Facebook Privacy Scandal Congress

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asks a question of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As the Louisiana Legislature heads into its third special session of the year, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy says he thinks Gov. John Bel Edwards should resign and let Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser run the state.

"I just don't think (Edwards) can run the government, and if he can't he needs to step down and let Nungesser take a shot," Kennedy said during an interview this week on KPEL NewsTalk radio in Acadiana.

Kennedy's comments come as the Legislature continues to battle over the best way to shore up the state's finances ahead of a $650 million fiscal cliff the state faces when more than $1 billion in temporary taxes expire June 30.

Edwards has been in a budget stand-off largely with conservative House Republican leaders over the best way to plug the hole. The most recent special session, which was the sixth since Edwards took office in January 2016, ended with an impasse in the House largely over whether the state should extend one-third or one-half of an expiring 1 percent sales tax. 

Some House Republicans recently have floated a possible two-fifths extension as a compromise, while some leaders have pushed for opportunities to redistribute cuts. 

Without additional revenue, the state faces deep cuts to higher education, public safety, human services and other programs in the budget lawmakers approved in the session that ended June 4. Among programs at stake is the food stamps program, which Edwards' administration says would shut down because there would be no state money to administer the federally-funded program. Prisoners also could be furloughed if funding for inmate housing is cut.

Kennedy said he's received calls in his Washington office about the issues and an earlier threat that thousands of recipients of Medicaid assistance for nursing homes would lose their funding if health care funding was cut.

"He's doing it to try to put pressure on the Legislature," Kennedy said. "I tell them, 'Look folks, this is just a political game.' It's a joke but it's not a funny one."

He accused Edwards of using scare tactics to raise taxes.

"It's not funny," Kennedy said. "This scares people half to death."

In the 15-minute interview, he suggested three times that Nungesser should become governor.

Kennedy and Nungesser are both Republicans. Edwards is a Democrat in his first term who is seeking re-election in 2019.

Nungesser, whose job as lieutenant governor largely focuses on tourism and also faces cuts under the proposed budget, recently joined Edwards for a session-starting speech at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He declined to comment on Kennedy's remarks.

Kennedy, who is in his first Senate term after serving as state treasurer for several years, has been speculated as a possible challenger to Edwards in next year's election, and the two men have repeatedly been at odds. Kennedy's spokeswoman declined to comment when asked Tuesday whether he will run for governor, and he was not asked during the radio show.

Edwards' spokesman Richard Carbo called Kennedy's remarks "absurd."

"Gov. Edwards isn't going to be distracted by childish comments or letters from our junior senator," Carbo said. "More people are working in Louisiana than ever before, unemployment is at a 10-year low and we are scoring the biggest economic development deals in our state's history. That's what can happen when you focus on the job you have."

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He also questioned Kennedy's effectiveness in the U.S. Senate.

"He hasn't passed a single bill since being elected to the Senate, but has an infinite amount of time to do media interviews," Carbo said. "We could similarly ask him to step down for being the most ineffective member of Congress, but that'd be nothing out of the ordinary as he's run for every political office under the sun. You don't see this kind of behavior from other elected officials because they're busy doing their jobs."

Kennedy, who was a Democrat until he changed parties in 2007, said that he thinks Edwards is too liberal for Louisiana.

"I've known John Bel for 10 years. He's very smart, he's a nice guy, he's a liberal Democrat and he wants his way," Kennedy said. "He thinks he has a mandate. He thinks his mandate is to tax and spend like they do in Massachusetts and California."

"If he believes that, then he needs to step aside and let Nungesser run the show or let somebody run the show," Kennedy added. "He just can't hack it."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.