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Last chance debate shows unsuitability of participants

Defying the expectation that after seven televised debates viewers possibly could learn anything new about Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, they did: in tonight’s edition, they learned why each by way of personality is unsuitable to be governor of Louisiana.

Actually, in the case of Democrat Edwards, it was continued confirmation. On this occasion, it came down to a matter of lack of trust that he would not hit Louisianans with massive tax increases to fund his never-ending spending promises despite his claiming he won’t raise taxes. Let’s see, he wants to excise entirely the portion gasoline tax dollars that goes to the state police, costing $60 million this year although by law to be reduced in future years (with this representing 0.5 percent of the entire roads backlog, so it really doesn’t solve anything). He wants to double the Earned Income Tax Credit, meaning about $50 million in forgone revenue collection. He wants to equalize self-generated revenues of Louisiana higher education with the taxpayer’s proportion, which this year would have meant finding another $103 million (and he pledges no more tuition increases, so this figure will go higher). He wants to expand Medicaid immediately, which for FY 2016 would cost the state at least $18 million but by FY 2030 is forecast to cost an additional $574 million annually.

Just what he promised on these items during the debate equals at least $231 million more for a state, in order to balance its budget, that this year raised taxes more than three times that amount, of which he voted in favor of over $400 million in additional tax liability that will be experienced directly by or passed on to consumers and by income-earning individuals. All along, Edwards has held out the paring of tax exemptions, curiously disregarding that these do often entail tax increases (when not in the form of rebates), as the uber-solution to what ails the budget. It’s nothing more than an appeal to Louisiana’s populist history, promising all sorts of things as if it were a gift to the people but hiding the fact that they ultimately pay for it. You can’t trust a guy who doesn’t tell you that upfront and continues to insist he won’t raise taxes, and that disqualifies him from any serious consideration for the office.

Somewhat the same thing also removes Republican Dardenne from being an acceptable choice. While Dardenne is much more honest than Edwards on the matter of tax hikes – Dardenne says he would investigate those as a last resort – it’s naiveté that cancels him as a gubernatorial choice. When discussing Medicaid expansion, Dardenne mentioned the financing mechanism the Legislature concocted this year, where if expansion becomes authorized in the first quarter of next year most hospitals would pay an “assessment” on their revenues into a state fund to offset the state’s portion of matching expansion dollars – and proceeded to insist that the providers would not pass it along to consumers!

For a guy who has been in state government a quarter of a century, it’s inconceivable that he honestly could believe that an entity voluntarily would relinquish profits – the Constitutional amendment that built the gun aimed at consumers nor the resolution that cocks the trigger does not have any (unenforceable, in any event) provision prohibiting passing along the cost – for the good of the state. Of course Louisianans will end up paying for that, and this stunning display of thinking that money grows on trees renders Dardenne an unserious choice for the state’s top position.

Then there’s Angelle, who let out his apparent frustration that the absent major candidate Republican Sen. David Vitter continues to be regarded as the serious conservative in the contest with Angelle relegated as an afterthought and over Vitter’s portrayal in advertisements of Angelle as lacking leadership and behaving more like a liberal Democrat befitting his three-decade affiliation with the party. He did so during the debate in spectacular non sequitur fashion by referencing a discredited “October surprise” assertion that Vitter was back in action committing “serious sins.”

It made Angelle look small, bereft of any skills to argue intellectually for his policy preferences, but, worst of all, tempermentally unsuited to serve in the state’s highest office. Name-calling using unconvincing arguments doesn’t win the battle of ideas that moves legislators and publics, so if Angelle must stoop to these tactics during a debate, it only validates Vitter’s claim that Angelle is devoid of leadership ability.

And maybe this is why Vitter found time and opportunity to attend only two of the seven events televised to large parts of the state – without him there, it could be made clearer the lack of suitability each of his opponents demonstrates. Or maybe he feared he might act in the same manner, but whatever the reason, at least on this occasion the absenteeism worked in his favor.

When the most impressive guy on the podium was a Louisiana State University student named Mitch Rabalais, the moderator, no offense, kid, the presumed stars of the evening were anything but. And perhaps if you needed reasons to vote for Vitter this weekend, now Angelle, Dardenne, and Edwards have given you more than enough of them.

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