Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission because victory for Louisiana requires you. I'm your host, Lynda Woolard. On this episode, I speak with Shawn Wilson, who's running for governor on the October 14, gubernatorial primary ballot with the runoff scheduled for November 18 2023. As I've said previously, Louisiana Lefty doesn't tend to do episodes with candidates and we don't endorse, but for all intents and purposes, Dr. Wilson is the only Democratic candidate on the ballot. He's certainly the only viable Democrat running and has repeatedly pulled ahead of all but one candidate in the field. Shawn Wilson's website says he's the most qualified, the most prepared, the most committed, and the most accomplished person in the race. I haven't heard any of his opponents make a credible case against that. But according to the polls, his main impediment is a lack of name recognition. So I hope you'll learn more about him through the podcast, and share information about Shawn Wilson, with folks in your community. Shawn Wilson, thanks so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty.
Thank you, Lynda, I'm excited to be with you today and appreciate this venue to speak to you and your listeners.
Well, I always start with how I know my guest. And we've followed one another on social media for a while, but we met via personal friend, I guess to both of us who connected us and we had a nice lunch together earlier this year. And I was so impressed by you and what you had to say and your ideas for running. So that was a really great opportunity to get to connect with you.
Well, thank you. Listen, I followed you for some time and I've watched you work in privacy elections here in Louisiana. And what's exciting and what I appreciate about you and your civic engagement, Lynda, is it does not end with an election. It is constant and it is year round and that is what it takes to really affect change and to sustain policies and to influence the electorate. And so I appreciate that you use this platform and other venues to continue to stay engaged and hold elected officials accountable once they're elected and move issues along. So I appreciate that.
Well, thank you. Well, Dr. Wilson, what first got you interested in politics? I know you ran for student government.
I have to tell you, I'm sitting in New Orleans today in the neighborhood that I grew up in and my parents were involved kind of peripherally. We were not a political family. But I remember my dad campaigning for Dutch Morial, and I remember the enthusiasm and excitement. I remember as a student, you may recall, we used to have what was called John McDonogh Day. And they would have student leaders from each school go over and visit the statue of a major public education benefactor here who's had a pretty interesting and colorful past, not one that a lot of people can appreciate and are proud of, in fact. But in the end of the day, we were able to walk to the mayor's office and shake hands with the mayor. And it was just pretty darn cool to do that. And that was really my first introduction to government and politics. In the third grade, I ran for student council president or vice president and was successful. My dad actually went to Brooklyn Street and had a printer. If you remember the old disks and chips that you used to actually have to sort and spell out your stuff and they would run a printer over it. He actually made some postcards for me and my grandmother bought me a bag of lollipops, and we stapled them to that card and handed them out. And guess what, I won. All I had to do was say the Pledge make morning announcements and be kind of a model student, but it was the beginning of a lifetime of leadership. Fast forward, I went to high school at O. Perry Walker, student council president there and just loved student leadership, loved the opportunity to do recycling programs and be a voice, be on the student advisory council for the superintendent just to represent the needs of people where I could pay attention to what my peers were needing and doing and what their observations were and to bring their perspective to leaders. Went to college and started in the Residence Hall Association and got involved in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Union Program Council... Big Brothers Big Sisters was a nonprofit that I worked with off campus as a mentor. And then I ran for student council or student government vice president, and then president, served on the board of trustees. And so I was always engaged in this business of government. You know, while I was still a student, it was the beginning of, I think, a really good experience and a great introduction. Fast forward, I worked in government, ran for city council, and was not successful and continued to serve. And so now I find myself running for governor here in the state of Louisiana and super excited and I am bringing every lesson and experience over my lifetime of working with people and for people. Public service has been my ministry, and I am super excited to be a candidate for governor today.
What made you decide to run for governor Dr. Wilson?
