For the past 28 years, Louisiana’s incoming governors have alternated party labels four times. From the perch of 2019, looking back over those years, the regular partisan swaps look like a never-ending tennis.
The giant yellow ball went from Democrat Edwin Edwards, of Crowley, to Republican Mike Foster, then from Democrat Kathleen Blanco to Republican Bobby Jindal, who eventually lobbed the governorship to Democrat John Bel Edwards, of Amite (a fitting bookend).
Shaped by hurricanes, poverty, outmigration and other factors, the various electorates from 1991 through this current term of state government provided Louisiana with five strikingly different personalities to live in the Governor’s Mansion.
But who will be next? Isn’t that what we really want to know? Well, based on nearly three decades of voting, it could literally be anyone. (Or it just seems that way sometimes.)
The 1990s, for instance, were marked by an unlikely transition that saw the Cajun Prince (Edwards/Crowley edition) make way for the unpolished Foster. The former remains a lifelong politician and the latter didn’t run for political office until he was 57.
In 2003, voters selected Blanco as the state’s first woman governor. Four years later, Louisiana’s same ballot-casting class transformed Jindal into the country’s first Indian-American governor.
The 2015 victory of Gov. Edwards (Amite edition) was partly decided by personality politics, with his own long shot bid outstripping the GOP machine that was former U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Some folks are still looking for answers following that upset, even if there have been a number of reasonable explanations presented.
Gubernatorial politics can be as unpredictable as they are exciting here — that, or they’re pretty much a bore. This cycle won’t be much different.
Edwards is so far facing serious competition from Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and Congressman Ralph Abraham, of Alto. Much depends on how fractured Louisiana Republicans will become as two figureheads take on the Democratic incumbent. But it definitely looks like a race from where I’m sitting.
Then again, it would be best not to put too much stock into the “reads” and “analyses” of journalists, pollsters and talking heads until September or so. Stick to hard news, engage in public forums and follow the developing race as much as you can. Just avoid the politics. If this race is going to be competitive, you’ll be able to see it clearly by Labor Day.
Right now, no one can see anything. The landscape is too foggy. Qualifying is seven months away and at least one candidate — state Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell — is still supposedly pondering the race.
The election or re-election of a governor can be a Big Deal here, yielding varying degrees of cultural and societal influences. But you never really know what’s around the bend.
Of the seven primary gubernatorial elections held since 1991, three have generated runoffs and only two remained competitive — those being the showdowns that produced Democratic victors in 2003 (Blanco) and 2015 (Edwards/Amite edition).
It shouldn’t surprise anyone with a bit of perspective to learn that Edwards (Crowley edition) earned more votes from a single ballot than any other governor during the past 28 years. The designation came courtesy of former Klansman David Duke, who was on the losing side,. But the 1991 “race from hell” also reveals a troubling trend.
Gov. Edwards (Amite edition) received 410,000 fewer votes to win his office in 2015 than did former Gov. Edwards (Crowley edition) in 1991. Remarkably, the final vote tallies of the winning governors for the past 28 years have slipped each and every cycle without fail.
Here’s a closer look at the unmistakable decline: Edwards (1991, Crowley edition), 1 million votes; Foster (1995), 984,499 votes; Foster (1999), 805,203 votes; Blanco (2003), 731,358 votes; Jindal (2007), 699,275 votes; Jindal (2011), 673,239 votes; Edwards (2015, Amite edition), 646,924 votes
Will 2019 become a part of this trend, or will voters rise up and break the 28-year streak? Could the dip be enough to inspire another candidate to enter the field? How does this decline factor into the models being employed by the campaigns, if at all? Will any of the candidates address this issue on the trail? Are we in for a dramatic shift next term, or a simple reshuffling of the cards?
No one knows for sure, and those capable of making calculated guesses that carve out paths to victory aren’t going to tell us. Not for free, at least. They will have a seat at the table for what should be the most expensive race for governor ever waged on Louisiana soil.
Hopefully voters will become just as motivated in the coming months, because this go around, turnout really does matter.