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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, center, waves to fans in the crowd as he and his wife, Donna Edwards, center right, as he walks the field before kickoff between the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, December 23, 2018, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.

While it is a dramatic symbol of New Orleans, the Dome is officially the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and it is owned by the state, not the city.

As one result, there is a great political perk in the Dome this election year, because of its state provenance, and that is the governor’s suite.

In January, for the NFC championship, the governor’s power of patronage was on vivid display, and thanks to a public-records request from The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges, we saw the guest list.

That was a hot football ticket in the Dome, and Gov. John Bel Edwards shared it with friends and political supporters, including numerous top politicos from New Orleans and around the state. 

The governor, a football player in high school, said he kept his focus on the game, although he could schmooze his guests during timeouts and halftime.

At least one prominent ex-con on the guest list enjoyed the experience. Edwin W. Edwards, who served four terms as governor and is no relation to John Bel Edwards, told Bridges he is glad to be able to concentrate on the game now instead of having to tend to guests.

If this gathering is a bit of a footnote politically, even in an election year, it is nevertheless a reminder of the power of incumbency in politics.

Few public officials in America are as powerful, within their sphere, as is the governor of Louisiana. He has many appointments to boards and commissions and veto powers on legislation, including a line-item veto to delete provisions in state budget bills. Much power is concentrated in Baton Rouge rather than city halls or parish courthouses, much more so than in the typical American state.

In fact, the state-local relationship in Louisiana is tangled and complex. The state, until recently, freely gave away tax breaks from local government without the latter having any say at all. Edwards changed that in 2016, so that 20 percent of the rich 10-year industrial tax exemptions are in the purview of cities, parishes and school boards.

Maybe local government is not as influential in Louisiana as in other states, but that 20 percent is something they will cling to. Whether Edwards wins re-election this fall or not, this is already likely to be a lasting accomplishment.

Influential business folk know that having a relationship with a governor is helpful, but it is coin-of-the-realm in the State Capitol.

That means a governor seeking re-election — as John Bel Edwards is this year — has favors to call in for support.

Some of that includes prized patronage spots, such as seats on the state commissions running the Superdome and the Convention Center in New Orleans, or Board of Supervisors spots at LSU. Those typically don’t pay anything much, maybe per diem for meeting days, but what they lack in direct benefit they more than make up for in draping the holder — and campaign contributor — with the cloak of gubernatorial clout.

A British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, said that patronage is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, “and that is power.”

Of the 153 suites in the Superdome in January, a lot of power was concentrated in the governor’s box. It’s a political fact of life in Louisiana.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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