JBE’s Rotten State Of The State Speech, Deconstructed

Yesterday, as the Louisiana legislature opened its 2020 regular session, Gov. John Bel Edwards dropped in from the 4th floor of the state capitol to deliver his customary “State of the State” speech. Nobody expected Edwards to give much of an address that would chart a course for effective leadership or success, as he’s given four of these already and they’ve all been forgettable, and there was no departure from the mean this year.

Still, the State of the State speech is as honest a barometer as you’ll get from Edwards as to where he thinks Louisiana is going and what he would do with and for Louisiana if the Legislature is willing to go along, so it’s worth our scrutiny.

Which, below, we will provide – line by uninspiring line.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Legislature and distinguished guests:

Today is not only the start of a new Regular Session. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for Louisiana. For myself, it is the start of my second term as governor, during which time I will continue to put Louisiana first and advance priorities that are important to the people of this state.

Isn’t it a little off-putting for Edwards to use the first person singular like that? “I will continue to…” comes off almost like an accusation. We had a couple of legislators remark to us even while the speech was going along that it was an immediate turnoff when he said that; they took it to mean Edwards thinks they don’t put Louisiana first and they don’t advance important priorities.

The introduction to an address like this is supposed to warm the audience up and imbue the gathering with a spirit of fellowship. Did that happen? Nope.

For you, today marks the beginning of a legislature that looks much different than it did a year ago. As I look across this room, I see many familiar faces who have worked with me over the past four years to put Louisiana on the right track. But I also see many new faces. So to all the new members, I want to welcome you and your families today. My pledge to you, and to every member, is that I am ready to work with all of you, in good faith, to set aside partisan division and continue to move Louisiana forward. And I’m happy to say that Louisiana is much stronger than four years ago precisely because we were able to rise above partisanship.

Immediately he starts talking about partisanship, after identifying himself as the one who puts Louisiana first. What this means is if you as a legislator don’t vote for the bills Edwards wants, you’re the bad guy.

Think that’s going to fly with the most conservative, Republican legislature Louisiana has had, ever? Yeah, not so much. One of our correspondents in the legislature told us that at this point she knew the speech was a waste of time and she started answering e-mails on her phone.

There are a lot of people in this chamber today and even more watching, and I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to update you on Louisiana’s response to COVID-19.

Just minutes ago, while I was on a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence about the coronavirus, I learned that we have a presumptive positive case of coronavirus in Louisiana, a Jefferson Parish resident who is hospitalized in Orleans Parish. It still must be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understand that we are treating this as a positive case and this confirmation process will not slow us down from taking any necessary actions to continue monitoring and preventing the spread of this virus.

I have promised that we would be transparent about this and we will. Later this afternoon, I will be joined by public health officials for a news conference to answer questions.

Now together we all—as a government, as health care systems and providers, as schools, businesses and as neighbors—must take action and be vigilant to prevent the spread of this virus in our great state.

The novel coronavirus and preventing the spread of illness has been an increased focus over the past weeks and months, as we see more cases pop up all over the country.

In response, I launched a Task Force that is leading the planning effort for different scenarios involving COVID-19 and our state agencies have been coordinating with the federal government and each other to ensure that we are preparing for and responding to this public health threat properly.

As legislators, one of the most important things you can do to help is to share accurate information with your constituents about the current threat in Louisiana, which remains low, and the proper ways to avoid spreading illness, including hand washing, coughing into your elbow, avoiding unnecessary hand shaking and staying home when you are sick.

It’s understandable he’d start off with the coronavirus stuff, but this is all boilerplate.

One of the biggest questions people across the country have is about testing. In Louisiana, we have completed 15 tests so far at the state’s Public Health Lab, 14 are negative and one is positive as I just mentioned. We have recently received two additional test kits from the CDC and have the capacity for several hundred tests.

For our tests, we are working within the CDC’s guidance to test three groups of people – those who have traveled to certain areas and have symptoms, those who have had close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19 and who show their own symptoms and, finally, those with an acute respiratory illness that cannot be explained.

While we, and most states, had limited testing capacity at the start of this process, we should see commercial testing go live across the country and in Louisiana this week.