You know, I've been in this business of government and there are two kinds of employees in the state, those who were classified and those who are unclassified. Classified employees have protection. And I'm so grateful for that, the vast majority of our employees our protected employees, and it's not political patronage. And then there's a much smaller class of what we call unclassified employees, those are the ones that can be terminated, they're at will for an elected official or an appointed official. I've always been at will for 25 years working in Republican and Democratic administrations. In fact, having the ability to transition from one party administration to the other is extremely rare in government and I think it speaks to a level of performance and integrity and acceptance of quality work. That is a tremendous validator. So I did that for 25 years. And the last seven years, I served with John Bel Edwards as Secretary of Transportation and Development, an amazing experience. When he appointed me, I was the only African American secretary in the entire country for state department of transportation. And then we also were dealing with all kinds of challenges, whether it was the Bobby Jindal economy, with a $2 billion deficit, or natural disasters. The day Governor Edwards was sworn in, the river was the highest it's ever been, threatening to overtop the levees all along the Mississippi River in the southern part of our state. And so we worked hard over those seven years, changing the trajectory of our state, paying teachers and public employees, building an economy, dealing with crises, whether it was, you know, police shootings or natural disasters or the general pandemic, the COVID pandemic. I mean, think about that. That's huge. But all along the way, we were able to take a very difficult financial situation and make magic happen. We spent five and a half billion dollars on over 2000 projects impacting 7000 miles of road, under my watch out the Department of Transportation, doing projects that were almost as old as I was, 30 years old. They were projects that had been around for decades that the previous administration just laughed at and talked about. When you think about the new airport, Governor Jindal's commissioner of administration went there for the groundbreaking and said they were going to get the project moving and that it would be ready. Nothing was done to provide access to that airport, no money, no budget, no design, no permit. Nothing. And so we had a challenge ahead of us, it was to do what the people have asked us to do. And that was my mission. That's what I've been doing for 25 years is really getting the job done. And so after 25 years, and recognizing what an outstanding time that we have had and the trajectory and the changes that we were making, we had a $2 billion surplus. Teachers had been paid over $5,000 more money, $3 billion of infrastructure, protecting the coastlines of Louisiana had been built, $5.5 billion of infrastructure. And then I thought about what's coming down the pipe, billions of dollars in terms of the bipartisan infrastructure law. And then you see the inflation Reduction Act, which is huge for the private sector. And then you have this new green economy that's burgeoning that we are well suited and well positioned, and well leveraged to be able to be a leader in. When you look at our geotech formations. When you look at the port systems, when you look at the Mississippi River and the rail and the interstate systems we have, no other state can rival our economy in terms of our workforce and the resilience of our people. So we're best positioned to do that. I took all that into consideration and said, you know, there's no candidate in this race that I felt comfortable voting for that I would feel comfortable trusting the leadership of the state of Louisiana to because the candidates were out there talking about things that I knew were fundamentally wrong, like eliminating the Medicaid expansion. I'm the only candidate on day one that said we were going to maintain it. Had I not gotten in this race, Lynda, we'd be talking about how do we eliminate it because every other candidate today said they wanted to do that. Now, because of the discussion of the debate that I've been able to bring, they're all turning around saying, "Yes, we need to do it." With qualifiers, mind you. And then the leading candidate, Jeff Landry, who fails to show up at debates, actually sued the state multiple times to try and rip Medicaid from the hands of everyday working people who needed it. That wasn't acceptable. And so when I looked at that and I said, "You know, what, if not me than who? if not now then when? If not in Louisiana then where?" And so I jumped in the race on March 6, a day after I retired, I announced my candidacy. And I did that so I can take the high road, I didn't want to use my position to leverage and hold it over people's head to support my campaign. I knew it will be difficult, as it will be difficult for any Democrat. You know, you and I spoke earlier, and talked about how divided we are as a country and how Democratic governors in the south aren't winning with 55% and 60%. They're winning with 50 point something. And so I knew it would be an uphill battle, but it's a battle worth fighting for because there's so much at stake here in Louisiana. When you look at the financial crisis, when you look at our educational outcomes, our health outcomes, there's just so much more that we can be doing and we need to build on what we have already started and not undo the last four years of successful leadership.
But just to clarify, you have worked in state government as chief of staff to a governor, correct?
