BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards started his second term Monday with no widespread upheaval among his Cabinet and staff, maintaining a largely steady administrative footprint across the agencies that oversee many state programs and services.
Still, he needs to fill two critical health positions in his administration, and he could lose his chief budget adviser depending on how the Louisiana State University presidential search goes.
While the Louisiana Legislature is awash in new faces because of term limits, the Democratic governor hadn't indicated any interest in a wholesale shake-up after winning reelection in November. Rather, Edwards dodged much discussion of the subject when asked if any changes might be on the horizon. Secretaries who manage the social services, revenue, natural resources and homeland security departments are planning to stick around, among others.
Edwards has announced only two exits of Cabinet-level officials across more than a dozen departments: the retirement of the leader of the Louisiana National Guard, Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, and the resignation of his first-term health secretary, Rebekah Gee. The governor has filled the Guard's adjutant general job with Brig. Gen. Keith Waddell, who's worked as Curtis' chief deputy.
But that health secretary position remains open — along with the job of overseeing Louisiana's Medicaid program — and they could be considered two of the most important positions in state government.
The agency's $15 billion in yearly spending, largely driven by Medicaid, accounts for half of Louisiana's annual operating budget, and the expansion of Medicaid is one of Edwards' top achievements in office. Medicaid provides health services to more than one-third of Louisiana's population.
The jobs of health secretary and Medicaid director may not be easy to fill. They come with a unique and often unpleasant spotlight.
Across Edwards' first term, Republican lawmakers regularly lambasted the agency, and Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has showered a new, intensified scrutiny and criticism on Medicaid.
High-profile attention also comes with the job of commissioner of administration, which is the governor's top budget architect, the face of the administration's spending policies and the overseer of many day-to-day operations of state government. It's unclear if the job's current occupant, Jay Dardenne, will stick around for a second term.
Dardenne is interested in the LSU president's job, which is open because F. King Alexander is leaving the university system to lead Oregon State University. But Dardenne, an LSU graduate and former student body president, may have to wait awhile to learn whether he can win that position.
LSU's governing board, packed with a majority of Edwards appointees, hasn't hired a search firm or outlined a process to look for its next leader. That is reenforcing two wildly different kinds of speculation among political watchers, that there's board disagreement over hiring Dardenne and that the fix is in to give Dardenne the president's job.
Outside of the Edwards administration, another big state job is soon to get a new occupant. Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White announced Wednesday he'll be leaving the job overseeing policy governing 700,000 public school students in mid-March.
The governor likely will have little sway over the appointment of the next superintendent, even if he has interest in offering suggestions.
The 11-member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education hires the superintendent, and Edwards only has three appointments to that board. With eight business-backed members elected in 2019, the board isn't expected to seek the advice of a Democratic governor allied with the teacher unions on a pick for the job.
The greatest turnover for the new term involves the legislative branch, where term limits are wiping out many members of the House and Senate and revamping the leadership ranks.
Forty-five new lawmakers will be sworn in Monday to the 105-member House, while the 39-member Senate will have 20 new faces in its elected ranks. In addition, the long-time Senate secretary and House clerk are retiring.
House Speaker Taylor Barras and Senate President John Alario are exiting, forced out because they've each hit the limit of three consecutive terms in their chamber. Alario's departure is particularly noteworthy since he's been a fixture in state politics for five decades, serving as a state lawmaker — first in the House and then in the Senate — since 1972.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
Posted on Tue, January 14, 2020
by By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press