By: Stephen Waguespack
You don't put on a tuxedo to go to McDonalds and you don't get on an airplane to visit your neighbor across the street. It would be silly to take such grand steps to accomplish something quite simple.
After a historic election cycle, it would be just as silly for this new, fully independent, reform-minded Legislature to play it safe this session – just like lawmakers have always done at the State Capitol.
It is worth noting that the State Capitol in Baton Rouge was built under the direction of the Kingfish himself, Huey P. Long. In the decades since its opening in 1932, the impressive Art Deco structure has seen plenty of elected officials come and go. Throughout those years, governors have dominated the State Capitol, much like its infamous builder, while the Legislature has in many ways been relegated to playing second fiddle.
As Louisiana’s history shows, the results of that approach have been underwhelming.
For most of our lifetimes, our state’s economy has been like a see saw, going up and down so often that we as citizens get sick to our stomach from time to time. Unfortunately, many of our public institutions that have been created and funded under the old approach were more focused on furthering the political machine rather than the public services being delivered. For example, our tax code has been created to ensure that government gets all the money it needs, regardless of the economic consequences of where it comes from.
While it has been an entertaining ride for the past 90 years, full of funny quotes and notable characters, our comprehensive scorecard of results for the Louisiana people is mixed at best.
For the first time in a very long time, there is a chance for true change in how lawmakers at the State Capitol do their business. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
The Legislature is full of newly-elected members who are not beholden to the old way of doing things. Out of 39 state senators, 18 are new members. The House of Representatives has 46 new fresh faces out of 105. Both chambers aim to be a more conservative body than any other in Louisiana’s history, and for the first time ever, both chambers independently elected their leadership.
This is a truly historic and unique moment in Louisiana. The question is what will this new Legislature do with this transformational reality? Will they just go to the same old game plan that has dominated this building forever, or will they break from the traditions from the past and chart a completely new course for our state?
I think this Legislature will be bold, courageous and inspirational. I think they will try their best to live up to the historic nature by which they arrived in Baton Rouge and I am hopeful the people of this state will benefit from their service unlike any other time in our history. But for that to happen, what must occur?
Well, I would recommend this new legislature channel their inner Coach O and view this term like a four-quarter game. Each quarter, or year in this instance, must have a specific game plan and be executed to perfection.
First quarter: Show the people of this state they can walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to changing the way Louisiana’s state government has operated. Pass historic legal reform that will prioritize people first, shed our “jackpot justice” system and rebuild our insurance markets, reacquire our lost energy jobs and rebalance our court systems to be more representative to the needs of real people across our state.
Second quarter: Fix our broken tax code and replace it with one that is simple, flat, fair and competitive with all other southern states. Establish a plan of prioritization and appropriate funding for solutions to a broken, run down infrastructure system that simply cannot be ignored anymore. This means new bridges (urban and rural), port projects, capacity enhancements and maintenance upgrades of existing roads.
Third quarter: Accept no excuses for solving our workforce needs to ensure that every person who wants a job can find a good job here in Louisiana. This means making our elementary schools the most innovative and competitive in the nation. This means partnering with our universities, colleges and independent training services to ensure they are focused on the skills and training our employers and employees both need. This means taking the next step to ensure training being delivered to our incarcerated citizens is robust and innovative enough to ensure we slow down the cycle of incarceration of our returning citizens.
Fourth quarter: Reshape how we budget, tax, fund and support all that we do to a model that is capable of delivering high quality services in a way that is highly transparent and accountable to the taxpayer. That means taking the next few years to prepare to adopt competitive technology to replace outdated approaches, driving accountability and responsibility down to the local level where feasible and moving away from the chicken in every pot approach that probably worked well in the 1930’s but shows little promise of success in the 2030’s.
Along the way of this four-quarter game, there will plenty of debate to move certain topics up or down or to replace some with other priorities. Topics like redistricting, license reform, dual enrollment, economic diversity, health care delivery and protecting the sportsman’s paradise will also need serious attention. The challenge is we as a state have much to fix as a result of a 90-year political approach taken by the State Capitol that looks to change substantially this year.
This new legislature has enormous potential to do enormous things. This possibility is something Huey’s beautiful building has never quite seen before. To reach this potential, the people of this state need to step up, demand change and support a newly elected Legislature hungry to do big things.
Let’s work together to capitalize on their hunger. They are all dressed up and ready to go. Let's make sure this meal is a delicious and satisfying one we all will never forget.