We don’t have as strong a position on this as you might think, seeing as though the leadership vacuum at LSU has been so pronounced for so long that having a governor meddle in the decision-making over there might actually be an improvement – though Edwards’ record as a decision-maker hardly suggests he’s one you’d want in charge of much of anything.
But when a public records request turned up a bunch of text messages between Gov. John Bel Edwards and LSU officials, most notably Board of Supervisors chairman James Williams, and those messages were reported on by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, you could hardly expect the Louisiana GOP not to weigh in – that’s what they’re there to do.
So here was a press release out a few minutes ago…
Yesterday, we learned that Governor John Bel Edwards was apparently very determined to obtain inside information on the playing status of one of LSU’s star basketball players, before this information was made public. The Governor sent multiple text messages to several LSU administrators, and continued to follow-up on the conversations until he received the insider information he was seeking.
Of course, this could all just be a case of Governor Edwards being a fan…except that his office and staff have treated this report so strangely, lashing out at every mention of it and fighting any further news coverage.
The Governor’s team promptly began a “definitely not hiding anything” communications strategy by refusing to comply with a simple records request for two months, delaying the production of these easily accessible and easily searchable electronic records to the media.
Next, and still definitely not hiding anything, the Governor’s office redacted certain comments from the text messages and refused to provide his text conversation with an LSU attorney.
Still definitely not hiding anything, Governor Edwards sent his top lawyer to answer questions about the matter. His attorney then stated “He (the Governor) was not trying to weigh in on whether he (the player) should or should not play. That clearly did not happen and would not have happened.”
Now the Governor’s communication staff is shouting down this article on social media and vigorously retweeting “defenders” of the Governor getting involved in this situation – DEFINITELY. NOT. HIDING. ANYTHING.
We have a few questions:
- With whom did the Governor share this insider information?
- Did those same individuals bet on any LSU basketball games?
- What did Governor Edwards and F. King Alexander discuss on the phone?
- Who asked the Governor to obtain this information?
- Why did the Governor need to know this information before the public learned of it?
- Why did it take two months to respond to the records request?
- Why did the Governor question those specific LSU administrators?
If the Governor’s interest in this matter was only personal, why did he discuss the matter with one of LSU’s attorneys?
Further, if Governor Edwards was “asking for a journalist” why does the content of his conversation with the LSU attorney require the protection of the attorney-client privilege?
It would be far too rich, and we certainly aren’t living well enough, for it to ultimately be uncovered that Edwards was sharing insider information on JaVonte’ Smart’s availability for the SEC Tournament with gamblers. You can’t blame the LAGOP’s staffers for pulling at that thread, though – one takes his entertainment from where one may find it.
What’s probably true is Edwards, being a big LSU fan who showed up at basketball home games all the time, was just as obsessed as everybody else over the Will Wade suspension and the decision to hold Smart out of the season finale against Vanderbilt, and it’s also likely that he had big campaign donors who were also LSU boosters in his ear about what was going on.
But it’s a good point that waiting two months to respond to that public records request isn’t a particularly good look. What’s in those text messages isn’t an inherently bad thing – it looks like meddling, sure, but with as little confidence in the top brass at LSU as most of those who care about the school have it’s not the worst thing for people to find out that Edwards is involved.
But with the recent change in direction at the Ole War Skule, in which it’s now starting to sound like F. King Alexander may not be going anywhere after all, these text messages might start appearing in a little different light. Namely, there are those who will see all of this as evidence to support the narrative that Edwards – who’s failing to create a positive business climate in the state and whose anti-reform stance with respect to state government has led to gridlock and outmigration – is spending all of his time putting his grubby little fingers on LSU rather than doing his own job. The fact that we’ve already got a controversy over Edwards throwing fundraisers on campus with Ed Orgeron giving pep rallies for the governor’s campaign donors, which effectively politicizes LSU football, doesn’t help much to diffuse that narrative, and if these text messages give the impression that Edwards was dictating policy to Williams and Alexander, well…
We don’t have a ton of hard data to back this impression with, but it’s our working theory that a large number of the state’s swing voters who are “soft Republicans” – people who, for example, would vote for Donald Trump for president and John Kennedy for Senate in 2016, but not for David Vitter for governor in 2015 – are motivated by their impression of how LSU is doing as a barometer of how the state is doing. They might be affluent folks in Baton Rouge, for example, or they might be LSU moms and dads in places like Ascension, Livingston, Bossier or Jefferson Parishes (Edwards actually got 52 percent of the vote in Ascension in the 2015 runoff, and 51 percent in Jefferson), or maybe even just big Tiger fans. And while a lot of those voters have given up on the idea that state government in Louisiana is capable of providing decent roads or schools or a competitive business climate, they do think it isn’t too much to ask that LSU be run competently as the single highest-profile manifestation of state government.
And so if Edwards is seen to be a malign influence on the university’s management, it’s going to cost him. Don’t think for one second that isn’t why the deal was cut to bring Scott Woodward back as LSU’s athletic director to replace the hideously unpopular Joe Alleva.
The question now becomes what happens to Alexander, and whether he starts to become enough of a political liability that Edwards thinks he has to be moved out. So far that isn’t the case, but the situation is certainly fluid. And the more attention is paid to Edwards’ activities with respect to LSU’s administration, the more uncomfortable everyone on the Fourth Floor at the state capitol will be.