APPEL: Louisiana’s Leadership Deficit Is Rooted In A Lack Of Vision

For a long time, I have written about the negative impact that visionless leadership has imposed on our state.

We have long known that despite our invaluable assets we remain mired in last place or near last place in most measures of what a successful state should be. We have long known that because we are so far behind others that even an incremental improvement would be big news. We have long known that in Louisiana, persistent poverty is virtually the rule and not the exception.

Louisiana should be the easiest place in the world for results-oriented leadership to define goals and strategy to get us out of the mess we are in. Because we are so far down, we are a most fertile ground for someone to plant the seeds of a bold approach to remold our state.

Now, once again, the Legislature is session and what is being debated speaks volumes about my point. Legalize marijuana, move a gambling boat, make tax free women’s sanitary products, legalize prostitution, provide protection for those who want to wear “natural” hair styles, make felons’ lives easier, and on and on. To the subsets of people for whom these issues touch they may be a big deal, but friends, Louisiana is in last place in everything, surely, we should expect some bold ideas on things that will get us out of that dubious distinction.

The governor’s legislative package tells us all we need to know about his belief in politics as usual. He would pay back political supporters, keep spending at present levels, and pretty much stay the course. Nothing to fix Louisiana. Nothing to make one think that he has any concept of, let alone any desire to change the trajectory of a state that desperately needs redirection.

In a nutshell everything of which over the years I have written, the consequences of visionless leadership, are like clockwork manifesting themselves in Baton Rouge. The legislature, lacking any direction from the governor, is nibbling around the edges of significant problems. The result will be a session full of bluster, that accomplishes nothing significant.

Is it possible for a political leader or leaders to ever have the kind of succinct, bold vision to change Louisiana?

Well, history demonstrates that we have had brief intervals of such. For instance, during the early tenure of the now much-reviled Governor Bobby Jindal, he brought to the office his vision to reform our state’s backward fiscal structure and failed education system. He stood strong against the status quo, the old Louisiana Way. After his first term he was rewarded for his leadership with a 71% re-election win. In a later time, current governor Edwards, who has made it patently clear that that he is a firm believer in the status quo Louisiana Way, barely squeaked by with a 20,000-vote swing re-election victory against a political unknown.

The message of these two elections is clear, the people appreciated Jindal’s vision and his steadfastness in execution of it, even as they were ambivalent to an ineffectual Governor Edwards. Jindal’s fatal flaw was that later he abandoned Louisiana’s people for his own ambition, but that is another story entirely.

So, to answer my own question, yes farsighted leadership has achieved substantial, though fleeting, success and the people were passionately in support then and would be once again. For the last few years, it has been to the advantage of status-quo politicians to ignore the latent desire for a new path forward by burying it under a mountain of negative Jindal attacks. But what they could not, cannot bury is the message of that historic vote. The people rewarded Jindal or more specifically Jindal’s vision and actions with a huge re-election victory. And as history is prologue, it is only a matter of time before another audacious leader or leaders will rise and will turn his/her back on the naysayers and actually do something.

The people of Louisiana are like a powder keg of pent-up demand, a people that have been depressed for so long just waiting for someone to show them the way forward. All the elements are in place for a transformation in Louisiana once the people finally reject feckless leadership. What is needed is that special person or persons to step forward in order to ignite the powder keg of passion within our people.

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