Building Coalitions: Criminal Justice Reform and the Budget

Last Thursday, the Governor signed ten new bills into law that were born out of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force. Over the next 10 years, this legislative package will reduce our incarceration rate by 10%, save the state $262 Million in the middle of a budget crisis, and reinvest more than $180 Million back into public safety. 

As he signed each historic bill, Governor Edwards spoke about the unprecedented coalition that got us there– a wide range of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, business leaders, conservative groups, victim advocacy groups, sheriffs, district attorneys. And the list goes on. This isn’t a group that often finds common ground, but they found value in revolutionizing the way criminal justice is practiced in Louisiana. And we will all be better off for their boldness.

When I created the Justice Reinvestment Task Force and brought everyone to the table, my goal wasn’t to be right- it was to get the job done. Consensus requires humility and democracy requires compromise. And Louisiana has learned the hard way that inaction and obstructionist politics will not only get us nowhere, they will drag us backwards.

This has been a tough Session that required hard decisions and painstaking negotiation. Building a budget for a state in a fiscal crisis is no easy task, but it is what we as Legislators are tasked with. So, when some Legislators became convinced that the thin divide between us was insurmountable and gave up, I resolved to show them our common ground and help them find the value in working together. Again, I worked to build a coalition and passed an amendment to the budget, drawing votes from Democrats, Republicans and Independents, and forging a hard-fought compromise budget that already had the support of both the Senate and the Governor.

This is a weary victory, because even though we have a balanced budget that fully funds TOPS and avoids excessive cuts to education and health care, we are facing a $1.2 Billion fiscal cliff in 2018. Our path forward will only get steeper from here.

My hope is that we continue to be bold-that we continue to redefine winning in terms of progress, not partisanship. I pledge to you that I will keep pushing against the current of complacency, because if boldness is the opposite of fearfulness, I know which side I want to be on.