In just eight months in office, Gov. John Bel Edwards has been through two catastrophic flood events, two deadly shootings involving law enforcement that grabbed national headlines, a bitter battle over the state budget and ongoing sparring with the state's attorney general.
Fifty-six of the state's 64 parishes have received federal disaster declarations. Edwards has now met with the president on multiple occasions, and rarely for positive reasons, and he had a confrontational appearance before Congress.
On Monday, Edwards is scheduled to head off on a trade mission to Cuba, provided the journey isn’t postponed because of a hurricane threatening the island nation. He’s hoping the trip marks a new phase in what has been a series of seemingly never-ending hardships that have struck Louisiana this year.
"I hope that the next seven months in office aren't like the first seven," Edwards told a group of local leaders in New Iberia shortly after catastrophic flood ravaged South Louisiana, leaving 13 people dead and thousands displaced from their homes. "But if they are, we will deal with it."
For the past eight months, Edwards has been dealing with it, so to speak, as the state has gone through disaster after disaster.
Since taking office in January, Edwards, a Democrat, and the Republican legislative majority have battled over the governor's plan for increasing taxes to make up for the state's impending shortfall.
But what was thought to be the governor's biggest test in office, only turned out to be a quiz.
In March, as Edwards was attempting to solve the state's billion-dollar budget crisis, flood waters spread out across the northern part of the state and damaged about 7,000 structures.
In July, a Baton Rouge police officer fatally gunned down a 37-year-old black man in a convenience store parking lot, sparking protests in the streets, bringing a national spotlight to Louisiana in the ongoing dialogue about the strained relationships between law enforcement and the black community.
Edwards emerged as a key figure following Alton Sterling's death and met with President Barack Obama and a panel of community, law enforcement and other leaders at the White House.
Two weeks after Sterling's death, a man from Kansas City came to Baton Rouge and gunned down three law enforcement officers, apparently in retaliation to the Sterling shooting and similar deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement.
Edwards, who has deep ties to the law enforcement community because his brother, dad, grandfather and great-grandfather served as sheriffs of his home parish and another brother is a city police chief, teared up at a news conference on the shooting.
"This was a diabolical attack on the very fabric of society," Edwards said, a long row of television cameras glaring back at him. "That's not hyperbole. That's not an overstatement."
A month later what has been called a 1,000-year flood washed across much of south Louisiana. Officials estimate that as many as 130,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.
The cycle testing Edwards, a former Army Ranger, has been unending.
At the same time, he has also been steadily battling with Attorney General Jeff Landry. Edwards on Friday filed a lawsuit against Landry over issues related to an anti-discrimination order the governor issued shortly after taking office to protect employees from mistreatment based on their sexual orientation or identity.
Landry is seen as a potential Republican challenger to Edwards when he runs for re-election, though he has not confirmed his intentions for 2019. Edwards has already said he plans to run for re-election.
Edwards' Twitter and Instagram posts record a steady stream of meetings, speeches and events across the state, cycling from one talking point to another. And his commitment to speaking to a seemingly unending list of obscure groups has been noted.
Those who have worked closest to Edwards, who insiders describe as painfully earnest yet politically ruthless on issues that matter to him, generally praise his leadership through crisis after crisis.
"I've had the pleasure of being able to work with him side-by-side through all of this," said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, a Republican and key member of the sheriff's association.
"He's really amazed a lot of us. Some of us didn't know how things would go, and honestly, didn't expect as much out of him," Gautreaux said.
He is particularly impressed at Edwards' ability to attempt to build consensus across partisan divides.
"To me, what he's displayed is when it comes to such things as this, it's not about party affiliation. It's about people," Gautreaux said. "He's just been solid a as a rock."
This week, Louisiana secured up to $500 million in federal flood aid that will be used toward long-term housing recovery programs. Edwards made three separate trips to Washington, D.C., meeting with top Congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties to lobby for money.
Louisiana appears to be in line for nearly $500 million in federal aid to kick-start a long-…
Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy praised Edwards as one of the key pieces, along with Louisiana's Congressional delegation, to securing the federal flood aid.
