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As Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne, right, watches, Gov. John Bel Edwards talks about the just finished legislative session and the special session after the last day of the regular legislative session Thursday June 8, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La..

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

In his first campaign for chief executive, Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke of working together to fix state problems. That he has turned to promoting needless conflict in governance, spiting the law and Constitution in the process, confirms he has started his reelection bid.

To Edwards’ consternation, elected Republican officials have fought his turning back the clock to expand state government’s reach. Over the past two years, they have defeated his agenda many times, from legislative refusal to hike corporate income and gasoline taxes or to give government more control over wages, to disputes that led courts to overturn both an unconstitutional executive order increasing control over contracting law and his attempt to sidestep attorney general review of services contracts.

Undeterred, Edwards has exploited these setbacks by painting those GOP opponents as preferring obstruction to tackling pressing needs. To do so, he must create situations that make them appear unserious, as exemplified by his actions on fiscal matters and Medicaid managed care.

Edwards repeatedly has articulated he wants legislators, in particular the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives, to present him with a commitment to tax hikes and/or specified cuts for the fiscal year 2019 budget. If they don’t, he said he won’t call a special session needed to implement them.

Taking him up on this would make GOP legislators complicit in permanent tax increases and on the record for potentially unpopular spending reductions. Edwards would win either way, by getting taxes raised - preferably on businesses and wealthy individuals - or by criticizing the cuts, all the while deflecting attention from bloated government spending he favors.

However, this tactic abrogates his responsibility as chief executive. The Constitution says the governor must propose a budget aligned to recognized revenues, which legislators then process into a spending plan that he must approve. It’s on him, not them, to recommend any cuts. On this, Edwards needs to do the job that he sought.

Then there’s the imbroglio over extending Medicaid managed care contracts, carrying a $15.4 billion price tag through 2019, that require legislative assent. They represent a quarter of all state expenditures, and with so much money at stake the House leadership reasonably wants assurances that the money will be spent wisely to be written into the agreements, which would begin Jan. 31.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has testified that document language making his oversight formal would encourage more efficient use of dollars. And Health Secretary Rebekah Gee says she sees value in such ideas. Yet despite having plenty of lead time, Edwards refused to accede to this House GOP wish, forcing leaders to postpone twice the contract renewals. Without such approval by the middle of next month, the state faces returning to a more expensive fee-for-service payment system.

In response, Edwards declared he would prepare no-bid contracts under emergency rule-making procedures – even though this “crisis” is entirely hypothetical - contrary to statute allowing unfettered gubernatorial action only in the event of “imminent peril to public safety.” This circumvention of the law makes a mockery of checks and balances.

These quarrels manufacture fake drama designed to make Edwards appear to be soberly saving the people from politically-motivated obstinacy. This frequent, baseless grandstanding may not solve problems, but it does feed a narrative that this failure comes from Republican intransigence.

While this approach may boost his reelection chances, the division it sows just makes it tougher to achieve the unity he promised.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer