Louisiana Politics: Governor and speaker talk about state's 'fiscal cliff'

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling it Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff,” and it was to be the prime topic of conversations this week when he met with Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras.

The so-called cliff represents a dramatic drop, scheduled for next year, when temporary taxes collide with sluggish tax revenue for an anticipated $1.5 billion shortfall.

Edwards wants that massive sum addressed by the time the next fiscal year begins on July 1, 2018, but Republicans in the House, under Barras’ leadership, have been unwilling to embrace the governor’s tax and budget plans for the past 19 and a half months.

The governor is in the midst of a major push to reverse that tide and his meeting with Barras, confirmed by LaPolitics on Monday, is the second significant step taken thus far.

Last week Edwards met with roughly 20 business leaders from throughout the state, none of which were the heads of the traditional lobbies for business and industry.

Instead, Edwards kicked off an outreach campaign that is making appeals directly to business owners and company executives.

The goal of that initial meeting was input collection on the part of the administration, an Edwards spokesperson said, with hopes of future exchanges being scheduled to determine exactly what is palatable to business and industry in terms of taxes and budget priorities.

Other meetings around Louisiana are already on the books or are being organized as well.

The first big question that needs to be answered is whether the governor will call a special session before or after the regular session of 2018.

Unless Barras and the House can get behind a plan, Edwards said recently, the Legislature may as well wait until after the regular session, when a budget will have to be passed with a $1.5 billion hole and no new revenue.

Governor an issue in PSC race

Gov. John Bel Edwards will not be endorsing any of the candidates in the Public Service Commission race — or probably in any election on the fall ballot — but he is a part of one contender’s campaign rhetoric.

Former state Rep. Lenar Whitney sponsored a post on Facebook linking opponent Dr. Craig Greene to Edwards’ 2015 victory.

She wrote in her post, “Craig Greene, candidate for PSC, donated $1,000 to John Bel Edwards and publicly endorsed him days before the election.”

The picture of Greene, of Baton Rouge, and Edwards that Whitney used is also being used by another Facebook group called Democrats For Craig Greene.

“I’ve always been a very conservative person, both in my personal and public life,” said Greene, who like Whitney is a Republican. “This was the first time I ever supported a Democrat. Like a lot of Republicans, I believed Edwards when he said he was a conservative, would govern as a conservative, and wouldn’t raise our taxes. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.”

If the governor does have a candidate in the race, simple logic would point to former state Rep. Damon Baldone, who Edwards appointed to fill the PSC seat temporary when former commissioner Scott Angelle went to work for the Trump Administration.

Edwards assumed he was temporarily appointing a Democrat who would not run for the seat, but Baldone was never told as much.
That became apparent when Baldone, who shares Terrebonne Parish as a home along with Whitney, switched to the Republican Party and qualified for the permanent position.

Trump will name another judge
After a lengthy and public controversy involving her severe alcoholism, U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi finally took her disability retirement recently.

That kicked open a door that was already slightly ajar for potential replacements, to be nominated by President Donald Trump.

As first reported by LaPolitics in the spring, state Rep. Stephen Dwight of Lake Charles is in the mix for the gig.

A friend said the battery on Dwight’s cellphone died twice during an avalanche of calls when Minaldi stepped down.

There are other names being tossed around, though, like personal injury lawyer James Cain, the son for former state Sen. James David Cain. Then there’s District Judge Clayton Davis, who is said to be in the running as well.

Political History:
Nixon and Louisiana
Last week marked the 43rd anniversary of Richard Milhous Nixon resigning as president of the United States, which you may have read or heard about.

But did you know that former Louisiana secretary of state and insurance commissioner Jim Brown almost ended up working for Nixon?

In a column he penned in the spring, Brown recalled how Nixon often visited Louisiana and over time became friends with trumpeter Al Hirt and clarinetist Pete Fountain.

“I was class president at Tulane Law School in 1966 and had the chore of arranging speakers,” Brown added. “On a whim, I wrote Nixon asking him to address the Tulane student body. To my surprise, he accepted. Over a lite lunch at the Tulane Student Center, he quizzed me about

Louisiana politics and asked a number of questions about my background and future plans. I found him engaging, funny, and quite the dominating figure one would expect of a former vice president.”

As that evening ended, Nixon’s chief of staff asked Brown he would consider joining the campaign and traveling immediately to New Hampshire, the first primary state. Brown, although tempted, declined.

In 1972 Brown, then in the state Senate, saw Nixon again, this time at the funeral of former U.S. Sen. Allen Ellender of Terrebonne Parish.

“He said that I had missed a great opportunity,” Brown wrote of Nixon. “Watergate proved otherwise. But he also told me that if I had to be living and working somewhere, Louisiana was one of the best places to be. He sure was right about that.”

For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

They said it
“I had a perfect right to walk to the line, That’s what America is about.”
—Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, on WWL-TV

“I deserved it.”
—Edwards, on having “Fast Eddie” as a nickname, on WWL-TV
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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