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Louisiana returns to the GOP fold

Gov.-elect Jeff Landry has the potential to transform the state

Jeff Landry speaks during a watch party in Broussard, La., on Oct. 14. Associated Press/Photo by Brad Kemp/The Advocate

Louisiana returns to the GOP fold
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Louisiana is unlike other states in our Union. It has a civil code from Napoleonic France as its foundational law instead of British common law. Its government operates in English, but its heritage is French. And its politicians tend to be populist conservatives, regardless of the letter next to their names. On Oct. 14, the state replaced its term-limited Democratic governor for a Republican one and the new governor is set to be transformative.

Outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards had been a reliable Democrat in the Louisiana legislature who won the race for governor in 2015. He was blessed to run against then U.S. Sen. David Vitter. The senator had grappled with a scandal involving a prostitute. Sex scandals in Louisiana were not unprecedented, but the state had largely moved on from them at the state level.

Vitter waded into the gubernatorial election already bleeding from the scandal and had to contend with Louisiana’s famous “jungle primary.” All the candidates from all the parties are on the ballot together. If no one gets over 50 percent, the top two vote getters have a runoff. Sensing weakness, several Republicans jumped into the race with well-funded campaigns, including Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Vitter made it to a runoff with Edwards. Democrats rallied to Edwards, and many Republicans did too, simply because of Vitter’s scandal. The state flipped from the GOP to the Democrats.

Along the way, Republicans made great gains in the state legislature. As their numbers grew in the legislature, Edwards’ power diminished. He could oversee Louisiana’s byzantine bureaucracy, but the legislature could fight the culture war against him. Edwards, rapidly upon taking office, rescinded religious protections established by former Gov. Bobby Jindal for businesses opposed to gay marriage. He also signed an executive order preventing discrimination against transgender employees except in religious organizations. Then Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry successfully challenged Edwards’ discrimination executive order in court.

In 2019, Edwards ran for reelection and the GOP was extremely divided and without a strong candidate. A populist businessman and a conservative congressman vied to be the Republican nominee. The businessman, Eddie Rispone, made it to the runoff. But he had little money and little credibility statewide to make a strong play against an incumbent governor in a Republican state where Democrats and independents who leaned Republican, but disliked Trump, rallied to Edwards.

In Louisiana, Republicans tend to win when they are united. But after Bobby Jindal left the governor’s mansion, they struggled to unite around candidates.

Once reelected, Edwards saw Republicans get a supermajority in the legislature. They battled him on education reform, transgenderism, and other cultural issues. Each time Edwards vetoed legislation, the legislature overrode his vetoes. To his credit, John Bel Edwards maintained pro-life convictions. He signed a 15-week abortion ban in 2018 and a six-week abortion ban in 2019.

In Louisiana, Republicans tend to win when they are united. But after Bobby Jindal left the governor’s mansion, they struggled to unite around candidates. Meanwhile, Edwards portrayed himself as a pro-life reasonable moderate who was good for business. His foil was Jeff Landry, the former congressman turned attorney general.

Landry picked a number of socially conservative and populist fights against the Democratic establishment of New Orleans and against Edwards. He fought Edwards on LGBTQ issues successfully. He fought New Orleans Democrats’ lax crime policies. He went so far as to try to block a new power plant to power water pumps in New Orleans after the city government “decriminalized” abortions. Landry opposed COVID vaccine mandates and regularly beat the Edwards administration in state courts.

By 2022, Landry was the obvious candidate to stop Edwards. Moderate Republicans tried to field a candidate to oppose him, but Landry had played all his cards right. He was not offensive to business interests. He clearly had social conservative credentials. He had been a Trump supporter without being entangled in the 2020 election debacle. He checked every possible box. The results spoke for themselves. In a jungle primary with 14 candidates, Landry did what John Bel Edwards never could—he got by without needing a runoff. He won 52 percent of the vote.

Now Landry can govern in a way Edwards could not. The Republicans have a trifecta—control of the House, the Senate, and the governor’s mansion. Louisiana has arcane budgeting rules and a byzantine system of statutes, the civil code, and bureaucratic institutions. But Landry, having been a state senator, congressman, and attorney general knows those systems better than most. He has the potential to be a truly transformational conservative governor.

Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson is a lawyer by training, has been a political campaign manager and consultant, helped start one of the premiere grassroots conservative websites in the world, served as a political contributor for CNN and Fox News, and hosts the Erick Erickson Show broadcast nationwide.

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