'Common sense, compassin' needed
Amite legislator 'willing to run' for Governorship to head off 'train wreck'

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

John Bel Edwards

"Louisiana needs a healthy dose of common sense and compassion for ordinary people," State Representative John Bel Edwards from Amite told the Piney Woods Journal.

"The top current elected leadership in Louisiana is implementing courses of action similar to that of a farmer eating his seed corn who has no money to buy more," Edwards added. "It is a recipe for disaster."

"For instance, we appropriated a large sum of money for private enterprise to take over running our ten hospitals in the LSU Hospital system," Edwards, who graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1988, explained. "So far, only four of those transactions have been completed but the State has spent 90% of the money budgeted for this takeover. How is that going to work?"

John Bel, as he likes to be called, was the valedictorian of the 1983 Amite High School graduating class. Less than 60 days later, he was a freshman cadet at the military academy in New York State known as West Point, which has turned out numerous military leaders throughout the history of the USA, and two U.S. Presidents.

"I had decided in my senior year at Amite High School that I wanted to pursue a military career," John Bel explained. "My brother, Frank, had joined the Army and I was impressed by that. He suggested that I apply for West Point. About the same time, my baseball coach at Amite was contacted by the baseball coach at West Point looking for players for the Army Black Knights team," Edwards elaborated. "So, I thought maybe I should apply to West Point, which I did, and was supported by both Senator Russell Long and Bennett Johnson."

"My biggest concern upon entering West Point was whether I could compete academically with the other cadets," John Bel acknowledged. "Many of the cadets had attended private prep schools and military academies from around the country. After the first year when the grades came out and I saw that my teachers back at Amite High School had prepared me well to compete academically at West Point, I relaxed somewhat and was able to enjoy my time at the Academy," John Bel, now a practicing attorney in Amite, noted. "There are only three things that you can do at West Point, study in your room, study in the library, or go to the computer lab. Without exception, lights are out at 23:30 hours." (11:30 p.m., to civilians).

"I was a pitcher on the baseball team the first year but hurt my arm in a boxing match," Edwards recalled. "Boxing is one of the mandatory physical educational classes at West Point. Although I did make the Dean's list at West Point, the highest honor that I received, in my opinion, was being selected by my fellow Cadets as Vice-Chairman of the Honors Committee in charge of investigations," John Bel, who received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from West Point, acknowledged.

"The members of the Honors Committee had to be very fair and balanced because when a rules violation complaint was filed against a Cadet, we were holding in our hands that Cadet's future military career," Edwards related. "We had to be fair and weigh all the circumstances and options before we brought charges against a Cadet."

John Bel Edwards' family had a legacy of operating in a fair manner. John Bel's great grandfather was elected Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish in 1898. His grandfather and father both were later elected Sheriff of the Parish. Currently, John Bel's younger brother Daniel is Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish. An Edwards family member has served as Sheriff in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries in Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana.

John Bel's military career came to an end after eight years of active duty. John Bel and his wife Donna Hutto's first daughter was born with Spina Bifda, and underwent several surgeries as a baby and young child.

"Samantha needed special care and I did not think it to be fair as a husband and father to be away from home on military assignments when my daughter needed special care and the burden was on my wife and other family members," John Bel acknowledged.

"Samantha is doing quite well now," John Bel emphasized. "She is on the Dean's List at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and will be entering her senior year next fall. We are extremely proud of her. Having a child with special needs was a real challenge from the standpoint of health care," John Bel admitted. "In a situation like we had with Samantha, getting health insurance for a pre-existing condition was next to impossible. All the things that we went through during those early years with Samantha really opened my mind about the gift of life," John Bel noted. "Many times people are in similar situations as ours, through no fault of their own, and without much hope. We must be compassionate about all our children in the state, their well-being from the health standpoint and the education they receive," John Bel, an LSU Law School graduate stated.

John Bel and Donna have two other children, Sarah Ellen and John Miller. John Bel is one of eight children of Frank and Dora Edwards. Dora Edwards worked as a Registered Nurse at Lallie Kamp hospital near Amite for many years before retiring while Frank was "Sheriffing" Tangipahoa parish. Other siblings of John Bel include a school principal, an RN, a boilermaker and a plumber.

When the Journal asked State Representative John Bel Edwards about his thoughts on education in Louisiana, he had this to say: "I don't think anyone is really happy about where our education system is today. However, I do know that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my teachers during my school years. We should never belittle our teachers because most teachers in Louisiana are hardworking professional people," John Bel pointed out. "Sure, we have a lot of room for improvement but we can't improve our education system if our elected officials dismantle it by under-funding it."

"We must put the rule of law first, not some ideology," John Bel elaborated. "We must be fair and balanced in what we do as elected officials and consider all the circumstances with good old common sense."

"I'm particularly displeased with the course of action that our top officials are taking for economic development," John Bel explained. "So many times we have seen incentives and credits given to companies to come to Louisiana who are in direct competition with existing Louisiana companies. Sometimes this has caused existing companies to go out of business."

"The tourist industry has great potential all over Louisiana, not just New Orleans," John Bel pointed out. "The WWII Museum has been a huge success in drawing people to New Orleans along with its other attractions. We need to spread our resources around to the state to increase our tourist traffic outside of New Orleans," John Bel stated. "Even though most tourist businesses are small businesses, that is what creates the bulk of our jobs in the state."

When the Journal asked John Bel about his announced plans to run for Governor of Louisiana he had this to say: "It is going to be tough and a long run, but I'm very familiar with tough. I can't in good conscience just sit back and watch the 'train wreck' we are on to occur without doing all I can to prevent it. And if it takes a long hard fight to become Governor and set our state back on course, that is what I'm willing to undertake."

It is just a thought, but will John Bel use his 82nd Airborne Ranger training in his stump speaking to draw a crowd in the 2015 Governor's race? In other words, will John Bel decide to parachute into some of his campaign rallies? If so, even wiley ole Uncle Earl and bombastic Huey P. would take their hats off to John Bel for finding such a spectacular way to draw a crowd.