welfare payments,[xlvii] John Bel Edwards served as the undisputed champion of big government long before he was elected governor. Throughout his career, he has shown that his philosophy is a much better fit for San Francisco or Seattle than it is Baton Rouge.
If John Bel is somehow able to squeak in for a second term, and no longer has to worry about ever being re-elected again, many believe that he will finally abandon his façade and follow the national Democratic Party and its other leaders further and further to the left. WE CANNOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN, and we can no longer afford to continue operating the way we have, ballooning and mismanaging our state’s government, and losing our families and friends to outmigration. We must demand better, because our people certainly deserve it.
Louisiana should be ranked at the TOP of every favorable list because we are truly blessed with the greatest, most hardworking and resilient folks, the most abundant natural resources, the richest culture, the best food and fun, and the most unlimited potential than any other state. We CAN turn this thing around, but we HAVE to elect new leadership to do it.
Thankfully, our state has two highly capable Republican challengers in the race. Both Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D., and businessman Eddie Rispone have been faithful friends of mine for many years, and I know that either would be a tireless reformer and a dramatic improvement over the incumbent. Both of these men would get our state back on the right track by reducing our taxes, attracting new jobs and economic development, improving the standard of living for all Louisianians, managing our government well, and making our state proud again.
As you head into that voting booth on October 12 (or you vote early Sept. 28-Oct. 5), please ask yourself these important questions: Do you want to keep more of your hard-earned money (Abraham/Rispone), or pay more and more taxes to an ever-expanding, wasteful government (Edwards)? Do you want to implement critical reforms that will bring new investment and opportunity here and restore sound economic policy (Abraham/Rispone), or continue to increase entitlements and run the remaining small businesses and job creators out of our state (Edwards)? Do you want to elect a committed conservative leader who will always defend the Constitution, our God-given rights, the rule of law, traditional values and fiscal responsibility (Abraham/Rispone), or stick with a liberal incumbent who will be under intense and increasing pressure in an unfettered final term to equivocate on all those issues to appease his party bosses (Edwards)?
The choice is ours. And the decision is obvious. It is time now to engage.
For the sake of all our families and our future, please vote. And please—
[v] The budget bill in the 2019 Regular Session (HB 105) was $32 billion, and the totals from each supplemental spending bill are then added to that number. See also, e.g., https://truthinpolitics.com/articles/2017/04/louisiana-spending-is-out-of-control-605/
[xiv] https://thehayride.com/2019/09/ben-folds-fives-song-for-the-dumped-is-apparently-the-louisiana-taxpayer-anthem-now/; https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/business/article_6e6fd602-6c42-11e9-bd74-73f7015dafcc.html
[xxviii] The exchange begins at time mark 7:41 at the video link posted here: https://www.facebook.com/MikeJohnsonLA04/photos/a.451373701715124/482072278645266/?type=3
[xlvi] See, e.g., helped advance HB 233 (2013).
[xlvii] See, e.g., helped defeat HB 59 (2011).