In the upcoming election, Gov. John Bel Edwards isn’t backing the interim commissioner he picked and praised six weeks ago.
“Louisiana consumers will benefit greatly from his years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” Edwards said in a June 1 press release about Houma lawyer Damon J. Baldone.
The Democratic governor chose Baldone from among four candidates to sit in for Republican Scott Angelle, who quit the PSC to join the Trump administration, until the Oct. 14 election.
Richard Carbo, Edwards’ spokesman, confirmed Tuesday in a text message that “the governor will not be endorsing in the race” and added “No, it’s not because of the party switch.”
Carbo did not respond to further questions.
Baldone was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007 and had been registered as a Democratic voter. But he filed last week as a Republican to run in the race to fill the remaining 15 months of Angelle’s term.
Baldone and two other Republicans are vying to represent all or part of 13 parishes, including south Baton Rouge and some of its suburbs, Morgan City, communities around Lafayette, and the Houma-Thibodaux areas. Close to a million people live in PSC District 2 and commissioners must appeal to about 100,000 more voters than do congressional candidates.
The five elected PSC commissioners set the rates customers pay for electricity each month as well as regulate phone companies and intrastate trucking. Two of the PSC members are Democrats and two are Republicans.
Baldone said he was unsure of the governor’s reasoning for appointing him to the post then not backing him in the election.
“He supported me when he appointed me and said I was the most qualified for the job. To me that’s honor enough,” Baldone said Tuesday in an interview.
Baldone suspected, however, Edwards’ decision might have something to with his wanting to run for the PSC seat, rather than just serving out the interim until someone else was elected.
That’s been the recent tradition. Edwards last year tapped former House Speaker Charlie DeWitt to serve out the remainder of the late PSC Chairman Clyde Holloway’s term.
But it’s a tradition that the governor failed to articulate when he asked to Baldone to serve in the interim.
Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed Thursday former state Rep. Damon J. Baldone to the Louisiana…
Baldone told The Advocate minutes after his appointment had been announced on June 1 that he planned on running for the seat. When asked about the tradition at that time, Baldone said the issue never came up and that Edwards made no conditions when the two discussed the interim appointment about 9 p.m. the night before.
But it was during the final days of a contentious legislative session and maybe it slipped the governor’s mind, Baldone said.
“It was just human error and I think that may be one of the reasons why he’s staying out,” of the October election, Baldone said. “I think he wants to be honorable and not have extra influence in some of the political races.”
Edwards’ spokesman did not respond to questions about the reasoning for his decision.
The four announced candidates for the state treasurer’s race officially submitted the papers…
But Lenar Whitney, who also is running for the seat, speculates that Baldone's registering as a Republican probably had something to do with Edwards’ decision.
“Maybe the governor thought Mr. Baldone would run as a Democrat and was disappointed when he changed to run as a Republican,” said Whitney, a former state representative who is Republican National Committeewoman. She and Baldone were neighbors in Houma and are friends.
“The Republican Party is getting pretty tired of Democrats jumping on the bandwagon and putting an ‘R’ behind their name because Democrats don’t get elected,” she added.
Craig Greene, a Baton Rouge physician, also signed up to run as a Republican in the PSC special election. It’s his first bid for elected office. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Baldone said he always supported some Republican positions and some favored by Democrats. “I vote my conscience,” he said.
Baldone had gone to court in 2015 to register as a voter in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The courts ruled against him.
That aside, the last Democrat elected to the 2nd District of the Louisiana Public Service Commission was Kathleen Blanco in 1989. This was prior to Blanco becoming lieutenant governor and then governor.
For the two decades since Blanco left the PSC, voters have elected Republicans to serve as commissioner for the district. Seventy-five percent of the district’s 611,114 registered voters are white and 37 percent are Republicans, according to the Secretary of State.
Angelle held the District 2 PSC seat from 2013 to 2017. He had run unsuccessfully for governor in 2015 and for Congress in 2016. Angelle was named to head the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in late May. The BSEE has regulatory oversight of oil and gas operations on the U.S. outer continental shelf.