U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy has become the darling of the Washington press corps for his colorful turns of phrase. They are captivated by his faux-homespun utterances, such as his absurdly ubiquitous “I’d rather drink weed killer” than support the Affordable Care Act. His popularity on the soundbite circuit obscures the fact that Kennedy — who graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University and earned law degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Oxford — is a very erudite man. And a painstakingly ambitious politician.
So he had to know that calling for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ resignation during a recent interview with KPEL-FM, a Breaux Bridge radio station, would reverberate far beyond Acadiana. “He's a liberal Democrat and he wants his way,” Kennedy, a Republican, said of Edwards, a Democrat. “He thinks he has a mandate. He thinks his mandate is to tax and spend like they do in Massachusetts and California.”
Putting aside the ridiculous notion that Edwards is a liberal — his pro-life, pro-gun stances are anathema to national Democrats — Kennedy’s reference to Massachusetts and California is puzzling on several counts. For starters, both those states are doing far better than Louisiana by just about any metric.
[jump] California has the nation’s highest state sales tax rate, but Louisiana ranks first when it comes to combined local and state sales taxes. Moreover, both California and Massachusetts have legislatures that manage to reach bipartisan agreement on important fiscal matters — even when their governors are not from the lawmakers’ majority party. California, by the way, has the fourth-best economy in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report; Massachusetts, the ninth. Louisiana comes in at 44.
It’s interesting that Kennedy tried to tag Louisiana’s conservative Democrat governor with the “Massachusetts liberal” label. In 2004, Kennedy ran for the U.S. Senate (his first of three tries) as a genuinely liberal Democrat himself — appearing alongside the Democratic candidate for president, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, at a local campaign rally. Perhaps that’s why Kennedy claims to know so much about Massachusetts liberals.
After completely reinventing his political persona three times, Kennedy finally won a U.S. Senate seat in 2016. Now, just 17 months into his first term, he’s considering a run for governor next year. Having worked so hard for so long to win his Senate seat, why is Kennedy so anxious to give it up so soon? More important, why can’t he focus on the job Louisiana voters elected him to do?
It takes time, relationships, and a skilled hand to gain clout on Capitol Hill. That’s how U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, became the House Majority Whip (and is now a serious contender for House Speaker, if the GOP holds the House in November). Contrast that with Kennedy’s near-obsession with parochial Louisiana politics, and it’s clear our state has only one fully functioning senator. Louisiana deserves better.
If Kennedy’s so interested in the governor’s race, perhaps he should take his own advice: resign so that someone who wants to do the senator’s job can have it. That would be the intellectually honest thing to do. We suspect he’d rather drink weed killer.