Attorney General Jeff Landry says he doesn’t consider Gov. John Bel Edwards his political foe. He says they get along just fine.
You couldn’t tell that by watching the political maneuverings at the State Capitol, where the Democratic governor and the Republican attorney general have clashed repeatedly in recent days, over financial, social and legal issues.
In the last week alone, the two men publicly bickered over the governor’s LGBT rights anti-discrimination order, the state’s budget, legislation aimed at so-called sanctuary cities and the handling of oil spill settlement money.
Any confusion about whether the two men were working collaboratively was cleared up this week, when Landry decided to have Louisiana join a multistate lawsuit challenging an Obama administration directive telling public schools they must permit transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Landry didn’t notify Edwards of his plans to sue the president.
“We were first made aware of this lawsuit and the AG’s participation through the media. He made no effort to discuss the state’s involvement with the governor,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said.
Landry said he has no obligation to clear legal actions he takes with the governor.
“Absolutely not, not as I read the constitution, no,” he told senators in a budget hearing.
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, noted Louisiana’s last governor and attorney general didn’t have a great rapport and suggested having a “working relationship” is important.
Asked by a reporter if he and Edwards are on good terms, Landry replied: “We return each other’s texts.”
But do they talk in text messages like they do in public statements?
Edwards accused Landry of a politically-motivated “power grab” in his effort to get a breakaway budget bill that treats him differently than other statewide elected officials. Landry accused Edwards of “DC-style politics” that could harm public safety in a Senate committee’s rejection of the sanctuary cities bill the attorney general was pushing.
And they’ve both only been in office since January. Imagine what the remaining years of a four-year term could bring in showdowns between Louisiana’s chief executive officer and its chief legal officer.
The first skirmish came two weeks after both men had been sworn into office, when Edwards announced he was ending Louisiana’s lawsuit against the Obama administration over the Common Core education standards.
Landry said only he had the authority to decide if the case would move ahead. A week later, Landry ended the feud, agreeing the lawsuit should be dropped.
It was the first in what appears likely to be a lengthy list of disputes.
More recently, Landry was successful in getting the House to place his office in a separate bill that would give the governor less oversight over his spending.
Critics say the move is unconstitutional. Edwards threatened to veto the measure, calling it a power grab that “only serves as a distraction at a critical time” of financial problems.
Landry says he’s a “constitutional officer” who shouldn’t fall under Edwards’ oversight.
“We in no way want to grab additional power. We just want the autonomy that the constitution vests us,” the attorney general said.
While the House agreed to the separate budget bill, the Senate doesn’t appear so inclined.
Senators also stalled Landry’s proposal to penalize sanctuary cities that don’t enforce federal immigration law. Landry blamed Edwards. The Edwards administration said the governor didn’t work to kill the bill. More sharp words were exchanged.
A day later, Landry’s office released an opinion declaring an LGBT rights anti-discrimination order issued by Edwards was “merely aspirational and without any binding legal effect.”
Edwards said Landry “has overstepped the authority given to his office.” The opinion does not carry the force of law.
While some have suggested Landry is aiming for a possible run against Edwards in 2019, the attorney general insists that isn’t the case: “Anybody who has aspirations to take the governor’s job needs their head examined.”
Landry said he’s willing to work with Edwards.
“Where we can agree, we absolutely should be working together,” the attorney general said.
So far, it doesn’t seem the two men agree on much.
Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.