Well, it wasn't chief of staff to the governor. Let me just give you my background. So in 1998, I started working for Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco when she was lieutenant governor, and I was executive director of the Louisiana Serve commission. We campaigned and won and she became governor and I moved into her office as deputy legislative director. And then, right before Katrina, I moved out of her office into the Department of Transportation. And there I served as chief of staff for the secretary of the Department of Transportation. And I also did transportation policy for Governor Blanco. She decided not to run post-Katrina, to dedicate her term to recovery, and Governor Jindal, who she had beat the first time, ran and won. And so I was asked to stay on in his administration in transportation, with his new secretary, a guy by the name of Dr. William Ankner. Ankner stayed there for two years and was terminated. And then I found myself in a position of saying, "Do I stay? Do I go?" The industry had gained tremendous trust and confidence in me. And the person who was named secretary is someone that was promoted to executive leadership in the Blanco administration, Sherri LeBas. And so I worked with Sherri LeBas as her chief of staff. And then John Bel got elected and appointed me secretary.
Okay, and you've been running on a theme of bridge builder, which has that double meaning.
Infrastructure is huge in Louisiana. That is economic development. When you think about the history of the state and the Mississippi River and the bridges that Huey built, our economy is really built on the infrastructure we have today, not the infrastructure we want. We have all five class one railroads, we've got the Mississippi River, we've got the Gulf of Mexico, we've got 32 ports, we've got interstate systems that are the bread and butter of this nation's multimodal transportation economy. And we've got a very resilient workforce. And so before there was a department of economic development, that was the department of transportation and development, which encompasses public works. And so my job was to deliver an infrastructure system here in the state that was multimodal. And that's what we did. So I did take on that title of being a bridge builder because we've made tremendous change. No administration in modern times has built that much infrastructure in seven plus years. And we did it without new revenue. We did it with innovation, we did it with creativity, we did it with competition at the federal level. And so we were able to bring dollars to Louisiana that we'd never would have expected to get. We were able to start one of the last two projects in the time to program that started in 1991. The second to the last project is actually fully funded and under construction today because of my leadership and the support of Governor Edwards. And so yes, I was a bridge builder. But more importantly, over the course of my career, having worked with Republicans and Independents and Democrats, local government leaders, parish presidents, mayors, town leaders, it's really been about building across those gaps that create issues in our communities. When I go back and draw on my leadership in the nonprofit world, as a United Way board member, as a Big Brother board chair, I was the executive director of the Louisiana Serve Commission. Building bridges, those figurative bridges between communities to advance ourselves in our state to a place that we can be very, very proud of and share and encourage others to come be a part of is what I've done. And so bridge builder is super important. But I also said that I was not going to be a bridge burner. And that speaks to some of this partisan extremism that we see. We've got folks in this race who burn bridges all the time. And when you burn a bridge, you leave people stranded, you leave people isolated. You leave people with an inability access those things of government that are critical. And so yes, I am a bridge builder, not a bridge burner, literally and figuratively to build a better Louisiana, to take us to a place that we all desire to be from an economic standpoint, from a health and wellness standpoint, from an education standpoint, and a quality of life standpoint.
I read that you were so efficient and prolific as Secretary of DOTD that we've gotten more money from the federal government than any other state?
Absolutely. So there's this thing called August redistribution. And this is the way August redistribution work, people seem to think that the federal government builds infrastructure, they don't, they give money to the states to build it. And based on that formula, if you spend every dollar that you get, the federal government will allow you to spend money that other states cannot spend, or have not been able to put out. By the time I became secretary, the most we had ever gotten was somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. It was not uncommon, during my tenure, to get $90-100 million at the end of the year. And that simply meant by August, remember, the federal fiscal year ends in October, so by August, we had to say how much money we could spend. Louisiana over the last 20 years had received somewhere near about a half a billion dollars. More than 50% of that was acquired in the last seven years over the last 20 years. Think about that, a half a billion plus dollars over 20 years, more than 50% of that was received in the last seven years under my leadership. We've had an unprecedented number. This year, the state's receiving $260 million of one time money because we were efficient, because we had projects ready to go, because we were thoughtful on what we were doing and following the law here at the state level. And so that to me is significant. The fact that we have worked so hard to build so many projects that significant and we've got billions of dollars coming down the pipeline, like a $2.1 billion bridge over the Calcasieu River and Lake Charles, a $3 billion bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, the widening of the I-10 in Baton Rouge. Over a billion dollars! These are projects that have just gotten started, which means these are dollars that we're going to be spending in our economy for the next five to seven years. That money is going to replicate itself over and over again, creating good paying jobs, creating value, and then supporting Louisiana businesses so that they can recapitalize equipment, grow their opportunities and expand their services. And that's before you start tapping into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law or the Inflation Reduction Act resources that are available to us.
