BATON ROUGE – Standing on the steps of the capital, John Bel Edwards was sworn in Monday as the 56th governor of Louisiana.
Edwards, a Democrat from Amite, was joined by his wife, Donna, and children Samantha, Sarah Ellen and John Miller, as he was sworn in with his family bible. The oath of office was administered by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson.
Edwards said he “will not be a business-as-usual governor.” He called for unity among the state, calling this a time to rebuild and continue moving forward.
“Louisiana is an example to the rest of the country that diversity is a source of strength, not division. That is why I am confident that regardless of party we can band together to rebuild Louisiana. The status quo is not sustainable in a state that is anything but ordinary.”
In his inaugural address, Edwards emphasized some of the issues he brought up during his campaign. He reiterated his plans to to kick off Medicaid expansion in Louisiana and his intentions of raising minimum wage and work for equal pay for women — two top-priorities for Democrats – and providing more support and protections to public school teachers.
“We must make it possible for all Louisiana citizens to be healthy and prosperous,” Edwards said. “So as promised, [Tuesday] I am going to accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid so that working families in Louisiana can get access to healthcare. Your tax dollars should not be going to one of the 30 other states that have expanded Medicaid when WE are one of the states that expansion will help the most.
Edwards also spoke about the budget crisis.
“Our top priority must be stabilizing the budget,” he said. “While all options are on the table, we’re going to make strategic budget reductions, increase efficiencies, accept OUR federal tax dollars back, and rework the failed system of tax incentives, credits and rebates, which bleed the state’s revenue and, too often, leave little to show for the spending.
“Now, how are we going to make this happen? By partnering with the legislature, business and industry, local governments, educators, stakeholders and working people all across this state. By calling on the kind of discipline, steel-eyed focus, and determination to succeed… by moving onward.”
“I can’t do it alone,” Edwards stressed. “The enormous challenges we face will not be resolved overnight. But together, we will accomplish our mission.”
The Louisiana House rejected Edwards’ pick for speaker. Edwards wanted Democratic Rep. Walt Leger of New Orleans in the role.
But GOP leaders and conservative groups pushed back, urging Republican House members to select a speaker from their own party. The majority Republican chamber voted Monday for Rep. Taylor Barras, a Republican from New Iberia, to lead the House, asserting its independence against the Democratic governor.
Barras was a last-minute surprise candidate in the race who emerged in the final hours before the vote. He received 56 votes, while Leger got support from 49 members.
State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) said the election of Barras as Speaker of the House is a “historic event” for the State of Louisiana.
“We followed the clear mandate of our Constitution, and the essential doctrine of separation of powers,” Johnson said. “An independent Speaker will be a healthy and refreshing change for our state, and is an important step towards a better government. We were not sent here to repeat the mistakes of the past, but to return to the sound principles of government that represent the will of the people.”
The Louisiana Senate has re-elected John Alario to his second four-year term as Senate president, using a secret ballot in a break from tradition.
Senators unanimously voted to re-elect Alario, a Westwego Republican, shortly before the state’s incoming governor, John Bel Edwards, was scheduled to deliver his inaugural address. Electing Alario by secret ballot was ostensibly seen as a way to limit the governor’s customary role in picking the Senate president, but Edwards has said he didn’t object to Alario’s selection.