Commercial testing means that more people who are sick will be able to talk to their health care providers about their risk and if they need to be tested, which is a good thing.

Our role at the state will be to take any test that is presumed positive by a commercial lab and then to verify it at the State Public Health Lab, before sending it to the CDC for confirmation. This verification will be very important as these commercial tests come online. Let me be clear – we will immediately take action on any positive test out of an abundance of caution while waiting for confirmation from the CDC.

And, yes, we will still be announcing any additional presumed positive cases to the public.

For anyone who is presumed positive, we will also be completing what epidemiologists call “contact tracing” to make sure we are assessing the risk to people who have come in contact with them and completing additional testing to prevent the spread.

We do encourage anyone who is sick to seek advice from a medical provider. We also strongly recommend people avoid going out in public if they are sick.

Regardless of if a person has the coronavirus or the flu, we must all be vigilant to prevent the spread of illness in our communities.

There are many things I love about Louisiana, but our ability to work together when times are tough is at the top of the list. I am confident in the men and women who are working each and every day to prevent the spread of this illness.

I am grateful for anyone who plays a role in this response and am praying for the health and safety of the people of Louisiana.

Yeah, right, OK. Congrats to Edwards in that he was able to get through the coronavirus portion of the State of the State speech without it devolving into a disaster like LaToya Cantrell’s press conference on the subject did. Boy, that was something to see, wasn’t it?

Anyway…

Back to today and the opening of the legislative session.

We have the opportunity to improve the lives of Louisiana working families like never before. At my inauguration, I talked about my overarching goals for a second term. Today, I want to talk about specific ways we can achieve those goals.

Think there will be anything new in this part of the speech? Or will it just be recycled crap from the last four years that a less-conservative, less-Republican legislature already told him no to?

It’s not a rhetorical question, though it could certainly function as one.

It begins where everything begins – with education. The budget that I have proposed to you makes new strategic investments in education at every level.

As in, the teacher pay raise he already got in trouble for not suggesting, until he reversed himself and did suggest it.

Now, when I talk about the following funding numbers, I am referring to the budget I proposed based on the most conservative estimate of the Revenue Estimating Conference. Until the REC adopts an official forecast, these numbers are merely a proposal. That is why I am urging the REC to adopt a forecast sooner rather than later so that we have as much time as possible this session to develop a responsible budget using real numbers based on the recommendation of our expert economists rather than on hypotheticals.

Oh, you mean the rosy budget projection Jay Dardenne demanded before the price of oil tanked and Louisiana’s tourism forecast went down the tubes due to the coronavirus? Who looks like a sage now, John Bel? You, or House Speaker Clay Schexnayder?

As we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, we know that predicting the market and state revenue is a challenge. That’s why it is just as important to listen to the economic experts we have when it comes to adopting a forecast as it is to listen to our medical experts on how to prepare for and respond to the Coronavirus.

The economic expert who sits on the REC, Stephen Barnes, voted with Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez to deny the executive branch that higher revenue forecast. We have no idea what Edwards is talking about here. The Revenue Estimating Committee’s official economist took a more conservative approach than did Edwards, and based on current reality that was a prudent course.

If Edwards didn’t want to look like a stubborn jackass on this, he would have at least made an allowance that the state is likely to have less money to spend than it expected even a week or two ago and so efficiencies will need to be found to satisfy his priorities. Apparently that was too much work for his speechwriters, so instead we get the regurgitated crap nobody was impressed with before.

For ten years, Louisiana disinvested in higher education more than anywhere else in the country, and we suffered the consequences. For the next 10 years, let’s commit to reinvesting in higher education in order to strengthen our state. We already have a blueprint for this thanks to the Higher Education Master Plan, which aims to have 60% of working age adults earn an industry based credentials or degrees by 2030.

Louisiana changed its funding model for higher education, shifting from general fund expenditures to tuition, largely backed by TOPS. That was done so the market, rather than politicians, could determine the most proper avenue for higher ed dollars to flow. Meantime, Louisiana’s colleges and universities have become just as bloated as their counterparts elsewhere in the country, and from parents all over the state you continue hearing horror stories about left-wing indoctrination taking place on campus.

