He may be a rascal, but Louisiana voters — at least a plurality of them — think Edwin W. Edwards was the state’s best governor.
And the worst? The survey says: Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“What something like this is intended to do,” pollster Ron Faucheux said, “is to kind of provide a rough indication of how Louisiana voters see recent history and get a sense of what kind of governor the state wants by looking at what kind of governors the state’s voters think they have had.”
When Jindal gave his 2008 inaugural speech to open what became two terms as the state’s chief executive, he called for a “new beginning” and excoriated the work of previous governors. All the ones in this survey were sitting on the stage behind him, except Edwards, who was in federal prison at the time.
The 88-year-old Edwards, who served four terms as governor, was considered the best of the most recent governors by 31 percent of the 800 likely voters questioned from Sept. 20-23 in a poll commissioned by The Advocate/WWL-TV. The survey, conducted by Clarus Research Group, asked voters to compare the six most recent governors, whose terms stretch back 43 years to 1972.
Republican Mike Foster, who served two terms between 1996 and 2004, came in second with 21 percent.
Jindal, who was elected in 2007 and must step down in January because of term limits, came in third with 14 percent of those surveyed saying he was the best governor — just ahead of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whom he replaced. But when the question was flipped, Jindal was found by 42 percent of those surveyed to have been the worst governor. His “worst rating” was 18 percentage points higher than Blanco’s and three times higher than Edwards.
Blanco said much of the opposition to her was based on the perception of how she handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Almost two-thirds of the state’s voters — 65.8 percent — gave Blanco, 73, a negative rating in March 2006, which was six months after the storm. She decided not to run for re-election.
“In recent years, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of affirmation for the work that I did because I think people recognized that I care deeply about Louisiana and I gave it my all,” Blanco said.
Seven percent of the respondents taking a similar survey in 2011 said Blanco was the best governor. In this poll, 11 percent said she was best.
“I don’t know that it’s relevant to anything, but it’s a point of curiosity for a lot people,” Blanco said.
“It’s an irrelevant question,” Gov. Buddy Roemer said. “The question to me is what kind of leader does the state need now.”
Roemer, who turns 72 on Sunday, came in at 9 percent saying he was the best recent governor, with 5 percent saying he was the worst.
Roemer defeated Edwards and served as governor from 1988 to 1992 as the state finances collapsed along with the price of oil. He made difficult, but unpopular, changes in the state’s financial structure. He was ousted after one term.
A bigger issue is that the state’s voters have elected a series of governors based on spiffy ads and shallow forums where the candidates offer few details about how they would fix the problems facing the state, he said.
Roemer said Jindal suffers from having abandoned his job in Louisiana to campaign for president, he added.
“The governors of Louisiana have been a failure, me included,” Roemer said. “They have not taken the long-term view of the best interests of our state. They let their personal ambition cloud their actions.”
Edwards beat David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, in 1991 for a fourth term. He was later tried and found guilty on 17 of 26 indictments, including racketeering. He went to prison in 2002, and his sentence ended in July 2011.
In a poll Clarus Research Group took in October 2011, 30 percent of the respondents named Edwards as the state’s best governor since 1980. In the 2011 survey, Jindal was considered the best governor by 35 percent of those questioned.
What the most recent poll shows is that Jindal has a core constituency of 14 percent of the Louisiana electorate, predominantly, white Republicans, said Faucheux, of Clarus. But even among Republicans, Foster is more popular, pulling in more whites, more males and more Republicans than Jindal, Roemer and Treen — the other Republican governors.
Jindal is viewed as the worst governor by 74 percent of the African-Americans questioned, 66 percent of the Democrats and 57 percent of the people who live around Baton Rouge, the seat of state government. But the survey also showed that just about the same percentage of Republicans — 22 percent — said Jindal was the worst governor as said he was the best — 23 percent.
Just as Jindal fared well because of the freshness of news events in 2011, his latest numbers are, perhaps, worse than other governors polled because his actions are relatively recent and better remembered. “Clearly, there’s ideological partisan politics at play, and general impressions are at play, and, clearly, there is some faded memory at play versus fresh new events,” Faucheux said.
Edwards was considered the best governor by 58 percent of the black voters surveyed, 55 percent of the Democrats and 12 percent of the Republicans. Though he leads the poll for the best governor’s race, at 31 percent he still wouldn’t win an election in a state whose electorate has turned deeply red.
“He has a personality, people think they won’t like him and he walks into a room and you talk to him, you end up liking him,” E.L. “Bubba” Henry, a Baton Rouge lawyer and lobbyist, said of Edwards.
As a Democratic legislator from Jonesboro, Henry was Speaker of the House under Edwards in the 1970s, a candidate for governor and commissioner of administration under Gov. David C. Treen, the first Republican elected to the state’s highest office since Reconstruction and who was considered the best recent governor by 8 percent of those surveyed.
Henry’s analysis of Jindal’s unpopularity is similar to Roemer’s and others.
“Gov. Jindal has failed to do what he said he would do and that is to provide leadership,” Henry said. “He seems to have forgotten the people of Louisiana. His running for president just made that all the more obvious.”
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