Yesterday, a judge in Livingston Parish granted a temporary restraining order against Gov. John Bel Edwards to stop his efforts to punish a small barbecue joint in Watson for the non-crime of doing business without forcing customers and employees to wear masks. Firehouse BBQ is becoming a rallying point for Louisianans sick of Edwards’ “shutdown culture,” as LABI president Steven Waguespack is calling it, and so far that little restaurant is gaining ground.
The TRO, issued by Judge Brian K. Abels, is not the first win Firehouse BBQ has scored against Edwards. Last week the Governor got his own TRO against the restaurant and had it served to Danielle Bunch, the restaurateur, on Monday. But that didn’t go as planned for Edwards…
Sheriff Jason Ard issued a statement Monday afternoon in which he appears to be trying his best to distance himself from the situation involving the Firehouse BBQ in Watson.
”My legal duty as sheriff requires that I serve all orders and processes directed to me,” Sheriff Ard said.
The temporary restraining order (TRO), which was initiated by the governor’s office, was delivered to an attorney for the owner of the restaurant.
”The sheriff is advised by legal counsel that the service of the petition and order fulfills his legal obligations as executive officer of the court,” a sheriff’s department spokesperson said. “Any additional enforcement measures, as stated in the court order, may be sought by the State Health Officer as the plaintiff in the lawsuit or undertaken as the enforcing authority of the Emergency Proclamation.”
Ard made it clear he has zero interest in shutting down a local business for operating as they always have. Edwards is going to have to send his own people in to do that dirty work.
Now, with Abels issuing the TRO against Edwards, he’s hamstrung – at least for a while.
In the meantime, Firehouse BBQ is only going to build its reputation. It has already been the host of a few political notables, as state representatives Valarie Hodges, Danny McCormick and Larry Frieman have made the trek to eat there. It was clear that irritated Edwards when, a week ago, he was asked by reporters about the rebel eatery…
During Edwards’ press conference on Thursday — hours after a Baton Rouge judge sided with him in a lawsuit by Jefferson Parish business owners seeking to lift his restrictions — a reporter asked the governor if he planned to “crack down” on Firehouse BBQ.
Edwards answered “yes” to the reporter’s question.
In response to the next question asking what measures might be taken, Edwards said: “We will share that with you when the time’s appropriate.”
“When will that be?” the reported asked.
“When it’s appropriate,” Edwards answered.
This after previously trashing the Bunches for operating normally…
“Any restaurant or other retail establishment that is operating in a similar fashion is being extremely reckless and irresponsible,” Edwards said. “There is no doubt they are contributing to the spread of the virus in a way that is unacceptable.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Edwards encouraged business owners to comply with the mitigation measures, saying legal immunity “is not available if you don’t follow CDC guidelines.”
“It’s self-defeating for businesses who want to enjoy that immunity to engage their business in a reckless manner,” Edwards said. “In addition to being reckless, it’s unlawful. We encourage everyone to follow these mitigation measures that have been mandated in a way that is fully consistent with the authority I have under the constitution.”
We’ve said this before, but Edwards’ leadership style, coming as it does from his time as a company commander in the Army right out of West Point, is really visible with respect to the Firehouse BBQ case. Edwards never rose high enough in the military before he quit to attend law school to learn how to lead large groups of people with differing constituencies and interests. All he knows from that experience is that orders come down from on high, like for example from the CDC or the White House coronavirus task force, and then he passes them down to the corporals and privates through his platoon sergeants – and woe betide the stragglers and malcontents who question or disobey those orders.
Couple that with his experience as a plaintiff attorney, in which the game is to file suit against someone and then proceed to threaten the most dire consequences imaginable in an effort to intimidate them into coughing up most of what your client is looking for, and you really get the worst of all worlds.
You get a bully.
So far, though, this little BBQ joint in Watson is successfully standing up to Edwards, whose COVID-19 response has been an unmitigated, miserable failure which can be said to have uncovered something else the state is worst in America in. Louisiana has consistently ranked among the worst states for COVID spread despite measures which have done catastrophic damage to the state’s economy. Just yesterday seven significant brand names in the New Orleans hospitality industry, including Arnaud’s and Commander’s Palace, announced more than 1,500 layoffs as they fight for survival, and the word is that the famous Juban’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge may never reopen.
Given that failure and the permanent damage resulting from it, one can’t help but root for the little guys in Watson and Jonesville and Dulac and Harrisonburg and wherever else as they push back against Edwards. So far there’s little evidence the state’s politicians are willing to do much to rein him in, so it has to be ordinary people with courage doing it.
The Bunches are an example. Good for them.