Governor John Bel Edwards Throws Louisiana “Blue” Gumbo on Demagogue Donald—Congratulations! November 24, 2019
Remember Demagogue Donald’s constantly repeated campaign mantra? “We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much….We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning….And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning (billingsgazette.com, Lutey, T.,5/26/16).’” Let’s now paraphrase this Trumpian delusional promise with the true un-“alternative facts” that Trump really should have said, “We’re going to lose so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of losing…we’re going to keep losing, losing, losing.”
And the Trump losses “just keep on coming.” After losing heavily in 2017 and 2018 races, Donald did it again in 2019. On 11/05/2019, Donald’s mini-clone, GOP first-term Gov. Matt Bevin, lost re-election in “solid-Red” KY. In VA, both Houses of the state legislature flipped “Blue.” The “Old Dominion” became “New Dominion Democratic Trifecta #15,” a state where the Governor and legislative chambers are all “Blue.” Democrats went on to win mayoral races throughout the country, including Wichita, KS, the headquarters of GOP mega-donor Koch Industries. “Team Blue” won “bigly” in county races in the key Philadelphia, PA suburbs. All of these wins occurred despite Donald’s repeatedly campaigning throughout the country urging his MAGA “red meat” base to vote. Finally, despite Donald’s showing up three times to MAGA rallies in Deep South Louisiana (LA), Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards won re-election to a second term in the 11/16/2019 runoff against GOP nominee Eddie Rispone who roped himself to both of Trump’s hips. In these most recent Governor’s races in the South, KY, MS, and LA, “big time” Trump and GOP territory, Demagogue Donald lost two out of three contests, only winning in heavily racially polarized MS by a small 5.5% margin (AP 11/16/19, nytimes.com,11/14/19). Let’s discuss “Team Blue’s” LA win.
Amite, LA native John Bel Edwards (53), often called “John Bel,” grew up in this town of 4,000, located 48 miles northeast of Baton Rouge in Tangipahoa Parish, the LA equivalent of a county. One of eight children, John Bel comes from a strong law-enforcement and politically-connected family. His great-grandfather was the parish’s sheriff, and his grandfather, Frank Edwards, was a state legislator. John Bel’s father, Frank Edwards Jr., also served as sheriff, and was an appointee of then Dem. Gov. Edwin Edwards (no relation). Edwards Jr. was succeeded as sheriff by his son, John Bel’s brother, Daniel Edwards. Another brother, Frank Edwards III, serves as police chief of nearby Independence, LA. The name “Bel” is a family name that goes back generations (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac).
John Bel Edwards captained his high school football team and graduated valedictorian. He received a 1988 B.S. in engineering from West Point’s United States Military Academy. Edwards was on the Dean’s List and served as vice chairman of the panel that enforced the West Point honor code (Cohen & Cook 2020, Sentell, W., 9/22/15, the neworleansadvocate.com). He served for eight years as an Airborne Ranger,1988-1996, mostly in the 25th Infantry Division and the 82nd Airborne Division. He became a captain and commanded a company in the 82nd’s 3rd Brigade. He ended his military career and returned to LA for family reasons. Edwards received a 1999 law degree from Louisiana State University (LSU). He went into private practice handling a variety of civil cases, but avoided criminal law, because of his brother’s service as sheriff (Cohen & Cook 2020, Sentell, W., theneworleansadvocate.com). In 2007, Edwards won a seat in the LA House of Representatives, taking every parish in the district. Edwards was the only freshman to chair a committee, Veterans Affairs. Edwards was a strong critic of GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal for cutting money for higher education while often going out-of-state to raise funds for other Republicans. In 2011, Edwards handily won a second term and became the LA Dem. House Minority Leader. He served on the Education Committee and criticized Gov. Jindal for his attacks on teacher tenure and emphasis on charter schools (Cohen & Cook 2020, “House.louisiana.gov,” 2/01/14).
In 2013, Edwards announced he would run for Governor in 2015. Not that well-known, Edwards gained traction by attacking Jindal’s record in office. He accused Jindal of putting LA in a $1.4 billion budget deficit hole, and basically ignoring the state while trying to run for President. Edwards pledged to raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid, which Jindal opposed. Catholic Edwards opposed abortion and supported gun rights, blurring distinctions with the GOP on social wedge issues (Cohen & Cook 2020). In the all-party “jungle”primary, Edwards faced three prominent GOP opponents, including U.S. Senator David Vitter. Vitter had been tarred in a 2007 prostitution scandal, but had still won re-election to the Senate. In the primary, Edwards won 40% of the vote and Vitter came in second with 23%. Since no candidate received over 50%, a run off was held on 11/21/2015. Edwards kept attacking Vitter over his prostitution scandal with strong ads. Edwards won the runoff, 56%-44%, the biggest Democratic gubernatorial victory in LA since Democrat Edwin Edwards’ 1991 win over white supremacist David Duke (Cohen & Cook 2020).
