New Orleans Even when State Representative John Bel Edwards from small town Amite, Louisiana, known for little of nothing other than being near where Abita beer is made and on the way to Mississippi, led in the open primary against three Republicans, when asked about his real chances of winning, I was doubtful. He wasn’t the first Democrat to lead a primary race after all. The trick in recent years has been hanging on.
Edwards though ended up with a smashing, almost historic runoff victory, unseating the conservative Republican two-term sitting U.S. Senator David Vitter and administering a butt whipping with nearly a 150000 vote margin and winning by 56% to 44%. In ruby red Louisiana, in recent years a Republican stronghold, Edwards becomes the first Democrat in eight years to win a statewide election. In the Republican solid South with the recent defeat of Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Edwards will also soon become the only Democrat sitting in the governor’s chair in the South.
The pundits are careful to underline that Edwards’ victory does not mark a sea change, but something more akin to a rogue wave. True or false?
Well, it’s true enough that Edwards is a blue dog Democrat rather than a yellow dog one. He’s pro-gun and anti-abortion though wisely not foaming at the mouth on either issue. Significantly, he also benefited from long family and political ties to the critical local law enforcement groups and even won the association of sheriff’s endorsement. He also has a military background including West Point in his resume which meant his only experience with camouflage pants wasn’t while touring the set for Duck Dynasty like either Vitter or Louisiana’s occasional governor and until recently full-time presidential aspirant, Bobby Jindal. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastically endorsed by labor, and wildly loved by the teachers’ unions for his opposition to charters, privatization, and vouchers, which have been constant Jindal themes. He was also clear in a state with more uninsured than any other that he would expand Medicaid thereby embracing the Obamacare punching bag. He also had hardcore business opposition for his pledge to create a state minimum wage where now Louisiana has none.
The Kentucky strategy of tying Edwards to Obama to defeat him was a total loser though, even though it had worked for Vitter in the past. So, learn from that, pundit posse!
One clear lesson, always true and worth remembering, has to do with arrogance. Vitter’s history in the Louisiana legislature and in Congress has been to always fly solo while pointing his fingers at colleagues and trying to shame them for this and that. It turns out that what goes around, comes around, and Vitter was completely alone at the end. His Republican opponents either took a walk or endorsed Edwards calling Vitter “vicious” and a “liar. Voices in his support were few and far between. It turns out that if are a mean, self-servicing, son-of-a-bee, eventually it will bite you, and if you add hypocrisy to that, whoa, Nellie, you’re going down.
Another lesson has to do with competence in actually governing, rather than purity in ideological posturing, both administered by the Bobby Jindal ego-trip. When it’s Republicans in charge from top to bottom and the state is in a total fiscal and economic mess, and the majority of the citizens are hurting, eventually that bill will come due at the polls. Jindal for eight straight years had a budget that by constitution had to be balanced returned for fixing or fudging by the legislature, while kowtowing to out of state ideologues. The first rule of all politics is that you have to tend to your own base first, and the corollary should now be that if you worship at the altar of Republican orthodoxy and forget that rule then change is going to come.
It’s worth remembering that decades ago politicians and political scientists from V.O. Key onward once believed that the solid South meant everyone was a Democrat. Some thought, wrongly, that would last forever. I can remember my father saying he never had a choice in Louisiana about whether to register as anything but a Democrat or he would have only been able to vote once every four years for President, and he was right. The pendulum can and will swing, and the more the Republicans go harder and harder right, leaving more and more people out of the sight and out of mind, the more likely their dominance will be as temporary as it has been painful for people.