I’d say Gov. John Bel Edwards’ intention to seek reelection in 2019 was, until recently, one of the worst kept secrets in Louisiana — except that I’m not sure anyone was trying to hide it before he said it out loud this week.
It’s not only that pretty much every governor enters office with the hope of getting eight years to carry out an agenda. It’s also that Edwards’ first six months in office have often felt less like a honeymoon and more like the beginning of the next campaign.
Much of that is not his doing. There are Republicans who view the easy election of a Democrat in a conservative state as an aberration, a situation-specific occurrence driven by the personal flaws of former Gov. Bobby Jindal and Republican runoff candidate David Vitter.
Electing a Republican in four years would amount to a return of the natural order, according to this theory. And whether or not you agree, it’s certainly fair to say that Edwards is no shoo-in, given both the state’s partisan leanings and the difficult choices he’s been forced to make in order to clean up the mess he inherited.
Where we’re really seeing the first signs of a campaign is in the fight over how to close the $3 billion, two-year budget gap Edwards found once he took office. Some (but definitely not all) GOP legislators have sought to paint Edwards as knee-jerk tax-and-spender, and outside groups such as the Louisiana Republican Party and Americans for Prosperity have been loudly amplifying that message. Same goes for at least one Republican candidate in this year’s U.S. Senate race, state Treasurer John Kennedy.
Meanwhile, newly elected Attorney General Jeff Landry immediately started positioning himself as something of a GOP counterpoint to the governor, particularly on issues that are important to social conservatives. He denies he’s looking at a challenge to the Edwards, for what that’s worth, but he surely isn’t the only Republican who smells opportunity.
Of course, a lot can happen over the course of a term. Jindal was such a political juggernaut in 2011 that nobody of any stature from either party took him on. Four years later, he was a bipartisan goat, the subject of harsh second-guessing from both Republican and Democratic wannabes. Edwards may well owe his victory at least in part to the fact that he offered the most dramatic change.
And don’t forget that Edwards himself, then the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, spent much of that term positioning himself to run for the top job. So did Vitter and then-Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
The reality is that, just like Washington, Baton Rouge has entered the era of the permanent campaign. At least Edwards is being up front about it.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.