Organizers of a recall petition aimed at removing Gov. John Bel Edwards from office always faced a steep climb. It turns out they barely got off the ground.
The petition drive launched by Lee Joseph Vidrine and Michael Lyn Vidrine of Eunice late last summer, aimed at booting Edwards over his cautious, public health-driven stewardship of Louisiana’s pandemic response, fell short of the number of signatures needed to put Edwards' fate before voters.
How far short? Oh, about 592,000, give or take.
Louisiana law gives organizers six months to gather signatures from 20% of all registered voters in large jurisdictions. That’s a higher standard than in, say, California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom is also facing a recall drive, and where an effort to remove former Gov. Gray Davis from office 18 years ago actually worked (back then Californians had the far more colorful option of Arnold Schwarzenneger waiting in the wings).
Louisiana’s requirements are tough to meet even when the targeted politician has truly fallen from grace. Consider the recall drive a few years back aimed at then-Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, who’d been caught sending sexually suggestive texts to a 17-year-old and was facing calls to resign from pretty much everyone else in public office. Organizers there needed to collect more than 90,000 signatures, but halted when they realized they’d fall far short.
Edwards’ alleged offense was nothing like anything Yenni did. The governor is accused, basically, of taking the pandemic seriously, launching sensible shutdowns and eventually imposing a mask mandate that still stands even as some nearby states have abandoned theirs — all actions that helped bring Louisiana’s initially alarming surge under at least partial control.
He faced criticism for his tough actions, including from the Legislature’s most conservative members and Attorney General Jeff Landry. Their fight wound up in court, after Edwards, a Democrat, challenged a petition by House Republicans seeking to void his emergency powers. The district judge found in the governor’s favor, but the state Supreme Court vacated that decision and sent it back down for a rehearing, which has not yet happened. In the meantime, Edwards’ emergency regulations remain in place and the state’s numbers continue to look relatively good.
The truth is that, for all the shouting over Edwards “impeding the constitutional freedoms and livelihoods of all Louisiana citizens without concrete scientific data” and “unconstitutionally mandating that masks be worn in all public places,” as the recall petition put it, most Louisianans seem to view restrictions as difficult but necessary.
The results of the petition drive certainly suggest that few are up in arms. With counts from all but one of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in, the Vidrines only have 26,679 signatures to show for their effort. That represents fewer than 1% of the state’s 3.1 million voters.
So rather than a rebuke over his handling of the pandemic, the results of the recall drive sound more like a vote of confidence in the governor instead. How’s that for irony?