When there’s an opportunity to posture, rest assured Louisiana’s veto-happy Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards will pounce on it like a crazed parade-goer eyeballing a loose Zulu coconut.
HB 4 from the recently-completed special session of the Legislature afforded him such an opportunity. The bill would have placed a one-house legislative check on parts or all of emergency proclamations after 30 days by a majority vote of the chamber.
Edwards vetoed it, for reasons that reveal a poverty of understanding the Louisiana Constitution and a surfeit of hubris in the most politicized way. It begins with his obtuse misdirection about the bill’s subject.
Leftists like Edwards frequently mischaracterize the contents of political debate for their own purposes. For example, liberals will try to define the Second Amendment as a rule over who can own what firearms. This attempts to frame the liberty’s impact in terms of adequate self-defense or necessity in hunting, where they can attempt to make arguments about a point of sufficiency beyond which firearms become too dangerous for the public to possess, if not inherently evil.
But that’s not what it’s about. The Second Amendment – as becomes clear when trawling through the records about its authorship and ratification – is about the mitigation of tyrannical government. Gun ownership was seen then, and still matters today in this context, as a necessary counterbalance to tolerating the presence of standing peacetime armed forces that can be weaponized against the governed.
Just so with a Louisiana governor’s emergency powers – delegated to him, not unimportantly, by the Legislature by law, where the only emergency power granted the governor in the Constitution is to call the legislature into immediate session. In his veto message, Edwards derided the bill’s language – and inaccurately so – as having “legislative members [sic] to vote on each mitigation measure” and “allows for legislators to cast votes on life or death decisions from their homes via text message.”
Let’s begin with the factual error. The bill did not have legislators “vote on each mitigation measure.” Rather, at least one of two leaders from each house would have decided that a portion or all of a proclamation exceeded the authority granted to the governor by law or was not narrowly tailored to address the disaster or emergency or public health emergency. Only those parts selected come up for a vote.
And this leads to his allegation that it leaves public health “life or death decisions” in the hands of individual legislators. What if it did? Legislators are fully capable of deriving input from the executive departments they oversee, the same ones from which the governor receives advice. And considering the how Edwards has bungled the response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that among the state has given Louisiana the worst health outcomes with the most economic damage to people’s lives, they probably would have done a better job.
But that’s not what the bill was about. It asked for legislators to vet (1) whether the governor exceeded his statutory authority and (2) whether proclaimed measures actually addressed the crisis. This is not asking for medical judgment, but a legal decision, one designed entirely to prevent abuse of power by checking tyrannical behavior.
Apparently, Edwards rejects the rule of law in that he believes the governor innately possesses powers beyond legislative reach (or constitutional definition), by his defining what is an emergency and then what powers he has to deal with it, regardless or the law or Constitution. His stated reason for rejecting the bill, ignoring its actual wording, is that it runs counter to the belief that the governor has whatever powers he pleases for whatever he terms an emergency.
On top of all of this, Edwards’ veto message descends into self-parody. He creates a straw man argument that the bill would – and keep in mind his miserable performance on the issue – “put at risk all of the gains” made by the state in combatting the pandemic. It does no such thing. It merely creates an additional mechanism closer to what many other states have regarding gubernatorial decisions on emergency matters in requiring legislative review usually after 30 days, if not a governor being able to act only with the legislature in session.
This studious approach undertaken in other states Edwards dares call not “reasonable” or “serious.” To cap off all of this relentlessly pandering, he implied the whole exercise deviated from decision-making “guided by principles, not politics,” when in fact his entire screed against it reeked of politicized pablum.
His veto message reminds us that Edwards is an unserious political hack presiding in serious times that beg for genuine leadership. Louisianans will continue to suffer from that deficit in the Governor’s Mansion.