Lots of opportunity there. And you mentioned the other piece of the bridge building is working across the aisle. But you've also mentioned that part of the reason you're running is the extremism you've seen coming from some of the other side. With Republicans already set to have a majority in both chambers of the legislature, how do you feel like you bridge that gap?
Well, you bridge the gap the way I've done it for the last seven years as secretary. Remember, we had a very Republican House and Senate over the last seven+ years. We didn't get to have a supermajority as a result of party switches until this last year. And so my transportation committee has always been very much a Republican committee in both the House and the Senate. And so the ability to work with folks, to get these great things done that I talked about, it wasn't done just with Democratic leaders and Democratic votes, it was done in a bipartisan fashion. And it needed a leader like me, who was able to work with folks, to be transparent and honest, to not necessarily hold people accountable because of their party affiliation or their zip codes. We were doing these things because it was the right thing to do. And that's what we would do as governor. You know, the fact that they had a trusting relationship with me says a lot. I was the most popular secretary in John Bel Edwards' cabinet until I announced I was running for governor. And all of a sudden there were some people who resisted that and rejected me. I get that that's partisanship. But I also know that those folks call and tell me on the back end, "Man, I would really like to work with you." They're afraid to be bullied. And we see that happening all over the place right now. And so you need someone that is willing to win and lose and not necessarily spiked the ball and put a thumb in someone's eyes. The reality is, I can work with people, I can understand differences and accept those differences and fight very, very hard and very firm. People will tell you, I was not a shrinking violet when it came to the legislature to fight for issues I believed in. But I was always fair, respectful and thoughtful. And I was substantive. And we were successful a great bit of a time. And there were fights that we lost, but we were still able to work together and do things together. And that's the kind of leadership I'm going to bring to the governor's office, not just with transportation, but with education, with health care, with economic development and labor, working very closely, finding a balancing act between the labor community that has endorsed me, AFL-CIO has endorsed. Me we are right-to-work state, but guess what, we were able to be creative and innovative such that we didn't hurt business's bottom line. But we will able to employ people who were well trained and well qualified to create good jobs. Those are things that we can do in the state of Louisiana. And those are things I'm committed to doing as governor.
And on the other side, you have to navigate the left wing of our party, who, sometimes... we've got a big tent party so our party doesn't always see eye to eye. So how are you navigating that were there are folks who really don't think your left enough for the Democratic voters?
Well, look, that is a balancing act. You absolutely right, Lynda. And the way you balance that is you build a relationship, and you honor and respect that relationship. And I tell people, no one is going to get 100% of what they need, consensus is getting as much as what each side wants and then making a decision. And so I'm committed to the same goals that many folks on the left are going to be talking about, but the process of the approach to get there may be different. So whether it's around economic prosperity or it's around equity in education, whether it's around criminal justice reform in supporting sustainable issues or whether it's around women's health, these are things that you can strike a balance on. And remember, you can't necessarily move 30 or 40 years of history in one direction overnight. And so as long as we're moving forward and making progress and that you can constantly focus on those things that you agree on and can work on, you can get there.
Okay, I want to say two of the main things that I worry about in the state right now. We're on the cover of The Times Picayune today, September 17, is the day we're speaking, it's the climate issue and the insurance issue. And I see them as both just existential issues for our state. I think climate most of all, I can't imagine Louisiana voters who don't see that as a top issue. Could you speak to both of those and and how you tackle those?
