Kennedy has several advantages in the race. His name is political gold and, believe it or not, some voters associate him with the popular former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Most importantly, he is a conservative Republican who is agreement ideologically with the 58% of the state voters who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. In contrast, Governor Edwards has shown a strong tendency to support liberal positions, unlike the platform he espoused in the 2015 campaign.
Upon taking office, Edwards expanded LGBT rights, even though he did not campaign on that issue. He has supported an increase in state sales taxes, which gave Louisiana the highest rate in the nation. Even after a partial renewal, Louisiana has the second highest state and local sales tax rate in the nation.
The Governor has been a strong advocate for criminal justice reform. He pushed the legislature to pass a package of bills that led to approximately 2,000 inmates being released early from prison. Among this group, at least 27% have returned to criminal behavior. Even worse, according to Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, 6 of these released inmates have been charged with murder.
If he runs, Kennedy would have some powerful issues to discuss with state voters. Another one developed this week concerning Medicaid fraud. Governor Edwards expanded the state Medicaid rolls by 400,000 people. He has consistently refused to support legislation to eliminate fraud in the program.
Not surprisingly, a new legislative auditor’s report showed potential waste of $85 million. There is not a rigorous procedure to make sure recipients are staying within income levels required by the program. The report highlighted some Louisiana recipients making salaries of over $100,000.00 per year and still receiving Medicaid. Currently, recipients are requested to self-report their income.
Obviously, some Louisiana residents are continuing to enjoy Medicaid benefits and are neglecting to report a positive change in their income. Senator Kennedy has blasted the administration and called for the Governor to fire the Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr. Rebekah Gee. In Kennedy’s view, “Actions ought to have consequences. If this was in the private sector, Dr. Gee would have been fired an hour after that report.”
In response, the Governor’s press secretary called Kennedy’s remarks “baseless” and said he has “too much free time in Washington.” Such insults were ridiculous, for, in reality, Kennedy has been a taxpayer watchdog throughout his career. As State Treasurer, Kennedy often issued reports on the state wasting tax funds on consultants, for example. Sadly, his reports were usually ignored by state legislators.
If he is elected Governor, Kennedy will no longer be ignored. It would be refreshing to have a strong taxpayer advocate in the Governor’s mansion, instead of a “tax and spend” Democrat.
It remains to be seen whether Kennedy will run for his current position of United States Senator has many benefits, including a significant amount of national media exposure. Yet, Senator Kennedy has always had a strong interest in state affairs and it will be surprising if he declines an excellent opportunity to become the Louisiana’s next Governor.
Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award winning program, “Ringside Politics,” airs locally at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and at 10:00 p.m. Sundays on PBS affiliate WLAE-TV, Channel 32, and from 7-11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990-AM & www.Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America's Last Chance and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on www.JeffCrouere.com. For more information, email him at [email protected]