When U.S. Sen. John Kennedy defied conventional political wisdom in late November, announcing he wouldn’t be challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards in the fall election, some assumed the contest was over before it had really begun.
Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, though well-funded and popular with hardcore conservatives, has little statewide name recognition. Similarly, first-term U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, the only establishment Republican to throw his hat in the ring, is from tiny Alto in north Louisiana and not well known in the southern part of the state, home to two thirds of the electorate.
But Edwards isn’t taking anything for granted and despite the lack of big names, the 2019 governor’s race will hardly be a sleeper. Here’s what to watch for:
> The national GOP and out-of-state PACs will throw a lot of money at this contest. They want to flip the Governor’s Mansion in one of their solid red states and already have the popular Edwards in their crosshairs.
> You’ll hear a lot about taxes and how much they’ve increased under Edwards. (Though Edwards will counter he inherited a budget mess from his predecessor and managed to balance the budget and rein in capital spending for the first time in decades.)
> You’ll see support for Edwards from some you might not expect. Moderate Republican business leaders are coalescing behind the governor, despite the D behind his name.
> Abraham will do better than you might think. He’s a likable family guy with a wife of 43 years and nine grandchildren. He’s also a farmer, a veterinarian, a medical doctor and a pilot with the U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary. That’s a lot of boxes checked.
> Don’t be surprised by a last-minute entry. It’s anyone’s guess who that might be, but seasoned pundits don’t believe the field is set just yet.
5 things legislators will be talking about
1. Tort reform
Business groups and Republicans will—again—be pushing heavily for this, but Democrats and trial lawyers will—as always—mount a vicious defense. The issues this year: Lowering the jury threshold below $50,000 and letting jurors know if a person injured in a car wreck was wearing a seat belt.
2. Statutory dedications
Once again, lawmakers are promising to take a deep dive on the more than 400 statutory dedications. This all sounds good until the defenders of each dedication start mounting their respective cases in committee hearings; which is when the zest to eliminate them tends to disappear—especially during an election year.
3. Teacher pay raise
Every politician—from Gov. John Bel Edwards to the most fiscal conservative in the House—declares a desire to raise teacher pay. The trick, of course, is reaching some agreement on the amount and, of course, finding the money to actually cover the raise.
4. Felon voting rights
Most thought this issue was settled in 2018, but a poorly written bill with confusing language that often contradicts other laws means legislators will either a) do nothing, b) rehash the issue and rollback many of the provisions or c) rehash the issue and do nothing. There will be lots of screaming, but whether the votes are there to fix the alleged problems is a mystery.
5. Women and millennials pushing into power
This was a thing in 2018, when more than 800 millennials ran for state legislative seats across the country, with roughly 275 winning their races. Louisiana did not take part as legislators go before voters this year. Women, too, were on the rise in winning elected office. Louisiana historically has ignored such demographic trends, will it do so this year?
—Compiled by JR Ball
Another missed chance for fiscal reform
Don’t look for 2019 to be the year we see badly needed fiscal reform in Louisiana. Just as lawmakers kicked this can down the road in 2016, 2017 and 2018, so will they again in 2019. That’s because this is an election year, which means no one at the State Capitol will do anything controversial. Legislators likely won’t take up the fiscal reform hot potato in 2020 either, a year in which the sessions cannot deal with fiscal issues, though the (new?) governor could call a special session to tackle the issue. That means it will be 2021—at the earliest—before the state potentially gets its fiscal house in order.