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Pulling Louisiana Out of the Ditch: There is Hope on the Horizon

Union members and friends of Labor, we are on the precipice of a tidal change of political direction. In fact, the current political landscape is ripe for Labor to advance its agenda, both in Louisiana and across the nation. If you haven’t felt the excitement in the air, you haven’t been paying attention. Now is the time to do so, because it’s up to you to make sure it continues to change.

With the Louisiana electoral season in full swing and elections on the horizon this Fall for all state constitutional officers (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Insurance Commissioner), in addition to all 39 State Senate seats and 105 State House seats – we have a lot of work ahead of us. That being said, the political tide is definitely turning in our beloved state, thanks to the disastrous 8 year tenure of our outgoing ultra-conservative absent Governor and current Presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal. He has done such a horrific job leading our state that voters are primed for significant change. As tempting as it is to review the countless ways he has ruined Louisiana for future generations, this isn’t about Jindal anymore. This is about looking foward with the most hopeful outlook that we have had in over a decade, and ensuring we work to elect a Governor that will do everything in his power to undo the damage that has been done – Representative John Bel Edwards – who was endorsed with a standing ovation at the 2015 Louisiana AFL-CIO Convention in March.

On Saturday, July 25 the Louisiana Democratic Party held their annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner in New Orleans, which turned out to be one of the largest and most successful dinners they’ve ever had. There is tremendous momentum building for Representative Edwards to become our next Governor, and we’re even seeing early excitement and energy for the 2016 Presidential election as well.  This year’s dinner honored former U.S. Senator Mary Landreiu, and featured speeches by special guests Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and candidate for Governor Louisiana Representative John Bel Edwards.

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Senator Bernie Sanders, Courtesy of Louisiana Democratic Party

Al Bostick, Political Director for IBEW Local 130, was in attendance and found Senator Sanders to be inspiring. “Bernie Sanders was absolutely terrific. He delivered a shortened version of his usual hour long stump speech that he presents at the huge rallies he’s been holding. He addressed not only key labor issues, but every important labor issue. He’s our best hope in 2016. Bernie is currently polling ahead of Jeb Bush in a head to head match-up. In other words, Bernie is far more likely to win the general election than Hillary, whose unfavorable numbers are higher than favorables by a lot among all registered voters.” Bostick wasn’t the only one who was impressed by Sanders; the following evening, Sanders packed the Pontchartrain Center with nearly 5,000 supporters in attendance and whipped the crowd into a frenzy of excitement. His straightforward, no-nonsense approach, willingness to speak his mind and state his specific policy opinions about everything from doing away with Citizens United, his intense opposition to the recently passed trade agreement, and raising the minimum wage to $15, resonated strongly with attendees.

Representative John Bel Edwards also delivered, giving a very energizing and motivational speech. Edward’s message was abundantly clear: If you want four more years of Jindalesque politics, vote for one of the other guys. If you’re fed up with the status quo and believe that there is a better way to conduct state business, manage the state budget and provide our citizens a better way of life, then look no further.

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Representative John Bel Edwards, Courtesy of Louisiana Democratic Party

Paul Zulli, Business Manager for IBEW Local 130, believes Edwards is the only sensible choice for working families. “John Bel Edwards spoke about putting Louisiana, our working families and children first. He spoke on many issues, like the thousands of Louisianians without health insurance because of Jindal’s failed policies. He also talked about the fact that the cost of sending our children to college in this state is far too high. This is a candidate that knows the issues facing working men and woman and he needs our help. It is time for us, the men and women of Louisiana, to stand up and be that voice for ourselves and for our children – and make it heard in the voting booth by voting for John Bel Edwards.”

Representative Edwards is clear and well informed about the issues that matter to labor unions in the state. Many of these mirror the same problems facing other individual states and the country as a whole, in large part due to reprehensible laws and regulations passed by Louisiana’s very conservative members of the legislature, in addition to Tea Party conservatives that have held Congress hostage for years, making it virtually impossible to pass meaningful and beneficial federal laws that benefit the middle class.

Edwards believes Louisiana workers deserve a living wage and the need to fix the ongoing healthcare related problems in Louisiana. He continued to say that policies are needed to protect low wage and hospitality workers, because they make “too much” to qualify for Medicaid and are not on the health care exchange – making it nearly impossible to take care of their families. Louis Reine, President of the Louisiana AFL-CIO said, “Edwards also talked about the need for an equitable tax system that is good and fair for everyone, rather than balance the budget on the backs of hardworking Louisiana families and workers as Governor Jindal has done every single year since he took office,” largely through smoke and mirrors.

As Representative Edwards continued, his speech was met with tremendous applause. He also stated that funding of our K-12 educational system should be a top priority and allow families to make sure their kids have the best chance at a bright future. (Representative Edward’s wife, Donna, is a teacher and union member.) He believes the only way to do that is to adequately fund our schools and our secondary institutions, instead of slashing their funding year after year after year, which has left our educational system in complete disarray. Reine also noted that “Edwards specifically mentioned the need to expand technical educational opportunities in Louisiana,” an issue near and dear to many union members who value the apprenticeship training opportunities afforded them. Expansion equals greater access to skilled training opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed who need new skills to become self sufficient, tax paying workers looking for a career path.

According to the most recent polls, Representative Edwards is in a dead heat with GOP frontrunner Senator David Vitter, who is well known for his penchant for paid escorts. When you go to the polls this Fall, will you be the reason that John Bel Edwards wins or the reason he loses?