With less than 15 months until Election Day and no Republican campaigns launched against Gov. John Bel Edwards' re-election bid, Attorney General Jeff Landry is ramping up the pressure on other potential candidates.The good news for Jeff is he actually doesn't have to wait until next year to be the only guy on a ballot. He's already there this fall.
"We're getting into a kind of critical decision-making time. If we're going to have a candidate we need to find one and soon," Landry said in an interview with USA Today Network that was published online Wednesday and during which he expressed his own growing interest in running for governor without announcing his candidacy.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, the state's top law enforcement officer, has broken with several conservative leaders and the state Republican Party by not backing a constitutional amendment appearing on the ballot Nov. 6 that would require unanimous juries for convictions in Louisiana.As the lone public figure opposing this measure, Landry has willingly given voters an opportunity to reject him personally in a statewide referendum only a year ahead of the race for governor. That doesn't seem very smart. But then Jeff Landry often does not seem smart. On the other hand, his political instincts have served him fairly well so far. So maybe he knows something we don't.
Landry's political team confirmed that the Republican would prefer to keep the current system -- in which a 10-2 jury verdict can be used to send a person to prison. Only one other state, Oregon, allows convictions by juries that aren't unanimous and Louisiana is the only place where a person can be sent to prison for murder -- which is typically a life sentence -- without a unanimous jury.
The unanimous verdicts amendment is on your ballot because it passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this year. The public campaign to make it happen was helped in part by a terrific Advocate series explaining what a shameful aberration Louisiana's current law actually is. We live in one of only two states where a person can be convicted of a felony even if two of twelve jurors disagree with the rest of the panel. More importantly, though, the current law's origins, like so much of our criminal justice system writ large, are rooted in deliberate efforts to promote and maintain a white supremacist racial hierarchy.
The drafters of the state constitution Louisiana adopted in 1898 said they aimed to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana,” primarily by scrubbing from the rolls nearly all of the roughly 130,000 black people then registered to vote.If I had a dime for every racist/classist policy sold in the name of "efficiency"... but let's not get sidetracked by that right now. The Advocate series helped educate the public and, it appears, a lot of the legislators since the threshold for passing a constitutional amendment requires a 2/3 vote in both houses. It was an honest to goodness triumph of that "reach across the aisle" common ground stuff the John Bels of the world love to talk about.
But delegates knew they couldn’t simply ban black people from the voting booth or jury service without running afoul of the 14th and 15th amendments. The U.S. Supreme Court had explicitly said so. Instead, the jury laws those delegates drew up allowed for convictions with only nine of 12 jurors agreeing, meaning that if one, two or even three black people made it onto a jury, their votes wouldn’t matter.
These days, 10 votes are required for conviction instead of the original nine, and today’s defenders of split verdicts say Louisiana’s law now stands not for racism but for efficiency, by limiting hung juries and potential retrials.
But the effects are the same, according to an exhaustive, first-of-its-kind analysis by The Advocate.
And maybe that's what Landry is upset about. Edwards's reelection strategy is built around the idea that the Governor is Bill Clinton and he is ready to triangulate like it is 1996. For example, on Wednesday, John Bel, whose wife was a public school teacher, had the nerve to appear as a keynote speaker at the ALEC gathering in New Orleans. ALEC is well known for its hostility to the very concept of public education, not to mention the right of public educators to organize. Mark Janus was also a featured speaker there. Edwards rarely if ever criticizes President Trump. The two had what looks to have been a cordial meeting this week.
The Edwards camp is embracing a version of the Third Way national electoral strategy articulated in this article by Mitch Landrieu.
"Republicans have chosen the far right, which means that they have ceded a good portion of the middle of the road," said former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is considering a presidential run. "The Democrats, in my opinion, would make a big mistake if they decide to run a base election and just say, ‘Our base is bigger than your base.'"This is familiar enough by now. As long as Democrats are forever following a reasonable twenty paces behind, Republicans can keep marching as far to the right as they want. Sometimes that even works out. Or at least it allows individual Democratic candidates willing to enact a conservative program to win an election here and there. The net effect ends up dragging the country to some really weird places but professional Democratic political consultants aren't paid to worry about stuff like that.
