What Issues Will Dominate The 2023 Elections In Louisiana?

Yesterday, KPEL-FM Radio in Lafayette posted on their website a piece discussing an interesting subject Moon Griffon brought up on his show. Namely, the 2023 elections, and specifically the gubernatorial election, and what it should be about.

Griffon listed five issues he says are crucial to those elections. They are

Medicaid Expansion

Moon Griffon: “Medicaid expansion was devastating to our state. And it’s hurt us in terms of how business-friendly we are. The next governor has to come in and make Louisiana the most business-friendly state. Go find out what other states like Florida and Texas are doing and start weening people off of the government. These two states should be used as a model for businesses and individuals. We need a tax structure – like theirs – that’s pro-business and pro-family. Low business taxes and no individual income taxes”

Tort Reform

Moon Griffon: “We need real tort reform. Not this ‘step in the right direction’ crap. And you’ve got to stop all of these lawsuits. We have to find out a way to get out of all of these lawsuits. These are lawsuits that are holding us down.”

State Budget

Moon Griffon: “Be a Budget Hawk. We need to give some of our taxpayers their money back. And we need to quit wasting taxpayer dollars. One example of that is the universities. We’ve got way too many universities! You don’t necessarily have to close down universities but universities need to be redirected to be more specific in what they are teaching – like specialties. Then you can downsize at that point.”

Education Reform

Moon Griffon: “We need actual education reform. We have been last in education for so long. It’s why so many people keep paying to send their kids to private school because the government is failing our kids in many of our school systems.”

Final Thoughts

“If you get businesses booming here, it will stop the outmigration. Governor John Bel Edwards has put us on steroids in the wrong direction. We need a governor who is going to get people to work and get the businesses going again.”

He’s certainly correct on all five as a matter of policy, and the position Griffon favors on all five would go a long way toward reversing the steep decline the state is in relative to our neighbors and closest economic competitors. But can you win on them?

For example, a Billy Nungesser or Rick Ward will do nothing on Medicaid expansion. They will allow the current status quo to remain. A Jeff Landry or John Schroder, who would be the two candidates Griffon would find acceptable among the likely gubernatorial hopefuls on the Republican side, might struggle with the Medicaid expansion issue in a runoff with Nungesser or Ward.

Or a Democrat like Gary Smith or Mary Werner.

Why would that be? Because most of the state’s voters probably can be convinced that rolling back Medicaid expansion and the corruption of Louisiana’s hospital industry and medical sector that all that money has brought in is a necessity. But while that’s true, it’s the old-fashioned problem of selling vegetables while the other side is giving away ice cream.

If you’re the RINO moderate or the Democrat running against Landry or Schroder, you demagogue a Medicaid rollback by claiming that your opponent is going to put poor people into the street without proper healthcare and kill thousands of Louisianans of color in the process. That’s a lie, and it’s been shown that increased Medicaid enrollment does nothing for healthcare outcomes, but it’s an easy lie to get low-information voters to believe.

Medicaid needs to be rolled back, for certain, but you can’t really run on it. That’s just something you do once you’re in office.

Ditto for tort reform, because while Griffon is right that tort reformers need to run the table and make sure Louisiana looks more or less exactly the same as Texas where the lawsuit rules are concerned, modern Louisiana history indicates that you can’t win elections by declaring war against trial lawyers in this state. David Vitter and Eddie Rispone proved that. Bobby Jindal made his peace with them and the Democrats couldn’t even raise a candidate against him in 2007 and 2011. You won’t see tort reform as a big electoral issue in the 2023 governor’s race, though you should absolutely see it as a legislative issue in 2024.

Budget and fiscal reform are a huge deal and they’re without a doubt sellable to the public, though voters don’t generally get torqued up about budget issues. The way you sell that is talking about the size and scope of government, and how it’s too big a part of our lives. And it really needs to be talked about in the context that Louisiana’s state government is bleeding the private sector to death, feasting on plenty while our taxpayers struggle to eke out a living, and the people deserve to get their money back with massive tax cuts.

And education reform is likely going to be an issue which isn’t even controversial in the race. All it’ll take is one of the Republicans – most likely Landry or Schroder – to come out with an aggressive education reform plan which greatly expands school choice not just for poor people in failing school districts but for everybody who wants to choose something other than government schools, and everybody else will more or less fall in line.

It’ll be about how much of an expansion of school choice we get. The moderate position will be expanded school vouchers, and the aggressive position will be full-on money-follows-the-child Educational Savings Accounts. The status quo isn’t sellable with all the fatal issues in public education now – mask mandates, remote learning, forced vaccinations, Critical Race Theory, transgenderism and the rest.