Just hours before Congress approved the money, which was tucked inside a continuing resolution needed to keep government operating past Friday, Edwards was on the phone with both U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada.
Looking back, Edwards, ever the optimist, says he was never scared that Louisiana wouldn't get some funding from Congress this month.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, an ally of Edwards, has been there before.
She has come under intense scrutiny for the state's response in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 – criticism she maintains is unwarranted but still manages to tarnish her legacy.
"I find his approach is refreshing," Blanco said of Edwards. "It's unpretentious. It's very direct. It's very honest. It's very humble. It's not for show. It's for real."
But Edwards' leadership hasn't been without its critics.
Leaders in north Louisiana, particularly state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, have complained that the response to the flood in south Louisiana has been handled differently than the flood in north Louisiana. During a recent legislative hearing, Walsworth said it felt like the north Louisiana response wasn't treated with the same urgency.
Edwards has maintained that he is continuing to push for more aid for north Louisiana in response to its floods. The Congressional aid that has been approved will go toward recovery from both.
During the Congressional hearing on the flood response, Central Mayor Jr. Shelton complained about confusion in the flood aftermath that left residents of his city not able to access supplies. He said that as a mayor of only two years, he didn't know he was supposed to go through the parish, which had been given water and emergency meals from FEMA.
Edwards took the blame for that.
"If we had problems, they were internal to the state of Louisiana ... if the communication was a problem, and I have to believe that it was based on the testimony, we have to redouble our efforts to work through that," he said. "I will make sure."
Edwards also took heat from the state Republican Party, which criticized him for attending a campaign fundraiser in Washington recently while he was lobbying for flood aid. “In what was supposed to be an official trip to Washington D.C. to work with the Louisiana congressional delegation on flood relief efforts, Governor John Bel Edwards took precious time out of his day to attend a fundraiser for his re-election campaign (which is still 3 years away).” LAGOP Executive Director Jason Doré said in a statement.
The governor originally was scheduled to be in Washington for an event honoring an educational organization. His spokesman said that the fundraiser didn't take time away from official duties, and his campaign paid for hotel rooms the night of the fundraiser.
His administration also has had to try to tamp down backlash against the state's new Shelter at Home program after a Facebook video went viral questioning the value of the repairs it provides.
A key component of the housing recovery plan put into place after Louisiana suffered catastr…
Under the federal Stafford Act, FEMA is prohibited from funding more permanent recovery efforts, so the Shelter at Home program offers bare-bones repairs necessary to get people back into their houses until they can make more permanent repairs on their own.
Andrea Miller, an LSU professor who specializes in crisis communication, wasn't willing to "grade" Edwards' administration, per se, because the responses remain ongoing. But she said his administration has been markedly proactive in getting information out in each of the major incidences.
"It's going to have to continue to be transparent as we go forward with the recovery process," she said. "This involves people's lives, their livelihoods, their families. It's very personal."
She said that there are several challenges presented to Edwards' administration – one illustrated by the battle that just played out in Congress over whether Louisiana would get flood aid when other states also want funding for their own crises.
"People are looking to the administration for help, for information," Miller said. "They look for it for comfort in that recovery process, a sense that we are all in this together and just to reassure them."
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday assured listeners of his monthly call-in radio show that …
Meredith Feike, a disaster anthropologist and professor at Tulane University, similarly wouldn't specifically grade Edwards' leadership but offered insight into the types of leadership needed following disasters.
"The monumental task of rebuilding communities ravaged by recent floodwaters can only be achieved through the hard work and vigilance of multiple stakeholders. Investments in the recovery effort must take into account the broader vision of creating a safer and more sustainable future for the residents of Louisiana," she said.
She said that there are issues deeply embedded into Louisiana's social structure that add an additional layer to the complexity of recovery.
"Initiatives that promote sustainable development, capacity building, civic engagement and effective hazard planning are crucial steps in reestablishing community vitality across impacted areas of the embattled Pelican State," she said. "To ensure implementation of policies that strengthen community resilience to disaster, a conceptual framework informed by multiple stakeholders must outline priorities for strategic action. A pro-active and inclusive approach to developing principles that govern sustainable community development is essential to long-term socioeconomic prosperity in the region."