Only one word is needed thus far to describe this election season: apathy. Louisiana voters will head to the polls on Oct. 24 and the most predominant emotion emanating from our electorate is surprisingly the overwhelming indifference our people have in carrying out their Constitutional right to vote for their governmental leaders this fall.
To some of you, it may be surprising to hear that Louisiana is actually in an election season. Maybe you somehow missed the countless yard signs, billboards, mailers, radio ads, television commercials, and social media posts that increased in recent weeks. You may be dispirited with the entire electoral process altogether or simply sick and tired of voting for change and seeing the same results over and over. If you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps your subconscious has simply refused to acknowledge any of this propaganda and you are living in a pre-election, politics-free bubble. Look, I understand how you feel. I get it.
It is quite difficult sometimes to sort through all the carefully poll-tested messages and the focus group-perfected sound bites to know whom to trust with your vote. Additionally, I don’t think any of us are really in the mood to think about the tough decisions waiting for us early next year. But think about it we must.
After the elections this fall and once the January celebrations are done to welcome the new batch of leaders to Baton Rouge, the very next order of business will be to tackle some very tough issues.
Will we address our governmental deficits solely with new taxes like last year or will we take a more comprehensive approach by also looking at spending reductions, tax reform, smart policies, and budget reforms that will allow us to use existing dollars on our top priorities?
Will we roll back many of the improvements we have made in reforming our educational system to make it more responsive to the needs of Louisiana families or will we continue to develop and implement acceptable ways to promote parental choice, school accountability and relevant workforce training?
Will we continue to talk about our chronic traffic and congestion challenges or will we finally make the tough decisions to start solving them? Will we make sensible reforms to our legal structure to drive up citizen involvement and make our judicial climate more competitive with other states or will we continue to pretend we have the perfect system and oppose any proposed change to what we have?
These are just a few of the tough questions waiting for us in 2016 and the jury is still out as to whether we will make the changes needed to answer them. These questions are not new and they are not unique. We have heard them asked countless times before and we have seen our state avoid the answers more times than not.
For this reason, the polls are saying that a period of voter apathy has set in. Folks are tired of believing in something new and they question whether anything will change. They have had their hearts broken before and they have been left at the altar too many times by some they hoped would finally bring a new approach to Baton Rouge. As tempting as it is to lose faith in the entire process and roll our eyes to every promise made, the reality is that we simply cannot allow that to happen. Rome wasn’t built in a day and Baton Rouge won’t be reformed in one either.
Louisiana has made some progress on several fronts but we are capable of so much more. We have battled through the national recession as well as any other state but our economy is still a mixed bag. Our educational outcomes have slowly risen but we need much more improvement in the years to come to prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow. These types of instances where some tough decisions have delivered some new results have only made us hungry for more and set our expectations higher than ever before.
Ready or not, there is an important election in three weeks that will decide the fate of our state for the next several years. The polls show that many of you are trying to decide not only whom you plan to vote for, but also whether you even want to emotionally invest yourself in any candidate or cause at all. Fight that voice in your head encouraging you to approach this election with apathy and instead listen to your inner gut telling you that Louisiana is capable of so much more. Don’t give up for change in Baton Rouge. Stay true to your belief in our state and make your voice heard in three weeks. Visit www.labi.org to learn more about the candidates, the issues and the great potential of Louisiana.
Stephen Waguespack is president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.