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The Search for Certainty

January 29, 2020

By: Stephen Waguespack

Martin Luther once said, “Nothing in the world causes so much misery as uncertainty.”

Oscar Wilde took a much different viewpoint by proclaiming that, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”

So, which is it?  Is uncertainty the root cause of misery or love?  Whatever the answer, it looks like all of us in Louisiana are about to find out because we are surrounded by uncertainty as we kick off the year 2020.

Don’t believe that we are surrounded by uncertainty?  Well, look around.

The impeachment trial of President Trump has ground the gears of the federal government to a halt for the last year or so, though some would argue those gears have been in paralysis for quite some time now.  Most expect this trial to end soon, but only after both sides of the aisle fully deploy their nuclear arsenals of pointed criticisms and personal insults. Keep in mind that Iowa voters will cast the first votes of the presidential election cycle on Feb. 3, so the uncertain circus that is federal politics will remain throughout the year.  No biggie I suppose, the only thing hanging in the balance (according to both sides) is the future of the world as we know it.

Closer to home, Louisiana is down a few critical players that must be replaced with top-notch talent.

Our state superintendent of education John White announced his departure last month after a decade long run as our public-school leader.  In short, his tenure was excellent, and we were lucky to have him as long as we did.  He was an innovative policy mind, garnered tremendous respect nationally, courageously stood up to political threats along the way from both sides of the aisle and consistently refused to do anything that failed to put the needs of kids and families first.  Many across the state and country recognize this and have routinely praised him for a job well done.  His smaller, but vocal, band of critics smell blood in the water and hope to use this vacancy as an opportunity to derail the bipartisan education reforms that were put in place during the tenures of Governors Foster, Blanco and Jindal.  That simply cannot be allowed to happen, but until a smart selection is made, the hopes and dreams of Louisiana’s 700,000 public school students hang in an uncertain balance.

Speaking of uncertainty, the graduation of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is surprisingly not even the most critical leadership vacuum at Louisiana’s flagship university.  Former LSU President King Alexander has departed for Oregon State and a search has begun for his successor.  The Board of Supervisors has publicly promised to be more transparent than ever before, but that promise is getting off to a rocky start.  The board has yet to give many specifics on the search firm being hired, state definitively whether they are splitting this job into two different positions with overlapping bureaucracies, clearly refute the strong rumors that insider favorites already have the job (or jobs) locked up or explain their rationale for waiting at least six months for a handful of board seats to open up for new gubernatorial appointments before getting serious about this selection. This is all hanging over LSU like menacing skies and the uncertain weather ahead is clouding the university’s future.  Let’s hope these key decisions on personnel and structure get more transparent pretty soon, that any decision to split up the job of president is not done without real oversight and that a true national search takes place to find the best leader the country has to offer to lead the best school (and football team) the country has to offer.

The vacant LSU President position is not alone in uncertain critical decisions in state government. As much of the drama has been watching pending policy battles and the Legislative leadership discussions, a critical state appointment has largely operated under the radar. A new secretary is needed for the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) after the announced resignation of Rebekah Gee.  LDH is Louisiana’s most powerful agency.  It controls the lion’s share of the state budget, is currently embroiled in a legal dispute over the contract management of the state Medicaid program and has fought against the Legislative Auditor in his efforts the to put more oversight and transparency in their budget. This department desperately needs a nationally respected leader with strong credentials who can help design and implement a strong vision and program of services that will improve the health of our citizens and will be much more accountable to taxpayers.

Across town, uncertainty is also the buzzword at the local level in the Capital City.

Will Baton Rouge stay as one city, or will the St. George area become their own jurisdiction?  Seems like the courts are going to grind over this one for at least another year or two while citizens and businesses are left to only wonder what their future will look like.  Baton Rouge also has a vacancy in its local public-school superintendent, at a time when the community is welcoming in a host of new, nationally respected charter operators to give quality options to parents across the region.  This new school leader must be someone who can continue the education system’s momentum and ideally take it to the next level if Baton Rouge is to ever capitalize on its many strengths.

Uncertainty is everywhere and it is the word that best describes the beginning of 2020. We need inspiring answers to start being delivered to these challenging questions.

We need new, strong leaders across the board at several key positions and the choices made in these spots will drive where we go as a state for years to come.  Key policy debates on important topics like legal reform, early education, infrastructure, budget reform and workforce development must be confronted more boldly than ever before in the state capitol. Local communities must find a way to come together to rebuild our schools and infrastructure to provide a long-term home for Louisiana families.

Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood said, “when nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

Stanford professor Tina Seelig said, “Uncertainty is the essence of life and it fuels opportunity.”

For Louisiana, everything is possible in 2020 thanks to the tremendous amount of uncertainty we face.  Let’s not waste this collectively awesome opportunity to make everything right.