A Tale of Two States: Louisiana Under Edwards and Jindal
by Dylan Basescu
When Republicans control the South, the South suffers. When Democrats control the South in the 21st century, even imperfectly, the South thrives. Conservatives, particularly southern conservatives, may bristle at this idea, but it is based in political reality. Voters in Louisiana will have a choice to affirm that reality, one which has been borne out in their state for the past decade. This story is important because it is one voters in Louisiana ought to heed when casting their ballots on November 16th, either for Democrat John Bel Edwards or for a repeat of the Jindal administration: Eddie Rispone.
Amongst Democrats on the national level, there is a regrettable tendency to write off the South. This does not apply as much any more to our neighbor, Virginia, but it does refer to what I would refer to as the Wallace belt. These are the states which voted for notorious racist and Alabama Governor George Wallace in the 1968 Presidential election: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. This tendency stems from a capitulation to racial demographic theories, improper attributions of parochialism and backwardness to the southern states, and a well-founded resistance to compromise some of the values of the modern Democratic party. However, I want to present what can be at least partially called a success story about Democrats in the South, and one which for the sake of Louisiana must be continued. This is the story of Louisiana under the failed leadership of Bobby Jindal, and Louisiana’s recovery under John Bel Edwards.
It is useful to look at three areas of policy in which Governor Jindal stunted progress in Louisiana and in which Governor Edwards has made significant headway in a bipartisan fashion: education, deficits, and LGBT rights. On education, Governor Jindal pursued a radical tax agenda that cut billions in taxes from the wealthy and corporations, then paid for it on the backs of students and teachers. As a result, public schools closed, many were replaced by charter schools, and the plan was accused of violating federal desegregation orders. In matters of specific educational curricula, Jindal signed a law allowing for the unconstitutional teaching of “Intelligent Design” in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution, resulting in multiple scientific societies boycotting the state. Edwards on the other hand has fought consistently for teacher pay raises, millions of dollars in increased public school funding, and just this year won an extra 47 million dollars for state education funding in Louisiana.
On the state deficit, the numbers speak for themselves. Jindal’s six tax cuts resulted in 1.6 billion dollars in deficits by 2015 alone, right when he decided to pack up and run for President in a failed campaign to bring his economic plan to the rest of America. Under Edwards, the state is now running a 300 million dollar surplus. This has largely been the result of fiscally responsible taxes. When conservatives like Jindal and Rispone talk about fiscal responsibility, they don’t mean cutting back on favors to the 1%, and they certainly don’t mean balancing their own budgets over time with long term investments, they mean cutting vital services for the people they’re supposed to serve and driving the state into the ground while they do it.
On LGBT rights, the contrast could not be more clear. Even members of Jindal’s own party stopped him from protecting hateful businesses when he supported the Marriage and Conscience Act, which forced the state to equally consider contracting with companies that discriminated against LGBT employees. This law would have forced Louisiana into a position of patronizing businesses whose owners did not just personally espouse anti-LGBT views, but engaged in hateful acts of employment discrimination against LGBT people in Louisiana. When members of his own party stood up to Jindal, he circumvented democracy by signing an executive order to effect the same policy where the legislature would not support his discrimination. Edwards could not be more different. Despite being from a state with an unfavorable history towards gay rights, one which did not even legalize gay marriage before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Edwards has repealed Jindal’s odious executive order and consistently supported LGBT Louisianians in the governor’s mansion and in the state supreme court.
These are only three crucial areas of policy where Bobby Jindal tried to carry Louisiana back to the 20th century, and John Bel Edwards pushed the state forward as a Democrat working with a Republican legislature. None of this even touches on Edward’s expansion of Medicaid or his reduction of sentences for non-violent offenders. John Bel Edwards is not perfect though. He is pro-gun. He is anti-choice. He has even signed a law restricting abortion past 15 weeks. These are positions common to many Democrats and Republicans alike in Louisiana, and ones which any Governor of the state would find difficult to disavow.
But as Democrats in the South go, Edwards has saved and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana through his expansion of Medicaid, his fight for education funding, and his prevention of the fiscal ruin which plagued so many Republican states in the 2010’s. That is no small task, and voters ought to remember it when they’re choosing whether to vote for four more years of uphill progress, or four years in the style of Jindal’s disastrous tenure.