Populist Label Applied To Governor

Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn’t have the ability to grease the skids at the Capitol like his predecessors.

He won’t be able to throw around cash during the spring session to help lawmakers with pet projects. And he won’t be able to remove disagreeable representatives from influential committees due to Republican rule in the House.

But Edwards, like every governor before him, does have the capacity to craft powerful policy narratives. After all, having the Louisiana press corps listen when you speak is practically an inalienable right of being the state’s top elected official.

That’s why the governor got a jumpstart over his opponents on setting the tone for the session that convenes on April 10. His message to reporters was clear: Louisiana’s most successful companies are not paying their “fair share” in taxes and about 90 percent of individual taxpayers — mom and dad and Aunt Susan — are paying too much.

As a legislator and as a gubernatorial candidate, Edwards was described as a populist on a number of occasions. But it wasn’t until last week, when he revealed his session plan and “fair share” message, that the label reemerged with a force and was applied to him as a sitting governor.

Political populism and economic populism have always meant something different in the Bayou State, depending on the context. Huey Long’s form of populism, for example, isn’t an absolute perfect match for Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell’s approach to populism or even President Donald Trump’s.

Edwards, for his part, seems to lack the incendiary rhetoric and brash decision-making that is usually attributed to populist leaders. Coupled with his one year in office, it may be too early to define his style or policy agenda with that single word. For now.

But the governor has most certainly adopted a more pointed approach to dealing with the state’s corporate elite — and he’s hoping the public reaction creates a wave of support large enough to float his entire agenda.

You can hear it clanging around Baton Rouge’s echo chamber. The Advocate newspaper has twice called called the governor a “populist” over the past week, while his harshest critics at the Capitol prefer to compare his plan to political class warfare. Both descriptions probably push the matter a little too far, but it’s the narrative that the Edwards Administration launched and that the Louisiana media has clung to so far in its coverage.

Surprisingly enough, the two previous administrations that have the most to show us about where Edwards might be heading revolved around former governors who will be remembered by history for being anything but populists.

For starters, there are many parallels between former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s start at the Capitol and the introduction of the Edwards era in this current term.

Roemer, during his time in office, stared down a $1.3 billion deficit, and he called a special session to address the budget hole. Edwards, meanwhile, had a combined budget shortfall of about $3 billion waiting on him last year when he took office, and he ended up calling two special sessions as a result. (Plus there’s a $440 million shortfall in the next budget and about $1.2 billion worth of temporary taxes that come off the books in 2018.)

Voters in 1989 rejected several of Roemer’s proposed constitutional tax changes, which were part of a larger reform push. Last year voters also dumped an Edwards proposal on the ballot to do away with a major corporate tax break.

Then there’s former Gov. Mike Foster, whose administration explored the idea of taxable gross receipts, which is a concept — replacing a corporate tax on profit with one that targets sales — the Edwards Administration is pushing this year.

By 2000 it became clear to lawmakers and others that Foster was willing to advance pretty much any kind of tax, as long as it would improve Louisiana’s revenue picture and help underwrite important government services. On the political side, however, Foster, then term-limited, took a major hit due to that approach and Republicans all around the state abandoned him. The polls released in the months and years that followed showed as much.

Roemer, meanwhile, was forced out of office after his first term. But like Foster, some of the ideas that Roemer advocated for, oftentimes against a strong tide, helped set the stage for future reforms. It’s doubtful, though, that Edwards will have the luxury of waiting for such a structural change to arrive in the future. He wants solutions now, and rightly so.

None of this means that Edwards will face the same fates as Roemer and Foster. These historical flashbacks merely show us that this governor has been in many of the same situations as non-populist governors before him. Whether history actually repeats itself will be entirely in the hands of the governor and the Louisiana Legislature, populist labels or not.

SPONSORED: Legatus In Louisiana

The intersection of faith and the workplace can be a challenge to navigate. And yet, there is an undeniable way that faith and values inform

Happy Birthday, Trackers!

— Tuesday 10/17: Steve Duke and Kevin Gallagher — Wednesday 10/18: Paul Hardy, Connie Caldwell, Kodi Wilson and Robert Morris —

The Beltway Beat

— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to Gov. Edwards: “Top quality health care for our people is extraordinarily important. (No reasonable person has

Angele Davis For The State Senate?

When you run better than expected in a statewide race and pull 41 percent in your own Senate District 16 — against five opponents, one of

LaHistory: When The Majority Leader Vanished

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the strange disappearance of U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, a proud son of Louisiana. Boggs

Oct. 14: What Happened?

An astounding 86.5 percent of Louisiana’s registered population didn’t vote during this past weekend’s statewide elections. The math is a

POD: One From The Lobbying Corps…

Episode 22 of Season 2 has two guests from Spradely & Spradley, a government relations firm in Baton Rouge. They are Tom and Matt

LOWDOWN VIDEO: Election Zombies & Political Daredevils

We've got election zombies and political daredevils in this latest episode of The LaPolitics Lowdown. See how Louisiana lost a half

MEDIA SNAPSHOTS: About Last Night…

SPONSORED: Tax Reform (& A Tax Cocktail)

Tax reform is one of the nation’s most polarizing issue. The topic is so vast and complicated that few even attempt to understand the

You Should Be Listening To The Supremes

Can you name one of the justices currently serving on the United States Supreme Court? If you cannot, you’re among 57 percent of likely

The Beltway Beat

— Lindsay Lohan’s parents want a lawsuit filed against U.S. Sen. John Kennedy for the “mini-bar” comment. Missed that one? Watch

Happy Birthday, Trackers!

— Tuesday 10/10: Late Supreme Court Justice George Eustis (1796) — Wednesday 10/11: Rick Boudreaux — Thursday 10/12: The one and

Political Chatter

— RELEASE: “During the October meeting on Thursday, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission opted not to vote on a proposal to give

Early Voting Analysis: “Not Much To Say”

The following words and thoughts belong to Ed Chervenak, the director of the UNO Survey Research Center… An analysis of the early voting

Jeff Landry’s New Chief Of Staff

Lynnel Ruckert, the former chief of staff to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, has been hired by Attorney General Jeff Landry to fill the

POD: The Jambalaya Episode

John Diez, the PAC director for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, stops by to discuss what you need to make the perfect

LaHistory: An Unfriendly Month For Governors

Since 1828 there have been seven Louisiana governors who have passed away during the month of October, either while in office or later in

LOWDOWN: The Time Thibodaux Was Governor

Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser reveals a private conversation he had with Gov. John Bel Edwards about his future election plans... We meet

SPONSORED: Experience Is The Best Teacher

Experience is the best teacher. Louisiana-native Emily Bacque has learned the truth behind this adage after much experience in the

ICYMI: The “Next Frontier” For Public Records

The general counsel for the state’s premier newspaper and magazine association believes that the “next frontier for public records law in

Happy Birthday, Trackers!

— Tuesday 10/03: Former Congressman Charlie Melancon, David Crigler, and John Hill — Wednesday 10/04: Former Gov. Buddy Roemer, former

The Beltway Beat

— Majority Whip Steve Scalise returns to Congress and speaks on the floor. WATCH — The Scalise 60 Minutes interview (his first after he

Political Chatter

— His former colleagues in the Legislature probably won’t dig it much, but John Schroder’s new (and likely final) campaign commercial will

POD: Dardenne Goes To The Hoop

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne is this week’s guest on The LaPolitics Report podcast. He reveals how close he came to walking