Bobby Jindal is no longer the governor of Louisiana. On Monday (1.11), John Bel Edwards was sworn in by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson as the Pelican’s State’s latest governor in a ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol. An uplifiting speech calling for unity and change then followed.
The event was attended by past governors Jindal, Kathleen Blanco, Buddy Roemer, and Edwin Edwards. Senator Cassidy, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Congressman Cedric Richmond were also in attendance. Bel Edwards appeared to take particulate joy in the presence of the glee club from his alma mata, West Point.
After other state officers such as Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and Attorney General Jeff Landry were sworn in, Bel Edwards took to the podium. He began his remarks by calling for unity. “We are here because you chose to rise above partisan politics,” the new executive extolled. “I am a Louisianan first.”
Edwards proceeded to list his bonafides as a Louisianan. He even dropped mention of childhood hunting trips to Manchac as a metaphor. Likewise, the West Point references did not stop with the entertainment. He alluded to General Douglas MacArthur’s fabled farewell speech to the U.S. Military Academy and the legendary imperative to respect, “Duty. Honor. Country.”
After the feel-good portion, the remarks turned serious. Edwards moved from a celebration of the state’s diversity to a list of the Boot’s problems with poverty, wage inequality, and education taking prime billing. Despite Jindal’s presence a few feet away, the new leader was not hesitant to detail the mess that Bobby J left the state with.
“We face a daunting fiscal crisis. We can no longer afford to lurch year to year, cobbling together temporary fixes and expecting to realize permanent sustainability. If we don’t fix the structural budget deficit, we can’t fix any of our other problems. Those are the facts.”
Edwards then moved on to offering some fixes. He opened by announcing that he would accept the federal Medicaid money on the table “tomorrow.” Jindal had long refused the money labeling it as government over-reach. The remark was met with rapturous applause from some (presumably the Democrats) in the audience. Edwards declared, “Your tax dollars should not be going to one of the 30 other states that has expanded Medicaid when we are one of the state’s that expansion will help the most!”
The new leader then called for a “modest increase to the minimum wage” and pay equality for women. Both of those actions would require help from the legislature; so, the feasibility of execution remains a question mark.
Education occupies a prominent place on the new agenda. Calls were issued for an end to tuition increases as well as an increase in subsidies. On the K-12 level, Edwards demanded an “end to costly standardized tests.” Here, he may have found some shared ground with Jindal who has a vocal critic of Common Core. (Well, Jindal was a vocal critic after he flip-flopped; originally, he was a vocal advocate).
The tough work of the budget and the state’s imperiled finances consumed the heart of the speech. “Our top priority must be stabilizing the budget. rework the failed system of tax incentives, credits, and rebates which too often bleed the state’s revenue and leave little to show for the spending.”
The former Airborne Ranger used military terminology when discussing the state’s financial future. “With the state facing such a huge budget deficit, the future of this mission is critical.” The new Gov’ also spoke about “intelligence gathering” and “tactics” as key to tackling the trouble.
As the address pivoted towards a conclusion, Edwards returned to his initial outreach towards the legislature, pleading, “I can not do it alone.”
The Governor then called for, “action before idolness, unity before party, citizenship before self.”
The dreaded R-word also made an appearance. “We are not a perfect state, but we are a resilient one. After Katrina, we battled back. In fact, we still celebrated Mardi Gras,” extolled Edwards. “If there are two things Louisiana will never run out of, it’s gumbo and gumption.”
This article is being updated as the ceremony continues.