When two of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ loudest critics — first Attorney General Jeff Landry and then U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — announced they wouldn’t challenge Edwards’ reelection bid next year, it seemed as if things would change, that the fighting would at least die down.
Not so much, it turns out.
The two have spent much of Edwards’ term making sure voters knew they disagreed with him on a host of ideologically divisive issues.
Landry, a conservative Republican, went after the Democratic governor for instituting workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, and joined a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act over Edwards’ strident objection.
Kennedy, a onetime Democrat who switched parties more than a decade ago, appointed himself chief critic of an Edwards-backed criminal justice reform package aimed at reducing Louisiana’s once-nation leading incarceration rate, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. Earlier this year, he issued an utterly ridiculous call for Edwards to resign after the governor warned nursing home residents that their state aid could disappear if lawmakers didn’t address the fiscal cliff.
And even though both have now officially passed on the 2019 governor’s race, nobody seems to be laying down their rhetorical arms.
Edwards and Landry have been at one another all week over the health care lawsuit, which would invalidate current protections such as guaranteed affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and Medicaid expansion, one of Edwards’ proudest accomplishments. Last Friday, a Texas U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff group, which includes Landry and GOP officials from 19 other states. So even though most legal experts think the sprawling health care law will survive on appeal, Edwards and the Legislature now have to spend their time preparing for the possibility that it will not.
“This was a shortsighted lawsuit, to say the least,” Edwards said in a written statement just after the decision came down. “I intend to vigorously pursue legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance and ensuring the working people of our state aren’t penalized because of this decision.”
Kennedy, meanwhile, has been using the Senate’s consideration of a federal prison reform bill to bash Louisiana’s efforts.
We’ve “seen this movie before at the state level,” Kennedy said. “He (Edwards) said, ‘Don’t worry, they’re nonviolent.’ Someone forgot to tell the criminals he turned loose because they’ve been very violent. ... I certainly don’t want to see that happen at the federal level.”
Supporters of the effort sharply dispute that characterization, and the federal bill passed anyway, with the support of the Trump White House and all but 12 Senate Republicans. On his monthly radio show Wednesday, Edwards had this to say: "You know, 87-12, I think Sen. Kennedy is backward on this. ... I think Sen. Kennedy got it wrong."
The ongoing war of words actually distorts the political picture. While Edwards has battled with Republicans in the state House along with Landry and Kennedy, he’s developed good relationships with quite a few GOP figures.
After a bit of a contentious start, he now works well with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and other statewide officials in Baton Rouge. He lauded Kennedy’s Senate colleague Bill Cassidy for supporting criminal justice reform at the federal level and has generally gotten along with Cassidy on other matters. He even appears to have a warm relationship with Jefferson Parish U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the outgoing House majority whip whose protégé, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has been a thorn in the governor’s side.
Now that they’ve both decided against a future direct faceoff, Landry and Kennedy might have also lowered the volume, even if it’s too much to expect them to change their tune.
No such luck. Edwards will still face GOP opposition next year, but with these two opting out, his chances of sticking around certainly improve.
If anything, Landry's and Kennedy’s decisions suggest this song could drag on for another four years.