Absolutely. So listen, I believe that we do have an issue with climate, you cannot deny that fact, things are weirder, wetter and wilder, in many regards. Now you can say weirder, wetter, wilder and hotter. And so, you know, this is a reality for us and we're living with this on a daily basis. The frequency of events, the severity of events, and our inability to mitigate or manage them as effectively as we would like to to prevent them from happening going forward. You know, your question talks about climate as well as insurance. And I think they go hand in hand, in some respects. From a climate standpoint, we have to be thoughtful about an interim midterm solution and a long term solution. The long term solution speaks to how do we build a more resilient people? How do we build a more resilient state in terms of our infrastructure and assets? Have we made the kinds of investment and public works that we need to be able to deal with this influx of extreme weather conditions that we're having? Have we built a housing stock that is reinforced enough to withstand the level of winds that we have? Those are long term issues, as is the concept of coastal protection and restoration. Here's what's a sustainable government and where I offer solutions. If we don't find a way to really, fully implement the plan for coastal protection and restoration, we will never have the protection that we need to build for ourselves that long term security. What do we do in the interim? The interim means we have to embrace the green energy market to say, "How do we not necessarily immediately eliminate what we're doing, but how do we grow the scale something that will be more helpful in the renewables?" Whether it's solar, whether it's wind, whether it's dealing with hydrogen, these are things that we absolutely have to start doing now. Otherwise, we will not have the capacity to keep up when the rest of the country is ahead of us. And so take something I'm very familiar with the electrification of the highway system and electrification of our transportation system, - much more affordable, much more efficient, has a much better impact in terms of the climate influence because most of the greenhouse gases that we get, 11% of them are coming from transportation systems. And so if we don't start to build our fleet and build an infrastructure to accommodate a more clean and green fleet, we're never going to be able to find an opportunity to make that transition, to have a scalable market. Now we know the fleet that we're driving today is going to have a shelf life of about 20 years. And so can we change it all tonight? Today? Tomorrow? No, but we can start building a framework. Louisiana is one of a few states that have what's called a Climate Action Plan and it's adopted Climate Action Plan, one that's supported by many of the businesses that have been blamed for a lot of these issues, but it's also supported by the environmental industries and the advocacy groups here in the state. The idea that different entities have different motivations for supporting a common plant is encouraging to me. If a company is doing, it like Shell, making the investments and converting their facilities to be greener and much more efficient, that's a good thing. And they're doing it for reasons that might not be as pure as the folks in the Sierra Club would like, but they're doing the things that the folks at the Sierra Club would like them to do. Is it everything? Probably not. But that's where consensus comes in. And so I absolutely support the Climate Action Plan. There are others in this campaign that refuse to do that. But not only are we going to do that, we're going to make the investments so that we can sustain that plan. I'm also going to be cautious in terms of what we do. When you look at carbon capture and sequestration, we've been doing deep oil injection for a long time. Unlike when we did the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, we gave folks free rein to run around and do as much work and damage unfortunately as they wanted to do. I'm much more cautious with that, I think we need to be thoughtful about where we allow certain types of exploration and what are those impacts? Whether it's in neighborhoods, whether it's in green areas, I think we have to be thoughtful about what that looks like. And I also think it has to be an all of the above approach to energy perspective. Now, let me make the jump to insurance. Insurance is a three pronged issue for us, whether its Risk Rating 2.0, which is totally non transparent and not consistent or intentional, in terms of what it's doing, it's creating some real havoc for folks all across the state, the attorney general who is a leading candidate in this race is suing them, but it's about two years too late to make a difference in that. I also think that we should have a relationship with the federal government in a bipartisan way to be able to demand certain actions and work through our congressional delegation to get some relief. The second piece has to do with auto insurance and the crisis there. Everyday people are being penalized for that, we need to see some common sense insurance reform. I don't know if you're aware of this, Lynda, but you could have a DWI and have good credit and pay about $900 less than someone who doesn't have