And yet he wants to shovel more money Louisiana is less likely to have than he thinks into higher education. Talk about fighting the last war.

One of the ways we are going to accomplish this is through making dual enrollment accessible to all Louisiana students. I have committed more than $30 million in my proposed budget for higher education, as well as fully funding TOPS and funding Go Grants at their highest level ever.

Edwards was the guy who cut TOPS. He lied about that when he ran for re-election and got away with it, and now he’s talking about how he’s going to fund TOPS at its bestest level ever. Gobbledygook.

Additionally, the budget proposal includes $39 million in new funding for K-12 education. I am recommending that all $39 million be committed to an additional teacher pay raise. Let me make something very clear – before the end of my second term, we will have raised teacher pay to at least the Southern regional average. We took the first step last year by giving educators and support workers their first raise in a decade. But we aren’t done yet!

There’s the teacher pay raise.

Considering that this is nothing more than a naked payoff to a special interest group which backed Edwards, we’re hoping the legislators kill the first dime of a teacher pay raise in this session. For one thing, the teacher unions actively worked against the conservative legislators who got elected last fall and now populate the legislature. Edwards might have squeaked by to re-election with the LAE and LFT dragging him across the finish line, but those leges owe the teachers nothing.

And by the way, the teachers don’t work for the state. They work for local school districts. Let the school districts give the raises out of money they can raise and spend through local taxation. We already know this funding model where the state showers local school districts with mostly-unaccountable cash doesn’t work to make for good schools.

What’s in it for Louisiana taxpayers to pay teachers belonging to unions which back Bernie Sanders at the Southern regional average? What do we get? We already know that supplying more funding to the schools doesn’t make them better, so why should we bother?

Somebody should propose a deal to Edwards that he can have a slight teacher pay raise in return for a paycheck protection bill which ends the practice of teacher unions using the state as a bill collector for their dues, plus educational savings accounts so that anyone wishing to put their kid in a private or charter school instead of an old-fashioned Soviet government school in Louisiana has the freedom and means to do so. Let’s see if he’ll take that deal.

I know that it’s going to take some time to fully recover from years of budget cuts and stagnant funding in education. But we need to demonstrate to students, parents and educators that we are serious when we say we aren’t going back. But we must do everything possible to make certain our children are ready for school from the very beginning.

This is gibberish. Every one of the institutions he’s talking about has more money now than it ever has had.

And that leads me to the number one priority of my second term – early childhood education.

At the Governor’s Mansion, there is an oak tree in the back yard with a plaque presented to Governor Mike Foster by the University of Louisiana System. It says on the plaque that a college education starts in preschool, and it ends with the saying “Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” In many ways, early childhood education is like the roots of that oak tree. It’s the strong foundation for a lifetime of growth and opportunity and prosperity.

That has certainly been the case for 4-year-old Treasure Johnson who started her educational journey at London Bridge Early Learning Center in Baton Rouge when she was just 2 years old. With the support of her parents and teachers, she began reading, writing and spelling earlier than most toddlers her age and has tested gifted in intellectual abilities, mathematics and reading. Her parents have stated that it was a blessing to be at a center that could meet her exactly where she was developmentally. Now at the age of 4 and soon to be 5 they are confident that she has the tools she needs to excel in any school she’s accepted into.

Treasure is here today with her mom, Ciera Johnson along with the owner of London Bridge Early Learning Center, Tara Emery.  Would you all please stand to be recognized? Thank you all so much for being here today.

I want every child to have the same foundation for learning that Treasure has been able to experience.

I want every acorn to become a tall oak.

That is why I have proposed $25 million in additional funding for early childhood education in the budget you will be working to pass this session.

We want every child to have access to education that works for them. What Edwards wants is to throw more money at the same old crap. Let’s hope there’s pushback against this and a move made in the legislature to use whatever early childhood ed money is spent on facilitating choice in providers, rather than just more money to lousy school districts.

When we talk about education, we are also talking about workforce development. In my inaugural address, I said that I wanted Louisiana to have most job-ready workforce in the country for a diversified 21st century economy.

One way we are doing this is through our Jobs for America’s Graduates program, better known as JAG.

