It’s always interesting when the national media weighs in on Louisiana politics. The New York Times ran a Sunday story headlined, “In Louisiana, messaging during storms carries political weight.”
The story focused on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ handling of short-lived Hurricane Barry. It contrasted storm-related leadership by Edwards, a Democrat, with that of his predecessor, Bobby Jindal, a Republican.
“The sound of Louisiana responding to a storm used to be a warp-speed spool of data and details, flowing relentlessly from the mouth of the state’s governor at the time, Bobby Jindal,” the story read. “Mr. Jindal’s successor, Gov. John Bel Edwards, brought his own rhythm to his numerous media briefings, a slower, decaffeinated style that put one in the mind of a father soberly and patiently explaining a hard financial reality to his children.”
Edwards carried a calming, unflustered tone during his new conferences this past weekend. Barry helped by fizzling out. It was mostly a dud of a storm. But politically speaking, Edwards came across as a steady hand during what could have been a devastating flood event.
The New York Times story surprisingly praised Jindal’s disaster-related news conferences, describing them as “among his strongest public-relations moments.” It’s hard to find anyone in the media willing to say anything positive about Jindal these days. But the paper couldn’t resist reminding readers of Jindal’s “failed media missteps,” including the former governor’s much-criticized Republican response to former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
But where reporter Richard Fausset really missed the mark is when he tried to explain why Edwards was elected to replace Jindal in 2015.
“Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, was elected four years ago in large part because voters were worried about the huge structural deficits left by the departing Mr. Jindal, who pushed for tax cuts and breaks that failed to stimulate the economy and contributed to severe cutbacks in higher education funding.”
The New York Times never saw a tax cut it liked, so criticizing Jindal for implementing one is par for the course for the left-leaning paper. But closing “huge structural deficits” may have been the obsession of Louisiana’s chattering class and special interests and government-centric types, but it was not what the Edwards’ campaign was selling.
Edwards was asked point blank by a debate moderator on Baton Rouge television station WVLA during the campaign whether he would raise taxes if elected. Edwards unequivocally said no. If Edwards’ wanted voters to believe his main objective as governor was to close “huge structural deficits,” new taxes would be the way to do it. Closing “huge structural deficits” may have been Edwards’ intent once elected, but he certainly did not run on the idea.
Edwards' campaign focused on two main things: his integrity and his opponent's lack thereof. Arguably, Edwards’ most effective campaign ad was entitled “The Choice,” which made no mention of “huge structural deficits.”
"The choice for governor couldn't be more clear. John Bel Edwards, who answered our country's call and served as a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division," the narrator in the commercial begins, before the music turns ominous. "Or David Vitter, who answered a prostitute's call minutes after he skipped a vote honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.
"David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots," the female narrator concluded. "Now, the choice is yours."
The New York Times story noted that “Edwards is up for re-election this year, and as the storm crept ashore Saturday, television footage in Louisiana was regularly interspersed with a campaign ad in support of his candidacy.”
There’s no denying Edwards’ strengthened the vibrancy, size and reach of state government in Louisiana by raising taxes, expanding Medicaid under Obamacare and increasing overall spending. He’s transferred more than $7 billion out of the private sector into the public sector. It’s not what he campaigned on, but it’s clearly his most notable accomplishment during his first term as governor.
As a result of Barry, Edwards can burnish the credentials of crisis management he displayed during the Great Flood of 2016, adding another line to his first-term résumé.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com.