A few days from now, the banging away at each other will cease; either John Bel Edwards or David Vitter will be elected governor and take office in January.
What happens then? Outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal will make a comeback.
Not in the presidential race which he exited Tuesday, and certainly not in power in the State Capitol, but in the blame game.
The catastrophic budget situation facing the new governor will require that somebody take the rap. One guess as to whom.
That brewing crisis is foreshadowed by the announcement of budget cuts and patches to the tune of more than $400 million this week. For Republicans, the timing seems a shot at Vitter, the GOP candidate in the runoff. Bad blood between Jindal and Vitter is well-known in political circles, although less so among voters.
In the last televised debate Monday, Vitter remarkably targeted Edwards as a Jindal lackey — an almost laughable charge, given that the Democratic state representative has been the point man against the administration on many issues.
Vitter’s tie between the two is based on votes for the state budget, which must pass with a two-thirds vote and usually represents a compromise. That Edwards voted for five out of Jindal’s eight budgets is not a sign of political allegiance, as Vitter surely knows. If anything, it’s a sign that the rigid party system of the nation’s capital has not taken root very deeply in Louisiana’s capital.
That a GOP candidate would throw the name of a GOP governor into the teeth of Edwards is one way that Vitter seeks to distance himself from Jindal’s low approval ratings. It’s not very fair: With GOP majorities in House and Senate, the remarkable thing is how successfully Edwards has worked across party lines to advance his priorities in the big budget compromises.
Complex compromises are inherently harder to defend in the scripted cut-and-thrust of a debate. They are necessary to governing, however.
Edwards on Saturday will seek to persuade the voters that he is the agent of change rather than Vitter, who is ideologically much closer to Jindal. Vitter seeks to burnish his outsider status, though that is based more on politics than policy. But it does not take a crystal ball to foresee that Jindal will be useful to a prospective Gov. Vitter or Gov. Edwards in the coming weeks and months.
That’s when both candidates’ promises have to be fulfilled and paid for. And that’s when the new governor will find, to his highly public chagrin and amazement, that the financial cupboard is bare and drastic measures will have to be taken to restore the state budget to solvency — much less pay for new roads and new programs promised on the campaign trail.
The new governor will be like Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” shocked — shocked! — to discover that there is deficit spending go on around here.
For now, Jindal is the forgotten man of the 2015 race. He will be the whipping boy of the 2016 administration, whether Democrat or Republican.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.