Sean Morrison: Running Blue in a Red State has its challenges
District 90, LOUISIANA — A former resident of American Samoa, Sean Morrison, has made the decision to throw his hat into a formidable political ring. Currently residing in Louisiana, the former Assistant Attorney General for American Samoa is running in a special general election for the state legislature, hoping to represent District 90 in the Pelican State, which is now his home.
The seat was vacated in the Louisiana House of Representatives last year, prompting four people to run for office: three Republicans and Morrison, a lifelong member of the Democratic Party.
Samoa News caught up with Morrison during the home stretch of the 2018 midterms,which promise to be one of the most important elections in US history. A record number of new faces are found up and down the ballot in every state, and while Louisiana has always been a conservative state, Morrison believes that there is room for a Democrat in the state legislature there, particularly given his ambitious platform.
In an interview over the weekend, Morrison was asked what prompted him to run in this election, at this time. He said that he was working as an attorney just over the Louisiana border in Mississippi, where he found people in both states complaining bitterly about government being inefficient. He said that— after working within state and local governments all of his life— he realized that those inefficiencies boiled down to some simple things: too many unfunded mandates, poorly drafted legislation, and too many lawmakers unfamiliar with the agencies they are legislating.
He said, “I decided there was a need to shift the focus away from the plan which had been instituted by former governor, Bobby Jindall.”
“Jindall, a Republican, believed that if we gave state resources to the large corporations and special interests, that we would have a growing economy.”
Morrison said that no one was willing to admit that it hadn’t worked, and would never work.
Instead, Louisiana has had years of budget crises, with services being cut across the board.
Then last year, Louisiana agreed upon a bi-partisan budget deal. In his mind, this gave Louisiana a “clean slate”, Morrison stated, adding, “We can rebuild Louisiana the way we want it to be.”
And he believes the emphasis should be upon serving working families and working communities by investing in health care, education and infrastructure.
He noted, “it’s a simple concept—but a radical shift from what we are doing now.”
HIS LIFE BEFORE ENTERING POLITICS
Morrison earned a B.A. from Tulane University, and went on to receive his J.D. from Case Western School of Law. Now a family man, he is married with a two year old son. His wife, Meg, is a counselor, currently pursuing her PhD in clinical psychology. He noted that he has “lived all over the South” and that included a time in the South Pacific... right here in the Territory.
In fact, he credited living in American Samoa as inspiring him to do more in the way of public service.
While living here, Morrison was the president of the American Samoa Bar Association, which led him to update and modernize the ASBAR website and online resources. He served as Executive Director for the Democratic Party of American Samoa from 2009 to 2012, and served as one of the delegates from the Territory to the National Convention in Charlotte. In his capacity as Assistant AG, he wrote legislation for the executive branch pertaining to business licensing and business licensing processes.
He also wrote an article for the Capital University Law Review on citizenship at the time, a subject very much in the news today.
Morrison has dedicated his career to helping people through public service, not as a politician, but as a government attorney. He has seen the obstacles agencies face in helping people, and he has also seen opportunities to get politics out of the way of government service.
He has made it clear in his campaign that he wants to be accountable to the people, not to special interests.
While his profession- that of attorney- is not unusual, Morrison’s career has been anything but ordinary. He has prosecuted war criminals in Sierra Leone, written legislation in the Territory of American Samoa (where he likes to reminisce about going scuba diving with the governor) and helped Mississippi raise islands out of the ocean.
But it is Louisiana District 90— in Slidell and Pearl River, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans— where he believes he can do his best work, helping Louisiana get back to serving working families.
As this is his first real foray into electoral politics, Samoa News asked Morrison what he has learned from the experience. He stated, “It’s given me a new appreciation for anyone who runs for political office!” He likened it to starting a business from scratch, and having a million orders on the first day.
On a personal financial level, the jump into politics hasn’t been easy, either. Because he was working for the state of Mississippi, the minute he was certified to run for office, he had to resign from his position. While it’s been a loss in income, he said that he has not regretted one day.
Morrison’s platform issues are simple and thoughtful. He wants to emphasize:
Businesses are like individuals. They move to areas that provide a solid, thriving community. They want their employees to be healthy and thriving, with great schools for their kids. When a workforce is uneducated, that increases training costs. When workers are impoverished or burdened with student loan debt, it distracts them from productivity. When hospitals are closing, that raises healthcare costs for employers. When infrastructure is dilapidated it makes it impossible for business to thrive. When communities are weakened, it causes the best and brightest to leave the state.
We have focused the last decade on paying businesses to be here, but have stopped investing in the communities needed to keep them here. The result has been a sluggish economy, high unemployment, high taxes, and lack of government services. Rather than trying to pay ever higher prices to more to bring in new outside business, we should reinvest in work, family, and community. Fully fund TOPs, invest in career and technical education, build world class transportation and infrastructure, and ensure affordable college tuition. Such a reorientation will help Louisiana businesses thrive.
