Trump, John Bel Edwards And The Appearances Game

There was so much political news yesterday coming out of President Trump’s appearances in Louisiana for a pair of events – the first a tour of Sempra Energy’s LNG export terminal in Cameron Parish, and the second a $4 million fundraiser at the Old Metairie home of GOP donor Joe Canizaro – that we’re not sure where to start.

So we’ll start with this…

Christina Stephens being Gov. John Bel Edwards’ press secretary.

We’re told from folks on the Republican side that Edwards wasn’t invited to Trump’s tour of the Sempra Energy facility, which is why the governor was in Baton Rouge doing a rather unfortunate photo op with Livingston Parish native and American Idol finalist Laine Hardy…

Hardy is from French Settlement, but they do have collared shirts and even coats and ties there.

It’s a bit of a come-down from escorting the president around to shaking hands with a kid in a v-neck t-shirt and shrimp boots, but fresh in the memory of the governor’s staff has to be his experience when Vice President Mike Pence came to Louisiana to meet with the pastors of the three black churches in Opelousas burned down by a crazed heavy metal wannabe musician. Edwards showed up at that event and gave the Louisiana Republican Party one of its best meme opportunities in recent memory…

And yesterday was a day when Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser actually managed to upstage John Bel Edwards with respect to the goofy pop-culture photo ops thanks to a pair of socks nobody should be caught dead in…

Trump at least gave Edwards something of a break by not specifically calling out the governor’s anti-oil and gas record while he was touting America’s energy boom at the LNG plant in Hackberry – though the President never mentioned Edwards a single time while acknowledging most of the state’s top political brass who were there, and the speech was all about the importance of pushing a pro-growth energy policy which Louisiana doesn’t currently have.

That was after Edwards had put out a web video taking credit for Trump’s visit which fell pretty flat…

At some point somebody will note that while nobody really has an appetite for rehabilitating Bobby Jindal’s image basically all of the industrial expansion in the Lake Charles area Edwards takes credit for on that video came due to Jindal’s economic development efforts and his use of the ITEP program.

Not coincidentally there were lots of references yesterday to the anti-energy stances of Edwards and his political allies. For example, this…

“It’s refreshing to hear an administration celebrate the oil and gas industry and see their continued push for American energy dominance,” said Gifford Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association. “The oil and gas industry has been an economic powerhouse for our country, our state, and our local communities. It is long past time Louisiana moves on from the job and investment stifling litigations and taxation policy, and unleash the true potential of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry. We thank President Trump for his visit and look forward to working alongside his administration to unleash the true potential of the American energy producer.”

And this…

So while Edwards didn’t take the direct hit he might have yesterday, he still came off looking a lot smaller than you’d expect the governor of a state the President visits to come off.

And things aren’t really going to get a whole lot better today.

Edwards, after he finished with the American Idol performer, trucked it up to the Shreveport area where he’s presiding, so to speak, at a cybersecurity conference. He co-authored an op-ed that ran at Fox News and The Hill talking about how important states are in protecting against data breaches, and today Edwards is going to officiate at a ceremony to celebrate an infrastructure project at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City which is also unlikely to come off particularly well.

Why? Well, the project in question is a federally-funded upgrade of the I-220 interchange leading into Barksdale. The interchange is paid for with GARVEE bonds, which borrow against future federal highway funds, and it’s necessary for Barksdale’s plans to create a Weapons Generation Facility, among the benefits of which will allow Barksdale to become a full-on base for the country’s nuclear deterrent.

So it’s a big deal for Barksdale, and the ceremony is going to have all kinds of dignitaries. The list includes DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, Col. Michael Miller, who is the wing commander at Barksdale, state senator Ryan Gatti and state representative Dodie Horton, Bossier City mayor Lo Walker and Doug Rimmer, who is the president of the Bossier Parish police jury.

But there is some more background to this worth passing along.

The interchange is part of a two-part project. The first part of that project is a new gate complex leading into Barksdale Air Force Base, which isn’t a state project at all. That’s a 100 percent federally-funded project that came out of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act. And the NDAA starts in the House Armed Services Committee that Ralph Abraham sits on. In fact, without Abraham’s effort to include that project in the NDAA it doesn’t happen and it’s pretty likely the interchange doesn’t either.

But Edwards invited Rep. Mike Johnson to speak at today’s ceremony, since Barksdale is in Johnson’s district. Johnson told the governor he’d rather see Abraham speak as the representative of the delegation since it was Abraham who secured the money for the gate project. And Edwards’ response to that was essentially nope, we’re not sharing a stage with Ralph Abraham after what happened the last time we did that, and therefore the Barksdale event was scheduled on a Wednesday morning when the congressional delegation will be in Washington for congressional business. Meaning that Edwards is there to take credit for something which he had absolutely no hand whatever in bringing about.

Which Abraham’s camp was absolutely never going to let him get away with, and quite predictably did not…

Dr. Ralph Abraham, the leading Republican candidate for governor, called out Governor Edwards for preventing members of the Louisiana congressional delegation from speaking at an event to celebrate the groundbreaking of infrastructure improvements at Barksdale Air Force Base.

The Louisiana congressional delegation had selected Congressman Abraham to speak on their behalf because of his indispensable role in fighting for and securing funding for these projects as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

And of course there’s video…

We’ve been saying for a few weeks now that Edwards has an increasing optics problem, which is an inevitable function of being a Democrat governor in a Republican state during an election year. The only way to combat that problem is to rise above it, and cast yourself as a non-partisan figure your political opponents don’t have any real grievances against where you can. But Edwards hasn’t laid any groundwork to do that and it’s clearly not in his character. And that means he’s subject to being made to look small every time these things happen, with voters paying more and more attention to them as the 2019 gubernatorial campaign comes closer.

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