John Bel Edwards’ opponents should probably hope that January is the cruelest month and things will get better in the election by October.
The incumbent governor is a Democrat in a Republican state. The virtues — and sometimes the pitfalls — of seeking reelection have been on display as Edwards formally announced his candidacy via an online video release.
Typically in politics, this is a way to avoid pesky questions from reporters and others, but the governor can hardly be blamed in that regard. At one time, a fly around the state’s major media markets over a couple of days was standard practice. Today, the use of digital platforms for such announcements is ubiquitous.
And the governor does not appear to be hiding from questions: He answered them for an hour at the Press Club of Baton Rouge and then kept a steady pace of appearances around the state, particularly where he can underline economic development “wins” for the state.
These included the big DXC Technologies location on Poydras Street in vote-rich New Orleans. It’s better to be an incumbent with a growing economy. Just ask former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who similarly plugged every new plant or other business victory, sometimes several times, before his 2011 reelection victory.
The governor’s fluency in the discussions of government is an asset but can also be a political liability, too. He sometimes verges on the wonkish, offhandedly referring once to the teacher pay raises he wants — a big populist issue — as going directly to school employees through Level 3 of the MFP.
The MFP, which might as well be called the Mysterious Funding Process, is one of the abiding mysteries in the State Capitol. Officially known as the Minimum Foundation Program, it's the state-local funding formula for schools — and incredibly complex. Who knew there was a Level 3? Well, there apparently is, and Edwards’ casual references to these and other programs suggest difficulties for his challengers. Edwards is a formidable debater, and government is the subject about which he knows a great deal after two terms in the state House and four years as governor.
So far, there are two challengers, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and North Louisiana member of Congress Ralph Abraham. Both are relatively little-known around the state and have a hill to climb in terms of name recognition. Abraham drew some criticism when The Advocate reported that he had quietly backed away from his much-publicized first-term pledge not to take his pay, but to give it to good causes.
Abraham apparently does donate generously, but by changing his position without sufficient care for appearances — he was still taking credit for the original pledge on his website — a clumsiness about politics was suggested to the Republican donors he is courting to fund his campaign.
When Rispone and Abraham do raise their profiles, though, they will have to have something relevant to say. Maybe talk-radio slogans will work for a while, but some coherent argument about what the challengers want to do in office will then be needed. Edwards’ sophisticated arguments about government agencies and programs will have to be countered with something other than platitudes.
All this doesn’t mean John Bel Edwards is in high cotton, as they might say in Abraham’s Mississippi Delta district. But it does suggest that he had a good January — and that his Republican opposition has not yet grappled effectively with its challenges.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Governors love to tout the jobs they have “created,” and that explains why Gov. John Bel Edwards invited the press to join him on a tour of DX…