In the immediate term, though, Jeff Landry might worry a little bit. What if the old Blue Dog act ends up working for John Bel again? It sort of did last time. There were extenuating circumstances, of course, having to do with his widely reviled opponent but, still, Edwards did technically win that election. And so now is the time for potential challengers to start thinking about ways to negate his strategy.
Basically John Bel plans to run on a record of having weathered the storm. It's true our colleges and hospitals are still underfunded. It's true our tax burden still rests heavily on the shoulders of our poorest residents. But it could have been so much worse if the Governor's reactionary opponents had gotten their way. Republicans may have thrashed and whined on Facebook and crashed several legislative sessions along the way but John Bel maintained just enough of his nonthreatening kind of indignation to keep the lights on. That's basically the reelection pitch.
Well, that and the occasional reminder that actually he is the most grown up conservative in the room. Which is what that ALEC appearance was all about.
Edwards' appearance dovetails nicely with the image he is hoping to convey during his re-election campaign: a Democrat who shares conservative values and works well with Republicans. The governor said he was a member of ALEC when he was a state legislator.One thing John Bel has going for him here, at least, is credibility. He doesn't have to stretch too far to position himself as a conservative. His record is pretty clear. It's not only about sticking Louisiana with one of the nation's most regressive tax codes for the forseeable future. It's also about signing a "Blue Lives Matter" bill or supporting yet another big ass pipeline through the wetlands or panedering to the right on a host of other matters such as abortion and gun control.
All of which is why it's strange to find the Governor unable to bring himself to give anyone a straight answer on the death penalty
Edwards, who has repeatedly stressed his position of upholding whatever stands in Louisiana law, declined The Advocate's request for an interview on Friday but in a written statement reiterated his focus on what current law says and again did not elaborate on his personal belief on the topic.Come on, John Bel, just say you want to kill some mothafuckers. Landry doesn't have any qualms about that. He's even willing to pick a fight with the Pope over it. So it's hardly surprising he's just as willing to exploit Edwards's wavering. John Bel can party with ALEC all weekend if he wants. He can check every box on the right wing vetting list. None of that is likely to get the Kochs off of his back. Just like the Kochs' difference with Landry over unanimous verdicts isn't going to separate them from him. Dude does them too many favors.
So Landry isn't afraid of the Pope and he isn't afraid of the Kochs either. He might be a bit worried about John Kennedy, though. That's mostly who Landry was needling at with those comments about wanting other candidates to make up their minds about getting in or out. In truth, it's Landry who is under the most pressure to decide. Jeff's term as Attorney General is concurrent with the Governor's so he actually has to pick which one he wants to run for. Kennedy doesn't have to give up his Senate seat unless he actually becomes Governor so he's got less to worry about.
Meanwhile, Kennedy is free to sit back and take pot shots at John Bel much the same way Landry is. Just like Jeff, John can call attention to himself by complaining about our recent criminal justice reforms. Just like Jeff, John can level outlandish and absurd criticisms of immigration enforcement in the City of New Orleans. And since Kennedy can do all of that stuff in a much more.. um.. charismatic rhetoric than what Jeff typically can muster, it presents a problem. Landry needs to distinguish himself.
And this might explain why he's okay with the risk that comes with being the only critic of a statewide ballot measure on unanimous verdicts. It's an opportunity for Landry to set himself apart as a hard liner. If the amendment fails, it's an even bigger win for him. Landry will then have a unique claim on being more in touch with voter sentiment than pretty much everyone who was anyone in Baton Rouge this year. If it passes, maybe some of us will make fun of him, but the potential reward here is likely well worth that.