JAG-LA currently serves 6,000 at-risk youth across the state. Students in the JAG program have a 98% graduation rate, 80% enter full time jobs, and 90% graduate high school with either a job or a post-secondary education plan.

Sharon Lair is a JAG-LA specialist and teacher at Alexandria Middle Magnet. She’s an Army veteran, a graduate of Louisiana College and Southern University, and an educator – in addition to being a dedicated volunteer in her community. Growing up, Sharon had to overcome many hardships. As a JAG specialist for the past four years, she’s been able to use her own experiences to connect and engage with young people.

And it’s because of dedicated teachers and specialists like Sharon that students like Skylar Delaney have found the right network they need in order to succeed.

Before entering JAG, Skylar had a difficult start in life and didn’t yet realize his own potential. After three years in the JAG program, Skylar is an honor roll student and was Alexandria Middle Magnet Student of the Year. And now, as a 9th grader at Bolton High School, he serves as a National JAG speaker sharing his story with other JAG students across the country.

Sharon and Skylar, please stand. Thank you both for your contributions to JAG-LA and for being here today.

When I became governor, I made a commitment to double the number of JAG programs in the state. We’ve already accomplished that. Now, we have 124, and I am setting a goal to get to 200 programs by the end of my second term.

124 of these programs to service 6,000 kids seems like a pretty good number. That’s two per parish. Why does he need 200 of them?

Another way we are focusing on workforce development is through the recent creation of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Rural Revitalization.

Half the small towns in the state are dying because Edwards’ economy is absolutely moribund, with one of the worst business environments and highest unemployment rates in the south, and he wants to address it with an advisory council. He thinks that works. And you wonder why by this point none of the legislators are paying attention.

As part of this council, we will be addressing everything from better broadband and infrastructure to more opportunities for apprenticeship programs and dual enrollment. And, we’re going to continue to land major economic development deals – not only in bigger, urban areas, but also in more rural areas.

That’s crap. You won’t see this reported anywhere else, but there are no major industrial construction projects set for 2021 or beyond in Louisiana. None. Not rural, not urban, nothing. He’s talking about major economic development deals, and what you should be thinking about is that famous scene in Downfall which has been subtitled over and over again by every smartass with a YouTube channel – you know the one where Hitler starts talking about how he’s got divisions he’s going to mobilize to protect Berlin and his generals inform him those are gone, and then Hitler loses it? That’s John Bel Edwards and his economic development team right now.

If you want to know just how important even a small economic development project can be in a rural community, just ask Kelvin Jackson. Kelvin was born and raised in Lake Providence, LA, served in the Navy, and is the single father of three daughters ages 8, 13, and 14. For years, Kelvin commuted over an hour each way every day. And then in August of last year, Epic Piping announced the creation of a 50-job pipe fabrication facility at the Port of Lake Providence.

When compared to larger projects in big cities, 50 jobs may not seem like a lot, but in Kelvin’s own words, “This has lifted the spirits of the community.” Today, Kelvin serves as the Lead CNC Operator for Epic Piping, and, above all, is now able to spend more time at home as a dad.

Kelvin, please stand. Thank you for being here today and sharing your story with us!

All of that is great, but (1) nobody needed John Bel Edwards for it and (2) there are nowhere near enough Epic Pipings in Louisiana. In fact, we are behind every other state in the production of those stories. Total failure.

For our communities in the Southern region of the state, coastal restoration is on track to create thousands of new job opportunities, billions in economic impact, and with the completion of the projects we will start by the end of this term, we will be creating more land than we are losing.

These are all examples of how we are diversifying our economy, creating jobs and equipping workers with the training they need to fill those jobs.

Good thing BP spilled all that oil in the Gulf, huh?

But there is only so much progress we can make if we aren’t paying our workers enough to be competitive with other states.

Highest unemployment rate in the South and he’s talking about paying workers more. Pretty sure this guy didn’t major in economics at West Point.

Louisiana is one of only five states to not have adopted a state minimum wage. Congress, as you know, is out of the business. They have made that very clear. It’s on us now. It’s on all of you in this room.

We know what needs to be done and the people of Louisiana overwhelmingly want it to be done.

