Look up the word “leadership” in the dictionary, and the last picture you would see is that of Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Instead, you’ll find his picture next to the entry of “whiner.”
Edwards left no doubt about his lexicographical placement with a screed he delivered published in the pages of the Baton Rouge Advocate. The story covered his reaction to the Republican-controlled Legislature calling itself into special session to deal mainly with Wuhan coronavirus pandemic issues, some others attached to recent storms, and a few miscellaneous matters.
Legislators have become concerned about the policy drift the state has taken over the past several months. Edwards, reluctant to surrender a hold over the state’s activities imposed by his use of emergency powers, which compared to other states is increasingly out-of-step and draconian, has achieved a double ignominy: the worst state economy since the pandemic erupted, to go with the most physical suffering from the pandemic. Somebody had to act while Edwards fiddled.
This has left him unhappy when they did. He doesn’t like the session’s 30-day length and breadth, saying two weeks at most and a handful of objects would have sufficed: “You call a special session and have 70 objects. That is a regular session.”
Because Rome is burning while you act like Nero. Louisiana is hemorrhaging unemployment benefit dollars that will increase taxes and cut individuals’ payments, local governments are hurting, perhaps thousands of businesses remain closed because of your restrictions and others hampered in operations, and people chafe at your deprivation of their liberties for something that, medically speaking, has become less and less necessary. (Perhaps not coincidentally, as Edwards drags it out, the state’s top public health official decided to call it quits).
(Edwards can hide behind the skirts of federal government advisers all he wants to defend his handling of the pandemic, which drew approving noises from the Republican Pres. Donald Trump Administration because Trump is running for reelection doesn’t want to look “soft” on trying to prevent deaths – and in any event just gave Edwards qualified support in that he was commended for his actions only through the long-passed “summer post-Memorial Day surge” – but the very inconvenient fact for Edwards is Louisiana has displayed, consistently throughout all phases of the pandemic, the worst outcomes. A real leader would own up to that responsibility and failure.)
Of course, as Edwards made clear, he either is clueless or disingenuous about the main purpose of the session. Declaring the session as a means to inject legislators intimately into the process of deciding whether, for example, how many bars can open when and for how long and serving in-person or pick-up, he said, “You can’t respond to a public health emergency by committee.”
Uh, no, but that’s not what Republicans want to do. They merely want checks and balances on the near-dictatorial powers a governor possesses during a declared emergency, with statute currently having only an all-or-nothing legislative veto attached that only may specify the period during which another emergency can’t be declared and can’t limit the duration. The ideas batted about would give the Legislature a veto after 30 days, and if that happened the governor can come back with a different plan immediately.
This is not a panel spilling out minutiae to deal with a crisis. It’s a reasonable review – as permitted in other states – to ensure accountability. Edwards making a straw man out of the issue doesn’t make him leader, but a demagogue.
Add his either being inattentive or a liar when he said critics hadn’t spelled out specifically to what they object in his anti-virus measures. His office monitors this blog, and here I have pointed out repeatedly, as time passed and policy evolved, exactly what things were done wrong, and why, principally because of his insistence of putting politics before science in this decision-making. This dodge might fool gullible or wishful readers, but not those informed.
It all adds up to an intransigence injurious to the people of Louisiana; in the words of the Advocate, concerning alterations to wielding emergency powers, Edwards “has no intention of surrendering it. ‘I don’t think they are going to be successful in doing that,’ he said.” Meaning, he will resist, by use of veto if necessary, any efforts to demand more accountability from him.
At least Edwards indicated some action should occur on the depleted unemployment trust fund, which has compelled the state to borrow money from the federal government. His bold solution? Wait on Congress to do something: “That would be the best thing that could happen.”
But it may not act for months with election politics swirling around. Anything else in reserve? Well, Edwards said the state could use remaining portion of its share from the federal CARES Act to help shore up the fund.
Now he tells us? It turns out even though he was told about this option four months ago he rejected it in favor of larding up the budget with Act money, inflating the general fund by $600 million year-over-year. Unless he wants to shortchange local governments which likely will need around $714 million in aid to get through their budget years or to cut state government, he has spent it all already with nothing left for the fund.
The only thing worse than an absence of leadership is pretending to provide it when in reality you offer up only unserious recommendations. And then you complain about the adults in the room trying to fill the void. Say hello to John Bel Edwards.