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Edwards' speech reaffirms that voters made mistake

Maybe he lives in a fantasy world. Maybe he’s just ticking off boxes. Maybe he’s a true believer pathologically unable to brook dissent from his prejudices. Regardless of potential explanations to understand Gov. John Bel Edwards’ State of the State speech (version 2.0, perhaps if counting his address to the Legislature prior to the just-finished special session), the clear message from it reminds Louisiana of the mistake made in his gaining the office.

In what has become nauseatingly familiar to observers, Edwards framed the presentation along the twin rhetorical principles emblazoned upon his administration to date: blaming his predecessor for every bad thing, real or imagined, under the sun; and pugnaciously defining cooperation as the endorsing of his policy preferences while conflict occurs only when others disagree with him. Expanding upon the latter, to which he also made allusions at the end, he alleged that a “Washington” politics of divisiveness interfered with getting things done (read: having his agenda enacted) and that a “Louisiana way” should prevail.

Of course, the “Louisiana way” has facilitated spending the state’s way into oblivion: in the next-to-last year data were available (2012), the state ranked 12th in spending as a proportion of state personal income. That’s high, but more remarkably growth in that measure over the previous two decades exceeded that of all states but Delaware. In Louisiana, consensus of Edwards’ type leads to overspending and a little more conflict seems in order to stop it.

Edwards also launched into a series of half-truths, if not outright fibs. Rummaging through a litany of campaign promises that involve bigger government, he said nothing close to resembling reality regarding Medicaid expansion. He repeated his lie that previous refusal to expand diverted state taxpayer’s dollars, continued to assert flawed conclusions that expansion would boost economic activity, said uncompensated care costs would go way down  as a result of expansion despite that so little of expenditures are true charity care and most of the rest the federal government picks up, and made the false claim (apparently coming up with a figure out of thin air) that the state would save $100 million this upcoming fiscal year by expanding when the state’s own data (in reports made unavailable online from the Department of Health and Hospitals since the Edwards Administration assumed command of the agency) forecast in FY 2017 the state will lose nearly $40 million. (Perhaps this lack of transparency is not limited to this instance: at the time of this publication, the text of Edwards’ speech remained unavailable at the governor’s office website.)

Then Edwards upped the ante further by circulating myths about the minimum wage and gender wage differentials. He claimed hiking the minimum wage would constitute a step towards a better “living wage” – when in fact hardly any worker earns only the minimum wage, most who do work in food preparation or as servers, most work part-time, the majority are young, and almost none are the sole breadwinners of a household. He argued, without any details, for action to close an alleged wage gap between men and women – when in fact this disparity doesn’t exist when taking into account the different employment choices the sexes typically make.

Edwards also stumped for enormous state expenditures on “light” rail, despite the fact that this would commit the state to huge subsidies per passenger and hardly solve for traffic congestion. Economic problems stemming from a lack of a regional approach, incredibly enough, he blamed on not having passenger rail: according to him, the absence of this prevented the promotion of cooperation between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is about the last reason why the two metropolitan areas often compete against each other economically.

These fantastical, if not outright ignorant, statements he might have made as a way to demonstrate he stayed attuned to campaign promises that he would try to keep. But the sheer nonsense behind them that he seemed to take seriously suggests he actually does think these would make for wise policy. And, besides earning him a failing grade for this annual gubernatorial exercise, these words also remind us of the unsuitability of this pretense of leadership, underscoring the mistake made by the Louisiana electorate that delivered him in fluky fashion to the state’s highest office.

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