BY MARK BALLARD | Capitol Bureau editor
Jul 26, 2019 - 6:17 pm
A coalition of three state government policy research groups want to move the election-year conversation off building a wall on the Mexican border and onto issues that will make difference to the quality of life in Louisiana.
"If you listen to what they're talking about, they're not really talking about things that move the state forward," Barry Erwin, the head of CABL, said Friday about the main candidates for governor.
He wants voters to start asking about early childhood education and transportation infrastructure improvements, rather than let the gubernatorial candidates get away with red meat national issues that have little context in Louisiana.
“We’re trying to say these are the issues that move the needle,” Erwin told print reporters during a roll out of the RESET proposals at PAR’s Baton Rouge headquarters Friday.
The nonpartisan groups — the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, or C-100; the Council for A Better Louisiana, called CABL; and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, better known as PAR – is calling their campaign effort RESET Louisiana's Future. The ideas focus on four general ideas for which legislation can be easily drafted and approved in the incoming Legislature’s first couple of years in office.
About a third of the 144-seat Louisiana Legislature will be new, filling vacancies left by term limits and retirements. The coalition already has interviewed about 90 candidates and is starting on the incumbents, which are about 90 more.
“The goal is to get to all of them before qualifying,” said Ron Gomez, a former legislator working on the RESET effort.
RESET officials aren’t asking candidates to sign a pledge and they offer neither endorsements nor future dollars for campaign war chests. They’re only asking the candidates to hear them out on why proposals should move forwards in policy areas, such as, education, state finances, criminal justice, and transportation infrastructure.
“We’re saying these are the best public policies that you can get traction on early,” said C-100 President Mike Olivier. “Now is the time to do something about these systemic problems, because so many seats are changing."
The coalition raised about $500,000 to support the effort and will spend about $100,000 on a digital ad campaign that begins soon.
The Oct. 12 election also will feature the reelection bid of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is being challenged by two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Baton Rouge millionaire Eddie Rispone. RESET coalition officials have also met with the three candidates this past Spring.
But on the campaign trail since then, Edwards’ commercials and stump speeches primarily have focused on how much better he thinks he’s doing former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Both Abraham and Rispone are saying Edwards should go because Louisiana’s good economy could be better but for sales tax increases the governor has championed to stabilize the state’s finances. Neither have articulated specific plans on what they would do to improve the economy.
But much of Rispone and Abraham’s recent advertising and rhetoric is about which Republican is more like President Donald Trump. They’re trumpeting the president’s policies, such as restricting who to allow into the country.
"Part of this whole effort has to be about changing the conversation,” Erwin said.
PAR President Robert Scott said some policy changes will get enacted but the bigger, more sweeping pieces will require persistence and make take years to realize. "You just have to continue to educate and press forward," he said.
Among the ideas proposed by the organizations would:
Open education and childcare for children from birth to age 4
Expand dual enrollment to allow high schoolers to take college courses and vo-tech training.
Focus on increasing qualifying more high school graduates with job training certificates.
Centralize Louisiana's parish-by-parish system of sales tax administration.
Allow future state employees to take their pension plans with them to new jobs
Eliminate the corporate franchise tax
Create a simple tax structure by broadening the base and lowering the rates.
Keep lawmakers from rolling back 2017 changes in criminal sentencing
Fund more crisis intervention centers as alternatives to jail for people with mental health or drug abuse issues.
Educate voters on why new money is necessary to improve roads, bridges, ports and other transportation infrastructure.