Are Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and former President Barack Obama two Democratic peas in a pod?
Not exactly. Edwards knows which end of a rifle is which; he never voted three times as a state legislator to make infanticide legal; and the woman he married undoubtedly has felt proud of her country her entire adult life.
Yet in two ways, Edwards and Obama govern alike. Both support imperialism from the executive branch and have used their offices to perpetually campaign. Edwards displayed these tendencies recently with forays against Republican Attorney Gen. Jeff Landry, who has mulled a run against Edwards.
Since taking office, Edwards has worked overtime to turn any issue, no matter how obscure or disconnected to his governance, into something promoting his tenure with an eye on reelection, including bashing potential challengers like Landry. Such was the case when Landry commented about a possible probe into clergy sex abuse and commented on joining a suit against the federal government for going too far with health care policy changes under Obama.
While several state attorneys general have launched broad investigations into whether Catholic Church authorities covered up priestly transgressions, Landry said he couldn’t do the same since the state constitution severely limits his office in initiating such an action. However, if conditions changed to authorize his involvement, Landry said he hoped the State Police, under the command of Edwards, would assist him.
Through a spokesman, Edwards then accused Landry of letting politics guide his decision-making about whether to investigate, although how Landry’s deferral would allow him to “score political points” remained unexplained. And while some experts claim Landry could stretch enormously the powers of his post to start an inquiry, that runs counter to Landry’s limited-government principles.
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It's a belief Edwards definitely rejects. In fact, Landry, more than any other state official, has stopped Edwards from trying to exercise powers he doesn’t have, such as in the area of issuing contracts, through successful lawsuits.
But those defeats haven’t deterred Edwards’ vision of an expansive executive branch. Remarks Landry made about the suit the state joined, which would strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Edwards backs, prompted Edwards to double down on executive overreach.
Landry and 19 other attorneys general contend that, since the courts have ruled the individual mandate to buy health insurance a tax, removal of the tax beginning next year makes the law unconstitutional. However, the federal government argues without the tax it only couldn’t enforce a provision that guarantees insuring people regardless of their pre-existing conditions.
Asked what would happen to those with pre-existing conditions if the courts invalidate the ACA, Landry said that was a legislative matter out of his jurisdiction. This didn’t satisfy Edwards, who suggested even if it meant applying an unconstitutional law, Landry shouldn’t have brought the suit because this could “cause chaos.” He asserted that Landry had an obligation to orchestrate a plan to prevent that.
Landry, in fact, discussed the matter with House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, who later praised Landry’s respect for separation of power in state government, although Barras didn’t indicate whether policy options had come up in their conversations. If the suit succeeds, it also could invalidate Medicaid expansion, which Edwards initiated when he took office.
Edwards should emulate Landry’s reverence for the rule of law. Instead, to achieve his policy objectives, Edwards supports the executive branch stretching, if not breaking, legal constraints on what it can do.
His style of governance echoes Obama's, who did win a second term. Edwards must think this strategy will reward him similarly.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.