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Edwards violates code with false veto explaning

Just because Gov. John Bel Edwards won’t admit that he follows the past practice of governors in weaponizing capital outlay requests doesn’t mean he doesn’t do it, as a review of the fiscal year 2018 spending decisions reveals.

Edwards returned Act 4 of the Second Extraordinary Session with three dozen line item vetoes. While a few seemed appropriate, such as excising a request for a medical facility in north Baton Rouge that appeared duplicative of existing resources, many looked entirely random outside any political context.

For example, in the district of Republican state Rep. Chris Leopold, who typically votes against Edwards’ agenda, the Democrat took two swipes, vetoing a $1 million project to build a gymnasium and spending $120,000 on a park. Yet he kept on a $4,165,000 request to build a state-of-the-art athletic complex at Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans East located in House and Senate districts of two steadfast allies – bumping up the request by $2 million in a last second move at the end of the regular session that added a number of projects requested by Democrats. In the same move, Democrat state Rep. Robbie Carter, whose terms in office wrap around this seat Edwards once held, got $200,000 for the police station in his hometown of Amite. Meanwhile, after the bill came back from Edwards frequent education policy opponent of his Republican state Rep. Nancy Landry found Maurice lost out on $720,000 to build a new village hall.

Time and time again when reviewing the bill and vetoes, projects largely similar met different fates, with those vetoed typically in House districts represented by Republicans in the chamber’s leadership. As if to signify sending of a message, sometimes similar items for the same legislator received different treatments. For example, Oil City, home town of GOP state Rep. Jim Morris who refused to back a gasoline tax increase, found a water distribution system stricken, while it retained a water treatment system and a water line extension.

As subtle as Edwards’ vengeance permeated the pattern of vetoes, he gave away his true intent through spokesmen’s statements and his own written explanation of his veto strategy. His executive counsel Matthew Block said he would make priorities of roads, ports, and deferred maintenance for state buildings. Yet the final product contains many measures not falling into those categories, and a dozen of the vetoes concerned roads.

The combined veto message noted that the version coming out of the Legislature had $115 million more in spending than the list sent over by Edwards that comprised the bill originally, thereby justifying his veto of around $77 million. However, Edwards didn’t seem to mind when House Democrats lit up the bill like a Christmas tree at the last minute, adding all sorts of projects to his original request.

So, Edwards uses the process the same way as did past governors, just as he vetoed bills of political enemies in the regular session out of spite of their authors who bucked his agenda in significant ways. The difference comes in his refusal to admit this occurs for political reasons. That would run counter to his campaign, where he made personal integrity in all facets of policy-making, if not in living one’s life, a prerequisite for holding office, to a degree no major candidate for governor ever had. Every chance he had he made it a point to connect himself to the honor code of his alma mater, which demands ruthless honesty in all things.

There’s nothing illegitimate in that he acts vengefully in these kinds of matters. But it’s distasteful that, after holding himself out as personally more trustworthy and honest than other candidates, he pretends animus has nothing to do with his veto decisions and insults the public by expecting it to believe him when evidence overwhelmingly suggests otherwise.

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