Gov.-elect Jeff Landry on Tuesday announced the chairs of 14 policy advisory councils he has set up. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)
LAFAYETTE — It’s going to be different.
That’s a point Jeff Landry emphasized over and over again Wednesday as he announced the first set of major decisions he made in preparation for taking over as Louisiana governor.
Landry’s transition team — expected to firm up the governor-elect’s policy agenda and help fill hundreds of positions for his incoming administration — set up its office on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It’s not operating out of LSU in Baton Rouge, as all incoming governors in recent memory have done.
“We are going to be doing things different than the way past administrations have done the transition,” Landry said during a news conference. “So the old way of doing things is for the most part out the door, and today is a new day for Louisiana.”
Landry said he picked UL Lafayette to show his constituents he won’t be catering to political insiders in the capital city.
“I”ve said from day one that this administration will ensure that every part of this state has a voice, not just those who occupy the capital,” he said.
“This administration is going to represent the people of Louisiana, not just the political class, and so we are going to be running the transition out of Lafayette, which we believe gives everyone access to us, makes it easy for everyone around the state to reach us.”
UL Lafayette is also convenient for Landry, who lives just 15 minutes down the road in Broussard. The school is also Landry’s alma mater.
“We want the people of Louisiana to know that all of our universities are important to us,” he said.
Landry’s transition team is paying UL Lafayette $24,824 monthly for office space on its campus. University spokesman Eric Maron said the rent charged is the “market rate” for the accommodations. Landry will likely need the space until his inauguration Jan. 8.
“As a public university, we’re honored to be an asset to the governor-elect,” said Jaimie Hebert, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, who attended Landry’s press conference.
Had Landry staged his transition at LSU, he still would have paid to rent space.
Louisiana law calls for governors-elect to receive $65,000 to help cover the costs of their transition teams and inauguration. They are also able to use campaign funds and raise money specifically for those expenses, albeit with some restrictions.
Landry’s campaign has not yet said what combination of funding he will use to pay for his transition.
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Previous transition insight
The governor-elect said the goal of his transition team is to nail down “a clear set of recommendations and policies to tackle the challenges that we have coming.” Half of a dozen people involved in previous transitions described the process in more blunt terms.
“We felt like we were building the government,” said Terry Ryder, who co-directed the transition from Gov. Edwin Edwards to Gov. Mike Foster in 1996. Ryder later went on to serve as Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s general counsel.
“Essentially, you have to set up a government,” said Matthew Block, the former general counsel to current Gov. John Bel Edwards who was involved in Edwards’ 2016 takeover from Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The people involved in previous transition efforts described the experience as akin to drinking from a firehose. The governor-elect has to select 15 cabinet members and fill literally hundreds of state government jobs and seats on various boards and commissions.
Outside of hiring personnel, incoming administrations must also use the transition time to educate themselves on some of the larger issues facing the state government.
Block said he spent a significant amount of John Bel Edwards’ transition working on the implementation of Medicaid expansion. The current governor’s staff also educated itself on the state budget crisis roiling at the time and Louisiana’s disaster response efforts.
Several of those interviewed said Landry has an advantage over most other incoming governors because he won his primary election outright and did not face a runoff election. The early victory gives him an extra month of planning.
“Time is the most precious commodity,” said Andy Kopplin, who served as chief of staff to Blanco and Foster and oversaw Blanco’s transition in 2004.
‘…It’s not diverse enough’
Landry has announced seven co-chairs and one staff member for his transition team so far but is expected to involve more people over the next two months.
In late 2015, Edwards started out with six co-chairs but ended up bringing approximately 200 people into the transition efforts through eight subject-matter committees of around 25 people each. Each of those committees produced a policy report that was supposed to help guide the governor’s political agenda.
In 2007, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal’s transition team ended up with at least 10 policy advisory councils. Some held public hearings at college campuses around the state, even though the Jindal’s transition team was based at LSU’s Baton Rouge campus.
Landry has repeatedly said he wants his transition and administration to concentrate on three main issues.
“Our goals, whether they’d be in the first quarter or throughout the four years, are going to be crime, education and the economy,” Landry said. “We’re not wavering off of those. OK?”
Yet governors, as the head of state government, are also forced to deal with a range of issues they wouldn’t necessarily choose.
“You can decide to focus on whatever you want, but life will give you other stuff,” Ryder said.
Louisiana has an ongoing crisis in its foster care and child welfare programs, for example, and the state is also in the middle of a massive effort to cull its Medicaid rolls. An automatic deduction in the state sales tax and an increase in other tax breaks are expected to cause a budget shortfall in 2025.
The governor may also pick people for high-profile board seats to government bodies such as the LSU Board of Supervisors or the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the Superdome.
But he also has to fill positions for dozens of more mundane commissions, such as those regulating pharmacies, horse racing, chiropractors and crime victims compensation, to name a few.
Ryder said he hopes to see Landry expand the number of people involved in his transition to include those with a wider range of experiences.
“That’s not a big enough transition team and it’s not diverse enough,” Ryder said of Landry’s initial appointments.
Of the seven transition co-chairs announced Wednesday, two — Eddie Rispone and Lane Grigsby — have very similar professional backgrounds. Both are wealthy construction moguls who live in Baton Rouge and have served on the board of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Grigsby and Rispone also happen to be best friends and large Landry donors.
The only woman named to Landry’s transition team is his wife, Sharon.
“He needs to have people who have knowledge and experience of what they’re doing,” Ryder said. “Some [of the people Landry has to hire] will be working in areas he knows little about.”
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