In 2016, at the beginning of his first term, Gov. John Bel Edwards fulfilled his campaign promise to enact Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. By 2017, after this Medicaid expansion, the number of LA individuals without health insurance was cut in half to 11.4% down from 22.7%. According to an LSU Business College study, Gov. Edwards’ expansion of Medicaid made over 500,000 more adults eligible for Medicaid, of whom 327,000 were uninsured (kentucky.com/living/health, lsu.edu/business, 8/30/16). Gov. Edwards had also campaigned on a promise to reduce LA’s prison population. He quickly commuted 22 sentences out of 56 identified by the state’s Board of Pardons (theappeal.org). In 2017, Gov. Edwards signed a package of 10 bills that curbed mandatory minimum sentences, overhauled drug sentencing, expanded alternatives to incarceration, and limited the most serious sentences for juveniles. For the first time in years, LA quickly lost its dubious ranking as the state with the top incarceration rate (Cohen & Cook 2020). Edwards won praise for dealing with racial strife in Baton Rouge and for calmly handling floods in the northern part of the state. Gov. Edwards, despite facing a heavily-dominated GOP legislature, was able to get LA out of GOP Gov. Jindal’s fiscal hole. Edwards balanced the budget with a temporary sales tax, a cigarette tax hike, and corporate income tax changes. Gov. Edwards was able to raise pay for teachers and school support staff, which had not happened for 10 years (Cohen & Cook 2020, nola.com/news, 5/09/19). Edwards tried to issue orders and contracts protecting LGBTQ state employees, but his GOP Atty. General and the court overruled him (Cohen & Cook 2020). Edwards did not enact any gun control laws. Edwards, with his strong anti-abortion beliefs, signed several bills that banned abortions after 15 weeks and punished medical practitioners involved, bills the courts blocked (Cohen & Cook 2020). He signed an anti-abortion bill that banned this procedure after a fetal heartbeat was detected, similar to a MS one blocked in court. Although state and national progressives were upset with these moves, this is LA, not CA or NY, and signing these bills kept well-known GOPers from running against Edwards (See Cohen & Cook 2020).
Running for re-election in 2019, Edwards had a personal approval rating of 57% (theadvocate.com, Bridges, 11/17/19). However, LA is one of the South’s strongest “Red” States. Bill Clinton was the last Democrat who carried it in 1996. In 2016, Donald clobbered Hillary there by 20 points, 58%-38% (Cohen & Cook 2020). Donald still has a fairly high popularity LA rating, in the 50’s (cnn.com, Enten, 11/17/19). Edwards hoped to win his 10/2019 “jungle primary” outright with over 50% of the vote. Instead, he took 46.6% of the vote v. GOPers Eddie Rispone’s 27.4% and Cong. Ralph Abraham’s 23.6%. In the runoff, the GOPers in a solid “Red” state normally would fall behind Rispone. The two GOPers, Rispone and Abraham, received 51% of the vote, putting Edwards in a run off disadvantage. Donald and his GOP, already stung by GOP Governor Matt Bevin’s 11/05/2019 KY loss went all out for Rispone. Rispone (70), a millionaire construction company co-founder, who had previously been appointed by GOP Gov. Jindal to a LA Investment Council, became a co-joined twin to Donald (See theeadvocate, Baton Rouge, nola.com, 5/8/19). In the runoff period, the GOP, Rispone, and outside business groups spent more than $25 million on this race (theadvocate.com, Bridges, 11/17/19). Besides Donald coming three times to LA to rally GOPers for Rispone, Trump tweeted on Election Day to get Republican voters to the polls. VP Pence also came to LA (politico.com, Strauss, D., 11/16/19, nytimes.com, 11/16/19, Rojas & Alford). At his rallies, Trump screamed, “You’ve got to give me a big win, O.K. (nytimes.com, 11/16/19)?”
In order to win, Edwards had to dramatically turn out more African-Americans than he did in the primary. Edwards needed to win at least 10% of the voters who had supported GOP Cong. Ralph Abraham, the primary’s third place finisher. And, finally, Edwards had to win over enough moderate, suburban, GOP voters in East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, and St. Tammany Parishes turned off by Donald and his tight embrace of Rispone. In the end, Edwards did it all. He won the 11/16/2019 runoff by 40,341 votes, 51.3%-48.7%, a 2.6% margin (nytimes.com). To win in GOP LA, a Dem has to take 33% of the white vote, 90% of the black vote, and blacks must account for 30% of the turnout. John Bel exceeded all those marks in the runoff. He won 33.5% of the white vote and 95% of the black vote. Black voters accounted for 30.5% of the overall turnout, up from the primary’s 27.6% (theadvocate.com, 11/17/19). Although Cong. Abraham had endorsed Rispone, Edwards won the required 10% of Abraham’s voters by running ads reminding them of how Rispone had bitterly attacked the Congressman with lies during the primary. As in the rest of the country, educated and many normally GOP-leaning LA suburban voters upset with Trump and his allies went “Blue.” Edwards won 66% of the vote in partially urban and partially suburban East Baton Rouge Parish, home to Baton Rouge. In suburban Jefferson Parish, on the border of Orleans Parish, home to New Orleans, Edwards took 57% of the vote. He had only won there in 2015 with 51%. In the 11/2019 runoff, Edwards won 40% of St. Tammany Parish’s vote. Edwards took 90% of the vote in Orleans Parish in the 2019 run off. He rolled up big margins in the cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport where the black mayors helped him get out votes (theadvocate.com, 11/17/19, Enten, cnn.com, 11/17/19).
With his 11/16/2019 run off victory, Edwards is the only Democratic Governor in the Deep South. He can now help Democrats get a fair shake at re-districting (dlcc.org). His win demonstrates that a candidate with an economically progressive record, even in a “Red” state can win. His military/law-enforcement background and conservatism on social issues was perfect for LA. Voters did not buy Trump and Rispone’s “tax and spend liberal” drivel about Edwards. Neither did there seem to be backlash against Democrat Edwards for being a member of the party that is nationally bringing impeachment charges against Donald. LA’s big urban centers and suburbs demonstrated they can outvote the heavily rural MAGA countryside. Edwards, like KY Dem. Gov.-elect Andy Beshear, proved that Donald’s endorsement is not everything. The late Dem. House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s maxim, “All politics is local,” still remains part of the electoral equation. Democratic turnout constitutes everything in elections from President on down. When Democrats vote in droves, we and the country win. Again, congratulations, Gov. John Bel Edwards!