BATON ROUGE — Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards sought to reassure business and political leaders that he was sincere when he campaigned as a centrist, saying Wednesday he would bring that approach to his administration.
The Democrat who takes office Jan. 11 told the annual luncheon of the nonpartisan Council For a Better Louisiana that he doesn’t intend to govern “on the far left,” saying he believed some in the luncheon room were fearful of that.
“I believe that the real solutions to our problems, the ones that will work and the ones that people will accept and stick with over time, happen to be in the center of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “If you get too far left or too far right, the people are fickle enough that they’re going to reject that after some period of time.”
He’ll also be working with a majority Republican state House and Senate.
But despite the constraints that could put on Edwards, the governor-elect said he intends to push for the decidedly Democratic causes he championed as a candidate: a minimum wage increase, equal pay for women and expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program.
“You’re not going to see me hanging out on the far left, but we are going to do the things that I said we’re going to do,” Edwards said.
Edwards reached out to the audience of state officials, lawmakers, lobbyists and business officials, urging collaboration. He said if he proposes something they don’t like, they should offer suggestions for a different approach.
“What we can’t do is all go to our corner and start lobbing grenades at one another, because then we’re going to stay in the same rut that we’re in, nothing’s going to get fixed, and the state cannot afford that,” he said.
His speech largely recapped plans he outlined during his campaign.
He again said he’ll hold a special legislative session in February aimed at raising revenue to help stabilize the state’s budget, by making tax changes. He provided no further details on what he’d include.
On Wednesday, Edwards announced a 34-person Fiscal Matters Committee charged with proposing ways to close the budget gap. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and former state Inspector General Sharon Robinson are co-chairing the effort.
Edwards said his aversion to the continued slashing of state financing for public colleges was the largest reason he decided to run for governor two years ago.
“Our kids are paying more, getting less in return, starting off — if they can go to college at all — with more debt than they should have,” he said. “We have to do things differently.”
One target for repeal early in the Edwards administration, the governor-elect said, is a tax credit that lawmakers created on paper to protect term-limited Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s anti-tax record as he readied a now-ended bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
The tax credit — called SAVE — didn’t raise new money or cut anyone’s taxes, but allowed Jindal to claim an offset against other tax hikes used to balance the budget.
Edwards, a state representative, heavily criticized the tax credit maneuver in the last legislative session as a sham, designed to adhere to a no-tax pledge Jindal signed with an organization led by national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
Also Wednesday, Edwards announced he has hired Richard Carbo as communications director for his new administration. Carbo, an Alexandria native, previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats.