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Governor John Bel Edwards speaks alongside Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc, left, during a press conference where grant money, savings from criminal justice reforms were announced to be reallocated, Wednesday, October 17, 2018, Baton Rouge, La.

LSU pollsters recently found that criminal justice reform became more popular among Louisianans over the past year, which is interesting.

Even more interesting is that support for efforts to reduce Louisiana’s once-nation leading incarceration rate — a signature issue for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards — grew most among independents and Republicans.

Overall approval rose between 2018 and 2019 from 61 to 70 percent, and from 74 to 79 percent among Democrats. But backing among independents grew from 62 to 74 percent, and among Republicans from 46 to 60 percent.

So how come?

Here’s my theory: Donald Trump.

Edwards’ package passed through the Legislature (with bipartisan support) in 2017, before the 2018 version of the annual poll, produced each year for the Manship School’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, was conducted. So the change in attitude isn’t a direct result of news surrounding its adoption.

One thing that did happen after the last year’s poll was taken was that the governor announced some of the benefits of adopting the new approach, specifically cost savings and the state’s drop from first to second in incarceration rates.

More recent, and arguably more persuasive to some conservative Louisianans, was that the president strongly backed a similar measure at the federal level.

The effort was spearheaded by Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who took on the issue after his own father served time for making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. The federal First Step Act is largely aimed at giving people locked up for nonviolent drug offenses a second chance, just as in Louisiana. It also had the support of a wide range of conservative figures, from evangelicals to small-government libertarians to the Koch network. 

The measure did have its skeptics, just as the state version did. U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, for example, was a vocal critic of both Edwards’ bill and the one backed by Trump.

But now more than ever, many of Kennedy’s fellow Republicans back home beg to differ.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.