Congratulations to John Bel Edwards for winning re-election last weekend, but in his press conference Thursday he outlined an agenda quite a bit different from anything he said during the campaign – and quite a bit different from anything with a chance to pass in a GOP-dominated Louisiana legislature.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sketched out the broad outlines of his agenda for a second term Thursday, proposing new investments in education and saying he hopes the new Legislature will choose compromise over obstruction.
What he didn’t say was that he was willing to compromise, and what the legislators, especially the ones who endured his first term, heard was a demand that they prepare to bow down to his demands. Guess how many are in the mood for that?
The Democratic incumbent said his top priority will be new dollars for early childhood education, an issue he frequently cited as he campaigned. Edwards also said he’d continue to seek K-12 teacher pay raises and more money for public colleges, building on increases he and lawmakers adopted this year.
“I’m going to work hard every single day for this second term,” Edwards said at his first news conference since defeating Republican challenger Eddie Rispone and winning reelection Saturday.
He said his administration will “focus relentlessly” on the state’s new master plan for colleges, which aims to double the number of degrees and workforce credentials by 2030. The plan seeks to expand dual-enrollment college credit courses available to high school students, increase financial aid and bolster work-based learning programs.
The dollars to pay for these proposals, Edwards anticipates, will come from an improving state economy. He said he’d oppose efforts to roll back taxes passed over the last few years, as several Republican lawmakers have suggested, if a rollback could destabilize Louisiana’s budget.
This is why we kept harping during the election on the necessity for Eddie Rispone to paint Edwards as a liar, because absolutely nothing has changed from when he won election in 2015. Back then Edwards said tax increases weren’t needed to fund all of the things he said needed to be done, and as soon as he was inaugurated here came the tax hike demands and the threats to kill college football in Louisiana, etc.
Now it’s the state’s economic growth which will fund all of these things. Honest! At least until January, when you start hearing word that Edwards is going to call a special session for a tax increase to fund early childhood education, a larger teacher pay raise and a big cash dump on higher ed. You can probably imagine what threats he’ll conjure up in an effort to cajole the legislature into that plan.
But with 68 Republicans in the House and 27 in the Senate, this will go over like a lead balloon.
Taxes are certain to be a battle with lawmakers, and Edwards’ relationships with the House and Senate could be tested in the new term that begins in January, as many of his legislative allies are term-limited. The Legislature will be more conservative and tensions between the majority-GOP chambers and Democratic governor are expected to worsen.
Edwards has started reaching out to new and returning lawmakers to discuss the upcoming term. He said he wants lawmakers positioning themselves for leadership positions to understand that “obstructionism and independence are not the same thing.”
What he’s trying to do is meddle in the legislative leadership elections in an effort to hand-pick pliable Republicans for House Speaker and Senate President. That was what Edwards should have done after the 2015 election, but he stupidly insisted on Walt Leger as the Democrat speaker of a Republican House and he ended up with Taylor Barras ushering in legislative independence for the first time in modern Louisiana history. And with John Alario thankfully gone from the Capitol (at least, until Edwards gives him a job in his administration), there is no ready-made Edwards puppet with a good opportunity to take over management of the Senate.
In the House it’s entirely likely that the new Speaker will be somebody who’s a bona fide enemy of Edwards. The two names for Speaker most prominently heard this week are Republicans Sherman Mack of Denham Springs, who we would bet is the eventual winner, and Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, and both of them are happy to battle Edwards. Mack, a trial lawyer who has even appeared on a billboard or two, has been telling colleagues he’s 100 percent prepared to get behind an aggressive tort reform package in next year’s legislative session – something which would make for a royal headache for Edwards seeing as though his re-election came courtesy of massive amounts of trial lawyer cash. Edwards doesn’t really have a viable option in the House for a candidate of his own, as he’s only got 35 Democrats and a pair of left-leaning independents he can put behind someone – to get from 37 votes to 53 requires a Republican who can drag 15 of their colleagues out of the House Republican Delegation room across the aisle to “work with the governor,” and after the way the legislative races went for Edwards this year that looks an awful lot like a suicide mission.
In the Senate, it’s a little more doable since there might be eight of the 27 Republicans soft enough to listen to an Edwards sales pitch and two of the third-term Republican senators – Rick Ward of Port Allen and Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles – listed as contenders for Senate president have had friendly relations with the governor before. But the five others whose names have been bandied about – Bodi White of Baton Rouge, Sharon Hewitt of Slidell, Paige Cortez of Lafayette, Bret Allain of Franklin and Barrow Peacock of Shreveport – are far less pliable. So far the word is there is no favorite, but it’s really a matter of time before one of those five is able to sort out support from the other four and then pull across the 15-17 other senators, most of whom are a good bit more conservative than Republicans in that body have been in recent years, to make an anti-Edwards majority.
