Thursday, March 20, 2014

Yes he can

Misunderestimate Edwin Edwards at your own peril, guys. Of course he is an obvious long shot to become the next US Congressman from Louisiana's 6th District for various good reasons. But this does not mean he won't have a puncher's chance of stealing this thing.

LA -06 is a grossly gerrymandered Republican district. But, as Adrastos puts it, Edwards has "got the full Blue Dog pander on."  And, in typical EWE fashion, it's of an especially slick variety.  Earlier this week we poked him a bit for backtracking on the Affordable Care Act. But a careful reading of his statements on that as well as other issues reveals some subtle calculations already at work.

Even in what we like to think of as a hyper-partisan and hypocritical environment Edwards is able to sound like a credible moderate.  Here he is, in the same breath, expressing support for the Keystone Pipeline and inviting a dialogue with Russell Honore's "Green Army."
On issues, he said he favors the approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline and would like to spur along a study to look at securing funds for high-speed rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He also said he's also been in touch with another famous Cajun -- Lt. Gen. Russel Honore -- to discuss his Green Army's environmental concerns regarding Baton Rouge's aquifer.
Don't expect Edwards to be too gung-ho in this arena, though.  His website states that he "will fight to protect our coastline," but, unlike supporters of the SLFPAE's lawsuit against the oil and gas industry, Edwards leaves the identity of "those responsible" for the damage open to interpretation.
I promise to join with local government to find those responsible for the damage caused, and I will work to ensure the perpetrators pay for restoring our coastline in so far as it is possible.
That's probably not a statement that will fire up the greens.  There's an O.J.-esque search for "the real killers" quality to it. But politically speaking, it's a well-positioned approach to voters in that district.  It acknowledges, however lightly, the fact of damage caused to the coastline and that there are "perpetrators" worth pursuing. It does not resort to reactionary drivel about "protecting job creators" or any language that explicitly rules out the possibility that oil companies might be among the vaguely defined "perpetrators."

This might not satisfy me or probably most of the people who check this site regularly but it does toe a line appropriate to Louisiana's uncomfortable and complicated relationship with the oil industry.  Yesterday, for example, $850 million in new Gulf oil leases were sold in New Orleans.  It was an especially significant sale because it took place under new terms.
About $2.1 million from nine of the leases sold Wednesday will go directly to Louisiana coastal restoration efforts, and the state is expected to gain billions more from the leases over time. That's because the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which was passed in 2006 by Landrieu and former Sen. Pete Domenici, allows Louisiana to share in 37.5 percent of today's bonuses and bids, as well as the same percentage of royalty and rental payments once the tracts start producing. The money goes to rebuilding coastal wetlands, as well as hurricane and flood protection projects, many of which have already been delineated in the state's coastal master plan.
Oil and gas production is Louisiana's dominant industry.  It's killing us. But it's also helping us pay for our pain medication.  Any serious candidate in the 6th District is going to tread carefully around this.

This week, on his entertaining Twitter account, Edwards was asked specifically about his role in enabling oil and gas activity in Louisiana.  His answer came in three tweets:

1) Oil and gas permits are let by the feds.  This is technically true but sort of a dodge.

2) "Most of it was done in the 30s"  Also a dodge and difficult to interpret.  It's possible that he means the most crucial damage to the Louisiana wetlands occurred when oil exploration began to take off there.  But this doesn't answer anyone's questions about what might have been done to mitigate the ongoing damage as such activities continued throughout the century... a good portion of which included Edwin Edwards' career in government.

3) "I never gave permission to damage the coast" Yes, well, we're not likely to find any tapes of him having done that explicitly.

These are not particularly strong statements from Edwards but here is what is interesting about them. Among the announced candidates for this seat, Edwards is the only one whose statements about the Louisiana coast even suggest that there are "perpetrators" who need to be held responsible and that those perpetrators just might be oil companies.  Garret Graves also acknowledges the causality between oil exploration and coastal loss but he has famously taken the lead in Bobby Jindal's efforts to shield the industry from being held accountable.  At this point, it's Edwards who has managed to say the most while risking the least.

