During Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s Administration, Louisiana passed forward-looking reforms designed to revolutionize education and economic development. Governor Blanco created new opportunities for Louisiana’s citizens to compete for new jobs in the knowledge-based economy. She did all of this while leading the State through the largest natural disaster – and largest recovery – in American history. The results are propelling Louisiana forward.
Governor Blanco directed the single largest increased investment in education in Louisiana’s history. She expanded the LA-4 Pre-K program to all at-risk children in Louisiana, raising it to a nationally recognized model. She pushed through reforms in standards and accountability. The Governor presided over increases in student test scores, teacher quality, and math and science ratings. She launched a program to put laptops in 6th grade classrooms. In an effort to increase graduation rates, she funded key reforms initiating a futuristic high-school redesign plan.
The Governor pushed through two consecutive teacher pay raises, succeeding in bringing teacher pay to the Southern Regional Average, for the first time in a quarter of a century giving Louisiana’s teachers more competitive salaries compared to neighboring states. And, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she directed the State to takeover 107 of the underperforming New Orleans schools, creating a state-run Recovery School District.
Governor Blanco again made history by fully funding Louisiana’s colleges and universities for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. She passed the state’s first substantial college need-based aid program. And she dramatically expanded the research capacity of our colleges and universities, creating the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative to connect our higher education research centers to the supercomputers of the world at light speed.
The Governor’s education and research investments bolstered the progress made in economic development. She insisted on an aggressive approach to business, and brought home more than $18.15 billion in new capital investments. She created more than 41,000 new direct jobs. She pushed through significant tax cuts on manufacturing machinery and equipment, the corporate franchise tax on debt, and natural gas and utilities, to name a few. The State’s research expansions coupled with business tax cuts, federal incentives and aggressive marketing put Louisiana for the first time on the world stage as a serious competitor for new business.
Governor Blanco did all of this with an eye towards transparency, fairness and good government. In an attempt to bring honesty to tax assessments, she mandated that all property tax records be made available to the public via the Internet. She enacted the toughest ethics legislation Louisiana had ever seen, forbidding all fundraising for both the governor and legislators during legislative sessions, requiring Executive Branch lobbying registration and reporting, and requiring disclosure of post-Katrina and Rita contracts. She right-sized the New Orleans government by eliminating positions of political patronage, and consolidated the New Orleans levee districts into professional boards.
She reformed Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice System, converting Louisiana’s troubled system into a national model of excellence. The Governor helped make child care more affordable for working families through a series of tax credits, and enacted the South’s first Earned Income Tax Credit. Governor Blanco dramatically expanded health insurance coverage to Louisiana’s children, and increased childhood immunization rates, moving from 49th in the nation to 32nd. These and other reforms will carry Louisiana well into the future.
When Governor Blanco took office as Louisiana’s first woman governor in 2004, she had no way of knowing she would be called upon to lead the state through the largest natural disaster in American history. Leading Louisiana through the darkest hours any State has ever seen has been both the greatest challenge and the greatest honor of her lifetime.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, she served as Commander in Chief of one of the largest domestic call-ups of National Guard troops this nation has ever seen. She directed the creation of the evacuation plan that moved an unprecedented 1.3 million people to safety in the 36-hour notification window before Katrina’s arrival. And she traveled to Washington, DC nine times in two years, pushing for the federal funding needed to recover. She advocated for reforms to the Stafford Act to better position the United States government to respond to future catastrophes on the magnitude of Katrina. And she committed more than $5 billion in state dollars to the recovery.
Recovery is a decade-long process. Louisiana is working thru the largest recovery this nation has ever seen. Under her housing program more than 130,000 families received their Road Home Grants making it possible for them to return to return to their homes. During her tenure well over 60 million yards of storm debris was removed: new building codes have been enacted to ensure safer structures in the future; bridges and highways were repaired in record time; and forward looking emergency preparedness reforms were enacted.
The Governor pushed for and secured Congressional approval for a share of off-shore revenues generated by drilling for oil and gas. She led a campaign for passage of a state constitutional amendment dedicating 100% of this money to coastal restoration and hurricane protection. A comprehensive hurricane protection and coastal restoration plan is in place, and Louisiana is implementing a long-term plan to rebuild our wetlands.
As the Governor says, we have done so much, but the needs are so great that her greatest wish is that we could have done even more. She leaves office satisfied that the groundwork is in place for the next, more visible phase of the recovery that will carry us forward.
For over 24 years, Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has served the people of Louisiana in elected office. Prior to her service as Governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served for eight years as Lieutenant Governor. She oversaw the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Under her leadership, tourism increased by 41 percent. This growth led to a $2.5 billion increase in the tourism industry’s economic contribution to the state, and the creation of 121,000 new tourism-related jobs.
In 1984, Governor Blanco became the first woman ever elected to represent the people of Lafayette in the state Legislature. Five years later, she became the first woman elected to the Public Service Commission, and then the first woman elected by her peers to chair the Commission. Before joining the public sector, Governor Blanco taught business classes at Breaux Bridge High School, and then stayed home for 15 years to raise her children.
She received a B.S. in Business Education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Governor is an avid hunter and enjoys fishing, writing, painting and reading. She and her husband, First Gentleman Raymond S. Blanco, recently retired UL Vice President of Student Affairs, have been married since 1964. They are the proud parents of six children and grandparents of nine.
What concerns are on citizens’ minds as they go to the polls this fall?
The presidential election may be getting all of the attention, but Louisiana residents will be making several important decisions at the ballot box in November. The U.S. Senate seat left up for grabs by retiring Sen. David Vitter has drawn a field of 24 candidates. Louisianians in the south- and northwest parts of the state will also be voting on congressmen. So, what national concerns are on citizens’ minds as they go to the polls this fall? What statewide issues should be on the mind of Louisiana’s next Congressional leaders? Louisiana Public Square looks for answers on “Election 2016” Wednesday, October 26 at 7p.m. (Taping Tuesday, October 25)
• Elizabeth Crisp / The Advocate
• Greg Hilburn / Gannett Newspapers
• Martin Johnson, Ph.D. / LSU Manship School of Mass Communication
• Albert Samuels, Ph.D. / Mandela School of Public Policy, Southern University
• Guest Host: Patricia Smith / Assistant to Dean of Political Science Dept., Southern University
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How well is the state’s public school system really performing?
What difference has a decade made?
Who are the winners and losers in Louisiana’s budget battle?
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