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Dr. Stephen Barnes, Director of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center, joined Discover Lafayette to discuss his role in building a body of researched and well-thought-out policies to guide our state’s decision-makers as they endeavor to improve lives and communities across Louisiana.
In addition to his role at the Blanco Center, Dr. Barnes is also an Associate Professor of economics at the B.I. Moody III College of Business. In 2019, he was selected to serve as the independent economist on the Louisiana Revenue Estimating Conference, a forecasting panel that sets income projections used to create the annual Louisiana state budget.
Previously, Dr. Barnes spent 10 years in the Department of Economics at LSU. He has led studies on many topics related to the Louisiana economy, education, the coast and environment, health, and health care. To prepare him for his current concurrent role in helping Louisiana improve its station, he earned a Ph.D. in economics from UT at Austin.
A partnership between the UL-Lafayette College of Liberal Arts and the Edith Garland Dupré Library, the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center focuses on the public policy areas championed by Governor Blanco during her 25-year career in state government. These issues included education, poverty and economic opportunity, criminal justice reform, health and healthcare, the coast and environment, and governmental ethics.
Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served our state as governor during the challenging times of recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2015. She chose not to run for re-election after her one term in office as governor. Later, Gov. Blanco bravely chose to offer the public access to knowledge on her time in office and donated ninety boxes of materials documenting decisions made during her time as governor, allowing others to share her insights and learn from past actions. The Blanco Center’s mission is based upon her legacy with the aim to offer strong and informed guidance into the future as leadership choices are made that impact all of our citizens’ lives.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco was elected as Louisiana’s first woman governor in 2004. In 2005, she led Louisiana through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the largest natural disaster in American history.
After retiring from public office, she served on a variety of boards and committees devoted to improving the lives of Louisiana residents and furthering the values of education, health care, and eliminating poverty. Governor Blanco spearheaded the development of a policy center at UL-Lafayette that would eventually carry her name. Governor Blanco passed away on August 18, 2019. Her passion for Louisiana and desire to see rigorous research shape policy live on through the work of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center.
Many of the academic departments in UL – Lafayette’s College of Liberal Arts have a natural alignment with the Blanco Center’s aim to learn from the past and guide the state into a successful future with well-informed policies based upon research: sociology, political science, psychology, and history. Dr. Barnes noted that the goal is to get and keep UL-Lafayette professors engaged and have a broader academic voice involved in research. The various departments collaborate on joint grant proposals with the Blanco Center in furtherance of the mission to come up with best practices for improving the quality of life in Louisiana.
Louisiana has problems that have been systemic for generations. The Blanco Center wants to ensure that its work is focused on the relevant issues of our times and bring research to the Louisiana State Legislature, where policy is made, as well as to state government departments that influence programming that touches our citizens. As an example, Dr. Barnes noted that the Blanco Center is partnering with the Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services to identify data on what processes are working to improve the lives of children. The goal is to institute best practices to assist our most vulnerable children to grow into being able to sustain a productive and successful life.
As Louisiana moves away from the oil and gas dependence of our heritage and looks toward joining forces with the alternative energy industry, it may struggle perhaps more than any other state. Dr. Barnes stressed the importance of looking for new opportunities for Louisiana’s economy. “The jobs we’ll see in the future may not totally add up to what we lose as we move away from dependence on the oil and gas energy sector. That’s why it’s important to have a carefully thought-out strategy to get into the emerging markets. For example, we have the infrastructure, the coastline, the ports to be able to build offshore wind turbines or even onshore turbines. You want to do these projects on the coast because some are too big to make it down the interstate. We already have some manufacturing in New Orleans and there is a big opportunity to grow. Our offshore support companies that grew up in the oil and gas industry can be engaged. As a state, we need to be open to this change because it’s happening whether we like it or not.”
For more information on the work of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center, please visit https://blancocenter.louisiana.edu/about-us. There, you can view policy briefs on the challenges we face in infrastructure funding as well as child care and the economy in Louisiana.
We thank Dr. Stephen Barnes for his service to UL – Lafayette, as well as our state. He is an inspirational leader in public policy, as well as being a husband and the father of six children. Hearing his thoughts in this interview provides great hope for Louisiana’s future, as we have an intellectual and informed voice who wants the best for our state and our people.