Senator John Kennedy, the junior Republican Senator from Louisiana, announced on Monday that he would not be seeking the office of the governor in his state in 2019.
Normally, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. Senators don’t often decide to run for governor, especially when they are only two years into the first term of their Senate tenure. It would be foolish to think, in a vacuum, that he was seriously contemplating it.
But, we know he either was contemplating it and changed his mind at the last minute or he was just screwing with the state GOP the whole time. We know this because he’s spent the last several months publicly toying with the idea while also getting the word out that other qualified and good candidates were neither qualified nor good.
This is a boon for current Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards.
Take, for example, Jeff Landry. A former Congressman, current state Attorney General, and a solid conservative with a good reputation in the state, Landry was very early on eyed to run against Edwards. But, with Kennedy and his massive warchest looming over the horizon, he decided not to run. At the same time, Kennedy’s allies were telling state voters and donors that Landry didn’t have a shot.
Another good conservative named Steve Waguespack, who heads up the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (essentially, Louisiana’s Chamber of Commerce), likewise was thought to be a good candidate. Edwards has been no friend to Louisiana business, particularly the oil and gas industry, and Waguespack also supports a growing movement to get rid of the current state constitution and write a new one that, among other problems, doesn’t protect so much money from being cut (an issue that has caused Louisiana’s budget to balloon out of control).
Edwards is touting his success as governor being… balancing the budget? A surplus? Things he could only achieve by raising taxes, lying about incoming money, and refusing to make any necessary cuts in order to do so. The result has been billions in tax increases since he took office, and no reform whatsoever to a state that badly needs it.
Waguespack, as someone whose job is to pay close attention to Louisiana’s business climate, sees what these tax increases and the attempts by Edwards to run oil and gas out of the state are doing. Louisiana is dying.
But, like Landry, Waguespack was deemed by Kennedy (or, at least, his allies) as being insufficiently capable of winning a race against Edwards.
Congressman Ralph Abraham has also been toying with the idea of a gubernatorial run, but he has been reserved for the past few months because Kennedy’s overtures all but guaranteed he would in fact run. Kennedy released polls showing how he’d match up against Edwards. He got deeply involved with every state issue that he could position himself opposite Edwards on.
So, Abraham hasn’t formally declared. In fact, the only declared candidate of note is a guy named Eddie Rispone, a businessman out of Baton Rouge. He doesn’t have name recognition in the state, and Abraham hails from a Congressional district that produced a governor in the 1960s and never again.
That’s not to say that neither man is completely hopeless, but we are a few weeks away from 2018, and the GOP in the state hasn’t been able to lay any groundwork because no major candidate declared – despite one man teasing for sixth months or more that he would.
With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, it’s unlikely that anyone is making any plans until after the new year, and the GOP has no clear candidate to back.
This creates an ideal situation for Edwards, a Democratic governor in a deep red state whose success for two election cycles now comes down to a disorganized GOP. This is the result of Kennedy’s decision to clear the field and then not run for the office he was laying the groundwork to run for.
I don’t know why he decided not to run, though I suspect several key donors straight up told him they would not support him if he jumped from a federal office after two years into the governor’s race. With the exception of a couple of terms as state treasurer, Kennedy has been a professional candidate for as long as I’ve been paying attention. He ran against David Vitter as a Democrat(!) in 2004 and lost, then ran against Mary Landrieu as a Republican in 2008 and lost.
Prior to all this, he served dutifully under two Democratic governors, ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General, and then served as state treasurer from 2000 until 2017 (switching from Democrat to Republican in 2007), when he took over Vitter’s Senate seat.
I have an inherent distrust of politicians who switch parties (one of the reasons I still do not trust Donald Trump), but I am also extremely disappointed in what can only be explained as the selfish actions of Kennedy in what he has done this year alone.
He is popular among the press – and who wouldn’t love his down-home, frank, and metaphor-tinged twang when he speaks on big political issues – and he has wielded soundbites with the deadly accuracy of someone who has been in Louisiana politics for 30 years.
But that doesn’t create much in the way of substance, something I’m more and more finding he lacks. There is a whole lot of flash, but so far, very little bang.
The flash was enough to keep other candidates out, though, and now the state risks another brutal primary with multiple Republicans tearing each other apart, leaving Edwards to keep his warchest in reserve until there is but one candidate left, and he can unload on him (or her!) in order to win re-election.
Thanks, Senator. Great work.