The runoff election for Louisiana governor is nearly three weeks away and an IBEW-backed candidate has a good chance of becoming the state’s next executive.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards finished first in the Oct. 24 open primary with 40 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest Republican rival, Sen. David Vitter, who won only 23 percent. The rest of the vote was split between seven additional candidates, but since no one finished with a majority of the vote, the top two vote getters will go head-to-head Nov. 21 in a runoff to replace Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“Jindal turned this state into a working man’s graveyard. The working man pays for schools, roads and hospitals and business use our infrastructure and pay nowhere near their fair share,” said Jason Dedon, political director for Baton Rouge Local 995. “We need someone who will lead the turning of the tide and John Bel Edwards is the real deal.”
Edwards is in a good position, with a good message only a month before the election, but no Democrat has won statewide office in Louisiana since 2008. But his opposition has considerable problems of his own.
|The IBEW is backing State Sen. John Bel Edwards in the Louisiana Governor’s runoff Nov. 21.
Outside of Louisiana, Vitter is probably best known for showing up in the black book of the so-called D.C. Madam in 2007. Vitter admitted to committing a "very serious sin" but his political career survived and throughout the campaign he would only say that he and the voters “had moved on.”
A few months ago, Vitter was seen as the likely winner, with good poll numbers, high name recognition and more money than all of his competition combined. But come Election Day, Vitter won little more than his conservative base and he barely beat out his two Republican opponents Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Neither Angelle nor Dardenne have endorsed Vitter after the bruising primary.
Which, Dedon said, leaves Edwards in a pretty good position.
“All he has to do is win 25 percent of the voters who didn’t like Vitter in the first go round,” Dedon said. “That is realistic if we can get him the support he needs to get his message out.”
Edwards is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point where and he served eight years a US Army airborne ranger.
After his first place finish, Edwards talked about the importance of West Point’s honor code, saying “David Vitter wouldn’t last five minutes at West Point.”
Vitter had already tried to paint Edwards as “not [just] a casual supporter of Barack Obama… he is a true believer.” But, unlike the president, Edwards is pro-life, a hunter and has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Edwards often says, ‘They won’t out-gun me, out-god me or out-patriot me.’” Dedon said.
On pocketbook issues, however, Edwards stands out from the pro-corporate Vitter.
In his election night victory speech, Edwards said the message from voters was clear, that Republican policies favoring corporations had been tried and they failed to help the people of Louisiana.
"If you can always do more with less, one day you can do everything with nothing? It doesn't work that way,” Edwards said. "There's going to have to be shared sacrifice and shared prosperity. We've got to even the score and that's what I'm going to do as your next governor."
Edwards has a record of not just voting to support working families when votes come up, but sponsoring legislation and leading fights to protect what is already there. For example, when Republicans in the state House proposed a bill to stop automatic dues payments for public workers, Edwards led the opposition with state Sen. Ben Nevers, former business manager of Bogalusa Local 1077.
“It was typical ALEC legislation,” Dedon said, referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate clearinghouse for model anti-worker legislation. “Under the leadership of those two guys, the bill was killed in committee before it got to the floor.”
Dedon said Edwards was also out front when Republicans and some Democrats tried to delicense plumbers. All of labor got behind the plumbers, he said.
“We don’t have an electrician license requirement in Louisiana and we know what that feels like. It would have been a huge blow,” he said. “Edwards went against the leadership on that. But he didn’t just vote no. He spoke up about why it was a bad idea and even came out on the steps of the Capitol to join the a labor rally.”
That kind of support has won Edwards the loyalty of organized labor. The Louisiana Families First super PAC raised $444,200 from May to mid-September to support Edwards' election and more than half came from labor, including $37,000 from the IBEW.
“Louisiana used to be a pro-union state and Edwards comes from Tangipahoa Parish in northern Louisiana, a part of the state that still is,” said Local 995 President Timothy Overmier. “His biggest problem is lack of name recognition, but depending on which poll you look at, between 30 and 40 percent of the electorate is still undecided. There is a lot of opportunity.”
And there is a great deal at stake.
Louisiana ended last year with at least a $100 million deficit, the state Medicaid program is $300 million short and nearly every part of the budget is protected from cuts by law or state constitutional amendments.
Worse according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the state has gone on a “tax credit spree ...giving away $7 billion each year in credits, rebates, and exemptions with virtually no scrutiny.”
“What the Jindal administration hasn’t given away, they have privatized,” Overmier said. “Because of the anti-worker climate of the last eight years, working people have fallen behind. We need a governor who is not just sympathetic but a fighter to get us back at least to where we were. Edwards is that man.”