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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards visits UNO’s Political Science Department

Ph.D. candidate Tony Licciardi interviewed Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards at University of New Orleans October 12. (Photo by Tana R.H. Stevenson)

Ph.D. candidate Tony Licciardi interviewed Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards at University of New Orleans October 12. (Photo by Tana R.H. Stevenson)

Tana Stevenson, Contributor

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Governor John Bel Edwards spoke with students and faculty of the political science department at the University of New Orleans October 12. He was invited by Ph.D. candidate Tony Licciardi to do an interview on early voter behavior.

“As a teacher, I like to connect the theoretical with the practical. I use my own experiences as a former elected official and public administrator: fundraising, campaigning, decision making, coalition building, etc.,” said Licciardi. “I thought, ‘what better example to make those connections for my class than the sitting governor.’”

Licciardi’s interview started with asking the governor about his family’s induction to the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2014. The governor is part of the seventh consecutive generation of elected officeholders. His family’s Louisiana roots go back to the Battle of New Orleans. His great grandfather, father and brother have all been sheriffs.

At the time the family was inducted, Edwards’ father was on his deathbed with pneumonia.
“It meant an awful lot to my dad,” he said. “He watched from his bed by Skype.”

Many of Licciardi’s questions focused on the governor’s campaign strategy and the early days after he won the election.

“I was surprised to learn about the lack of involvement with the state and national parties when it came to the transition between election day and inauguration day,” said Licciardi. “It’s such a hectic and important phase in governance that sounds like it develops organically.”

Governor Edwards won the election despite the conventional wisdom that he couldn’t. At one point the democratic party leaders wanted him off of the ticket, because they believed he couldn’t win against Senator Vitter.

“Their doubt fueled me to work that much harder,” said Edwards.

Upon entering office, Edwards hired his staff mindful of diversity.

“Every person in Louisiana should see someone like [him or herself] in government,” he said. “I do not believe that you sacrifice quality when you seek diversity. There should be men and women, republicans and democrats, and people of different races on the state’s boards and commissions.”

He talked about the difficult process of cutting $550 million out of the state budget. He said much of what was done this year was only short-term solutions. The next legislative session to discuss budget will be in April 2017.

“What we do next year will determine how successful we are as a state for several decades,” said Edwards. “We need a revenue structure that is fair and sufficient to run the state.”

He said a top priority will be removing the additional penny of sales tax that was imposed to get quick money for the budget gaps. He said our retail profits are diminishing due to the loss of sales tax from internet sales. He wants to lower income tax rates, but expand the base by getting rid of some deductions for individuals and businesses.

Students were able to ask the governor questions, which included topics such as the funding of TOPS, legalization of marijuana, and criminal justice system reform.

Political Science student Christina Early asked if the legislature would return funding to TOPS. The governor was not optimistic that TOPS would be returned to full funding anytime in the near future.

When asked if the legalization of recreational marijuana could help solve the state’s budget crisis, Edwards said he would not consider it at this time. While he supported the use of medical marijuana, he wants to look for long-term results in places where it has been legalized, not just budget increases.

Ph.D. candidate Philip Battista asked if reducing the state’s enormous incarceration rate could free up more money for other state priorities.

“I’m determined that by the end of my first term, Louisiana will not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation,” answered Edwards.

Edwards does not want to release those already convicted of crimes. Instead, he wants to invest the savings from decreasing incarceration in decreasing recidivism, re-entry programs and improved mental health access.

Licciardi said students appreciated the opportunity to meet Gov. Edwards and ask him questions in person.

“They were surprised how genuine, personal, and affable he is. The political science department faculty and staff and the university administration have all given feedback on what a unique educational experience the event was for them as well.”

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards visits UNO’s Political Science Department