By hanging out with Republican Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Louisiana last week, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards received affirmation that he actually matters. He doesn’t find that reassurance from the Louisiana Legislature, which in this regular session has largely treated him as if he doesn’t exist.
A look at the progress of Edwards’ legislative agenda suggests that the Republican-led chambers consider him mostly irrelevant. While about a third of the legislation on his list has advanced steadily to this point, those bills represent low-hanging fruit. Does anybody seriously object to removing corporal punishment as an option to discipline students with developmental disabilities, adjusting educational delivery in areas affected by natural disasters, or making opioid abuse more difficult?
These items would probably have made it through the Legislature regardless of Edwards’ support. But when it comes to his high-profile legislative proposals, the only political figures in Louisiana having a rougher spring than Edwards are statuary Confederates in New Orleans.
As of last week, more than half remain stalled at their first stops in the legislative process, unlikely ever to move. As the session enters its twilight, just a handful, dealing with criminal justice reform, have left their chamber of origin. Only in that policy area, where proposed reforms enjoys bipartisan support, has Edwards seen any success. Even there, Edwards and his allies had to water down significant parts, such as scrapping a restructure of felony classifications and dropping the idea of geriatric parole.
The rest of the governor's legislative package appears in tatters. Except for a couple of minor bills on life support Edwards’ revenue-raising ideas have suffered ignominious defeats. His stabs at undoing school choice reforms have gone nowhere, and even the mildest initiatives on the so-called "equal pay" issue fell by the wayside. A proposed minimum wage increase is essentially dead.
As bad as this picture seems, it gets worse. Edwards never committed to specific bills hiking the gasoline tax to pay for roads, but said he would back the general concept. His administration’s active support has managed to spring just one gas tax bill from committee. It appears unlikely to hurdle the anti-tax House floor.
Worst of all, Edwards’ governorship has become immuno-compromised, unable to suppress bills before they force his party into unflattering political situations. Legislation requiring local elections to change war monuments passed the House with several white Democrats voting for it while black Democrats against it declared it racist. And a bill raising probation fees marches forward, continuing to present Democrats a no-win choice of voting to increase costs on probationers, running counter to the other justice reforms, or denying probation officers pay raises that Edwards’ budgeting can’t provide.
Meanwhile, if Congress and GOP President Donald Trump render moot the Medicaid expansion that Edwards backed — his only signature policy achievement in 18 months — it would put Edwards on course to become the least consequential governor since O.K. Allen signed whatever Sen. Huey Long delivered to his desk.
Correction: Last week's column mistakenly reported that no Democrats had voted for a bill in the Louisiana House of Representatives requiring local elections to change public war monuments. In fact, a handful of Democrats voted for the legislation.