Gov. John Bel Edwards was sworn in for his second term as governor, delivering an inaugural address that highlighted early childhood education and workforce development will be his top priorities for Louisiana over the next four years.
He will also focus on continued funding for roads and bridges, getting to work on coastal restoration projects that will create more land than Louisiana is losing and ensuring Louisiana has the best cybersecurity defense of any state.
The Governor’s remarks, as prepared, are below.
"Thank you, Deacon Dan Borne for the introduction.
I also want to thank Washington’s own Artillery for the 19 gun salute and the 159th Fighter Wing of the Louisiana Air National Guard for the flyover. You know, we have 491 men and women in the Louisiana National Guard and Air National Guard currently deployed and over the next twelve months more than 2,000 soldiers and airmen will be deployed to the Middle East. So please join me in thanking them and their families for their service and praying for their safe return.
President Cortez, Speaker Schexnayder, Members of the Legislature; Governors Jindal and Edwards; Senators Cassidy and Kennedy; Congressmen Scalise and Graves; Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, other statewide elected officials and my fellow Louisianans.
Thank you all for being here today. You know in some cultures, rain is a sign of good luck, so that’s what we’re going to see this as.
I’d like to start by congratulating House Speaker Schexnayder and Senate President Cortez on your elections. And congratulations to all the members of the legislature, both returning and new. I look forward to working with all of you in a bipartisan way to achieve the real results the people of Louisiana expect from us. To Senator John Alario, thank you for your 48 years of service to our state. Although we will miss your steady leadership in the legislature, I know you are looking forward to some much deserved time with your family. God bless you and God speed.
I want to thank the people who have stood by me from the very beginning.
First of all, I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to share this experience with my best friend and childhood sweetheart and our fantastic First Lady, my wife of more than 30 years, Donna. To my children: Samantha Bel and son-in-law Jonathan, Sarah Ellen, and John Miller. To mama and my family. I know it hasn’t always been easy, and you all have made sacrifices along the way. But it’s because of your love and support that we are here today.
To my fellow Louisianans, thank you for the trust you have placed in me to continue leading this great state. I am continually inspired by the goodness, generosity, and decency of the people of Louisiana. My love for this state deepens as I meet more Louisianans like you who remind me how blessed we are to call this great state home. I look out over this crowd and I see a true representation of Louisiana, which is especially inspiring as the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approaches. You look like Louisiana and I’m happy to say so does my administration.
This has been the opportunity of a lifetime for me, and I am so grateful for your support. Just as I said four years ago, I will not let you down, and I pledge to work hard every single day for the next four years for all of the citizens of our great state.
What an exciting time it is for Louisiana. Like many of you, I too am looking forward to an LSU victory tonight down in New Orleans in our very own Superdome. But that’s not the only reason why spirits are high around Louisiana. That great breeze of hope I spoke about from this very spot in 2016 that we all felt on that crisp January day has been with us ever since. It has even grown stronger with each passing year, inspiring us to do better and to be better, moving Louisiana forward. So today, as we prepare for a new term in this new decade, there is a mounting wave of optimism sweeping through this state. It’s exciting because I see it everywhere I go – in the faces of all the talented and beautiful people who make our state great, from the brick lined streets of New Orleans to the shining lights of Natchitoches. From the Mighty Mississippi River in Baton Rouge to the rolling Red River of Shreveport and Bossier. From Lake Providence to Lake Charles and every point in between. I see it at every ground breaking and ribbon cutting, every visit with educators and students, at every church and worship service I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and every time we help foster parents and children create their forever families or reunite and strengthen birth families – which, by the way, we have done in record numbers. We are starting this new term from a position of strength, poised to reach even higher heights. There’s no denying we are in a much better place now than we have been in many years.
Four years ago, when I stood on these steps, our state was at a precipice. We faced a $2 billion budget deficit, the largest in our state’s history. Funding for our universities and community and technical colleges had been cut more than anywhere else in the nation. As a result, tuition also increased more than anywhere else, putting the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of our students.
We soon faced other unforeseen challenges. The hardest day of my first term was the Sunday morning when six of our law enforcement officers were targeted and three were killed. Their families remain in my thoughts and prayers daily. And then just a few weeks later, it began to rain and didn’t stop for three days. 7 trillion gallons of water fell in Louisiana during the great floods of 2016 – enough to fill Lake Pontchartrain four times. Just this weekend, a strong band of storms swept through the state killing three people, and I ask that you keep their families in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
But Louisiana is stronger than any storm that comes our way. Powered by our diverse cultures and our shared love for one another and for this state, we are Louisiana strong and Louisiana proud! Time and time again we have proven that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together.