a DWI and has bad credit. And that tells me that our state allows an individual's financial record and history, their credit, to determine how much they're going to pay. And you're going to typically end up finding someone who has a lesser credit score, someone who's going to be in a different socioeconomic bracket and it's going to be a much greater strain on them to deal with those increases. Those are the kinds of common sense changes we need to make in terms of auto insurance in our state. And then the big one has to do with property insurance. Clearly, that's a result of the crisis that we have in the climate. But it's also a market crisis. When you look at what's happening, there's the reinsurance market that the insurance industries go to, and they are the ones that are seeing about a 40% bump. We can't necessarily affect that change, but what we can do is pass common sense laws like Sdjuster Accountability. So when Allstate comes to your house or State Farm comes to your house after a disaster, they have an opportunity and a requirement to share their initial findings with you. I think we ought to have some mandates in terms of how much time they have to process your your paperwork to make sure that you can make decisions sooner rather than later. And then that you have some accountability to receive the benefits that you have, what the state did in terms of bailing out big insurance companies, $45 million, was necessary, but it's not sustainable. We can't continue to pay them that way. And what's going to happen is, next year, I suspect, that they're going to come and say we need $45 more, maybe $55 or $65 more million dollars to bail out the big insurance companies. That's not necessarily in the state's best interest to continue to do that. So I look forward to working with the insurance commissioner, who has some ideas, whether it's around deregulation, whether it's around allowing insurance companies to set those rates, whether it's changing the law to ensure that if you drop one, you don't have to drop all. Those are things that we absolutely have to look at is what's happening for people across the state of Louisiana, and how do we improve those conditions? But it is a crisis. The last thing I'll say Lynda is, this is a national crisis, this is not unique to Louisiana. Go look at Florida, Florida represents more than 50% of the insurance claims in our country. They bailed out to the billions the same big insurance companies. I'm not getting donations from them so I don't have a problem holding those individuals accountable. I don't have a problem holding anyone accountable, for that matter. And then you go to California, they have the second largest number of claims because of mudslides and fires. And then there's Louisiana. If we don't work together, this entire market will collapse on the entire country. And I've been advocating to say, "We need to have a high risk market portfolio that requires insurance companies to have coverage for a pro rata share of the market in high risk markets." And so if Allstate covers 30% of the nation, they ought to cover 30% of the high risk market. Everybody ought to have a piece of the pie in terms of protecting these high risk entities because these high risk entities contribute a great deal to the nation's security. Look no further than the Silicon Valley Bank bailout that just happened. This was not a federal government bank bailout. This was the banking industry bailing out a major bank system in Silicon Valley that would have created a ripple effect, kind of a domino effect, across the banking industry. They all put in together, bought those assets and shared the risk. The same thing can happen for insurance here in Louisiana. And if it's the small insurance industries, we can work with them on a smaller scale. but if it's the larger ones we can work with them on a pro rata share for the market that they have as well. Big major crisis is one of the things I hear all across the state as I put 40 plus 1000 miles on the vehicle since March. We hear folks talking about that insurance spike, even in North Louisiana where they, until this past year, didn't have hurricanes. We had hurricane force winds make it up to Ruston. That would never have happened before. That's an example of a climate crisis if I've ever seen one.
That's for sure. And it is a national issue so I'm glad you framed it that way. Other issues that are impacting our state -- and we've had some high profile folks talking about leaving the state recently -- there's a lot of concerns, the anti LGBTQ efforts that are concerning some of our residents; there's restrictive abortion laws that target, at the end of the day, they're targeting all pregnant people, making people who can get pregnant feel uncomfortable with their ability to get healthcare here; and we know there's been this ongoing issue of the brain drain here, where there's not enough economic opportunity for folks as they leave our colleges and universities. How would you see us being able to make this seem safe to people? I mean, we all love Louisiana and I think people want to stay here and want to be able to thrive here, but there's this sort of oppressive overcast thing happening right now, where people are really concerned with like, "Can we stay here? Can we live here and thrive?"
