Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry have faced off on several issues in the short five months since they both took office: budgets, lawsuits, gay rights and immigration policing, just to name a few.
While Landry, a Republican, has mostly waved off speculation about what appears to be an increasingly tense relationship with the governor, Edwards, a Democrat, doesn’t mince words when talking about the iciness between the two.
“I believe there are some real issues with the relationship, and I think that, you know how good fences make good neighbors? Good delineations of authority also make for good neighbors in terms of statewide officials,” Edwards told The Advocate editorial board in a meeting this week.
Edwards said he thinks Landry is testing boundaries.
“I think there’s a little going on to figure out where those lines are,” he said. “I think I know where they are, and they aren’t in the same place he would want them to be.”
Political insiders have speculated that Landry is increasingly positioning himself to run against Edwards in the 2019 governor’s race, which Landry has denied.
During a recent meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Landry said chatter about him angling for more power at the governor’s expense has been drummed up by the media.
“It’s wrong,” Landry said. “It’s in no way indicative of the things we are doing.”
In the latest boundary battle, Edwards appears to be winning — so far.
The Louisiana Senate rejected an attempt to break the attorney general’s budget into a separate bill to give him more control. Edwards, who raised concerns about a Landry-backed push for legislation that would punish cities that are found to have policies favorable to those in the country illegally, also can claim victory in that battle because legislators refused to advance the bill after Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, an Edwards ally, raised objections.
Last month, Landry dismissed Edwards’ executive order that bars discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity as “merely aspirational” in an attorney general’s opinion that doesn’t carry the weight of law but can be used to back up a lawsuit challenging the order.
Landry also, without notifying Edwards, joined 10 other states in a federal lawsuit challenging an Obama administration directive for schools to allow access to restrooms based on people’s gender identity, rather than sex at birth.
“I don’t blame him for wanting more autonomy, but I’m not going to give up the authority I have in order to increase his,” Edwards said of the budget fight, specifically. “Not when I’m the governor and the constitution makes me responsible for proposing budgets and keeping them in balance.”
Landry largely has avoided directly talking about whether there is a political battle brewing between the two or admitting that things are tense.
His spokeswoman, Ruth Wisher, said in an email to The Advocate that the attorney general had no comment to add about the relationship between the state’s chief executive and its top legal officer.
“The people elected their constitutional officers last November,” Wisher said in a statement. “They elected the attorney general to uphold their principles, the constitution, and the rule of law. To be clear, Article 4, Section 8 of the Louisiana Constitution declares the attorney general as chief legal officer of the state. Under our constitution, the person tasked with the authority to make decisions on the legal business of the state of Louisiana is the attorney general. His ultimate clients are the citizens, not the Governor’s Office.”
Edwards begs to differ.
“The way this works, the state is the client and he is the lawyer,” Edwards said. “The client makes the decisions about the scope of litigation, the purpose and whether a particular compromise should be accepted or not. The state is me. As the chief executive officer of the state of Louisiana, I decide what the policy for the state will be.”