In Louisiana, politics is an extremely popular contact sport. Along with football, food and music, politics is one of the state’s favorite pastimes.
Thus, it should surprise no one that jockeying has already begun for the 2023 governor’s race, even though voters will have to wait three years to make their decision. Incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited and cannot run again.
Even though Louisiana has a Democratic governor, the state is still solidly Republican. In the 2020 election, President Donald Trump won the state by nearly the same margin he did four years earlier. The president defeated former Vice President Joe Biden by a comfortable 58% to 40% margin. In fact, Edwards is the only Democrat who occupies statewide office in Louisiana.
Consequently, most political observers believe he will be replaced by a Republican. Among Democrats, there are not many viable contenders on the horizon who could even mount a competitive race for governor. Nonetheless, stranger things have happened. Both former Gov. Mike Foster and the current governor were relatively unknown on a statewide basis before starting their campaigns yet both were victorious.
The potential Republican gubernatorial candidates include Attorney General Jeff Landry, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, state Treasurer John Schroder, and 6th District U.S. Congressman Garret Graves. There is always the possibility of U.S. Senator John Kennedy of Madisonville or House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson Parish running for governor, although both seem quite comfortable representing the state in Washington, D.C.
Of these potential candidates, Landry has been the most outspoken in his opposition to Edwards. In recent months, Landry has strongly contested the governor’s emergency public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July, he released a nine-page advisory opinion that the main features of the governor’s mandates, including the mask mandate, the restrictions on crowd sizes and the limitations on bars and restaurants, were “likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
This did not deter the governor from extending his orders, but it likely encouraged state House Republicans to act in the recently concluded special legislative session. As the legislators were nearing the end of the proceedings, House Republicans signed a petition to rescind the governor’s COVID-19 emergency.
The House Republicans were acting in accordance with a 2003 law that allowed a successful vote by members of one legislative branch to overturn a governor’s emergency mandates. House Republicans only needed 53 votes but were able to recruit 65 of 68 members to sign it, including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.
After the petition was signed, the governor rejected it, filed a lawsuit and Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District denied Landry’s request for a temporary restraining order. Landry was not pleased by the governor’s response. He said that Edwards "not only rejected attempts by one of his co-equal branches of government to provide input and oversight, but he also ignored the checks and balances that underpin our government.”
Lawyers for the attorney general represented the 65 House Republicans including the speaker. On the opposing side was the governor’s legal team.
Morvant ruled that the governor’s public health declarations must be maintained. He decided that the petition was unconstitutional because it was passed by only one house of the Legislature. Accordingly, the COVID-19 restrictions issued by the governor will remain in effect unless Louisiana state senators join their House colleagues and sign the petition, or if the attorney general is successful with his appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Not surprisingly, Landry was unhappy with the decision of Morvant, a Republican. He said it was “disappointing when we have judges trying to continually write into the law. ... Their job is to basically take the law and the facts and make a decision, call balls and strikes.”
While he may have lost the legal battle, Landry is scoring points with conservatives across the state who are unhappy with the COVID-19 mandates. Over the last few months, Louisiana conservatives, such as former state Rep. Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, have organized numerous rallies opposing the governor’s restrictions. Several of these rallies have been held right across the street from the Governor’s Mansion.
The opposition has also led to a statewide campaign to recall the governor. While the effort is a longshot, needing over 600,000 signatures to trigger a recall election, it shows that there is a significant grassroots conservative movement in Louisiana.
The attorney general is clearly signaling his interest in leading the movement into the next governor’s race.
Jeff Crouere is a political commentator on radio and television in New Orleans.