Let’s make this the year we decide not to fall further behind. I am recommending a gradual increase that will begin with $9 per hour on January 1, 2021 and will move up to $10 an hour six months later in July.

Why even bother pushing this? It won’t even get out of committee in either house of the legislature. And no, it isn’t a good idea to raise the minimum wage when your state is losing population, when businesses are closing and when your unemployment rate is higher than your neighbors.

Think about it this way – the state’s hospitality industry is about to tank thanks to the coronavirus, which means half-empty restaurants all over Louisiana. With their bottom lines already taking a beating now he wants to inflict a minimum wage increase on them. And if you’re in Baton Rouge or New Orleans, you’ve probably already noticed there are a lot of restaurants going under lately.

How many restaurants in Louisiana does John Bel Edwards want to put out of business?

Smart. Wicked smart.

I am also supporting a measure to prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss or disclose their salary, and bar employers from asking an applicant’s salary history as a condition of employment.

It is simply unacceptable that Louisiana continues to have the largest gender pay gap in the country.

Quite frankly, I am ashamed. All of us should be ashamed.

Louisianans want and deserve better.

Support it all you want, but that bill is going nowhere, and for good reason – it’s a terrible bill, and a ridiculous imposition by state government into the workings of private businesses. Probably unconstitutional as well.

Pay transparency is about preventing anyone, man or woman, from losing their job for simply discussing their salaries.  No one should be fired for that. Together, we can change this. Studies show that when there is transparency, there is also more equity.

If it’s company policy that employees’ salaries are private, and someone violates that company policy, then the employer should get to decide how to deal with it.

No valued employees are getting fired in Louisiana for blabbing about salaries. Lousy employees might be.

John Bel Edwards is obviously unaware of the fact it’s harder to make a business succeed in Louisiana than it is in other states in our region. If he wasn’t unaware, he wouldn’t be pushing trash legislation like this to send government goons into the workplace to make things even harder on employers.

And when it comes to salary history, what a person currently earns or has earned in the past should neither limit nor dictate their future earning potential.  Employers can still ask about salary requirements or expectations. That’s fair, but what isn’t fair is using a person’s salary history as an excuse to not compensate them according to their experience and education. For women, who are often already paid less than their male counterparts, it makes it that much more difficult to bridge the divide.

You want to know what the best remedy for this is?

A strong job market where if your boss jacks you around using your salary history, or whatever, you can go and get a better job because employers are desperate to find good people and willing to give them compensation and working conditions designed to attract them. When you have a crappy job market and a low level of economic activity, you have stuff like what he’s talking about.

Why is he talking about stupid crap like this when the state’s economy is the worst in the South if not the country? Does he realize that people who might be willing to invest in Louisiana are watching him and they’re going to conclude this place is a disaster they won’t want to put their cash into?

Another way in which we can support both the health and financial stability of families is by improving workplace accommodations for pregnant women. Often times, women who are pregnant will get reassigned to desk duty or, if that’s not available, may lose their jobs altogether. But the reality is that pregnant employees can often continue to do their current duties with small accommodations like providing a stool to sit on or more frequent breaks. This will not only help support women in the workplace, it will also promote the health of both mom and baby.

Again, build a strong job market and a healthy economy and employers will handle this on their own without the need for the state to come around with free stools for pregnant employees from Shongaloo to Grand Isle.

Which leads me to my next priority this session, the implementation of a Maternal Mortality Review. This will ensure that any hospital or birthing center has written policies and procedures to investigate any maternal death and to do so in a timely manner.

Louisiana maternal mortality rates exceed the national average, and black women are four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death.

This is unacceptable, especially when so many of these deaths are preventable.

To that end, the state has already taken steps that have reduced severe blood loss by 30% and high blood pressure by nearly 40% at the time of birth. Importantly, we have made great strides to make sure those gains are shared more equally, reducing the racial gap in those measures by more than 80%.

I know that this is an issue we can all agree needs to be addressed, so I am asking you to join me.

Glad he’s on top of the Maternal Mortality Racism issue.

