Eddie Rispone (left) and John Bel Edwards (right)

Eddie Rispone (left) and John Bel Edwards (right)

The late great political commentator John Maginnis wrote that Louisiana voters like their scoundrels going back to the pirate Jean Lafitte.

At the time Maginnis was writing about the 1983 race between incumbent Gov. David Treen and Edwin W. Edwards, making a comeback.

Of all the good-government issues debated, the campaign is most remembered for Edwards’ quip about Treen’s being "so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch '60 Minutes.’” Treen served one term.

Maginnis’ observations should be recalled as pollsters and pundits do the math to try to make sense of what might happen in the Nov. 16 runoff as incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards tries to pick up three percentage points for the win and Republican newcomer Eddie Rispone tries to consolidate the 52% of the vote the three GOP candidates received in the Oct. 12 primary.

True, math is important, but also remember Louisiana’s history of turning out the governors elected to fix the mess left by the more colorful and entertaining fellows.

Edwards, who seems incapable of telling a joke, operates more in the “eat your vegetables” lane.

Coming off a Republican laissez-faire administration that operated on the theory that lower taxes would translate to greater economic activity — it didn’t — Democrat Edward was called upon to fix a fiscal structure that coughed up deficits year after year. Through protracted negotiations, Edwards managed to get agreement from a Republican-majority Legislature on a series of spending cuts, temporary suspensions of about half of the tax breaks, mostly for business, and a temporary increase of less than half a penny in the state sales tax.

But doing the hard things may not be the best box to check in Louisiana politics.

Sam Houston Jones was tapped to fix up Louisiana after the Longs. He instituted competitive bids for state contracts and passed laws that stopped state government workers from having to kick back part of salaries to Long’s slush fund. When Jones faced Earl K. Long again, he lost.

Gov. Robert F. Kennon became governor in 1952 and pushed to replace paper ballots with voting machines to end the vote-stealing and box-stuffing problems in some rural parishes. He also served one term.

Then there was Buddy Roemer, who as a wunderkind congressman from Bossier Parish called his 1987 campaign the “Roemer Revolution.” He narrowly edged the incumbent, Edwin W. Edwards.

Taking office in 1988, Roemer walked into an economic maelstrom. Sloppy fiscal procedures and a drop in oil prices put Louisiana one payday away from bankruptcy. He instituted the Revenue Estimating Conference, now so vilified by some conservatives and their special-interest supporters, to end the practice of legislators arbitrarily deciding how much money was available to spend. He also suspended the budgetary dedications that allowed special interests to carve out a bit of the state’s revenues for their use and thereby reduce the flexibility lawmakers have in drafting an annual budget.

Roemer was outperformed by David Duke, of Ku Klux Klan fame, in his 1991 reelection campaign.

About the only thing Rispone says on the campaign trail is that he wants to rewrite the constitution and bring businesses to Louisiana. He won’t address specifics about how that would be accomplished.

What the Baton Rouge multimillionaire, who created a business in his living room now has annual revenues of close $400 million, does say, repeatedly, is that he is an acolyte of President Donald Trump.

Trump won the state by 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. About 760 precincts — roughly 1 in 5 — went for Trump by 85% or more. While Trump is unpopular nationwide, his throw-the-politicians-out theme remains popular in Louisiana.

Trump is an entertaining speaker and his fiery Lake Charles rally, full of name-calling, urged his supporters to go vote.

Overall, John Bel Edwards performed well in Louisiana’s blue cities, like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. He did well among moderate Republicans, winning Jefferson Parish, for instance.

Where the incumbent suffered were in precincts that Trump carried handily in 2016.

Take the top of the list as an example. Acadia Parish Ward 1 Precinct 1, the first precinct listed in the Secretary of State records. Edwards in 2015 received 162 votes, or 35.7% of the 453 votes cast. The next year, Trump got 708 of 807 votes cast in this precinct, 87.8% of the total. Come last week’s gubernatorial primary, Edwards received 85 votes of the 533 cast — larger turnout and at 15.9% of the total, fewer votes for the governor.

History and math don’t bode well for Edwards’ reelection. But Edwards is a popular governor and if his supporters turn out Nov. 16, then he would also change Louisiana’s history of one-term reformers.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.