“I’m willing to work with anyone of any party who wants to work in good faith to solve our challenges and move our state forward,” he said.
No, he’s not. He wasn’t the last four years and he’s not now. But he might have to learn if he doesn’t want to become completely irrelevant after this next year.
Though President Donald Trump traveled to Louisiana three times trying to unseat Edwards, the governor said he reiterated his pledge to work with the White House when Trump called to congratulate him Monday.
Trump “said that the election was over and that he would very much like for us to get back to the working relationship that we had previously, and I assured him that that was my intention, in fact that what’s I had told the people of Louisiana,” Edwards said.
This is also gobbledygook. Rather than working with the White House here’s what’s going to happen: Edwards will lay low next year after his party nominates a full-on social-justice-warrior candidate like Liz Warren or Pete Buttigieg, or whoever, for president to run against Trump, and that candidate will get annihilated next November. After that, the Democrats will cast about for a “moderate” or “centrist” who they think might be able to appeal to the hayseeds and mouth-breathers in Appalachia and elsewhere in flyover territory, and a few in that party will ask about this hick down in Louisiana who managed to win a couple of elections in a red state.
At that point, Edwards will catch the same national-politics bug that bit Bobby Jindal, not to mention Mitch Landrieu, and you’ll start to see him venturing forth to give speeches here and there in places like Des Moines, Spartanburg and Manchester, and pretty soon he’ll have lost any interest in governing Louisiana at all seeing as though the legislature is “obstructionist” and full of “bad faith actors” he can bash while he’s elsewhere speaking to members of the NEA and SEIU.
It’s a laughable fantasy that Edwards would be the Democrats’ 2024 nominee, just like it was that Jindal would be the GOP’s man in 2016. But politicians like to run on big stages, and Edwards won’t be able to resist that siren song.
The upshot being that his new audience will want to hear Trump-bashing and left-wing red meat, and you can bet your backside Edwards will be happy to deliver. He already called Trump a lunch-counter segregationist in response to the president’s criticism of Ilhan Omar’s anti-Americanism, for crying out loud; we aren’t talking about any major steps here.
But there was more in this little spectacle Edwards put on. For example, he said he’s going to push for a minimum wage hike and a new equal pay law. Both of those are dead on arrival and won’t even get out of committee in the House, so consider those bills a promise broken to Edwards’ voters.
He also said the state’s surplus is going to be spent on infrastructure and coastal restoration, which is certainly good news for his old West Point roommate Murray Starkel. Starkel, as our readers know, got himself added to the approved list of vendors for coastal restoration contracts despite having a company without either a physical office or actual employees, and when a couple of conservative PAC’s seized on that fairly obvious example of buddy-system corruption Edwards did everything he could to shut their ads down. Now that he’s won the gravy train can leave the station.
That said, depending on the infrastructure projects Edwards is willing to push he’s likely to get the legislature to work with him on them. There is a sizable majority in both houses for tax cuts, but as it’s known the governor will veto them the guess is most of the Republicans would rather use what surplus is available on roads and drainage projects than letting him pump up state agency budgets. Smart fiscal policy would include paying down the states unfunded accrued liability on pensions, but that’s a lot less sexy than a new bridge somewhere.
Edwards also claimed that the hack on the state’s online servers which has knocked a big chunk of Louisiana’s public sector offerings offline this week was “largely unsuccessful” – which he defined as the state’s data not being wiped out and his office not having to pay the hackers a ransom. People trying to file tax payments and renew driver’s licenses would likely see things differently, but as far as Edwards is concerned it’s good enough for government work.
And finally, something we’ll be talking about a whole lot more down the road, Edwards did a 180 on the question of redistricting. During one of the primary debates in the gubernatorial race he was asked about the redistricting process which will commence in 2021 after next year’s census is taken, and Edwards said he was firm in his conviction that the legislature ought to be the chief authority on how legislative, judicial and congressional districts are drawn.
That was before the election. Now that he’s been re-elected he’s got a new line he’s offering, which is that Louisiana ought to have a second majority-minority congressional district and that there shouldn’t be a focus on protecting incumbents. Had he run on that it’s a virtual surety that he would have lost re-election, particularly given that North Louisiana voters would have turned out for Rispone in considerably larger numbers over the idea that, say, Ralph Abraham’s district would have been cannibalized into something including North Baton Rouge. That’s probably the only way to make a second majority-black district, and to call it unpopular in the northern part of the state would be an extreme understatement.
Of course, if you couldn’t see this coming a mile away you at least can’t say you weren’t warned. Nor can you say you don’t deserve the miserable failure of Edwards’ second term to come.