Louisiana’s blame‐teachers‐first policies have not worked. K‐12 education is just now coming out of a lost decade of frozen funding in the minimum foundation program. Our teachers make about $10,000 less than the national average. High stakes standardized testing has broken our education system, creating up to three weeks of teaching to the test.
We need to rethink what education means to Louisiana. If we want our children to stay in Louisiana, then we need to provide proper funding for their schools. We need to treat their teachers with respect by paying them a living wage. We need to provide them with school supplies so they do not need to ask parents for donations for things like copy paper. And we need to provide solid higher education, including community college and vocational schools. Slidell needs a community college in town. If university students must walk down paint‐chipped hallways past empty offices that used to hold faculty, then they will leave this state.
This has not just been a disservice to our children, but to our economy as a whole. Business does not come to a state infamous for poor education. The result is that we are forced to give larger and larger tax incentives to attract even modest jobs growth. It’s unsustainable and we have reached the breaking point.
INFRASTRUCTURE, ESPECIALLY FLOODING AND STORM PROTECTION
Lack of infrastructure is holding us back. Louisiana is the only southern state without a car manufacturer. When Kia was searching, we offered all the best tax incentives we could find to bring them to St. Tammany Parish. But what they wanted was a location to work, and we did not have the infrastructure to accommodate them so they moved on.
We do not have the luxury of ignoring the state’s $14 billion backlog in road, bridge, port, and infrastructure projects. Addressing that is going to require creative solutions that solicit taxpayer input and industry buy‐in.
In our Parish, it has become a critical public safety concern. We need improvements to I‐12, levees and bridge repairs in Slidell, and storm protection projects in the Rigolets. We need to understand how to take better advantage of the myriad funding sources for coastal protection, like Restore Act and the new GOMESA funding. I know how those programs work due to my career in coastal management. Most importantly, for our district to compete with the rest of the state, we need to work together across the parish and municipalities to build shovel‐ready projects, complete with plans, permits, budgets, and even talking points. Nobody funds ideas.
GOOD, EFFECTIVE, GOVERNMENT
Good government is a phrase thrown around loosely, and to many it simply means making government as cheap as possible. But it should be about making government both efficient and effective. A government that cannot provide services is a broken government. We need to make government effective at serving people again.
To do that we need to invest in programs that improve Louisiana families and communities, because these provide the best return on investment. We need to hold credit and rebate programs accountable for proving up their savings to the public on an annual basis. Those that receive incentive programs should show that they are providing the jobs and community benefits they promised when the received their exemptions. If these programs are not working and not providing a positive return on investment, then they should be revisited and renegotiated.
We also need to rethink transparency. It’s not a one‐way mirror where the public can see in, but politicians can’t see the people’s wants. We need to find ways to improve public engagement and input. Technology can provide some of those tools, like agency APIs so developers can create programs that share public data in digestible formats. Digitizing and organizing files will significantly lower the costs of public records requests and litigation.
Continuing to make gains in healthcare savings through smart investments in healthcare ‐ especially through a greater focus on mental health ‐ is a must. Our state has some of the poorest outcomes, but we are finally making gains and we can’t afford to take our foot off the gas. I am committed to
depoliticizing the decisions around healthcare to simply improve access to high quality care, and reduce overall costs while bringing our federal tax dollars home. One of the largest industries in our state is creating the largest tax impact and creating the most jobs and has the potential to change the next generation for the better. We can’t afford to let healthcare divide us any longer.
Medicaid expansion has helped more than 18,000 people in St. Tammany Parish get access to healthcare, but it is all at risk. What happens in D.C., or in the courts, may drastically affect us here in Louisiana. Attorney General Jeff Landry has joined a lawsuit to bring back pre‐existing conditions, which threatens the coverage of about 850,000 people in Louisiana. He said that it will be up to the legislature to address this massive loss of healthcare. We need people in the legislature that will actually take that task on with the goal of improving access.
In a voting district with about 30,000 registered voters, Sean commented on his chances. “I got into this believing I have a chance, but the climb is a hard one, and it’s steep. Democrats do not usually run in this district, but this is an unusual election, and people are all fired up.” He noted that, with his entry into the race, the voters have a real choice this year.
Asked for any parting thoughts, Morrison stated clearly that a lot of what he learned about government service, he learned in American Samoa.
“The people there were welcoming, and open, and they always let me try to help. That is not the case everywhere.”
He recalled how JR Scanlan reached out to him and got him involved with the local Democratic Party. He noted that JR was always upbeat and helpful, and he will always be grateful to JR—and Samoa— for that.
“The people of American Samoa were open and inspirational, and I’ve been trying to take that with me wherever I go.”
The American Samoa Democratic Party has endorsed Sean Morrison’s candidacy, and wish him well in his efforts. You can reach Sean on his FB page: Sean Morrison for Louisiana or www.Facebook.com/Send.Sean.