The vaccine rollout has been difficult for many communities across the country. We’ll hear from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on how he has worked to successfully streamline the process in his state after a slow start. He will speak with Washington Post opinions columnist Karen Tumulty about creating a distribution network and eligibility standards, and how he plans to coordinate with the federal government as the nation looks to reopen.

Highlights

Wintry weather has gripped Louisiana this week, leaving thousands of residents without electricity or clean drinking water. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is expecting one more night of record-low temperatures before a warming trend arrives in the region. “I expect that over the next several days we will make repairs to the water system and get things functioning as close to normal as possible, but this is a very challenging situation for Louisiana This morning, we’ve got about 80,000 customers without electricity.” (Washington Post Live)
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said starting Monday, teachers, school staff members and residents between the ages of 55 to 64 will be able to get the coronavirus vaccine. He said the state will extend eligibility to other essential workers as they can. (Washington Post Live)
The Lafayette City Council in Louisiana recently rejected a local mask mandate, voting to not enforce the ordinance on a local level. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the decision “regrettable” and “unfortunate,” but explained the city council doesn’t have the authority to opt-out of the statewide mask mandate. “It’s regrettable, but the mask mandate remains in effect. We’re going to continue to enforce at the state level. It is the most effective tool we have to reduce spread and save lives. And how this has taken an air of partisanship I will never, ever understand. That virus doesn’t know and doesn’t care whether someone is Republican or Democrat, and so, we shouldn’t be paying these partisan games as we respond to this pandemic. (Washington Post Live)
When asked what states could do to address the health disparities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “It’s about investing in the right areas.” “If you don’t invest in health care and make it accessible, and affordable and high quality then people who don’t have the means are going to be more vulnerable when you have a pandemic like this.” (Washington Post Live)

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards

The son of a sheriff and charity hospital nurse, John Bel Edwards understood the importance of serving others from an early age. From his service as an active duty Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army to his time in the Louisiana House of Representatives, Gov. Edwards has always put people first.

John Bel was born seventh out of eight children to Sheriff Frank Jr. and Dora Jean Edwards. He grew up hunting and fishing in Amite, a rural town in Tangipahoa Parish. He and First Lady Donna Edwards began dating while students at Amite High School. After graduating top of his class, Gov. Edwards attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.

As a cadet, he completed Airborne School and served as vice-chairman of the panel that enforces the West Point Honor Code. The governor graduated from West Point in 1988, commissioning as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served on active duty for 8 years, earning Airborne, Ranger and Jumpmaster status, culminating with command of a rifle company in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He and the first lady married in 1989. They have three children: Samantha Bel, Sarah Ellen and John Miller.

After commanding a parachute infantry regiment in the 82nd airborne, Gov. Edwards retired from the Army with the rank of captain. He moved back home and earned a law degree from Louisiana State University before opening a civil law practice in his hometown of Amite.

In 2008, the people of House District 72 elected him to the Louisiana House of Representatives, where he represented the people of Amite, Greensburg, Kentwood and Hammond for eight years before being elected governor in November 2015.

On January 11, 2016, John Bel Edwards was sworn in as the 56th Governor of Louisiana.

In his first official act, Gov. Edwards signed an executive order to expand Medicaid coverage to 430,000 of the state’s working poor. The decision to expand Medicaid cut Louisiana’s uninsured rate from 24 percent to just 10 percent, saving lives and improving the quality of life for citizens across the state. Gov. Edwards considers this the easiest big decision he’s had to make as Governor.

Upon taking the oath of office, Gov. Edwards inherited the largest budget deficit in Louisiana’s history, following years of budget mismanagement, which included cuts to higher education and vital state resources and services. In 2016, the state faced a $1 billion shortfall to close out the last quarter of the fiscal year. And in 2017, the state faced a $2 billion deficit in the governor’s first full fiscal year.

Gov. Edwards and a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers worked hard to stabilize the state’s budget through a balanced approach. Today, higher education funding has been restored, the state’s gross domestic product is the highest it’s ever been and Louisiana’s budget is balanced and stable.

One of the governor’s top priorities coming into office was comprehensive criminal justice reform. For decades, mass incarceration plagued Louisiana, and the state led the nation in incarceration rates. Gov. Edwards signed sweeping bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation in 2017 that targets recidivism and invests in treatment programs. In 2018, the state saw a 20 percent decrease in the number of people imprisoned for non-violent crimes. Under his leadership, Louisiana shed the title of the most incarcerated state in the country.

On November 16, 2019, the people of Louisiana re-elected Gov. Edwards to another four-year term. On January 13, 2020, Gov. Edwards was sworn into his second term as the 56th Governor of Louisiana.

Gov. Edwards continues to do what the people sent him to Baton Rouge to do: Put Louisiana First. Hundreds of thousands are insured, Louisiana’s budget is stable and Louisiana is open for business.