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Thursday, June 29th, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
JOHN BEL EDWARDS AND THAT “VISION THING!”
The consensus of most folks down in the Bayou State is that Louisiana has a governor who is a pretty decent fellow. He comes across as friendly, accessible, and hands on in running the daily operations of the state. He has an impeccable military background having voluntarily served his country in the Army, something few politicians bother to do in this day an age. He has a supportive, attractive wife who is a schoolteacher and receives high marks as the state’s first lady. Voters call him John Bel and his approval rating hovers above 50%. Yet he will be in the fight of his life in two years with a real battle on his hands if he has any hope of being re-elected.
John Bel’s election as Louisiana’s 56th governor was no fluke, but it required that the stars align just right for a Democrat to be elected governor in what has become a rock solid Republican state. In the early days of the 2015 gubernatorial election, Senator David Vitter seemed to be a solid favorite to make the runoff, and would handily beat Edwards. The state Democratic Party was so sure of a Vitter victory that they asked John Bel to withdraw from the race and support a more moderate Republican.
To his credit, Edwards would have none of it, and hung in there to pull, what may have felt to be, an impossible upset. But that was then. Today, the South’s only Democratic governor is facing a cantankerous Republican controlled legislature and an approaching budget deficit that may be well over one and a half billion dollars.
Here is John Bel’s problem. He is spending way too much time reacting to the daily crisis at hand, rather than being a proactive governor. There seems to be little long-range thinking emanating from the Fourth floor of the state capitol. Oh, but that’s not fair he will say. There are so many daily problems that need attention. Brush fires often pop up all around the job of running the state.
Yes, brush fires do habitually flair up, Governor. But you can’t let them consume you. Instead of always just circling the wagons, sometimes you just have to let brushfires burn out. They frequently take care of themselves. You have a whole cadre of underlings that can handle many of the day-to-day problems. Successful governors have to think big and think ahead. They don’t get too bogged down in the here and the now. Voters want a bigger sense that both the state and their own lives are going to improve.
Former President George H.W. Bush was caught in the same rut during his run for office in 1987. A Time Magazine profile observed of Bush that: “Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes. This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. “˜Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, “˜the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”
John Bel is not going to change the minds or win over die-hard Republicans. But many Louisianans are looking for some hope that the social structure of Louisiana will improve. Better schools, safer streets, more decent wage jobs, and civility in politics. He needs to set aside some time to think through his objectives and dreams for Louisiana’s future. Then get around the state and share his goals.
The Governor needs a message that can shape public opinion by offering a clarity of ideas and principles. Yes, a “vision thing.” With the right vision for Louisiana’s future, John Bel can have eight years in office to move Louisiana aggressively towards a better quality of life. If he spends all his time putting out brushfires, the Bayou State will have a lame duck governor when the next election rolls around.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. Â You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.