The “Conservative” John Bel Edwards Gets Busy Declaring War On The State’s Business Groups

So far, what seems apparent about John Bel Edwards is that he’s running for governor on three propositions, none of which were challenged in any significant way before he got into the runoff.

First, that David Vitter is the devil, which outside of Vitter and his wife nobody else in the primary race took issue with (and given the strategies of Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne that’s hardly a surprise). And also, that since Bobby Jindal is also the devil, and Vitter and Jindal are both Republicans, Vitter is Bobby Jindal.

Second, that John Bel Edwards is as conservative as Ronald Reagan no matter what letter is next to his name or what his legislative record might say.

And third, that John Bel Edwards went to West Point, was in the Army and tells the truth.

Basically, the second and third propositions are little more than window-dressing for the first. Edwards’ campaign is about little more than his being a receptacle for hatred of David Vitter by the voting public.

What’s interesting is how contradictory these propositions making up Edwards’ candidacy seem to be. You can believe what you want about Vitter’s character, but anyone who has followed Louisiana politics for the last eight years knows that David Vitter and Bobby Jindal flat-out hate each other and have never really gotten along; the idea that Vitter is nothing more than a continuation of Jindal is fanciful, and the idea that Vitter’s governance of the state would look much like Jindal’s is similarly hard to justify given the program of change Vitter has laid out for the last eight months.

In other words, it’s a lie for Edwards to make such a charge. But Edwards doesn’t lie, as he’s told us; it’s Vitter who lies.

Similarly contradictory is the relationship between the second proposition and the third, something that surfaced earlier this week in a Monroe News-Star article about Edwards’ decision to light off a firefight with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Brian Landry, who heads the four PACs LABI operates, put out an e-mail to the PAC members earlier this week suggesting that while those PACs generally focus on things like legislative and BESE races and stay out of getting involved in statewide contests, Edwards’ voting record and the clear separation it represents from that of Vitter might make for a departure from the norm. Edwards, after all, has a 25 lifetime score from LABI, which as we’ve noted is about as bad as you can get.

A truly conservative Democrat, a centrist candidate seeking to unite the state around his leadership, would address Landry’s e-mail as a problem to be solved by use of an olive branch. “They’ve got me all wrong,” such a candidate would say. “I’ve voted for the interests of my district as a good legislator should, but make no mistake – I’m for growing Louisiana’s economy and I have no enemies in the business community. LABI and its members will be very pleasantly surprised at what a John Bel Edwards administration will do to work with them and they should support me rather than backing that whoremongering SOB on the other side.” Or something to that effect.

Which would be bovine excrement, of course. All one need do is survey the donations to Edwards’ PAC and see over $200,000 in donations from AFL-CIO affiliated national unions and know that Edwards has no interest whatsoever in working with the state’s business groups and that he absolutely sees them as the enemy. But since the majority of the state’s voters will likely take LABI’s side over AFL-CIO, and Stephen Waguespack’s side over Richard Trumka’s, there is no reason to draw attention to this reality.

Instead, Edwards decided to engage in the kind of “punish your enemies” rhetoric we’ve seen Barack Obama delight in for the last seven years.

“It’s no surprise that Stephen Waguespack, Jindal’s former chief of staff, would be working to facilitate a Bobby Jindal third term by supporting David Vitter,” Edwards said in an email as a response to LABI. “Waguespack was the architect of some of Jindal’s worst ideas including the destruction of our public hospitals, dismantling of higher education and the demonization of teachers across Louisiana.

“David Vitter has already said he shares all Bobby Jindal’s political values. Having Bobby Jindal’s closest friends attack me is no surprise.”

Waguespack, who had said that he was going to avoid “getting ahead of our membership” when it came to making an endorsement official – meaning that there was a chance some of LABI’s members might counsel keeping out of the race and therefore being in a less-contentious position should a John Bel Edwards administration come to pass (which is or was a real thing, as we’ll discuss below) – then had little choice but to let fly…

“It’s not a surprise Rep. Edwards is resorting to mud-slinging and name calling,” he said. “If I were him, I wouldn’t want to run on that voting record either.”

And now you have business owners and LABI members not just writing big check after big check to Vitter, but popping off about what a disaster Edwards would be…

Terry Baugh, chairman of LABI’s North PAC, said he believes an Edwards election would be dangerous for business.

“I’m absolutely concerned,” said Baugh, chief financial officer of D&J Construction in West Monroe. “His fiscal policy in general and his positions against education reform should be a concern for the business community as a whole. I look forward to polling members to see if they feel the same way.”

It’s very hard to get LABI’s PACs involved in a statewide race. They need 75 percent buy-in of the PAC members to move forward. It wouldn’t be all that difficult for Edwards to keep them out of the race; all he needs is a small peace offering to make some of those business owners think it’s better to just stay out of the race and give him a chance. LABI is the state chamber of commerce, after all; playing both sides of the fence and working with politicians is what chambers of commerce usually do.

Instead, he goes to war with Waguespack and puts those PAC members in a situation where if they don’t retaliate then it’ll be like they don’t have the back of their president, whom they hired. And seen another way, if Stephen Waguespack is this mean guy who is out to get John Bel Edwards and throw all of LABI’s weight against him, entering open hostilities with Waguespack in the newspapers makes his job a whole lot easier. Waguespack now looks like the nice guy who is out to get John Bel Edwards and throw all of LABI’s weight against him, and he looks like he’s absolutely right in doing so because John Bel Edwards hates business so much he went out of his way to pick a fight and demonize them.

This is really, really dumb politics. It’s reminiscent, to some extent, of when Dan Claitor alienated the religious voters at the beginning of the 6th District congressional race last year by savaging Tony Perkins as a David Duke-style character when Perkins wasn’t even going to get into the race. If you’re going to seek out enemies, make sure that (1) they’re already committed to being against you and (2) nobody likes them. LABI endorsed 93 candidates in legislative and BESE races for the primary and 91 percent of them either won or are in a runoff; they’ve got as much stroke in Louisiana as anyone, so this fight fails on the second part, and the difficulty in getting those PAC’s to traverse their rules and endorse in statewide races means Edwards violated the first part.

Not to mention that conservative politicians don’t start wars with business groups in the middle of election season. Conservative politicians cultivate business groups rather than demonizing them.

Which is to say that John Bel Edwards, despite his claim to be conservative, is not. He’s actually lying about his ideological orientation. That’s a somewhat peculiar thing for a West Point man who tells the truth do be doing, is it not?



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