Similarly, Edwards's shifting position on the Affordable Care Act is more subtle than the "flip flop" some have characterized it as.  Yesterday, Gambit described Edwards as "foursquare against it now ... unlike, say, six months ago."  But this is a gross misreading.

Here is what Edwards told Larry King six months ago
King asked whether he supports the President’s health care reforms, or Obamacare.  “Oh, absolutely,” he said, saying that, at 86, he remembers when Social Security was first introduced, with cries that it would bankrupt the country and ruin society.   Repeating the populist theme echoed several times Sunday, Edwards said it was the poor, the young and the elderly who are most in need of government’s help, which he said the health care reforms would do.

He is clearly no fan of current Gov. Bobby Jindal and criticized him for rejecting the Medicaid expansion that Edwards said would help thousands of poor Louisiana residents without health insurance.  When King asked whether Jindal’s decision was motivated by a desire for higher political office, Edwards revealed that he has never met or spoken to Jindal, whom he called a “different sort of person,” before adding he wishes Jindal well.
Now go watch the Chuck Todd interview that Gambit is calling a reversal.  Edwards tells Todd that, were he a Congressman at the time, he would not have voted for ACA because it was "too long, too technical, too involved, and subject to pitfalls."

These things are all true.  The ACA is an unnecessarily complicated bank shot scheme to protect the insurance industry from the most serious threat of an American single-payer health care system it is ever likely to face.  It was a huge disappointment to advocates of real health care reform. There's no fault in considering having voted against it on those grounds.  And yet, now that it is the law of the land, there are clearly beneficial aspects of it that are worth supporting.  This is precisely Edwards' position.

Here is his statement on ACA from his campaign website
I will work to keep good provisions within the Affordable Care Act. For example, the demand should be kept for people with pre-existing conditions to not feel afraid of losing insurance, or not being able to afford a policy. Children should be allowed to remain on the policies of their parents until they reach the age of 26. Many of our young people are seeking further education after undergraduate degrees, and they deserve to feel secure if they become ill or injured.

I will always see the importance of benefits of coverage for children, the elderly, the unemployed and underemployed. Statistics state that nearly 400,000 of our citizens do not have healthcare benefits. That in itself is a shocking figure. If the Federal Government agrees to the continued 100% costs of insurance for three years and 90% costs thereafter, that is a bargain that Louisiana cannot afford to pass up. Louisiana needs this. If not us, then another state will reap these benefits, and where will that leave those 400,000 citizens?

No other candidate in the race talks about Obamacare in these terms. Certainly no candidate who "opposes" the ACA talks about it terms of "the poor, the young, and the elderly who are most in need of government's help."  This was what Edwin Edwards emphasized to Larry King.  And it is what he emphasizes now, as a candidate, who supports keeping "good provisions within the Affordable Care Act." Edwards hasn't made a "180 degree flip-flop" as Gambit says.  He's refined his rhetoric to reflect a moderate approach while keeping the substantive policy implications constant.

These are the skills that made Edwards such an effective southern populist throughout his career.  He is able to talk about issues from a wholly independent perspective and with a knack for appearing to err on the side of common folk. And this is why I say Edwards has a puncher's chance of winning this race. Put aside the question of whether you agree with his positions (I especially think he's wrong on energy policy) and ask if he plays them convincingly in comparison with his opponents.

Edwards wants to build the Keystone Pipeline because he believes doing that will employ "20,000 good local men and women."  But he leaves the door open to punishing the "perpetrators" of Louisiana's coastal loss.  Any position his strongest opponent, Garret Graves, takes in this regard is colored by a perceived fealty to oil and gas based on his role in the Jindal administration.

Edwards favors accepting the Medicaid expansion in order to strengthen the admittedly flawed ACA. Graves has refused to take any public position regarding Medicaid.  Suffice to say, Graves will be tasked with distinguishing himself from Jindal in general.  If that process somehow obliges Graves to recalibrate his rhetoric in relation to any of his prior statements, it will be interesting to see how quickly anyone jumps to call that a "flip-flop."

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