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Onus on Edwards to depoliticize police panel

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards found relief from a minor embarrassment that appears not so cut and dried an indictment against the quality of his leadership.

Last week Calvin Braxton, Sr. resigned from the Louisiana State Police Commission, after allegations he tried to exert influence over state troopers. The SPC acts as the body overseeing state police personnel, organized as a civil service separate from other classified state civil service employees.

A television station investigation said, beginning right before Edwards’ inauguration, he attempted to pressure troopers by making them aware of his status on the SPC. Among other things, it hears disputes over aspects of employment, meaning that a member represents one of seven votes that could discipline or discharge a sworn Department of Public Safety employee.

It appears that Braxton also used his status on the SPC to have its former executive director Cathy Derbonne fix a speeding ticket issued against him in Florida. Derbonne resigned earlier this year as the board grappled with controversy over legally questionable campaign donations made to Edwards and other politicians by the unaffiliated interest group the Louisiana State Troopers Association. Eventually, almost all of the SPC members quit the group over being linked to those contributions or over concerns of the dysfunctionality of the body.

Braxton had remained as one of the last two holdovers among former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s appointees. