…and it’s a reason why the prospects of resolving the budget or much else with respect to a strategic policy agenda moving forward are dim.
Namely, Louisiana’s governor is a square peg in a round hole, and he’s demanding the hole be made square to fit him rather than the reverse.
There are two essential truths to John Bel Edwards’ relationship with the Louisiana legislature, and particularly the House since the Senate is ruled by his flunky John Alario and has no independence from the governor. The first of those truths is that Edwards was not elected based on a policy agenda of any kind. You can call his election a fluke if you want; that’s not a characterization it’s necessary to fight for to satisfy our purposes here. What’s necessary to understand is John Bel Edwards ran his 2015 gubernatorial campaign on the sole basis that David Vitter was a mean-spirited, dishonorable man who had dallied with hookers, and that presentation, for whatever reason, worked. Edwards also attempted, successfully, to present himself as a blue-dog Democrat despite having one of the most consistently left-wing voting records in the House during eight years as a member of that body.
That understanding has to encompass something more immediately important; namely, that Edwards took his victory, won on the basis that Vitter was an individual of poor character while Edwards had gone to West Point and had pledged adherence to the cadet honor code there, as a mandate in favor of a left-wing Democrat agenda. This is why his first action was to take the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which has grown the state budget by some $2 billion per year with an ever-expanding state share of that increase, and his next action was to demand, and receive, some $1.5 billion in tax increases at a time when Louisiana’s economy was (and still is) flat on its back. Those tax increases are but a prelude to Edwards’ further demands for more, and moreover he’s demanding a state budget which is significantly out of balance.
The second essential truth, which proves the falsity of Edwards’ perception of a policy mandate, is the long string of electoral results in Louisiana since his election which have gone almost completely one way. There have been quite a few special legislative elections, and in each case other than the one in which Troy Brown was forced to resign from the Senate the voters have chosen the small-government, anti-tax candidate. The 2016 presidential election in Louisiana saw Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 20 points and two candidates presenting themselves as unapologetically conservative – Mike Johnson and Clay Higgins – won congressional elections. Not to mention John Kennedy, who had for a decade presented himself as Louisiana’s foremost fiscal conservative advocate, completely waxed Edwards’ endorsed candidate Foster Campbell by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
A big-government, high-tax Democrat agenda is poison with Louisiana’s voters. Election results show that clearly, and poll results show it clearly.
Those circumstances mirror, in no small part, the 1994 midterm Congressional election results which made Newt Gingrich the Speaker of the House. After that election Bill Clinton is said to have told his inner circle “I hope you realize we’re all Eisenhower Republicans now,” meaning that the window for a raft of policies moving the country to the Left had closed, and he would have to recalibrate his policy strategy in order to find some governmental consensus with the GOP. And he did that, through fits and starts and a lot of acrimony; what Clinton learned was something called triangulation, in which he co-opted Republican policy ideas and put his stamp on them, then took credit for signing the bills.
Edwards has no such political skill, and what he’s attempting to do is ram his agenda down the throat of an unwilling voting public. He’s doing that by (1) engaging in a campaign of delegitimization of House Speaker Taylor Barras, which we’ve detailed here at The Hayride on multiple occasions; (2) playing games of palace intrigue in order to unseat Barras and his committee chairmen and therefore collapse his legislative opposition; and (3) rely on allies at the state’s newspapers to push a narrative – blatantly false though it might be – that it’s his opponents who won’t cooperate with him rather than the alternative.
There is no way this ends well. Should Edwards unseat Barras and find someone pliable to run the House the results will only enrage the state’s voters and mobilize the opposition to unseat him in the 2019 election. Should the current attempt fail, it will expose Edwards as one of the most inconsequential governors in Louisiana history. The only foreseeable successful path open to him is a peaceful synthesis with the House, perhaps along the lines of what Clinton did with Gingrich, which leads to a state budget of manageable size and a tax burden not too large to stifle whatever economic recovery Louisiana might manage as the national economy resuscitates.
But he won’t find that synthesis with his current tactics. And if things don’t change, Edwards is going to drag the state down with him.