Hayride readers will probably remember our post last week on the controversy involving Caddo Levee Board president Carolyn Prator, who had been unanimously recommended by the constitutionally-charged authorities for an appointment to an open seat on the Red River Waterway Commission and yet wasn’t given that appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Prator matter has become a sizable topic of conversation in Shreveport and its environs, with what looks like a majority of people believing that Edwards’ decision to shift the makeup of the RRWC around so that he could appoint someone else came as a reprisal for Prator’s husband, Steve Prator, having said uncomplimentary things about the governor’s criminal justice reform plan last year.
That controversy has grown some legs, with statewide news coverage having popped last week courtesy of The Advocate’s Dan Fagan following the story and Alexandria Democrat state senator Jay Luneau writing an op-ed bashing Fagan for suggesting the majority opinion that the Prator snub was a reprisal. Fagan answered Luneau by quoting Shreveport Democrat state senator Gregory Tarver as rejecting outright any alternative explanation; Tarver vigorously asserts that Edwards himself admitted Prator was unacceptable for a seat on the Red River Waterway Commission because of the disagreement with her husband.
And then U.S. Senator John Kennedy weighed in Thursday with a grenade tossed in the governor’s direction…
“In politics, you can’t make it personal, especially when it comes to someone’s spouse and kids. You always need to put the people’s interests first,” said Sen. Kennedy. “Criminal justice reform has been a disaster, but the governor shouldn’t take it out on a respected professional who has a wealth of experience in flood control funding decisions. That is simply reprehensible. The Red River Waterway Commission works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to sustain the Red River as an economic engine in seven parishes. I don’t want the commission mixed up in Huey Long-style politics because the governor is mad. He needs to appoint Mrs. Prator and allow her to work for the people of this state.”
Invariably, this controversy was going to result in someone asking Attorney General Jeff Landry for an opinion on the matter – because there is a question about whether Edwards has the authority to make appointments to boards and commissions when those appointments are constitutionally governed by the recommendations of named authorities. In this case, the Caddo Levee District, the Caddo Parish Commission and the Red River Valley Association were the authorities in question and all three recommended Prator. So Tarver, Republican state senator Barrow Peacock of Shreveport and Patrick Harrison, the First Vice President of the Caddo Levee District, asked Landry’s office to issue an opinion.
Which he did. And Edwards won’t like what he said.
The AG opinion found that…
“Filling a vacancy in the office of parish board member within the framework of the statute requires a joint effort on the part of the nominating entities in nominating candidates and on the part of the governor in appointing the parish member from among those nominations. The use of the mandatory “shall” in the statute unequivocally expresses the respective parties’ mandatory duties. The nominating entities “shall” put forward nominations, and the governor “shall” appoint from among the nominees. Unless the nominating entities present one or more nominees for appointment and the governor appoints a member to fill the vacancy from among those nominees, the appointment cannot be regarded as a lawful appointment, and a candidate so appointed cannot be said to lawfully hold the office. (emphasis ours)
In other words, because nobody else was nominated for the open seat on the Red River Waterway Commission, Edwards legally had no right to appoint anybody outside of Carolyn Prator – and Michael Deville, the Pineville attorney he did appoint, isn’t legal. Moreover, it’s possible nothing the RRWC does with the votes of its current membership can be held as legally binding.
So it’s officially a mess.
And what made it an entertaining mess was that this morning Landry made the trek up to Shreveport to deliver the opinion in person at a press conference, to enthusiastic applause at the Caddo Levee District headquarters…
Landry suggested, in answer to a question at the press conference, that perhaps “someone in the governor’s office didn’t understand” the statute – and that’s why he made an unlawful appointment. Which was a fun little bit of condescension that most people will understand as damning with polite excuses nobody believes.
So what happens now? Well, Edwards can back down and appoint Prator, or he can blow this whole controversy off and then it will be a matter of time that someone uses the AG opinion as the basis for a lawsuit against the next thing the Red River Waterway Commission does – or maybe Prator can go to court seeking a writ of mandamus forcing Edwards to appoint her.
In any of those events it’s still a mess, and a glorious one. Edwards should have diffused it weeks or even months ago, but he persisted – and now it’s going to be impossible for him to extricate himself without getting dirt all over his suit.