In keeping with the theme of putting children and families first, I am honored to be serving as co-chair this year for the Administration for Children and Families 2020 Adoption Challenge. This is a national initiative to reduce the number of children in foster care who are waiting for a forever home. In Louisiana, there are currently more than 400 foster children who have been freed for adoption but still need a permanent home. In the past few years, we have made huge strides in increasing the number of adoptions from foster care. Let’s make Louisiana an example for the rest of the country by finding a loving home for all children in need.

That would be great. If you had a state where people were moving in rather than out and a strong economy, it would probably be easier to make those adoptions happen. Absolutely nothing in this speech moves us toward that.

Finally, I want to spend some time talking about something I know is going to be a hot topic this session – the high cost of auto insurance.

Boy, get ready for this, because it’s the summit of how out of touch this man is.

Let’s be clear – auto insurance costs too much in Louisiana. Period.

Yeah, no kidding, Mr. Trial Lawyer Governor.

That is why I am supporting a series of bills, all being carried by Sen. Jay Luneau, that will actually help to lower auto insurance rates for people in Louisiana and prohibit certain arbitrary penalties.

Here’s a list of factors that auto insurance companies can currently use to legally increase your rates:

Your gender

Your credit score

Losing your spouse

Being deployed in the military

They’re factors auto insurance companies use in their underwriting process, so as to most accurately assess the risk you pose for them to sell you insurance. If those factors aren’t allowed to be used, then the risk has to be generalized and everybody else’s premium rates will go up. This isn’t rocket science, and insurance actuaries aren’t busily trying to screw people based on their gender. Those factors present a statistical differential in auto insurance risk assessment, so they’re priced into insurance rates.

I think we can all agree that our auto insurance rates should be based on our driving records. Not on if you’re female, or poor, or widowed, or putting your life on the line for our country. These bills would prohibit penalties based on those factors.

No, we can’t all agree with that. For example, you might have a great driving record, but if you live in a neighborhood where cars get broken into or stolen all the time, the insurance company is more likely to have to pay on a claim you make. They shouldn’t have the ability to recoup some of that cost by adjusting premium rates accordingly?

It’s not a penalty. The government is the one penalizing people. It’s the insurance company trying to price its policies accurately.

And why are they doing this? Because they have to pay claims, that’s why. In Louisiana they pay claims practically more than anywhere else, which is why our rates are so high. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Edwards to address that issue, which is the single most pressing matter in this session.

We have 130 guardsmen currently mobilized, and we are about to have nearly 2,000 more deployed at the end of the year. And we should do everything in our power to make sure they are not penalized when they return.

Making these changes to avoid discrimination in the setting of insurance rates is the common sense thing to do, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

He’s talking about 130 guardsmen in a state of 4.5 million people on the subject of car insurance. He might as well have shot the legislature the bird and told them there’s nothing they’ll pass pertaining to tort reform that he won’t fight them on.

He didn’t have to do that. The message was received loud and clear.

If in addition to real insurance reform you want to pursue other efforts, I am willing to sit down with you and discuss with a goal of finding common ground.

The hell he is. Nobody believes that.

Something else I am hopeful that we can all find common ground on is encouraging all residents to participate in the 2020 Census.

Starting this week, information will begin going out to homes on how to participate. We all know that it is vital for everyone to be counted because of the direct impact it has on their lives and our ability to serve them in the best possible way.

Great. The Census.

Earlier in my remarks, I mentioned the oak tree at the Governor’s Mansion that bears the phrase, “Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” It’s a powerful, and accurate, way to describe the importance of education. But it also holds true to the work we do in this building. Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with a vision, a dream, or an idea. Sometimes, it starts with a single bill. And then over time what began as a seed of faith will grow as tall and strong as an oak tree, outlasting all of us here today.

The people of Louisiana elected us to create positive change that will benefit generations to come. And together, there is no seed we can’t sow, especially if we continue to build on the bipartisanship that has served us so well.

Despite the obvious challenges that we face, I am as optimistic as ever about the future of this great state. And I look forward to forging new partnerships this session as we enter a new year, a new term, and a new chapter for Louisiana.

Glad he’s optimistic. He’s given nobody in Louisiana any reason whatsoever to share that optimism. He served notice that any progress made this session will come in spite of him.

God bless you all, God bless the United States of America, and God bless the great state of Louisiana.

Yeah, God bless us. We need it.



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