Timing isn’t the only factor worth considering in politics, but if you get it wrong, you’ll discover the misstep sooner rather than later — usually in a very public way, with the missed opportunity and unmissable regret on display for all to see, hear and feel. The difference between victory and defeat for a politician at the polls, for example, could be the span of a mere week, the chasm separating a policy’s passage versus its rejection sometimes just a day.
As voters, we sometimes forget, towards the backend of a four-year election cycle, that a new term of governance is just around the corner — and that the new term equates to new opportunities. This go around is a bit different, though. There’s a sizable turnover coming to the Legislature, more candidates are interested in running for seats and the overall age of legislators has decreased each cycle, so far without exception. In other words, the time has never been as ripe to reset fundamental political thought in Baton Rouge.
But time is running out. The new governor and Legislature will be seated in roughly 100 days, during the first full week of January. In just 100 days decisions about legislative chairmanships and policy agendas will begin cementing. The seeds for those upcoming endeavors, however, are still being planted.
That means, in regard to our slate of legislative elections and the governor’s race, the time for something of substance is now. Short of that, we could end up with a substantial nothing by the time this Legislature is seated and has navigated its first few sessions.
The problem this election cycle is as clear to me as the water in Abita Springs. There are no unifying policy themes, no campaigns planks being widely shared and no dominating voices steering the caravan that’s headed straight for the Capitol in Baton Rouge.
After a term of broken promises about fiscal reforms, where are the ideas to which candidates should be gravitating? Where are the policy papers that legislative wannabes are endorsing? Where’s the eye of the storm?
In some respects, the state is flying blind into the next term. This cycle has simply been too quiet on too many important policy fronts.
Consumers of political news, like myself, and those who produce it, like myself, are partly to blame. Look, if you don’t find tax proposals and poverty statistics all that interesting on the surface, then you’re unlikely to get that kind of coverage on a regular basis from the mainstream media.
So what in the heck are we going to do?
Legislative candidates, in particular, in concert with those already elected without opposition, need to hit RESET. That’s the name of a policy campaign underwritten by three well-known, long-standing special interest groups that focus their energies on good government issues and economic development:
Council for a Better Louisiana, or CABL, was created in 1962, and remains a research hubs for all levels of education.
Founded in 1950, the Public Affairs Research Council, or PAR, is an independent voice on a wide variety of issues, from public records to constitutional law.
C100 has focused on job creation and corporate innovation since 1992, with more than 100 business and university leaders serving as members.
The RESET plan calls for four focus areas that would allow the next Legislature to pick up on a few incremental steps that were made by the outgoing House and Senate this term.
1.) FINANCES: RESET wants to see fiscal flexibility added to the Constitution, unfunded accrued liability (retirement debt) lessened and a “fair, simple and competitive tax environment for individuals and businesses.”
2.) EDUCATION: There’s a war cry from RESET for access to high-quality early care and education programs for “all at-risk children in Louisiana from birth through age four.” Expanding access to the Community and Technical College System is a priority as well, as is maintaining “rigorous K-12 academic standards” and a “dynamic array of education choices for students and parents.”
3.) TRANSPORTATION: According to RESET, “Louisiana’s transportation infrastructure should be an asset, not a liability. The state should significantly invest in its transportation infrastructure, including ports and waterways, enhance public safety, relieve congestion in major urban areas and support commerce and economic development.”
4.) CRIMINAL JUSTICE/PUBLIC SAFETY: “Louisiana should create an efficient criminal justice system that utilizes prison space for those who pose a public safety threat and implements evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism.”
The RESET folks have put together that bare bones for a plan that tackles problems on four, broad-based issues. If you’re into pragmatic, results-based efforts, what’s not to like? PAR, CABL and C100 can each bring resources (like credibility and research) to the table. If you’re into splashy fundraising and arm-twisting, then you might want to look elsewhere.
There’s wiggle room in the RESET plan so that both Democrats and Republicans can sit down and hash out the details. (For more, go to www.resetlouisiana.com.) A plan that’s solely from one party will surely keep their counterparts at bay, which leads to uncertainty and gridlock. We’ve already seen what that looks like for a full term.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.