The John Bel-For-President Pre-Campaign Continues Apace

We already know that Mitch Landrieu pleasures himself with thoughts of becoming the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee, but it seems a second Louisianan is also attempting to horn in on that delusion with a 2020 pre-campaign of his own. What else should one take from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ never-ending efforts at national relevance?

Gov. John Bel Edwards and other Louisiana officials are heading to Washington to talk about the state’s efforts to revamp the criminal justice system and lessen its top-of-the-nation incarceration rate.

The Democratic governor will speak at a Pew Charitable Trusts’ event Tuesday (Nov. 28). He’ll be joined by Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc; Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee, a sponsor of the legislation; and Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre.

The group will discuss bills passed this year that expand probation and parole opportunities and shrink sentences, mainly for non-violent offenders. The changes also bolster spending on programs aimed at helping people who leave prison so they don’t commit another offense.

The legislation won bipartisan support, but the changes have been controversial.

This victory tour on criminal justice reform comes following Edwards’ inserting himself into the Puerto Rican hurricane recovery efforts a month ago and shilling for the Kasich-Hickenlooper Save Medicaid Expansion campaign, which were clearly actions aimed at making him a national name. That pre-campaign has without question worked, as Edwards has been picking up a host of notices like this one gushing about what a wonderful human being he is.

And as we’ve discussed, the criminal justice reform package Edwards is attempting to ride on isn’t a particular political thoroughbred. It’s not that Louisiana didn’t need to do something about its gargantuan prison population, and it’s not that there aren’t lots of Republicans willing to break bread with him on that issue – the package that passed the legislature was, after all, a bipartisan one. The problem is nobody is going to share the blame with Edwards when the parade of Smokey Whites begins in earnest, and the easiest thing for the governor’s critics to do will be not to criticize the reform package passed in the legislature but rather his administration for its suspect implementation of it. After all, in the case of White Edwards’ administration cut loose an unquestioned career criminal under the auspice that he was a “nonviolent” offender, and within a week of his release White was brandishing an illegal gun on a construction crew in an armed robbery. There will be lots more Smokey Whites and they will all be on Edwards’ head. Prison reform might well be a salutary public policy advance; what it isn’t is a big seller as a political prize.

Particularly given that the complaint against Edwards on prison reform implementation is a specific one of long standing – successful prison reform is about breaking criminals out of the behavioral cycle which made them criminals in the first place by giving them other options, etc., whereas Edwards’ strategy has always been about driving a number of bodies released from the jails so Louisiana wouldn’t be the largest incarcerator in the country anymore. That critique becomes granite the minute the next Smokey White goes and kills someone, and Edwards becomes Michael Dukakis on steroids. Odds are he doesn’t get invited to discuss his great success at the next Pew Charitable Trust event then.

It’s amusing, since this seems to be a similar path Landrieu was treading on several months ago when he was attempting to ride his crusade of government vandalism of New Orleans’ historical landmarks to national relevance. That seems to have fizzled somewhat, largely as a result of the high-profile failure of the city’s Sewerage & Water Board, directly under Landrieu’s supervision, to keep New Orleans from flooding; not to mention the fact this year’s candidates to replace Landrieu as mayor of that city largely ran away from him (which isn’t a good look for a mayor attempting to make the jump to a national campaign). Nobody really believes Mitch Landrieu is going to be the Democrats’ nominee. Maybe Mitch does, but he’s not part of a very large group of people in that respect.

Edwards’ 2020 pre-campaign has the same air of hopelessness to it, coming as it does from the understanding among Democrats that getting him re-elected governor in 2019 will be an uphill battle in a Republican-leaning state. If he were to become anything remotely like a credible presidential candidate you would have to expect Edwards would need to be re-elected, and we already know from the Bobby Jindal experience that a lot of out-of-state campaign activity is the fastest way to drain public support here. So far Louisiana’s voters have shown they’re fairly militant about taking a break from caring about politics this year, as the turnout for this fall’s elections made clear, so Edwards’ campaign for relevance has flown under the radar. He won’t get such a free ride next year as the public begins paying attention again.

And if Edwards loses re-election in 2019 he isn’t going to be elected president in 2020.

So, what? Does he not run for re-election and announces for president instead? Is that a good idea? Do Edwards and his camp really believe one term as governor with an abysmal economic record in a state known for political corruption is a sufficient resume for the White House?

It’s not impossible that he might actually believe it. It’s stupid, and it’s ridiculous, but it’s not impossible. These are Democrats we’re talking about, after all – their perception of reality is a bit different than that of other people.

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