They traded insults. They fought over turf. They sued each other.
All of it prompted political chatter that Gov. John Bel Edwards — the only Democrat holding statewide office — and Attorney General Jeff Landry — a Republican widely believed to be lusting after his job — were in the early rounds of a political fight that would culminate in a head-to-head campaign for the governor’s office in 2019.
But peace has broken out between Edwards and Landry. At least temporarily.
Each man has yielded in recent weeks on an issue important to the other. Edwards agreed to release money that Landry was seeking. The attorney general dropped a lawsuit his office filed against the governor.
Louisiana's attorney general moved Thursday to drop his lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edward…
Landry also approved a contract sought by Edwards that allows the governor to hire private attorneys preparing lawsuits against oil and gas companies. Landry had publicly criticized the deal as a potential bonanza for the governor’s allies.
In the meantime, they are no longer flinging sharp words back and forth.
Landry has no desire to discuss the recent détente. His spokeswoman, Ruth Wisher, did not answer any questions, instead issuing only a bland statement.
“The government has to function irrespective of the relationship between elected officials, and our focus remains on serving the people of Louisiana and working to find common ground with our fellow public servants,” it read.
The governor’s office was more forthcoming.
“I would say there’s more peace than there had been during the first year in office,” said Richard Carbo, the governor’s spokesman.
But Carbo also showed a willingness to continue to jab at Landry.
“Some of the battles that break out from the AG’s Office are just not necessary,” Carbo said. “He has a history of overstepping, and the governor is not going to allow that to happen. But for the moment, they appear to be agreeing on some things.”
Agreeing on some things hasn’t necessarily warmed the personal chill between the two men. They have not met or spoken since September, according to Carbo.
Intermediaries for the two men — businessman Shane Guidry for the attorney general, lobbyist Dan Robin Sr. for the governor — helped smooth the friction by meeting for lunch and speaking over the phone several weeks ago.
Guidry told The Advocate that Landry initially was “skittish” about his effort, “but he said ‘Go try.’ ”
Guidry, who serves as a special assistant to the attorney general in addition to running a major oilfield-services firm, described the thinking behind his efforts as: “Now is not the time for fireworks. Now is the time to make the best decisions we can for the state of Louisiana and the taxpayers.”
Robin, a major fundraiser for Edwards, said his role was not to speak for the governor but to carry messages back and forth.
“It’s important for the state that these two work together,” Robin said. “That’s the bottom line.”
How long they will work together is an open question.
The Edwards camp believes that Landry has been deliberately picking fights with the governor in order to position himself as the Republican standard-bearer when Edwards seeks re-election in 2019. Landry’s camp says that the attorney general is simply challenging the governor when he oversteps state law.
Almost since the two men assumed their jobs in January 2016, the attorney general has tried to claim the upper hand in battles over protections for LGBT workers, financing for his office and how the outside lawyers representing the state in potential coastal lawsuits would get paid.
Edwards has pushed back each time.
Each dust-up has raised Landry’s profile as a potential conservative challenger in 2019.
The highest-profile dispute began in April 2016 when Landry blocked dozens of legal services contracts sought by Edwards that contained language forbidding discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgender workers. Landry said his office could not agree to the contracts because the anti-discrimination language violated state law.
Edwards sued Landry in September 2016 to force him to sign the contracts. "I believe he is on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of history," Edwards told reporters.
Holding his own separate confab, Landry smiled when asked about the governor’s comment and said the courts would decide.
A state district judge ruled in the attorney general’s favor. Edwards is appealing the ruling; a court is expected to hear the appeal in August. In the meantime, the contracts do not contain the anti-discrimination language.
In April, it was Landry’s turn to sue Edwards. His lawsuit accused the governor of blocking the transfer of money meant for the AG's Office.
Landry publicly accused Edwards of being an "emperor" and a "predictable and vindictive Washington-style politician more concerned with political points than the people’s business."
“By playing petty partisan politics, the governor is jeopardizing the operations of the Louisiana Department of Justice," Landry said.
In turn, Edwards accused the attorney general of playing to his partisan base. He groused that the media got word of the latest lawsuit before his office did and called the lawsuit "nothing more than another dog and pony show from the Department of Justice."
Attorney General Jeff Landry has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards' administrati…
With the help of state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, the Legislature agreed to resolve the financial dispute on June 6 by transferring $2.7 million from an escrow account to the Attorney General’s Office. A week ago, Landry dropped the suit, saying the issue was now moot.
Also on June 6, Landry dropped his longstanding objections to a contract sought by Edwards to hire Taylor Townsend, a Natchitoches criminal defense and civil trial lawyer who has raised money for Edwards.
That cleared the way for Townsend to lead a team of attorneys who are readying lawsuits on behalf of the state that claim that drilling by oil and gas companies has caused coastal land to disappear. Landry had refused in September to approve the contract.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is refusing to approve a contract Gov. John Bel Edwar…
The attorney general said at the time that the proposed contract appeared to be “in direct violation of statutory law,” which Landry said requires that lawyers be paid hourly rather than on a contingency or percentage basis.
The contract accepted by Landry specifies that the state will pay the lawyers on an hourly basis, at up to $385 per hour, with a current overall limit of $150,000. (“The private lawyers are doing the background research to file the lawsuits,” said Donald Price, an Edwards administration attorney overseeing the legal team.)
Bernie Pinsonat, a veteran pollster and political consultant, said Edwards and Landry are doing well by patching things up.
“The public doesn’t really care about it and probably doesn’t like it,” Pinsonat said of the squabbling.