Louisiana Spotlight: Edwards hit with court,election, budget losses
BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards has taken a round of political blows recently, watching favored candidates lose their elections, a judge reject his LGBT-rights executive order and House leaders thwart his budget cut plans.
The recent, repeated hits are not the most uplifting way for the Democratic governor to end his first year in office, reminding him that Republicans remain firmly entrenched as the dominant force in his home state.
Of Edwards’ handful of endorsements in the November primary and December runoff elections, the governor saw only one win office: former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome was elected Baton Rouge’s newest mayor.
The governor’s picks for U.S. Senate, the northwest Louisiana-based 4th Congressional District and a Public Service Commission seat were defeated in their elections, suggesting Edwards’ coattails are short.
One of his chief critics, Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy, is heading to Washington as Louisiana’s newly elected senator, a role where Edwards might need to deal with him more directly and where Kennedy has an even more prominent megaphone to challenge him.
The state GOP claims the recent election cycle proves Edwards’ win last year was a “fluke.” It will take until the 2019 governor’s election to determine whether that’s true. For now, Edwards’ approval ratings are high, above 60 percent in a recent poll, even if support for him doesn’t shift to his other picks for elected office.
One man considered a possible opponent for Edwards in that next governor’s race, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, just lodged a significant win in his continuing disputes with the governor.
A state judge Wednesday agreed with Landry that Edwards violated Louisiana’s constitutional separation of powers when the governor issued an executive order banning discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Louisiana lawmakers have refused to add such language in state law.
Judge Todd Hernandez blocked Edwards’ order, in response to Landry’s lawsuit.
Hernandez also upheld the right of the attorney general’s office to use its discretion in approving legal services contracts, dozens of which Landry has blocked because they contain the anti-discrimination language.
And the judge refused Edwards’ request to declare the governor has a superior role to the attorney general in “legal matters involving the interest of the state.” Hernandez did say Louisiana’s constitution generally appears to give the governor’s office a superior role over the attorney general’s office, but that declaration is far short of what Edwards sought.
Edwards plans to appeal the ruling, saying: “We continue to believe that discrimination is not a Louisiana value.”
With the win, Landry got to declare he was helping to uphold Louisiana’s systems of checks and balances — and to frame his victory as similar to those that Republicans have lodged against executive orders issued by President Barack Obama.
“Courts have struck down his actions, noting the president cannot simply sidestep the people’s elected representatives in Congress,” Landry said in a statement. “Now, John Bel Edwards is using the same Washington-style politics and games here in Louisiana.”
Meanwhile, Edwards’ sparring with House Republican leaders saw the governor blocked in his latest budget-rebalancing efforts.
Though economists and lawmakers know the state’s tax collections are coming in lower than expected, Louisiana’s income-forecasting panel refused Tuesday to officially shrink its forecast, a delay pushed by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
A downgrade would have required the governor and lawmakers to make deep cuts and budget-rebalancing decisions within a month. But House lawmakers are worried they’ll get jammed by the administration on cut decisions and want more time to negotiate.
Edwards’ chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, called the postponement irresponsible, ignoring the need for millions in cuts to keep the budget balanced. Barras said it gives the state more time to collect tax data and lawmakers more time to comb through cut scenarios.
It also gives the House more leverage in decision-making with the governor — and it drives home once more that Edwards’ power only extends so far in a state whose politics favor Republicans.
Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte