U.S. Sen. David Vitter speaks from chamber floor for final time

U.S. Sen. David Vitter reflects on his time serving in the Senate during his last speech from the floor on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. C-SPAN image

Photo via C-SPAN2

Call it a case of strange bedfellows.

Gov. John Bel Edwards promised back during his 2015 campaign that he'd tackle Louisiana's unenviable status the country's leader in per capita incarceration, and is expected to make criminal justice reform a major push during this year's regular legislative session. A task force report with specific policy recommendations is due out this week, so the conversation is about to start in earnest.

And if there was ever an issue on which the Democratic governor hoped to build bipartisan support, it's this. Against all odds and contrary to overall trends nationally and here in Louisiana, Democrats and Republicans are increasingly finding common ground in understanding that tough-on-crime laws have left too many non-violent offenders locked up without hope, destroyed the communities they left behind, and cost the public way too much money.

So in a way, it's not that surprising to see Edwards' vanquished runoff opponent, Republican former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, sign on as a consultant with one of the groups that's been pushing reform, the conservative Pelican Institute.

In another way, though, his presence in the same camp as Edwards is surprising.

Back during the campaign, Vitter ran an incendiary ad alleging that Edwards intended to let 5,500 "dangerous thugs, drug dealers, back into our neighborhoods." The commercial, which explicitly linked Edwards to then-president Barack Obama, drew widespread condemnation and allegations of race baiting by the local NAACP. And Edwards correctly pointed out that he had proposed no such thing. Ironically, Vitter himself was touting some reform-minded proposals in his own literature at the time. 

Vitter's ad was a naked attempt to paint Edwards as soft on crime, which is exactly the sort of concern that could give reform proponents cold feet. Vitter's new assignment bolstering support among his fellow conservatives suggests he understands that.

You know, I'd be willing to bet that he understood it all along.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.