Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club on Wednesday and fielded several questions from area residents about various issues.
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to people after the Rotary Club meeting in Baton Rouge on May 4, 2016. (Advocate photo: Elizabeth Crisp)
If you missed the main story from Edwards’ appearance read it here.
Here are some other items of interest:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edwards was asked at the Baton Rouge event about his support for a commuter rail that will connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
Edwards said he sees the effort as part of ensuring that Southeast Louisiana becomes a “super region.”
“Today, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are competing against one another,” he said.
He said that rail would allow people to better take ownership of both cities — living in one, working in the other; or at the very least easier visits.
“It will serve the state well,” he said, “but it is going to be difficult.”
Edwards recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a home that is being built for victims of human trafficking.
The home, which will be dubbed Metanoia, will have four Catholic Sisters (“wonderful, wonderful people,” Edwards said) living there to care for 16 young women who are rescued by authorities — either state or local police.
Edwards said it’s likely the girls placed at Metanoia will be victims of forced prostitution and launched into an impassionate talk about the problem that persists in Louisiana.
“As they are rescued, we don’t really have a place to make sure their needs are taken care of,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be a tremendous asset to the state of Louisiana.”
Edwards said he has learned about the ills of human trafficking, and its spike around major events, including when Louisiana hosts the Super Bowl or other attractions that often draw hundreds of thousands of people.
“When we have people coming to Louisiana, there are folks out there who are perverted enough to want theses sorts of things and there are people out there who are mean enough to accommodate them,” he said.
Edwards made several references to prostitution during the governor’s race as he ran against U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has been dogged by a prostitution scandal for the past several years. But the Rotary meeting offered a chance to speak more deeply on the topic.
He praised the faith-based approach of letting the Catholic church lead the charge here for helping victims, and said that the goal is to treat victims’ physical, mental and spiritual needs when they are placed there.
“I hope and pray that they never have need to put one young lady there,” Edwards said.
The speech to Rotary was noticeably more spiritual than Edwards tends to be, marked with many references or allusions to religion and God.
The references to human trafficking victims’ spiritual needs were not the only time he turned to God.
When asked by a woman what the crowd could do to help the state prosper, Edwards urged them to call their state legislators. “Don’t forget to pray,” he added.
Asked about mental health services, Edwards launched into an explanation of how Medicaid expansion will help prisoners when they are released break the cycle of imprisonment because they will be able to get mental health treatment.
Releasing them without health care options, he said, ” happens not to be the Christian thing to do.”
Edwards was introduced by Board of Regents Chairman Richard Lipsey, a Rotary Club member.
Lipsey praised Edwards as a straight shooter and said he has come to consider the new governor “a friend.”
“He’s taken the high road but it hasn’t been the easy road,” Lipsey said. “He tells it like it is. He stays on the issues and makes sure he’s very clear on the issues.”
Before Edwards spoke, the Rotary Club was entertained by a joke about chickens and popcorn.
Edwards took the podium and joked about the now infamous chicken coop that he’s had erected on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion.
“I went out at 7 o’clock this morning to feed the chickens,” Edwards joked. “It never occurred to me to feed them popcorn.”
Edwards’ speech also was preceded by a plea for blood donations. A member of the Rotary club told the story of his daughter whose life depended on blood transfusions.
Obviously touched by the tale, Edwards told one about his oldest daughter, Samantha, whose story was featured in one of Edwards’ memorable campaign ads last year.
Edwards and his wife, Donna, were informed while she was pregnant that Samantha would have spina bifida and were advised to abort the pregnancy. The couple declined, and the ad was used as an example of Catholic Edwards’ anti-abortion bonifides.
Samantha went on to graduate college and is getting married in three weeks (with a reception to follow at the Governor’s Mansion).
“We had no idea whether she would ever walk at all,” Edwards told the crowd, appearing to choke up. “It will be one of hte proudest days of my life to walk her down the aisle.”