He’s also right that promoting business growth is a huge necessity for the next governor after two terms of indifference, if not open hostility, to the private sector under John Bel Edwards.

We would frame things a little differently than Moon does. Our experience tells us you don’t want to talk specifics of policy on a lot of these issues in a governor’s race. For one thing, Louisiana voters don’t vote on policy, because they’ve never actually seen it work. Policies and plans are, to most Louisiana voters, just lies and campaign promises the politicians tell on the stump. They don’t mean anything and nothing is going to change.

Instead, you have to send out cultural and ideological signals in order to make yourself acceptable to the voters and from there it’s all charisma and branding.

This isn’t how elections should be won in Louisiana. Not by a long shot. But it’s how they are won here. Vitter made a very honest effort to change that by running explicitly and specifically on an aggressive reform platform, and before he knew it he was fending off accusations about hookers 24/7.

So transforming our elections into intellectual debates about policy probably can’t be done in one cycle. Accordingly, we’d say that you’ve got to paint very broad strokes.

Rather than Griffon’s five issues which ought to be addressed, we would say there are three elements – particularly to a revivalist approach to fixing Louisiana.

The first is a total rejection of the woke fad the Left is imposing around the country. When even James Carville says wokeness is a problem, it’s a very good signal that the public – and we know that the public in Louisiana is likely on the leading edge of this – is fed up with all of it.

What does an anti-woke message look like in Louisiana? Well, it starts with the fact that Texas’ governor Greg Abbott just signed the girls’ sports bill that Louisiana’s Democrat legislators refused to override Edwards’ veto on, and a hard-core pledge that bill will become law in the first year of the next governor’s term. Going further, perhaps, a ban on giving puberty blockers to children and banning transgenderism among kids under 18. If adults want to pursue sex changes, the state can respect their decision to do so – but for kids with whom transgenderism might just be a phase, it’s abuse and potential destruction, and standing up to it is simply responsible leadership.

Then there’s doing something about Critical Race Theory not just in schools but in workplaces and other venues. There’s standing up for Louisiana’s history by putting a stop to the bowdlerization of our monuments and landmarks, and finding ways to reinstate some of the ones already destroyed by the woke mob.

There are other things. Anti-wokeness will be the top seller of all the issues in the 2023 elections.

Next, Griffon’s economic argument needs to be framed properly, and here’s how to do that – Louisiana’s goal should be to make this the friendliest state in America to start and run a small business. That’s a very different approach than the one Jindal, for example, used – what Louisiana was famous for in those years was to put incentive packages together to attract big companies to build facilities here. That generated lots of ribbon-cutting ceremonies and headlines and big economic development “wins,” but it didn’t fundamentally change the state’s economy.

And it wasn’t particularly fair. Because while those big ringers from out of state got exemptions and incentives to be treated favorably in return for coming here, the existing players in Louisiana’s economy just got the same old terrible tax code. That meant growing a business here was still just as hard as in the blue states, and why would you bother doing it when you can just pick up and move to Texas.

Changing the underlying reality is hard work, but that has to be the focus.

And finally, a successful candidate for governor – particularly if that candidate wants to push a revivalist message to the public – needs to talk about making Louisiana the freest state in the country for law-abiding citizens.

This has a lot of elements and a whole bunch of policies could fit within the principle. But it can be described without wading into the weeds by talking about the stark difference you see between Florida’s successful handling of COVID-19 compared to the unmitigated stupidity and failure of Edwards’ ham-handed and restrictive approach.

It can be seen in the clubby, elite-minded nature of the state capitol, where special interests reign while the general public groans. Take for example the politically-connected nursing home operator who left his patients in a warehouse to die during Hurricane Ida while being given all the swag the state could throw his way. Or the restraints of trade to be found in Louisiana’s licensing schemes which favor the good old boys all too often. The examples abound of ruling class privilege and corruption in Louisiana which make ordinary folks restricted and unfree.

And then there are the criminal justice reforms passed under Edwards which preceded a massive hike in violent crime. The murder rate in all of Louisiana’s major cities is completely out of control and people have lost faith in the government’s ability to provide even basic security. That makes law-abiding people less free to live their lives.

The 2023 elections are very likely to see a massive red wave sweep through Louisiana. A failed Democrat presidential administration will produce that trend nationally and the end of Edwards’ second term – in which the state will surely have a depressed economy and significant outmigration – should signal it statewide. But to build the kind of mandate which enables major change, it’s better to offer a more wide-ranging vision than to get bogged down in specific policy fights.

We wouldn’t suggest a laser focus on individual issues. The big picture is what voters will be looking for.

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