Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday opened his second term with a call for bipartisan cooperation.
“I want to challenge this new legislature and the people of Louisiana to think boldly and to envision a Louisiana with a fully diversified economy, a steady reduction in poverty and an educational system that prepares our people for jobs and careers that will keep them at home,” Edwards said, according to the speech prepared for his inauguration address.
A Democrat, Edwards survived a hard-fought reelection campaign and will govern with a Legislature that is overwhelmingly Republican. Edwards described a state that he says is in better shape than it has been in many years but still has far too many people living in poverty.
Edwards renewed his calls to raise the minimum wage and enact legislation meant to reduce the gender wage gap. Legislators repeatedly shot down both efforts during the last term.
Edwards called for better funding for “every level of education.” He wants to continue the bipartisan efforts begun last year to spend more money on early childhood education and raise teacher pay to the regional average.
He also pledged to champion workforce development, better roads and bridges, coastal restoration, and the state’s cybersecurity sector. Cybersecurity attacks recently have affected state and local governments across Louisiana, and Edwards has said several times that such attacks are the “new normal.” On Monday, he said he wanted “our ‘new normal’ to be the highest cybersecurity defense of any state in the nation.”
“The future is ours to seize,” Edwards said. “But we have to commit here and now to be great, to work together, and continue to reject the partisan rancor and dysfunction that plagues Washington, D.C.”
“We heard a lot about increasing spending today [from Edwards], but nothing about reforming to achieve better results,” Republican former state senator Conrad Appel complained on Twitter. “Sorry Louisiana, four years is a long time.”
Louisiana’s other statewide elected officials, all Republicans, also were sworn in Monday. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, Treasurer John Schroder, and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon all were reelected last fall.
In organizational sessions held before the midday inauguration, legislators elected their leaders for the next term. Sen. Patrick Page Cortez, a Lafayette Republican, was named state Senate president without controversy.
The House election was more dramatic. Albany Republican Rep. Sherman Mack had the backing of most Republicans. U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry, two of the state’s most influential Republicans, had urged GOP members to stand with Mack and elect a speaker without Democratic backing.
But Mack was unable to unify his fellow Republicans, while the minority Democrats lined up behind Rep. Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican. Schexnayder was chosen speaker by a 60-45 vote.