Gov. John Bel Edwards had something good to say about all the major Republicans who want his job — except one.
“The most extreme and partisan — and extremely partisan person — that I know,” said Edwards, in an interview, about Attorney General Jeff Landry, the only Republican who has officially declared his candidacy at this point.
For the other major Republican candidates who have expressed an interest in running for governor in 2023, Edwards, a Democrat, said something positive about them, even as he noted their political differences.
Other possible contenders
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, came to Edwards’ recent Christmas party with her husband, and they had a “nice talk,” he said, adding, she is someone, “I can have a good personal relationship with.”
Edwards said that Hewitt is “obviously a capable legislator” but said the two “have profound policy differences.” Hewitt is “somebody who has not been helpful to me politically.”
Edwards noted that John Schroder, the state treasurer, entered the House with him in 2007. The two were part of a group dubbed the “Fiscal Hawks” that challenged then-Gov. Bobby Jindal from both the left and the right for using accounting tricks to balance the budget.
“We get along personally, but I have a number of significant policy differences with him,” Edwards said of Schroder.
He spoke most favorably about Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who has not shied from working with Edwards to promote tourism and help the state recover from natural disasters.
“His relationship and mine has been pretty solid, but not 100% agreement,” Edwards said. “He does a good job of promoting Louisiana to the world.”
Don’t ‘outsource’ decision
Edwards was critical of the Republican candidates who are waiting to see whether U.S. Sen. John Kennedy runs for governor before announcing their plans. Kennedy, who just won reelection, has said he’ll announce his intentions in January.
“Either you want to be governor or you don’t,” Edwards said. “You shouldn’t outsource it to others.”
Edwards noted that Kennedy liked to snipe at him during Edwards’ first term.
“But ever since he announced he wasn’t running for governor in 2019, we have had a better relationship,” Edwards said, noting that the two recently discussed the effort by Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy to secure more offshore energy royalty payments for Louisiana.
‘The folksy quips’
Edwards was then asked what he thinks when he hears critics label Kennedy as “Senator Foghorn Leghorn.”
The normally voluble governor was silent for five seconds.
“Um,” he began. “Well,” he added a moment later.
He looked out the window of the vehicle and laughed. “Uh,” he said before settling on something.
“I’m not a fan of the folksy quips,” Edwards finally said. “That’s obviously his style of addressing members of the press and answering their questions. While I’m not a fan, I recognize that he just won reelection with over 60% of the vote. I guess it’s working for him.”
Still, Edwards aims his greatest ire at Landry, who has the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr. and has repeatedly criticized the governor publicly and challenged his policies in court.
In calling Landry “extreme and partisan,” Edwards said, “I have been successful both in getting elected and governing because I’m neither of those things. I’m hopeful that the people who voted for me and voted to reelect me because of who I am and what I represent will decide that he is not what they want and will not support him. He would be a disaster for our state.”
Replied Landry’s media consultant Brent Littlefield: “As John Bel pushed extremely liberal policies, Jeff Landry certainly challenged him in the courts and won some of those cases. I’m sure Mr. Edwards was unhappy with those losses.”
To be sure, Edwards remains bullish on the chances of a Democrat in his mold winning next year’s race. He hopes that no potential Democrat will be dissuaded by calls from Democrats that he or she can’t win. He spurned similar calls in 2015.
“The only way you know you can’t win is if you don’t run,” he said. “There are reasons to believe that the dynamic that will play out in 2023 will be very similar to what we saw in 2015. It depends on if we have a credible moderate Democrat in the race, and you end up with multiple Republicans who push each other further and further to the right.”