Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards visited the University of New Orleans Wednesday, Oct. 12, to participate in a live interview with political science instructor Tony Licciardi before a gathering of students and faculty.
Edwards, who made transparency a centerpiece of his 2015 campaign, spent more than an hour talking with Licciardi about everything from how he decided to run for Louisiana’s top office to what the administrative transition entailed to how he would characterize his “honeymoon” period in office – a question that made him smile.
“When you ask about my honeymoon, I’m thinking about 28 years ago when I got married,” Edwards said to laughs from the audience.
In his first nine months in office, Edwards has faced a state budget crisis that included a $1 billion shortfall; the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, at the hands of Baton Rouge police officers; the shootings of six Baton Rouge police officers, three of whom died; and a natural disaster in his own backyard—historic flooding that damaged more than 60,000 south Louisiana homes and left 13 dead.
Licciardi first reached out to Edwards about the possibility of being interviewed on video for his online Louisiana politics class. When he was running for office in the spring of 2015, Edwards visited Licciardi’s United States government and politics class. This time around, Licciardi said, he was trying to be accommodating to the newly elected governor’s demanding schedule by asking to record an interview and to later share with his students.
But the governor, Licciardi said, wanted to pay the New Orleans campus a visit in person.
“How about I just do the interview live before your class?” Licciardi remembers Edwards offering.
Roughly 100 to 150 people attended the event at Milneburg Hall. It was an intimate gathering geared toward political science students and faculty.
Christina Early, a senior music major who is taking a Louisiana politics course, said the opportunity to have an audience with the governor was terrific. Early sat in the front row and asked Edwards about the future of TOPS funding, the state scholarship program open to Louisiana residents who attend public colleges and universities in Louisiana.
“I feel like I learned a lot more about Louisiana politics just in this small session with the governor than I have going online and trying to find information,” Early said afterward. “It felt more organic and it felt more real to hear something directly from the governor of Louisiana.”
Licciardi, who is working toward his doctorate in political science at UNO, said he was glad to play a role in bringing such an educational opportunity to campus.
Licciardi, who himself has held local public office in Louisiana, has known Edwards for roughly 18 years. His family attends church with Edwards in Tangipahoa Parish. And though they have personal ties, Licciardi said he was surprised when Edwards decided to make good on a promise from spring 2015 to visit his class when and if he won the statewide office.
“It really is a rare and unique opportunity for students to be able to meet a sitting governor,” Licciardi said.
The interview was video recorded with the expectation that it will be used in future political science courses.