Edwards optimistic about state after runoff victory

John Dupont
Gov. John Bel Edwards

Familiar platforms and an outlook for the future highlighted an address Nov. 21 by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who made his first public appearance since his win in the Nov. 16 runoff.

Additional funding for education and a focus on fiscal reform will remain top priorities for Edwards, who won a second term after a narrow defeat over Republican opponent Eddie Rispone. Edwards won with 51 percent of the vote against Rispone's 49 percent.

The increase in funding for early education – a priority for both Edwards and state Department of Education Superintendent John White – will remain a major focus the next four years.

He also targeted a hike in minimum wage and legislation to close the gender wage gap. He has consistently recommended legislation on both issues, dating back to the inaugural address when he took office in January 2016.

"We do not have what I consider and adequate minimum wage, and our gender pay gap is the largest in the country," Edwards said. "You can't convince me and the majority of Louisiana that we don't want to change that, so I will work with the legislature to address the pay gap."

He said he is optimistic to return to work after months on the campaign trail.

Edwards touted the surplus in the state coffers the last three years after he inherited a $2 billion shortfall his first year, following budget woes during predecessor Bobby Jindal's administration.

"I want you to know I'm going to work hard every single day and I'm excited because I know our state is much stronger today than it was four years ago," Edwards said. "Four years, I'm confident we will be even stronger than we are now."

Edwards also addressed the cyberattack that shut down the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles and other state offices the week of Nov. 22.

The state did not lose any data nor did it pay a ransom in the attack, he said.

"We believe it was unsuccessful because the duration was just a few days rather than a few months, which can happen if these attacks were successful and take up a large number of service area."

Eight of the regional offices reopened Monday.

Improvement of cybersecurity across the state will figure among the top priorities during the next four years, Edwards said.

"It's not the new normal and it's not going to go away," he said. "We're going to have to continue to focus on this, and we've made great progress already.

"It's not just state entities that get hit but a lot of local entities, as well. And we're currently helping Iberia Parish through an attack," Edwards said.

He said he would continue to work with lawmakers, even as the House and Senate both gained Republicans in the fall elections.

"I did it before this election, and I did it when I was in the House," said Edwards, a former state representative.

His belief is that this will allow the state to move focus beyond budgetary issues and to build on what is now in place.

Edwards wants to funnel additional money into public education, one year after lawmakers approved his recommendation for a $1,000 per year raise for certified teachers and $500 more annually for support personnel.

He also touted the results from Medicaid expansion, which took effect after an executive order he issued three days after he took office in 2016.

We have the lowest percentage of people without health insurance in our state's history, and I'm really excited about that," Edwards said.

Edwards also expressed optimism at continued efforts toward criminal reforms, as well as construction jobs that will ultimately lead to fulltime jobs for the state.

"My request to the state is that we work together and take advantage of this opportunity," he said.

Edwards said he received a phone call from President Trump the morning after the election.

"He said he campaigned against me and tried to get me out of office, but he congratulated me on the victory and told me I ran a good campaign," he said. "He said he's ready to get back to work with me."