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Lanny Keller: A lot of vacancies in politics, like courage and determination

January 30, 2020
Originally posted on The Advocate

Since we’re all still in the happy glow of that wonderful little gem of a football game when LSU won the national championship, just about no one is immune from sports analogies.

Not Adam Knapp, whose speech on Monday was focused on the vacancies in key leadership positions like education. As he listed them — LSU, Baton Rouge Community College, Baton Rouge parish schools, a state superintendent leaving — Knapp could not miss the opportunity for the punch line: “And a truly outstanding new defensive coordinator!”

Even as Knapp was speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club, reporters were on the trail of the appointment of Bo Pelini to that job, his second tour in Tigertown.

One punch line down, but the list remains daunting. As president of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Knapp is concerned about the capital region directly but also about statewide direction: LSU’s president oversees campuses, medical schools and other institutions across the state as well as the national-championship flagship campus.

A state superintendent of education holds vital sway over schools across Louisiana, but it’s not least a position where the nationally recognized experiment of Orleans Parish schools is also part of the discussion. The “portfolio” of charter schools overseen by an elected school board is still new.

There are still a load of vacancies in 2020. “We are going to be deciding what our leadership will look like in 2021,” Knapp said.

Unhappily, Bo Pelini has not squashed all the sports analogies in politics.

If anything, Stephen Waguespack of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is even more fanatical an LSU fan. His take on the new political season was about LSU’s mix of outsiders and natives that made victory possible, Joe Burrow only being the most prominent.

“The big lesson is new ideas that were long resisted made us better than we ever could have imagined,” Waguespack wrote. “This team embraced and embodied all that is beautiful about the traditional Louisiana way of doing things while also being the boldest team we have ever seen — embracing new ideas to step out of our comfort zones and challenge our old way of thinking.”

He didn’t mention Les Miles in his discussion but Waguespack wanted to get yardage out of the fact that LSU’s coaches and players were willing to upend literally decades of the old game plans.

“The same old way of doing things in the (State) Capitol won’t change a thing. We cannot keep legislatively running the ball up the middle in terms of policy and relying on our tired defense of a fun culture to bail us out again,” Waguespack said. “That game is over, and other states have figured out our game plan.”

LABI’s agenda may seem familiar enough to readers of the newspapers, such as changing the legal system against plaintiff lawyers and other goals. But Waguespack said that Louisiana can’t be competitive until it aspires to have “a tax code like Texas, infrastructure like Florida, schools like North Carolina,” among other things.

Not bad goals at all, but it’s worth remembering that, as the sage of Louie’s Café near LSU, Frenchie Cox, put it of the new year, “It’s goodbye Joe, Myles to go.” The leading contender for quarterback, Myles Brennan, steps into truly huge cleats. It would be unreasonable to expect this kind of season again.

The political lesson is the same: Personnel is ten times policy.

For Waguespack and anyone else expecting a sea change in state policy, the many new members of the Legislature are a hope but also a concern. A great many of them were elected with the support of LABI and entrenched interest groups.

They’re probably wanting to make their marks, but they’ve already had to scramble out of the pocket a few times during a bruising battle over who should be speaker of the House. That fight was between contenders who were severely conservative and ultraconservative. It was a mess, with threats and bullying hardly an entrée into a new season of one team, one heartbeat.

A team with a lot of rookies can still win with courage and determination. Will we have that at the State Capitol?