Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry would not be at loggerheads right now if the tactical brains of the Democratic Party had their way last summer.
That is because Edwards certainly would not have been governor, and maybe Landry would not have been attorney general.
With three months to go before the primary elections, the GOP monopoly of statewide offices seemed unbreakable, so, the theory went, Edwards had nothing to lose if he abandoned his gubernatorial campaign. Then the Democrats could settle for keeping the front-runner in the polls, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, out of the Governor’s Office and help elect a more palatable Republican.
So Louisiana Democrats sent the heavies in. Vitter’s former U.S. Senate colleague Mary Landrieu and Democratic Party Chairwoman state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson sat Edwards down and ‘splained him. We are necessarily paraphrasing, but here is their gist.
“It is your duty to your state and your party, John Bel, to free up votes that could go to a Republican with a chance to win. We cannot entrust the future of Louisiana to that whoring hypocrite of a right-wing nut, Vitter. And we are not asking you for a sacrifice. Go for attorney general, and you’ll have our full support. What d’ya say, John Bel?”
Whether Edwards stuck to his guns because he was prescient, or just obstinate, is impossible to tell. But while the Attorney General’s Office stayed in Republican hands, with Landry ousting Buddy Caldwell, it turned out that the disdain Democratic Party panjandrums felt for Vitter was catching. Perhaps voters who liked Vitter’s politics didn’t like his morals. And perhaps voters who could stomach both figured his vicious attacks on his rivals in the campaign showed he was just too mean-spirited to embrace. Whatever, Edwards could congratulate himself for not setting his sights lower and going for attorney general. Given the disadvantage that goes with being a Democrat, he hardly was a cinch for the consolation prize anyway.
Now that Edwards is in the top spot, he finds Landry disinclined to defer to him. When Edwards announced he was dropping a lawsuit filed by his predecessor, Bobby Jindal, Landry up and declared, “Not so fast.” Whether to proceed with the lawsuit was his call, Landry wrote in a letter to Edwards, and he had yet to make a decision. He had “highly professional, intelligent and capable attorneys” on his staff, he boasted, as though that shouldn’t be taken for granted in his job.
Certainly those talented attorneys should have needed no time at all to advise that this was a lawsuit begging to be put out of its misery. Jindal had filed it alleging that the Obama administration had hatched an unconstitutional conspiracy to foist Common Core on the states and take control of public education away from them.
That theory was so nutso that it appeared this was just another attempt to burnish Jindal’s credentials with Republican voters. That it couldn’t succeed seemed obvious from the moment Jindal hired his former executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth to handle it.
When Faircloth returned to private practice, he made a highly lucrative specialty of filing futile, hare-brained and politically motivated lawsuits for his old boss, and this was the last of them. Federal district judge Shelly Dick found Faircloth had adduced no evidence whatsoever to support his Common Core allegations, but Faircloth kept the clock running, and an appeal was pending when Edwards became governor.
By that time state and federal laws governing Common Core had been changed, so that, even if the original cause of action has been valid, it would no longer have applied. Edwards canceled Faircloth’s $475,000 contract, which really seemed exorbitant considering that Caldwell could have lost the case for a fraction of that amount.
It would have been idiotic to pursue the appeal, but Landry just had to assert what he saw as his authority to decide whether to do so.
The state constitution does give the attorney general the right to “initiate, prosecute or intervene in any civil action of proceeding,” but, Edwards now pointed out, if Landry took this one up it would have to be on his own dollar.
Landry duly abandoned the lawsuit. Edwards was right the first time. Being governor is much better than being attorney general.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.