There are only two weeks left before voters head to the polls to begin choosing our next governor. With the open primary phase of the campaign almost over and a Nov. 21 runoff virtually assured, why does it feel like this contest has hardly begun?
Perhaps it’s because the candidates haven’t always given us the specificity we need and deserve. The proposals they’ve served us so far in their TV spots and on their websites are largely devoid of specifics. We need protein and they’ve fed us cotton candy. We deserve to know exactly what they would do if elected, but they’ve mostly given us vague platitudes.
With that frustration in mind, I was optimistic about the Oct. 1 debate conducted by WDSU and aired in several cities around the state. That forum was the first time Sen. David Vitter had agreed to participate in a televised forum in which the questions weren’t first submitted to him.
The stakes were high and the opportunity rare. So, many of us who watched felt cheated by the candidates and the moderator who avoided the important issues the new governor will face in 2016. The four major candidates each escaped the hour-long encounter without being grilled on the budget, health care, higher education, poverty and coastal restoration.
Instead, the station wasted precious time leading the candidates in discussions about social issues that are far less important to the state’s budget mess. Not once did the moderator ask the candidates how they would approach our fiscal crisis.
It is no longer safe to assume that everyone who leads these debates has the fortitude and knowledge to ask tough, specific questions of the candidates. So, I’ve collected from a variety of sources some questions for the remaining debates and forums (an Oct. 15 debate at Louisiana Tech University is the only televised forum Vitter will attend before the election).
Let’s hope the moderators might ask the candidates at least a few of these questions:
- Do you believe the current budget is sustainable without major revenue increases in the next year? If not, what specific revenue increases would you propose?
- What percentage of the state’s fiscal problem can be solved purely by cuts and where, specifically, would you make those cuts?
- What level of tax exemptions, capital outlay projects and direct appropriations should Louisiana dedicate to luring corporations to Louisiana? Do you believe the hundreds of millions spent for this purpose has been a net benefit to the state?
- Do you believe the state provides too much support to local governments? If so, what aid to municipalities and parishes would you eliminate or reduce and how would you expect the local governments to make up for the loss of this revenue?
- Would you forswear the use of one-time money (including the practice of selling state assets) to balance the budget?
- Would you commit to signing an annual budget with revenue and expenditure estimates that are conservative and designed to avoid mid-year budget cuts?
- Will you pledge to reform higher education funding so that a majority of the institutions’ funding comes from state appropriations and not tuition and fees?
- Would you fully fund the Go Grant program to help disadvantaged students afford a college education?
- Which benchmark most closely identifies where you believe Louisiana should rank in funding of higher education: the national average, the Southern regional average, or where we are now? If higher than where we are now, would you commit to achieving this goal in your first term?
- Would you support legislation to increase health services at the elementary and secondary school level through expansion of the Medicaid program or by some other means?
- Regarding the BP settlement money, will you pledge that every dollar will go to coastal restoration?
- The public-private partnership involving LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and the Biomedical Research Foundation has been contentious. Do you believe this arrangement was handled properly? What specific reforms to health care privatization would you propose?
- Do you believe that the privatization of public hospitals has harmed medical education in this state? If so, what specific steps would you take to address this?
- Would you support legislation to make the operations of the Governor’s Office more transparent? Please cite specific examples of the openness we can expect from your administration.
- What are your specific plans for addressing Louisiana’s deep, chronic poverty?
- Should the governor be involved in the election of the speaker of the House or president of the Senate?
- Do you have any responsibility for the truthfulness of the campaign spots aired by the super PACs aligned with your campaign?
- Will you commit to no fundraising by yourself or any associated super PAC for the first two years of your term to solely focus on the many problems facing Louisiana?