So we have done just that, working together in good faith with legislators, business leaders, and citizens all across the state. It wasn’t easy. We knew that it wouldn’t be. But I promised that with shared sacrifice would come shared prosperity. And today, we are well on our way to reaping the rewards of our efforts.
Because of the work we put in over the last four years, Louisiana has achieved economic stability and growth and is stronger because of it.
We found common ground in order to solve the fiscal crisis, and as a result, we are now operating with surpluses instead of deficits. In part because of the surpluses, we’ve completed more than 13-hundred improvement projects that have created thousands of miles of better roads and bridges in every corner of our state. And just this summer, I signed a bill appropriating $700 million for critical transportation projects across the state, the largest single new investment in 30 years, which was made possible by the bipartisan efforts of the legislature – yet another example of what we can do for the people of our state when we cast party labels aside and work together.
And another clear sign of progress is our improving economy, which is the largest it has ever been. And just last week, the nonpartisan Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that Louisiana has the 4th fastest growing economy in the nation. In part because since 2016, we have landed 211 economic development wins delivering more than 40,000 new jobs, retaining over 36,000 jobs while generating more than $42 billion in capital investment.
And just as important, we’re also investing again in the most precious natural resource God entrusted to us – our children. Because of our fiscal stability and economic growth, we made the first net new investment in higher education in 10 years and gave our teachers and support workers their first pay raise in a decade.
We invested an additional $20 million in early childhood education.
And as promised, on my first full day in office, we expanded Medicaid to the working poor of Louisiana. Four years later, over 450,000 people have healthcare, our uninsured rate has been cut by more than half to the lowest in history, we saved more than $300 million, and we haven’t had a single hospital close. But most importantly, health outcomes are improving across Louisiana. People can afford to go to the doctor, receive lifesaving care, fill their prescriptions and return to work.
We have also changed lives by putting our differences aside in order to pass historic criminal justice reforms. This has helped us to dramatically reduce our state’s incarceration rate, while at the same time making our communities safer, and we are doing a better job supporting victims of crime.
The primary reason we have been able to make so much progress is because we chose not to let the dysfunctional, hyper-partisan politics of Washington D.C. paralyze our state. We rejected the notion that people from different parties can’t work together. In short, we put Louisiana first.
If we can accomplish all this despite the adversity we faced, just imagine what we can do this term. But today isn’t just about past successes. I want to challenge this new legislature and the people of Louisiana to think boldly and to envision a Louisiana with a fully diversified economy, a steady reduction in poverty and an educational system that prepares our people for jobs and careers that will keep them here at home.
Even though we have come a long way, we certainly have a lot more work ahead of us. I’m the first to acknowledge that challenges remain.
Because there are still too many people living in poverty without adequate access to the opportunities needed to succeed.
A great Louisianan often said that education is poverty’s mortal enemy. She was right. Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who passed away a few months ago, believed firmly in the potential of every child. And while we continue to mourn her loss, we also have a responsibility to carry on her legacy – especially when it comes to her vision for education.
We know that education is the key to economic opportunity and that a pathway to prosperity must begin at the earliest stages of life.
That is why the highest priority for new investments in education of my second term will be early childhood education. 80 percent of brain development happens before the age of 3, and experts agree that reaching children during these pivotal first years is one of the greatest tools we have for closing the achievement gap that has for too long plagued our state.
We are also going to better fund every level of education. For as long as any of us can probably remember, K-12 students, parents and educators were told to be happy with a standstill budget that did not account for inflation. But I’ve met with educators all across the state and they can’t run their classrooms on empty promises. They deserve better. Our students deserve better. So over the next four years, we’re going to continue increasing classroom funding and give educators additional pay raises that will get them to at least the Southern regional average.
Speaking of pay raises, we also know that $7.25 an hour is not a meaningful wage in 2020. It wasn’t acceptable four years ago either, which is why I have fought for our workers every year. 21 states across the country raised their minimum wage to begin the new year. Sadly, Louisiana remains one of only 5 states without its own minimum wage. And by the way, we know that an overwhelming majority of Louisianans support increasing the minimum wage. Congress has made it clear that they are out of the business. If we want our workers to get the pay they deserve, it’s up to us here in this Capitol.
