Edwards’ worn-in governorship

Jeremy Alford, publisher of LaPolitics. (File Photo)

There was no honeymoon period for John Bel Edwards after he was elected as governor in 2015. He didn’t get a pass from the press, the Legislature (actually the House in particular) launched immediately for his jugular and his other political enemies most certainly did not order up a ceasefire.

That said, going from Bobby Jindal to Edwards was still a bit of a transition for Louisiana’s political class. Movers and shakers had to figure out what it meant to have a Legislature controlled by Republicans and a Governor’s Mansion occupied by a Democrat.

Influencers likewise had to get used to Edwards’ ways. He can be defensive at times and doesn’t hold punches, especially if another throws the first one. Over the past year and a half Edwards has gotten sideways with reporters, lawmakers, statewide elected officials and members of Congress.

Edwards strives to a be a last-word governor. He doesn’t let slights or oversights pass without a response. Simply put, the man seems to love a fight.

We know all of this because Edwards is no longer Louisiana’s “new governor.” His style of governing was defined rather quickly by budget shortfalls and natural disasters, giving him more to deal with in a year and a half than what some governors face in an entire term.

That’s to say he’s wearing the governorship like a worn-in pair of shoes now. And he intends to stay in the job, based on the $3.3 million he raised last year for his 2019 re-election campaign. The governor will likely get some outside help too from some national Democratic groups, and he’s going to need it.

Already there’s a Louisiana-based group, Truth In Politics, committed to seeing him go down in flames. Then there’s America Rising and its numerous national affiliates that are taking aim. So is Americans For Prosperity, mainly in terms of Edwards’ pro-tax agenda.

Taxes, in fact, represent one of two areas of vulnerability for the governor as he approaches re-election. There hasn’t been a fiscal session yet where Edwards didn’t recommend or support some increase in taxes, which we all know is a red meat issue for conservative voters. The question is how far his opponents can push the topic, because occasionally polls do show voters being much more nuanced on the issue than lawmakers.

Storm recovery is another area where Edwards has to watch his back. The organized opposition that’s out there has already tried to hit him with this theme a few times by criticizing his administration’s response to last year’s historic flooding.

Whether Edwards did anything wrong is irrelevant. It’s a storyline that his enemies believe will stick to the wall. Plus the governor definitely has an uphill climb in regard to federal recovery money.  

Edwards is still pushing for additional resources for the 2016 floods. Those victims, and those still reeling from the recent damage in southwest Louisiana from Harvey, will have to stand in line behind the destruction in Florida and Texas. Sadly, there may not be enough recovery cash to go around to address all urgent needs. Edwards, despite Mother Nature’s guiding hand in all of this, could be saddled with some of the blame.

For now, though, the governor has some pretty strong poll numbers—much higher than many would have predicted just a year ago. It is somewhat fascinating that one of the things Edwards has going for him today, meaning polling, was also the tool in 2015 that consultants and others tried to use to prove that he would never be elected. Then again, we learned in 2015 that poll numbers can change and that they can be wrong.

What the governor and his team really need to do is crack the code in the state House, which has managed to block many of the administration’s most significant budget and revenue reforms. While the governor has been able to blame the lower chamber for this inaction in Baton Rouge, that mantra is unlikely to have a lengthy shelf life. He’s also running out of runway to keep blaming the Jindal administration for the fiscal condition of Louisiana’s government.

Next year may be the true litmus test for Edwards on this front. To reverse the legislative tide the governor is currently reaching to businessmen and company representatives in an effort to build a base of support for something—anything, really.

What that will be exactly no one seems to know. But it’s an interesting approach that pulls policy discussions out of the Capitol’s marbled halls and places them in a different setting, far from the prying eyes of lawmakers and lobbyists. It’s a sign that Edwards isn’t yet ready to roll over and play dead.

Looking ahead, what Edwards truly needs, maybe more than anything else, is a perfect field of opponents, much like what he enjoyed in 2015. That’s a political element, however, that his supporters and campaign team will have very little sway over.

But it should be another barnburner of an election—one that has definitely already started.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.  

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