In his first press conference after a bruising reelection campaign, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he looked forward to working with President Donald Trump, who stumped for his opponent, and the Republican-dominated legislature.
He pledged to support policies “rooted in compassion and common sense” and said he would oppose anything he believed would return the state to structural deficits.
Edwards said he would be open to supporting an early rollback of the 0.45 cent temporary sales tax that cemented last year’s budget deal if the Revenue Estimating Conference says the change is not likely to threaten the state’s fiscal stability.
“I will fight any effort to return our state to uncertainty, instability and deficits,” he said.
Asked if he planned to get involved in the elections for the upcoming term's legislative leadership, he did not answer the question but said he intended to have a good working relationship with leadership and rank-and-file members. At the beginning of his first term, Edwards tried to install his preferred choice as House speaker as previous governors have done but was rebuffed by the Republican majority.
“If they want independence [from the governor] that’s great,” Edwards said. “But obstructionism and independence are not the same thing.”
Asked if Eddie Rispone, whom he narrowly defeated in Saturday’s runoff, had proposed any good ideas during the campaign, Edwards had a simple answer: “No.”
That response drew a rebuke on Twitter from the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, noting that nearly half of the Louisiana electorate voted against him yet “JBE can’t acknowledge good points made during campaign?”
Edwards reiterated his priorities will include more funding for education at all levels, starting with early childhood and also including more pay raises for teachers as part of his effort to raise teacher pay to the regional average. He said he will continue to fight for a higher minimum wage and legislation to address the pay gap between men and women, which legislators repeatedly blocked during his first term.
In a brief phone call, Trump congratulated Edwards on what the president described as an unexpected victory, Edwards said.
“He said that obviously I had run a great campaign because he didn’t want me to win,” Edwards said. They agreed to continue the good working relationship they had before the campaign, Edwards added.
Edwards noted to reporters that he hoped the federal trade war with China, which has been a drag on Louisiana’s economy, would be resolved soon.
While elections often bring staff turnover, Edwards said he had not yet had any discussions about changes with his cabinet and top staff.
Discussing the recent ransomware attack on state government, Edwards said no data had been lost and no ransom was paid. Though most systems were fully operational by Tuesday, Edwards said the Office of Motor Vehicles would remain closed until Monday.
Edwards touted recent improvements to the state’s cybersecurity capabilities but suggested more work could be done.
“It is the new normal,” he said of the threat of cyberattacks, “and it’s not going to go away.”