jbeharvey.082517   055.jpg

Major General Glenn Curtis, Adjutant General for Louisiana National Guard, speaks with Governor John Bel Edwards left, at a press conference about Hurricane Harvey and the State's plans to deal with expected and unexpected consequences of that projected Category 1 hurricane.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

That Louisiana’s top elected official plays politics is natural and part of the political system. That in doing so he puts people’s lives at risk is unwelcome, and the excuses he makes for that are unbecoming.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ attempt at throwing his weight around backfired when Mother Nature caught him out. After the 2017 legislative session concluded, repeating his 2016 redlining of a similar item, Edwards vetoed a $2 million capital outlay appropriation that would kickstart drainage projects in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes.

While the districts of several legislators would benefit from the infrastructure, the actual construction would have occurred in those of Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel and Rep. Cameron Henry. Perhaps no lawmakers have been more vocal critics of Edwards’ agenda to raise taxes and boost state spending, and both perceived the recent veto as political payback for their outspokenness.

Then earlier this month the rains came, shining a spotlight on the project and how it could reduce flooding of the kind that inundated parts of New Orleans. Afterward, Appel and Henry reiterated their contention that Edwards, whose generic veto message stated he axed this and other projects because there wasn't enough money, struck the item because they oppose his fiscal policies.

That prompted Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo to insist again that too many projects chasing too few dollars, not vindictiveness, explained the veto. He further questioned the project’s importance, pointing out that in 2016 the capital outlay bill listed it as Priority 5, or no cash needed soon, and said Appel should have advanced a greater sense of urgency for it.

But that detonated in the faces of Carbo and his boss when Jefferson Parish officials asserted publicly the project’s high importance. In particular, Parish President Mike Yenni sent Edwards a scathing letter directly accusing the governor of a politically tinged veto that threatened public safety, emphasizing the parish had communicated clearly that this item ranked highest out of dozens of requests. In 2016, it actually had a Priority 1 designation — cash needed now — but after Edwards’ veto of it then, the delegation decided to downgrade that to Priority 5 to reduce, futilely it turned out, the chances for another rejection.

Baited into a response, Edwards imperiously blamed the victim. Firing back in writing, he said the delegation and city should have sent him emissaries to reinforce their position, and he added that the likes of Appel and Henry should have gone along with his budgetary plans to ensure plenty of money for everything.

That disingenuous response won’t wash. The issue isn’t the amount of capital outlay dollars available, but which projects Edwards chose to keep at the others' expense. Among the approved projects that cost close to the vetoed item are an activity center in Franklin Parish, a riding arena and livestock pavilion in Jackson Parish, a sports complex in Terrebonne Parish, a recreational building in Deridder, recreational complexes in Mangham and Springhill, and a conference center in West Feliciana Parish.

Should we assume that Edwards thought enhanced recreation for people and animals more important than safeguarding human lives and property?

This incident shows that either Edwards is inept and tries to hide it by blaming others — or that he has a mean streak a mile wide that puts political pettiness ahead of constituents. Neither serves the needs of the state.