But we can’t stop there. I will also continue to advocate for equal pay for equal work. This doesn’t just affect our daughters, our mothers and our sisters, it impacts all of us, especially our children. Louisiana has the largest gender wage gap in the country. That offends me and it should offend you too. Because when women succeed, families succeed, and when families succeed so does Louisiana.
This brings me to my next second term priority – workforce development. As we continue to diversify our economy, I want to ensure that Louisiana’s workforce is the most job ready in the nation. We can do this by building on programs we already have in place, expanding dual enrollment and apprenticeship opportunities, and partnering with business and industry leaders and organized labor. We are going to prioritize the growth and expansion of women and minority owned businesses with an eye to the future of our economy where the CEOs reflect the diversity of the state in which we live. We will continue to increase funding for our institutions of higher education, including our community and technical colleges and HBCUs. The Board of Regents recently unveiled an ambitious Master Plan for higher education. Our goal is that 60 percent of all working-age adults in Louisiana will have a degree or a high-value credential by 2030. As noted by the credit rating agency Moody’s, reaching this goal will create a pipeline to prosperity that will transform our state.
As our economy grows, so must the quality and capacity of our roads and bridges. With a transportation backlog of 14.6 billion dollars, we must continue to pursue every means available to us in order to deliver safer and more efficient infrastructure. But it’s about more than supporting commerce. Every hour spent in traffic is one less hour a parent gets to spend at home with their child. Improving roads is about improving quality of life.
And just as important is protecting our way of life, which is why we must continue to aggressively fight for coastal restoration. Our coast is unique in its abundance, but it is also vulnerable to continued subsidence, sea level rise, and dangerous storm surge. After all, this is where over two million of our people live and work. It is their home. It is their livelihood. But if we want future generations to enjoy the same beauty, and benefit from the same bounty, we have an obligation to take bold action. Fortunately, we have a way forward thanks to our Coastal Master Plan, which received unanimous approval from the legislature in 2017.
Plans are nothing without action, and we have under design and construction right now the largest number and most significant coastal protection and restoration projects in state history. That translates to the highest level of hurricane protection for more of Louisiana’s citizens than ever before. And I am excited to report that over the next four years, for the first time in the history of our coastal program, we will break ground on projects that will restore more land than we expect to lose. God created the Sportsman’s Paradise, but he has charged us with taking care of it.
In Louisiana, we are accustomed to the dangers of water and wind. But the newest threat we face is the hacking of our public and private computer systems. In the last four years, we have made great strides in improving our cybersecurity preparedness and response. In fact, we have been nationally recognized for our leadership which has led to an improved outlook with one of the biggest credit rating agencies in the country. I am proud of the work we have done through the Cybersecurity Commission and I know that we have some of the best trained and practiced technology professionals on our side, including those in our Louisiana National Guard. Last year in partnership with the National Governor’s Association, we hosted in North Louisiana representatives from all 50 states for a cybersecurity summit, further proving our commitment to this issue.
But technology in the hands of those who wish to do harm is ever evolving, and so must our capabilities. As I’ve often said, this is the new normal in Louisiana and across the globe. In Louisiana, I want our “new normal” to be the highest level of cybersecurity defense of any state in the nation.
The common denominator for each of these priorities is improving quality of life for all citizens. The future is ours to seize. But we have to commit here and now to be great, to work together, and continue to reject the partisan rancor and dysfunction that plagues Washington DC.
Louisiana was born from exploration and the hope of a better tomorrow. Today, we embark on a new expedition. One filled with just as many possibilities and dreams. I stand here today asking you to join me.
Join me in continuing to create an education system that prepares every child to reach their God-given potential. Join me in cultivating a business environment that encourages growth and investment to create good paying jobs and rewarding careers. Join me in forging coalitions that will excel in the pursuit of what we can do together, instead of failing in the certainty of what we can’t do when we are blinded by division. Join me in living by the words chiseled into the walls of our towering Capitol: union, justice, confidence. And finally, I ask that you join me in praying for guidance and wisdom as we embark on this journey to create a brighter future together.
God bless you all, God bless the Great State of Louisiana and God bless the United States of America.
And Geaux Tigers!"