Does Gov. John Bel Edwards really want to get reelected? You wouldn’t think so from what he's been up to lately.
Earlier this month, the State Bond Commission voted to bar two of the country’s biggest lenders from competing to finance $600 million worth of road work. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has stopped lending money to manufacturers of semi-automatic rifles, and Citigroup has limited its business with gun retailers.
In April, a commission vote disallowing those lenders had failed, prompting Democrat Edwards to lament “an ugly display of political posturing that could have jeopardized a massive infrastructure plan for the state of Louisiana.” Edwards didn’t comment on the latest, successful attempt to ban the lenders. But before the most recent vote, his SBC representative, Matthew Block, argued against the move by saying the Second Amendment's constitutional protections are meant to address government infringement on individual rights, not the actions of private businesses.
According to this view, the state should feel free to conduct business with people who discriminate against gun makers and dealers. But what about Edwards’ persistent attempts, eventually rebuffed by the courts as an overreach, to prevent state contracts going to firms that considered people’s sexual preferences and identifications in employment decisions — a discretion left to employers limited neither by state law nor the Constitution?
Later, Shawn Wilson, the governor's transportation chief, undermined another of Edwards’ justifications for opposing the commission vote when Wilson essentially admitted the decision wouldn’t increase project costs. At any rate, Republicans in favor of banning the lenders argued that a price tag shouldn’t matter when empowering citizens to exercise Second Amendment rights. Refusing to let lenders with anti-gun policies get state contracts might discourage them from going against gun makers and dealers in the first place.
Apparently, Edwards wants to impose his social views illegally and unconstitutionally to punish some contractors acting within the law, yet he doesn’t mind doing business with others who discourage the exercise of freedoms enshrined in Louisiana’s law and the U.S. Constitution. But if you think future campaign ads making this contrast will be brutal, they won’t be anything compared to others about his appointing a corrupt ex-sheriff to a position of public trust.
Almost two decades ago, Jeff Britt left his post as Tensas Parish sheriff in disgrace. The state convicted him of four felonies involving financial abuses in office. For eight years, Britt’s pardon request sat on former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk, unsigned.
But in 2017, Edwards pardoned him. Last month, Edwards named Britt to sit on the Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission. Edwards' office said a number of individuals backed the appointment. Britt complained that he shouldn’t have to bear a stigma since he completed his sentence and has been successfully working for years in the prison commissary business.
But neither does he deserve the privilege of receiving taxpayer dollars to wield influence over a public he once bilked. And Edwards had at least three million potential appointees besides Britt who qualified for panel membership as one of the commission’s three “consumers.”
In 2015, Edwards distracted voters from his economic liberalism by touting his credentials as a social conservative, including full-throated support for gun rights. A West Point graduate, he also attached his candidacy to his alma mater’s Honor Code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” His position on contracting and tolerance for Britt make that strategy a harder sell.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.