APPEL: Will The Corona Virus Force Louisiana Into The 21st Century?

Louisiana may be heading for a train wreck of monumental proportion and our governor seems oblivious to it. After all who would have thought that something so small as a virus would trigger such potential chaos. The smallest organism known to man, a virus known as Corona, is bringing untold misery to the world, but in doing so it may end up bringing much needed change to Louisiana.

The obvious effect brought on by the Corona virus is sickness and untimely death, but that is only one part of a two headed demon unleashed by these minute lifeforms. For those of us who are lucky enough to avoid it or who recover from it, there is still the economic hangover that will linger for an indeterminable time to come.

Even as Corona expands, it has already slammed Louisiana’s economy with a triple shock. First, the stock market sank. Since the stock market is forward-looking that means that investment in our already weak state will be harder to come by. Next, the virus has marked a sharp decline in business and personal travel and conventions. This is a serious hit especially to New Orleans, who has watched its business base depart for more opportune locations as it has become overwhelmingly reliant on tourism. And finally, the price of oil is in free-fall, a knockout to the Louisiana Oil Patch that has already been hammered by bad policy decisions by the governor.

The governor has been silent on anything related to the economic implications of Corona, silent that is except when pressed on his passion for spending. Not a word about shoring up New Orleans if tourism collapses, not a word about contingency plans for the people of especially southwest Louisiana if oil keeps plummeting, not a word about addressing general economic decline should the stock market be accurate in its projection. Perhaps that should be expected from a governor who has never really demonstrated any vision for changing Louisiana for the better. And in truth, it fits his modus operandi as a reactionary leader, not a strategic leader.

But now he has presented his big speech. The opening of the Legislature, his state of the state speech, his chance to demonstrate leadership in face of our two headed crisis. But he fell flat by just reading a speech that was totally devoid of any reference to our economic danger. Sadly, for the average citizen of our state it was a speech short on inspiration, basically a regurgitation of his usual talking points. A speech resplendent with his favorite euphemisms; strategic investments (increasing spending) and revenue enhancements (increasing taxes, in this case more specifically recognizing the pre-Corona revenue projections).

Listening, one would believe that the governor has no clue of the potential danger lurking if we see a continued loss of oil and gas companies and jobs and the equally devastating loss of jobs in the tourism industry.

Highlighting an obvious misunderstanding of good management was his cavalier attitude toward the budget. The budget of the state, the spending that the governor so badly wants to increase, is hinged upon an estimate of revenue that Republicans considered too high even before Corona became an issue. Instead of suggesting that he would at least discuss the Republican position of taking a conservative approach in challenging times, he pressured legislators to increase spending by recognizing that pre-Corona revenue estimate.

And finally, like pouring gas on a fire, he suggested his fervent wish that we interject more government intrusion into private businesses. Besides appeasing his political base, his stale ideas only assure that we remain a less than desirable place to do business. What could be worse than undermining business growth, even as we face the potential of a business downturn and lost jobs.

The governor’s speech missed by not conveying to his audience that the people have re-elected someone who really can honestly approach and then address an economic crisis.

He missed a great opportunity to present the case for being reasonable in trying times, instead he returned to his well-worn desire for spending growth. Incredibly (or perhaps not so) he made clear out his support for trial lawyers by promoting their effort “to change the subject” by passing a series of bills that would discourage insurance companies from doing business in Louisiana and by ignoring the great negative effect that being a “Judicial Hellhole” has on Louisiana companies and job seekers.

But where the governor really blew it was his chance to catch the people’s imagination on his vision for Louisiana’s future (if he has one). A great leader knows that from adversity comes opportunity. The governor could have used the potential of adversity from Corona as the platform from which to present a true vision. By way of example of what he could have done, my vision is simple; diversify our economy, truly reform education, and establish a few metrics such as reducing poverty by 25% in ten years and reversing the outmigration of our best and brightest within 5 years. But in the case of our governor opportunity missed is opportunity lost. His vision may have been different, but his lack of one screams at us.

I didn’t expect much of a speech and I certainly didn’t hear one, just a rehash of the same speech he has given so many times before. Nothing new, short on inspiration, no imagination, long on big government talking points. This was a great political miss of epochal proportions. In its failings it was not different from Governor Jindal’s miss in his response to the State of the Union speech. Both speeches left the people wondering who was their governor?

Corona may turn out to be just a minor speed-bump, or not. If it is a major negative economic event, it will require a new way of doing the business of government in our state. As I noted it may be that turning point that when things get so bad, we finally have no choice but to abandon the policies that the governor so lovingly promotes. It may be an opportunity of many lifetimes to launch Louisiana in a new direction, or not!

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