Campaign 2019: Road-Tripping with Gov. John Bel Edwards

"I hope when you put your head on your pillow at night, you realize the positive effect you have on people -- today, and for the future." -- Gov. John Bel Edwards

Candidate John Bel Edwards is road-tripping around the state, holding rallies in support of his re-election for governor. Today he’s in New Orleans, and on Tuesday he’ll be in Lafayette, then Lake Charles. Wednesday, he’ll be in Alexandria and Shreveport, then Thursday morning, he’ll be back in Monroe, which is where I caught up with his campaign last Monday.

Although he’s updated some of his campaign staff, Gov. Edwards is utilizing some of the same templates that worked for his victory four years ago, coupled with touting his administration’s accomplishments in the face of partisan obstinance from the Republican-controlled Legislature – particularly the House.

His first TV ad, released today, is a case in point. Titled “Surplus,” it begins with a still shot of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, reminds voters of the fiscal mess Edwards inherited from that prior administration, and points to the state’s improved and stabilized finances.

Solid segments of the Edwards’ 2015 base came from the teachers’ unions, and having secured modest pay raises for educators and support personnel this year, he is meeting with local teacher groups on this summer’s campaign trail. He’s holding roundtables, listening to teacher concerns and confidential complaints, and – unsurprisingly – they are still wanting him to do everything possible to reverse some of the Jindal education reforms of 2012.

“Get rid of Act 1, please,” Sandy Lollie, president of the Monroe Federation of Teachers, urged at last week’s discussion. “Despite the ‘accountability’ that was promised, the school boards aren’t regulating principals, and the legislature isn’t doing anything, either. Because of Act 1, it’s open season on teachers, and all we hear is “do what we say, or else’.”

Photo credit: Sue Lincoln, Bayou Brief.

Nodding in agreement, the governor responded, “That’s why I fought against it when I was in the Legislature. And it’s ironic that the principals are having to be the enforcers, since principals were all teachers at one time.”

And although he didn’t do so by name, Edwards got some digs in on one of his declared challengers, Eddie Rispone, by reminding the teachers of the methods he was engaged in using, in order to pass the 2012 reforms.

For those who don’t remember (although many public school teachers do), the rhetoric ahead of the reforms included Jindal’s statement to LABI about teachers, that “(t)hey are paid according to how long they have been on the job, regardless of their performance,” along with the dire warning that, “(i)f any actual business was set up like this, they would go under in a matter of months. That’s what’s about to happen to our education system.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards last week reminded the Monroe-area teachers he met with of the angst generated by the Jindal reforms and their promoters (including Rispone and fellow member of the Erector Set, Lane Grigsby), saying, “When your motive with respect to education is to drive choice, in order that you and your friends may profit from it, then you do what they did then. You diminish teachers. You were demonized, as if you ever had – then or now – a choice on the first day of school who sits in your classroom.

“Teaching is a profession, and teachers should be treated with all the respect of the professionals that they are. In public opinion polls, and voting exit polls, do you know what people say is one of the most admired professions? It’s not politicians. It’s teachers.

“And I hope when you put your head on your pillow at night, you realize the positive effect you have on people — today and for the future.”

Following his meeting with teachers in Monroe, the governor crossed the Ouachita River and met with two Army veterans who are launching a mead-making business based in West Monroe. Curtis Sims and Cameron Myers are the owners of Louisiana’s first-ever meadery, Two Warriors.

Photo credit: Sue Lincoln, Bayou Brief.

“They’re Louisiana veterans, and they’re using Louisiana honey and Louisiana fruits to make their product. They’re also among the first to sign up for participation in our state’s ‘Veterans First’ business initiative, passed in the legislature this year,” Gov. Edwards told the small group gathered to tour the start-up’s facilities. “Now, if you want to patronize veteran-owned businesses, you’ll be able to find them in our database, through the state Department of Veteran Affairs, and Louisiana Economic Development.”

It’s another example of Gov. Edwards using dependably safe campaign strategies, although we can’t help but note some irony in his continuing to run against Jindal, while utilizing a combination of the two reliably popular things Jindal did in his 2011 re-election campaign: touting economic development, and honoring veterans. While Jindal, who never served in the U.S. military, handed out medals to Louisiana veterans in showy ceremonies, from the premise that he was the state’s “commander-in-chief,” John Bel Edwards’ honoring of those who’ve served is entirely in keeping with his values and persona, as a West Point grad and an Army veteran himself. It also, as a strategy, subtly synchronizes with what most political observers believe was Edwards’ winning message four years ago, the anti-Vitter “Prostitutes Over Patriots” ad.

Last Monday’s campaigning (and some events this Wednesday and Thursday) was deep in Louisiana’s 5th congressional district, whose U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham has also announced he’s challenging the governor this fall.

Photo credit: Sue Lincoln, Bayou Brief.

It’s interesting to note that while yard signs and billboards for this clerk of court or that state representative were blooming along the highways and backroads, from Vidalia to Monroe not a single “Abraham for Governor” marker could be spotted – not even in his home village of Alto. This on Monday July 1, the day after Abraham had been the featured speaker for “God and Country” Sunday at Alto Baptist Church.

Conventional political wisdom says it’s early yet for the governor’s race, with qualifying still one month away, on August 6-8. And, traditionally, the big push for any of the serious campaigns starts on Labor Day weekend. This year, that gives the candidates a full six weeks to spend their advertising dollars and make their case to the voters for the primary election on October 12.