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.

RECENT STORIES

PSC May Sue Legislature

The Public Service Commission is expected to meet in executive session on Friday to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the Louisiana Legislature. The request for an executive session was made by Commission Chair Eric Skrmetta. At issue is the passage of SB 50 (Act 278) by Sen. Blade Morrish, which addresses certain forms […]

GONE FISHING: Annual Summer Publishing Break

Annual Summer Publishing Break: June 20 — July 10, 2017 Dear Friend, Longtime LaPolitics subscribers know the final week of June and the first week of July mark our annual summer publishing break. There’s also an Easter publishing break, but the Legislature had other ideas for the LaPolitics family of publications this year. That scheduled week off […]

SCHRODER RESIGNING

Turning attention to race for treasurer State Rep. John Schroder of Covington has filed the required paperwork to resign from the Louisiana House of Representatives and intends to vacate his seat immediately following the adjournment of the regular session on Thursday, he told friends and family during a gathering this evening. Schroder told supporters that […]

Critics Still Want John White’s Job

The following story was originally published on April 21, 2017, for subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly. Wish you would have seen it then? Sign up now! A small handful of influential political players and legislators, including at least one chairman, are making a hard push to remove Education Superintendent John White from his position. Both sides […]

PSC Speculation

In the wake of news that Pubic Service Commissioner Scott Angelle was being vetted in March for a position with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, politicos have turned their attention to the possibility of his seat opening up on the PSC. If Angelle does get a nod from the Trump Administration, then […]

UPDATED: Two Capital Outlay Bills Coming

With a 6 p.m. bill filing deadline approaching, it appears the Legislature will be seeing double when it comes to the annual construction budget. Ways and Means Chairman Neil Abramson is expected to introduce his version of HB 2, which will mirror the capital outlay plan the administration recently drafted. However, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger will […]

JBE Fundraising Report: $3.2M COH

READ THE ENTIRE REPORT HERE! — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign has raised $3.6 million since he was elected governor in 2015 — He raised $3.2 million in 2016 — Edwards ended 2016 with $3.2 million cash on hand — 1,636 new contributors in 2016 —$3.4 million raised from Louisiana contributors — Edwards did not fundraise during the […]