That speaks to the extremism that just turns my stomach daily, in terms of the types of rhetoric that we're hearing across the state. When the Attorney General says to people that if they don't like his political agenda they can leave Louisiana. That's a disqualifier. In my opinion, the idea that we're targeting people with legislative public policy ought to be concerning. You can't, on one hand, be concerned about the brain drain and then pass laws that cause our states only pediatric cardiologist to leave Louisiana because they're not safe or don't feel safe or secure here. You can't pass laws that make it hard for professionals to do their jobs. And you want to direct and dictate them without experiences or knowledge that speaks to that profession. And you also keep people from coming to practice here, potential interns and residents at Tulane or LSU or Xavier University that are starting at medical school. All of these places are going to say, "Wait a minute, do I want to come and start my practice in Louisiana?" Probably not. And so that extremism doesn't do anything to make us safer, smarter, healthier, and wealthier. In fact, if you go back to the CNBC assessment on the best and worst places to do business and they rank states based on some standards, and they go back in and look at all of these things, whether it's criminal justice, whether it's health care laws in terms of extremism because companies are going to say, "I don't want to bring my workforce to Louisiana if I've got to pay them 30% more to put the kids in private school." Or if they're not going to be save, or if the 40%, 50%, 60% of the women that are going to be employees of theirs can't get the kind of health care and treatment that they need. That is a concern. Particularly, if you think about companies on the West Coast, that might be relocating. And you can look no further than Austin to see where folks are going. And you know, the idea that you see businesses flocking to Austin says a lot about what that community stands for compared to the rest of the state. Here in Louisiana, we have to stop running people away and doing things that are going to turn off cultural enrichment and embrace acceptance of who people are. And so, as a governor, I will be happy to address those issues and talk about those issues. You have a small number of people, I think, that are driving these wedges. And Republicans, Independents and Democrats have to be thoughtful about the kinf of policies that we're passing. What are the laws that we're passing? And what's the outcome? When you have threats to tenure, you tend to run off the best and the brightest faculty, and the faculty that you're running off are folks who bring research dollars to our state. Those research dollars follow faculty members, that's how you attract bright students that are in Louisiana or folks who want to come to Louisiana. And when you create that kind of environment, you then have an opportunity for innovation to occur in the private sector in terms of developing manufacturing that can be then exported for profit. And so you're turning away all of the things that you want to do build an economy. But you don't want to have that incubator of innovation. You want to attack faculty and prevent them to have free speech and prevent students to learn. Those are things that are problematic. And those are things that I will work against as governor to ensure that we have an ability to embrace intellect and intelligence and freedoms in the state of Louisiana.
You mentioned Medicaid expansion earlier. And that was the first thing John Bel Edwards did as governor, what would be your first act as governor?
The first thing that Jon Bel did was expand Medicaid. And I will do the same exact thing. It's done by executive order and is going to expire. My leading opponent has sued the state multiple times to try and get rid of it. And that is going to rip the insurance and health care from 500,000 people, that's a half a million people in the state of Louisiana that will be much more vulnerable, in addition to the financial insecurity that is going to provide for rural healthcare systems, the medical systems that we have, as well as these rural economies. And so that's going to be the first thing I'm going to do is to ensure that we can protect our people. You know, if you're unhealthy, an unhealthy worker can't earn and an unhealthy kid can't learn. And the idea that we have to make these investments, to really start changing the health outcomes for our citizens, is critical, whether it's diabetes, or cancer, all of these things that we have been struggling with for decades, we're now in a position to become much more proactive and to have the kind of resources that we need to ensure that we have better outcomes. Even when it comes to maternal mortality. Think about what the Medicaid expansion has been able to do for women within that first year of giving birth to a child. We need to make sure that we expand that for mental health, we need to make sure that we make sure medicines and pharmaceuticals can continue to be affordable and we've got a large public health crisis in our state that we have to work with, partnering with local governments to address these public health issues.
And I just read that there are 40,000 Kids kicked off Medicaid expansion recently. Is there a way to get them back on?
The certain way to get them back on or to have the best path forward to get them back on is to maintain the Medicaid expansion and actually go out and help promote and recruit folks and families to sign up. Clearly, we've had lots of transition, post COVID, where some exceptions and benefits are, you know, in play now, that are expiring because of the COVID pandemic natural disaster or emergency declaration is expired. Those are things that are changing, we're seeing people fall off of the list because of that and ultimately children as well. So the governor is going to need to reinforce that, to help promote that and to ensure that we have as many people as possible signed up for it. Now listen, the other crisis that we have is one of workforce because when we expanded Medicaid, to have 500,000 people, we still need to have the nurses and the doctors and therapists and everyone else to be able to accommodate that kind of workload going forward. So sustaining this in a long term fashion is the most important thing that we can do to ensure the healthy outcomes of our citizens.
So the last question I want to ask before we pivot to the final three questions I ask every episode is, - there's this air of inevitability about the leading candidate right now, that everyone I talked to talks about it, and usually with this sense of dread, the people I speak to speak about it with a sense of dread. How do we combat that, that this is not a done deal, that he's not already the next governor and that this is a competitive race?
