Louisiana's John Bel Edwards Overcame Big Obstacles to Win Governor's Race | us news

Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards Overcame Big Obstacles to Win Governor’s Race

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After La. upset, Edwards will have to make good on unity promises.

Louisiana Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards hugs his wife Donna Edwards as he arrives to greet supporters at his election night watch party in New Orleans on Nov. 21. An all-but-unknown Democrat has soundly beaten his Republican rival to become the next governor of Louisiana, in a stunning political upset that went from impossible to inevitable over the course of the campaign.NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Democrats in Louisiana rejoiced as they reclaimed the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years, while the state’s GOP leader insisted “our Republican brand is strong” even amid the defeat of a one-time political powerhouse, Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter tried in the final days to make the Louisiana governor’s race about President Barack Obama and the potential for Islamic terrorists to infiltrate the U.S. posing as Syrian refugees. The victory followed three years of work rebuilding the Louisiana’s Democratic Party and dissatisfaction with outgoing Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, said Karen Carter Peterson, Democratic Party chairwoman in the state and a state Senate leader. “They had an unpopular governor and a flawed candidate and we had a great champion,” Peterson said. “We built up the party in the South, where that’s difficult.

After a brutal, attack-heavy competition to win the office, Edwards will get little in the way of a honeymoon as he readies to follow term-limited Republican Gov. He will be expected to enter the governor’s mansion with a road map for closing a looming $1 billion budget shortfall and correcting widespread financial woes, while working with a Republican-led Legislature . Nobody believed it could be done.” Edwards, 49, is a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger who has spent much of the last eight years criticizing Jindal’s performance in office. Edwards, who started the campaign as a little-known lawmaker from a rural parish, focused on his West Point degree and military resume, and he pledged a bipartisan leadership style.

But while his conservative credentials undoubtedly won him votes, Mr Edwards’s victory was also assured by the implosion of his opponent’s campaign. He joined the Louisiana House in 2008 and has been minority leader since 2012. “I came up short,” Vitter said in a concession speech, adding that he would not seek re-election to the Senate after his term expires in a year. “I’ve reached my personal term limit,” he said. But he came into the general election wounded by a divisive primary in which his conservative opponents rehashed his involvement in a Washington prostitution ring that came to light in 2007.

It was the first practical political test of the issue as Republican presidential candidates and governors nationwide call for refusing Syrian refugees. Mr Vitter, a US Senator since 2005, was tainted by scandal in 2007 when his phone number was found on a list kept by Deborah Palfrey, the so-called “DC Madam”, who was convicted of running a prostitution ring in the US capital. Edwards’ win offered a rare pick-up of a governor’s seat for Democrats in the conservative Deep South, but Republican leaders insisted it was a one-time fluke that didn’t suggest the GOP was on the ropes in Louisiana. The governor-elect announced his transition leaders and his pick for chief of staff the day after a decisive, 12 percentage-point win over Republican U.S. Rather than a race about the state’s deep financial troubles, the contest for governor largely became about Vitter, who has been in elected office, first as a state lawmaker and then in Congress, for more than 20 years.

Last month, an already bitter race became further charged after the journalist Jason Berry published an interview with Wendy Ellis, a former escort who claimed she and Mr Vitter had a lengthy affair and that she gave birth to his child, despite Mr Vitter urging her to get an abortion. The governor, who dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination last week after getting little traction in polls, even refused to renew existing levies. The one-time favorite for the job, Vitter saw his campaign collapse in an embarrassing rebuke when the race became a referendum on his character, including a years-old prostitution scandal. But it didn’t work. “I’ve lost one political campaign in my life, tonight and ironically it’s the campaign and the political effort I am most proud of,” Vitter told supporters.

But Vitter was hit with repeated attacks for a 2007 prostitution scandal in which he apologized for a “serious sin” after he was linked through phone records to Washington’s “D.C. Madam.” He had trouble uniting Republicans after a blistering primary competition in which Vitter trashed two GOP rivals and received heavy criticism for his scorched-earth political style. Noting the nastiness of the campaign in his victory speech, Mr Edwards said voters in Louisiana had “chosen hope over scorn, over negativity and over the distrust of others”. He described himself as committed “to materially change the direction of our state, to move in a new and better direction, to be the governor of all the people whether or not they voted for me.” “Our approach to governance is going to be much different than it has been under Gov. Vitter asked for forgiveness but evangelical voters tend to take moral character seriously in politics, especially if there’s nothing larger at stake.

Mr Jindal, prevented by term limits from running again, has grown increasingly unpopular over his tenure, due in large part to Louisiana’s budget woes: the state had a surplus of almost $1bn when Mr Jindal took office; this year there was a $1.6bn shortfall. His campaign released a series of television and radio advertisements and made recorded telephone calls to voters that linked Edwards to Obama’s refusal to reconsider his earlier decision to accept refugees from war-torn Syria into the U.S. Vitter also wasn’t helped by Louisiana’s $500 million budget deficit, which is partly the result of the collapse of oil prices in the energy-dependent state. And we’re going to govern from the perspective of being Louisianians first,” he said. “I would hope we would all be able to put donkeys and elephants aside to get the state back on the right track as regards to fiscal matters,” said Rep. Two other Republicans on the statewide ballot beat their Democratic challengers handily, each drawing 100,000 more Republican votes than Vitter did, according to the secretary of state’s website.

Vitter’s stance echoed that of Jindal and 30 other U.S. governors — all but one of them Republican — who have said they will refuse to cooperate in accepting Syrian refugees or called on Obama to halt the program pending a review of federal screening procedures. And state leaders are considering a short-term bridge loan to keep money flowing to construction projects because of concerns about how investors will react to attempts to borrow money amid all the financial troubles.

The focus on refugees was an attempt by Vitter to connect with voter concerns about immigration and terrorism while giving Republicans offended by his personal behavior a reason to vote for him, Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said before the vote. As he campaigned, Edwards said he wanted to unlock budget protections that keep some areas of the budget shielded from cuts, expand the state’s Medicaid program to help cover some health care costs and scale back tax break programs. Edwards, he was a favorite of teachers unions and the plaintiffs bar, and we’ll see if he now does their bidding to roll back school choice and block much-needed tort reform. He said he will call a February special legislative session after taking office Jan. 11 to deal with short-term budget gaps and to make long-term changes to Louisiana’s tax structure and budgeting approach.

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