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As Gov. John Bel Edwards watches, left, Attorney General Jeff Landry, right, talks about medicines being donated by drug companies to help the fight against coronavirus, during a press conference at the GOHSEP April 6.

Less than a month after Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landy took their oaths of office in January 2016, they were quarreling over an issue on which they both fundamentally agreed.

Edwards wanted to cancel a legal challenge to Common Core — the controversial national academic standards — filed by former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal. Landry, who eventually agreed the issue had been rendered moot by subsequent legislation, nevertheless wrote a “Dear John” letter saying he felt his “ultimate clients are the citizens” of Louisiana and not any one state agency.

They have since returned to using titles in their correspondence, but primarily communicate through court battles largely over opposing political stances.

The governor ordered state contractors not to discriminate based on sexual orientation, Landry said no. Landry wanted money from lawsuit settlements for his Department of Justice, Edwards wanted to redirect earnings. Edwards and Landry have squared off on issues like the death penalty, whether local governments can sue oil companies for wetlands damage, even who can serve on levee boards in north Louisiana.

Landry involved his office in lawsuits that Edwards opposes, such as, whether Birmingham, Ala., can set a minimum wage higher than the state’s, and joining an effort to find the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, which the U.S. Supreme Court will consider Tuesday.

They opposed each other in September over whether Louisiana could expand the use of absentee mail ballots for this election. A federal court sided with Edwards by saying yes. Taxpayers owe $825,000 to a Virginia law firm specializing in voting rights litigation from a Republican perspective that Landry hired, according to the contract. Edwards used his executive counsel, Matthew Block.

As the nation goes to court this week over lawsuits filed by President Donald Trump challenging election results, Louisiana won’t be involved. The litigation will take place in states where vote totals for Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden are razor-thin. The Associated Press called Louisiana for Trump minutes after the first vote tallies were posted by the Secretary of State.

The rest of the nation will focus on courtrooms in Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In Louisiana, the politically charged legal battle will take place on North Boulevard in Baton Rouge starting Thursday when 19th Judicial District Judge William Morvant referees the latest scrap between Edwards and Landry.

Representing the Louisiana House's Republican majority, Landry argues Edwards must vacate his emergency health order and thereby drop the various restrictions — wearing masks, socially distancing and closing businesses — aimed at slowing the spread of the highly infectious and often deadly COVID-19 coronavirus.

At the center of argument is the validity of a petition based on a never-before used law, passed during the SARS scare of 2003 and arguably not intended for the purpose now being sought.

Republicans have been rallying supporters to email Morvant that the petition means a temporary end to the health emergency order. And state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, the Shreveport Republican who started the first petition, raised the possibility of impeaching Edwards during a Shreveport television interview last week.

"This is a simple case that will tell us whether our Legislature even matters anymore," Landry wrote on Twitter after Morvant last week refused to suspend the emergency until the legal issues are decided.

The petition, which for months didn’t get enough signatures, was quickly signed by 65 of the 68 Republican House members in the hours before legislators went home from a special session that seemed all about usurping Edwards’ executive power. No senator signed the petition.

So far, Edwards has won legal challenges in both state and federal trial courts that upheld directives to close certain businesses, in this case bars, as a way to tamp down the spread of COVID-19.

"The case turns on a classic 'who-decides' question," U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee in New Orleans, wrote deciding a lawsuit in August. "As between democratically accountable state officials and a federal court, who decides what measures best protect Louisianans during a global pandemic? The answer is state officials."

Perhaps the biggest pause button for politicians insisting they speak for Louisiana residents came in Tuesday’s election results.

Two constitutional amendments strongly supported by legislators, as well as business and industry, failed catastrophically.

Observers can dismiss the rejection of Amendment 5, which dealt with corporate tax breaks, as the result of an intense advertising campaign. Almost as many voters voted “no” on Amendment 5 as voted “yes” for Trump.

Amendment 4 would have changed the way budgets are set by limiting any increase in spending to 5% of the previous year. Not a single legislator voted against the measure. Yet, more than a million Louisiana voters rejected the proposal — far more than elected either Edwards or Landry.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.