Well, listen. I think you gotta take that dread and disasterous feeling and turn it into motivation and inspiration. The fact that this was no different than what we saw with Governor Edwards and his opponent in 2015, David Vitter, we've not met Governor Vitter. We had a very similar sensation when Governor Edwards ran against Eddie Rispone. He's never been governor. That's right. But the reality is, everyday people in this state care about the future of Louisiana and they have a voice. And the poll that matters most is the one that's going to be taken on election day. The poll that matters most is when people go to early vote. Those are the things that we can do, actively do, to prevent the type of disastrous thing from happening is that this most well financed, the most Republican-endorsed candidate, the one who's received the party and who's the most extreme, who hasn't given us one issue, one policy solution to making a safer, smarter, healthier, wealthier is never governor in the state of Louisiana. As a candidate, I am working hard every day traveling the state talking to people. And if we get in our minds that this can happen, people have to look beyond race, they have to look beyond party to say, "If you really wanted to hire the most qualified CEO or the most qualified coach or the most qualified principle, you would go find someone with the experience the know-how regardless of race, regardless of their political ideology, regardless of where they're from." And when you compare my record, clearly we're head and shoulders above everyone else.
I'm gonna link to your website in the episode notes because there's so much great information for you there. And I'll put links for all the ways people can connect to you so they can learn more and follow along with your campaign. I appreciate your taking so much time to speak to us today. I know that you've got other things to go off and do. So let me hit you with the last three questions. Dr. Wilson, what is the biggest hurdle for Democrats in Louisiana?
I think the biggest hurdle for Democrats in Louisiana is having an ability to maneuver in this new governmental structure that we have. We've become much more digital, the organization of the way you move parties has been challenged by political action committees. And so we have to figure out a new model, as Democrats, to I think be more effective than what we have historically been in using the old way of politicking and governing. We have to attract talent, we have to be diverse in what we attract. And we have to be able to understand that we have to embrace the diversity that we have. You know, we are a big party. And we are a party that does not necessarily dictate who can join or who can't join. And so as a result of that, we have to honor people and respect them for who they are, what they are, and what contributions they bring. And we have to do that in a way that fits into this new model of government that we have here.
And what's our biggest opportunity as Democrats in Louisiana?
You know, our biggest opportunity really is to attract young people. I think our biggest opportunity is to double down on issues, whether it's environmental justice, whether it's criminal justice, whether it's social justice, and equity. All of these different sectors, whether it's housing, that penetrates not just Democratic circles, or black and brown communities. Housing affordability is a universal issue. Transportation is a universal issue. We can be the party of substantive policy solutions if we work hard at it. We have to not down ourselves or, as my mother would say, "Don't dumb yourself down, son." We have to really deal with the big issues and be thoughtful about that and provide sustainable solutions. We have to stop looking at what's going to happen right now, to think what the next 10 years are going to be like because that is how you build and organize. If we focus just on winning to win, we're not there. But if we focus on winning to move the needle on policy, that's going to breed energy, that's going to grow the party, that's going to grow the ideas and that's going to start a wonderful cycle to regenerate itself going forward. So clearly, focusing on the future generations, but also focusing on the future generations in terms of sustainable policy. And not just the here and now.
Agree. Agree. Agree. And who's your favorite superhero?
You know, it's been so long since I've had real superheroes. All of them are very special. You know, I will tell you, I've always been a fan of Superman. You know, he was special. He reminds me of myself a little bit. Clark Kent was kind of a nerdy guy, wearing glasses, who was always thoughtful. You know, he wasn't very boisterous or outgoing, he somewhat introverted and that's the way I was as a kid growing up. But you know, something happened and he changed and great things happened. And he was always on the right side. And so Superman would have to be my superhero if I had to pick one. You know, I haven't picked up a comic book in a long time. It's one of the things I think my grandkids lack is an ability, we used to get them when we go to the TG&Y all the time. And we just don't do that anymore. And so now all the superheroes seem to be on a television or a Netflix show, but give me the old paper comics any day!
I love that. I love that. Well, Dr. Wilson, thank you again for joining us and good luck out there on the campaign trail.
Thank you, Lynda. Thank you to all those followers on your podcast.
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