Earl K. Long said his supporters in the first primary were his friends, and the rest get good government.
Uncle Earl’s wisdom, if you want to call it that, isn’t much use to one of his Democratic successors, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, even if there is an obvious list of people who were the early friends of the once-longshot candidate.
When you win by a bona fide landslide, the 56 percent that Edwards claimed Saturday, there are thousands of people — including some of the most influential Democrats in the state — who want to claim a share in the victory. But they weren’t necessarily there for Edwards at the beginning.
Those in Edwards’ version of Uncle Earl’s first circle of friendship obviously include teacher unions and trial lawyers, Democratic stalwarts who helped Edwards get off the ground.
Retired teacher Linda Day was campaign manager, and she is the political genius of this cycle. It’s an interesting generational contrast: Last year’s hot property was Joel DiGrado, the young aide to U.S. Sen. David Vitter who ran Bill Cassidy’s campaign.
Challenged on crime by Vitter, Edwards drew valuable support from Louisiana sheriffs. They rate as “Uncle Earl” friends, not just latecomers to the bandwagon, even though their endorsement was in the runoff.
Far beyond campaign insiders for Edwards were two early supporters, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her husband Raymond. They championed Edwards early, even when significant players in the party believed that the Amite state representative would be toast in the runoff. Many friends of Edwards from the state House also challenged the conventional wisdom.
Still, the judgment of the smart money was that Louisiana is just too Republican a state to win.
Is the smart money only going to get good government? Not likely, because Edwards will understand that the coalition that backed him requires cultivation to sustain his administration. Associated Press reporter Bill Barrow commented that the Democrats’ poster-child for southern victory is not Edwards over Vitter, but Edwards’ re-election in 2019. It is doubtful that Edwards is unaware of the need to reach across party lines.
Significant support for Edwards in the runoff came from a Republican, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Uncle Earl had no Republicans to contend with in his day, but party-line crossers like Dardenne and some key legislators across the state certainly ought to get status as very special friends of the new administration.
What do the friends get that’s better than good government? Probably not as much as Edwards’ critics might think. Key parts of the coalition were defending themselves against Vitter — he’s an avid opponent of the trial lawyers’ lobby, for example. The governor-elect is friendly, but with a GOP Legislature he’s hardly in a position to do much for them; the business-friendly tort reforms of the Foster administration are more or less settled law. The sheriffs were already close to outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal, so what more can they get?
For the teachers, a pay raise would combine good politics and good policy, but union leaders know that the budget crisis is Edwards’ first priority.
Overall, then, two things give Edwards an unusual freedom of action. He enters office with a budget crisis that should limit the importunities of the second-primary supporters. And his list of Uncle Earl friends is just not that long.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.