BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards kicked off his second term Monday without the budget crises that crowded out other debates across his first four years, but with a more conservative Legislature that could create new clashes over spending.
The 53-year-old Democrat took his oath of office at the Louisiana Capitol, in a ceremony overshadowed by the college football national championship between LSU and Clemson in New Orleans. The game sidelined the traditional black-tie inaugural ball, as Edwards and many other Louisiana officials had planned to be in the Superdome on Monday night to watch LSU.
The Deep South's only Democratic governor, Edwards stunned Republicans with his re-election victory in the ruby red state — overcoming President Donald Trump's efforts to unseat him. The moderate governor drew enough cross-party support for a win with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues.
Six other Republican statewide elected officials also took their oaths of office Monday: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
The 144-member Legislature had its own swearing-in events Monday morning, and elected its leaders.
A West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, Edwards was a state House lawmaker when he won the governor's seat in the 2015 election. In his first term as Louisiana's 56th governor, he expanded Medicaid, which lowered the state's uninsured rate below the national average, and championed a bipartisan rewrite of criminal sentencing laws that reduced the prison population.
The term was marked by disputes with House Republicans over how to stabilize Louisiana's finances and end the cycle of hefty budget gaps Edwards inherited from former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Edwards and the House GOP wrangled about finances across 10 legislative sessions over three years before agreeing on a package of tax increases that ended the shortfalls. In the final year of the term, Edwards and lawmakers plugged new money into teacher pay raises, early childhood education and investments in public colleges.
The governor is proposing another round of hikes in education spending this year, but Edwards will be negotiating for boosted spending with a more conservative Legislature and with lawmakers who ran on cutting taxes and curbing government. Many moderate Republicans, particularly in the Senate, were forced out by term limits. The next legislative session begins in March.
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Posted on Tue, January 14, 2020
by By MELINDA DESLATTE |Associated Press