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Dardenne Solos at Forum, Fires on Vitter

Marsanne Golsby

WRKF’s gubernatorial forum Friday night did not go as planned. Three of the four candidates cancelled on us.

“I want to thank David and Scott and John Bel for not showing up tonight,” Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne quipped. “I don’t think one of them was ever intending to come. The other two have been very faithful at coming to a lot of these, and I have no idea why they didn’t show up.”

Dardenne flew solo, bravely answering dozens of questions posed by the sold-out crowd in attendance.

Asked about the current year’s budget, he said, “Smoke and mirror gimmicks were used to say that this budget was balanced.

“I don’t think the current year’s budget is going to last 6 months. I think it was by design,” he added.

One of the event sponsors was the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, so it was no surprise that several of the questions focused on education.

“If education is our priority, you fund it first,” Dardenne said, adding, “Education will be my first priority.”

There was a question about TOPS, which is underfunded by about $19-million in the current fiscal year..

“It is no doubt the most popular thing that the Legislature of Louisiana has ever done. And I’m a huge supporter of TOPS. It cannot be sustained under its current cost, though.”

Dardenne said he would have signed the bill to cap TOPS, a measure Governor Jindal vetoed in June.

What about standardized testing?

“I’m convinced of the fact that we give students too many tests, and there’s too much pressure put on the tests that are given,” Dardenne stated. But he also said the standards set for student achievement should remain at the highest level possible.

Asked whether he agreed with the state cancelling the Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood, Dardenne said, “Yes, I do. If you’ve looked at any of those videos, that’s the reason why.”

Would he accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act?

“I wouldn’t do it, as is, right out of the gate. But one of the first things I would do is establish a task force, with a time limit. And you’re going to have 30 or 45 days, Mr. Task Force, to bring me a waiver proposal that we can submit to CMS in Washington that will justify us taking the Medicaid money.”

And then there was that one question: ”How are you different from David Vitter?”

“I show up. I go to forums even when I don’t know what the questions are going to be. Oh, I have not frequented prostitution—and certainly have not done that sitting on the floor of the United States Congress.”

Qualifying for the fall races begins September 8th, but it seems the swords are being drawn – and sharpened -- for the battle already.