Thursday, July 18, 2024

Waguespack: The hunger for substance

by BIZ. Staff

How much substance and detail do you really want to hear? It’s a question Louisiana voters will be asking themselves in 2019.

This quandary reminds me of the memorable line from the slapstick movie “Tommy Boy” where Chris Farley, after struggling throughout the movie to say it just right, finally articulates correctly, “I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s (edit), but I’d rather take the butcher’s word for it.”

The point he was making was clear: spare me the messy details; I’ll just trust the experts.

For decades, that is what we have largely done with our Louisiana politicians. We have time and time again chosen our leaders based mostly on sound bites, jokes and personality and left most of the messy details and substance of governing to those so-called experts. I would argue the evidence is clear this strategy has not worked.

A few weeks back I was quoted as calling for next year’s elections to be more about “substance over sound bites.” This was in no way a criticism of any specific politician. It was, however, a desperate plea not only for all politicians from both parties to embrace more substantive debate but for all of us as residents of this great state to start craving it as well.

The good news is that thanks to an upcoming wave of Legislative term limits and a competitive governor’s race, 2019 is the perfect year for us all to finally break the habit.

Based on my interactions with folks around the state, I think the hunger for courageous leadership and outside the box proposals that work is at an all-time high. Most folks now realize Louisiana’s history of placing all our hopes on just pumping more money each year into a big powerful state government hasn’t yet led us to the promised land and likely never will.

It’s time to start having some messy and substantive policy fights and demand a new path. The realist in me understands how hard it will be to fight and win many of those policy battles for limited government and market-based solutions in the same Louisiana Capitol originally built as a monument to the premise of a “chicken in every pot” and “every man a king.” The optimist in me says we can get it done with bold leadership, a clear substantive vision and increased civic engagement across the state.

Next year’s election cycle should be more focused than ever before on policy details rather than personality traits. For example:

  • Let’s talk about the details of pension reform, specifically how we can lower costs, protect retirees and make these plans more relatable to today’s workers.
  • Let’s talk about the details of lawsuit reform and how there are a few simple steps we can take to reduce the tort taxes paid by every family in this state and reduce the cost of auto insurance.
  • Let’s talk about the details of true tax reform and specifically how we could get to a more flat, fair system by updating our collection systems and reducing exemptions and credits to lower income tax rates rather than just pump up spending.
  • Let’s talk about the details of budget reform and the number of dedicated funds that should be reduced similarly to what Buddy Roemer did back in 1987.
  • Let’s talk about the details of reducing the size, power, patronage and political reach of that State Capitol once and for all and start turning that power over to the people around the state.
  • Let’s talk about the details of how we create more good jobs and develop a qualified workforce to fill them.
  • Let’s talk about the details behind a Constitutional Convention… education reform that will finally spend the billions of dollars we allocate each year in a way that puts parents firmly in control… and an infrastructure plan that will actually build the stuff we know we need like improvements to rural bridges, 49 South and a new bridge in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, among others.

I, like many, have a bunch of ideas on all of those topics. I bet you do as well. I know the many candidates for various offices next year will also have their own plans on these issues. As a voter, I can’t wait to hear them all.

Louisiana’s history of sound bites is entertaining and will remain a part of our political fabric… but an over-reliance on them throughout the years has dulled our senses to the reality of what we have become and lowered our expectations of what we are capable of becoming. Shame on us all if we let that continue.

2019 will be a huge election year for Louisiana and there are plenty of sound bites to prove it. It’s time to kick the tires and light the fires. It’s time for the rubber to meet the road… to start talking turkey… to get down to brass tacks. No more promises of every man a king or a chicken in every pot. I think voters are finally hungry for a big serving of substance… and they no longer seem willing to just take the butcher’s word for it.

Stephen Waguespack is President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI)

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