What if Gov. John Bel Edwards seizes re-election from the hands of his enemies, as he has already promised? For starters, it would be historic, no matter the margin of victory. Edwards would become the first Democrat in 44 years to be re-elected governor in Louisiana, and only the fifth overall to do so since 1967.
A second term would also serve as a filter for the Edwards brand, tweaking his platform. While Edwards would still be Edwards, his extended governorship would undoubtedly attract more attention from national Democratic circles and maybe even position the administration for potential and significant policy gains.
Then there’s the usual trappings of a second term, which vary from one governor to the next. For former Gov. Mike Foster, there was an unleashing of sorts, especially since another office was out of the question; he was free to pursue revenue increases, ride his motorcycles and shoot ducks without apologies. By comparison, the politics during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s final four years became amplified as he launched a dark horse bid for president.
Yet no matter how a politician stirs his or her own roux, another bowl of executive leadership typically leads to all kinds of challenges. You can refer to such instances as part of a campaign curse, or call them Capitol coincidences if you like, but the trend is unmistakable—if not a touch overstated by this writer:
- Former Gov. John McKeithen, Louisiana’s first modern two-term governor, entered his second stretch facing allegations of mafia ties and went on to watch voters reject 53 proposed constitutional amendments his administration supported.
- Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the first Edwards to secure two terms, went from being re-elected in the mid-1970s to becoming a target in the so-called Koreagate investigations, placing a spotlight on questionable gifts supposedly received by the Cajun Prince.
- During the summer of his re-election bid, Foster was greeted by this headline in The New York Times: “A Dealing With David Duke Haunts Louisiana Governor.” Allegedly, Foster “secretly bought (the former Ku Klux Klansman’s) list of contributors and supporters.”
- As for Jindal, a number of political items became sideways between 2012 and 2016, but he was hurt most by the perception that he was more focused on Rhode Island and New Hampshire than he was on Avery Island and New Roads. (Jindal was an active candidate for president during his second term.)
None of this means Gov. Edwards is doomed to repeat these misfortunes. But there are some educated guesses we could make to help paint a portrait of what JBE 2.0 might look like.
Almost instantly Edwards would go from being a big deal inside heavyweight Democratic quilting circles to being a bigger deal. His 2015 election story remains an inspiration to Democrats who work in red states and a reminder that personality politics and messaging can move souls to vote against the grain. A centrist governing style has likewise won Edwards acclaim from trade journals, party players and elected officials in other states. Author John Grisham even co-hosted a fundraiser for Edwards this term.
That’s all to say Edward is nearing a (not-so-fiscal) cliff that will either send him home to Tangipahoa Parish or into the political stratosphere. Although such opportunities aren’t on the governor’s radar, a re-election win would likely prompt outside forces from D.C. and elsewhere to begin whispering about a U.S. Senate run or a cabinet post or some other job or appointment. When a team player moves up the bench, that’s to be expected.
If anything could dampen such calls, it would be redistricting, which the Legislature will presumably tackle in 2021. Using the most recent U.S. Census figures, legislators redraw election lines every 10 years to account for population shifts. It will be an intense process that both parties will want to control, and it’s among the reasons both parties have become aggressive in their quests for gubernatorial seats. Veto authority always matters, but it matters a little bit more during redistricting.
A new Legislature would await Edwards, too, should he win. And depending on its composition, that revamped House and Senate may make Edwards wish he would have lost. While the current term has been marked by growing pains and, more specifically, uncertainty, there are no guarantees the next will be any better. The Senate, traditionally a backstop for governors, will become more conservative while losing longtime Senate President John Alario, an Edwards ally. Over in the House, groups that usually support Republicans are keeping open minds about backing conservative Democrats, which would make for some interesting dynamics.
For now, Edwards is only promised a place on the fall ballot, just like his GOP opponents, Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone—two men who will also sooner than later start telling you what they think a second Edwards term would look like.