By John Celock
Louisiana’s new Democratic governor showcased his departure from his Republican predecessor by announcing in his inaugural address Monday he plans to kick off Medicaid expansion on Tuesday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who outlined Medicaid expansion plans last week, used his speech to call for a bipartisan state government, but one that focused on pay equity, Medicaid expansion, education and fixing the state deficit. Edwards was elected last year over U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R) to succeed former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who was term limited.
“I was not a business as usual candidate,” Edwards said. “I will not be a business as usual governor.”
Edwards said that he would start the Medicaid expansion process Tuesday. Jindal, who dropped out of the Republican presidential contest in November, had declined the Medicaid expansion in the state. Edwards said the expansion is needed for the state’s health care system. The Medicaid expansion is part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Edwards said he wants state lawmakers to focus on the state’s pay equity gap, which he described as the largest in the nation. He said that women in Louisiana are paid an average of 66 cents on the dollar to a man’s salary in the state.
Edwards said as part of his pay equity plan he would seek a raise in the state’s minimum wage, a favorite issue of progressives nationally. He did not say how much he would seek in a raise, but described it as “modest.” Nationally, progressive groups have been calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
“We know that when women do well children prosper to,” he said. “This is the very definition of family values.”
Edwards said he wants to halt college tuition hikes and focus education on not teaching to the test. He also indicated a plan to give local school districts more control over budgets and curriculum.
“We need to treat our educators with the respect they deserve and the demand the best for our children,” Edwards said.
Edwards said he wants to address the state’s $1.9 billion deficit as his top order of business. He has tapped former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne (R), who was an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, as his administration commissioner to focus on budget issues.
Edwards was elected in an upset last year over Vitter, a two-term senator, who was battling the effects of a part prostitution scandal. The unpopular Jindal was used against Vitter in the election.
Edwards did not use his address to focus on the rebuke he received Monday morning when the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives elected Rep. Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) over Edwards’ choice, Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), as speaker. Louisiana governors dating back to Democrat Huey Long in the 1930s have traditionally had the power to pick the state House speaker. Leger was elected speaker pro tempore.
Edwards, a moderate Democrat, enters into office as the only Democrat in statewide office, with Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature. He said Monday that he plans to govern with both parties and focused much of his speech on unifying themes before he veered into more traditional partisan fare.
Edwards called on state government to focus on moving the state forward and for lawmakers to work together.
“The two things that Louisiana will never run out of are gumbo and gumption,” he said.