protest 041720

Placard waving protestors stood outside the Governor’s Mansion on Friday, April 17, 2020, demanding an immediate end to the preventative measures aimed at slowing the community spread of the novel coronavirus.

One good thing about the novel coronavirus is the brief respite in the ongoing interparty bickering over whose mother wears Army boots.

All that recent kumbaya is beginning to unravel as the widespread business closures and all that staying at home seems to have slowed the community spread of COVID-19. Whether to now run or walk toward the light at the end of the tunnel is one emerging issue — how to hold elections is another — that show Louisiana politics returning to a normal that’s not so new.

Along with closing down bars, casinos, gyms and other businesses, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards asked nonessential workers to stay at home. Unemployment has skyrocketed and Louisiana’s economy has dived.

The restless say the economy won’t rebound unless the governor lifts the restrictions by May 1. Edwards has voiced concern about reigniting the startling infection and death rates. But he’s also started hinting at how the state could start reopening.

President Donald Trump on Thursday outlined his ideas on how to best restart state economies for the nation’s governors. His plan involves a three-phased reopening of businesses and schools, each lasting 14 days, to make sure the number of cases doesn’t spike again.

Governors will decide what actually happens in their states. But Edwards warns that Louisiana hasn’t yet met the thresholds the White House suggests to begin reopening.

Meanwhile, a couple dozen protesters on bullhorns stood Friday outside the Governor’s Mansion, as honking cars passed, demanding an immediate end to the preventative measures that they claim were issued unconstitutionally by Edwards. “JBHitler, free Louisiana!,” read one sign.

The Louisiana Family Forum, whose self-proclaimed bipartisan representation of evangelicals usually mirrors the Republican Party line, jumped aboard a statement by GOP Rep. Mark Wright, of Covington: “Now it’s time to announce formation of a plan to re-open Louisiana.”

Bloggers, like The Hayride, praised a similar letter from Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, who wrote: “The small business owners that I have spoken with have made it quite clear they must restart operations no later than May 1st.”

(As an aside, Republicans hold majority enough in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature, if they voted together, to end Edward’s emergency orders today.)

Then there’s this summer’s elections.

Not that there’s any drama over who Louisiana voters think the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees will be. But there’s a lot of drama around the country over whether to use mail-in ballots. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has suggested mail-in ballots to reduce the risk of spreading the virus as people stand in line waiting to vote at polling stations.

But Trump has resisted efforts to increase voter access, calling the bid a part of a Democratic bucket list that promotes fraud and thereby undermines American democracy. Democrats counter that Trump wants to tamp down turnout to only habitual voters, who are more likely to favor GOP candidates, going into his November reelection. They point to assessments that the risk of fraud with mail-in ballots is extremely low, less than being “struck by lightning,” or so says The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, a public policy research group.

Many Republicans who had once supported tighter voting procedures have drifted from the president on this issue and the coronavirus outbreak is the reason.

Take New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, for instance. His state already has held its presidential primary, but he said New Hampshire voters will be allowed to cast mail-in ballots in November if coronavirus is still a factor. In Louisiana, where the primaries keep getting postponed, Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin came up with a plan that made it easier for more voters to use mail-in ballots by changing the circumstances that kept many people from qualifying for that process. It’s an emergency plan, primarily aimed at the July 11 balloting, but one that could also be dusted off in November, if needed.

Ardoin’s plan, which needs legislative approval, was shot down Wednesday by fellow Republicans. His ideas were dismissed as “too extreme,” by Lenar Whitney, the former state rep who is now the Republican Party of Louisiana’s national committeewoman when she testified at the Senate committee hearing that rejected Ardoin’s plan.

He faces a “drop dead” deadline of April 24 to buy the equipment and get ready for the elections, now set for July 11 for presidential primary and August 15 for local general elections.

“I hear what they’re saying,” Ardoin said. “I think some of their concerns are not steeped in all the facts that were presented to them. ... I’m hoping over time there can be some clarity.”


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.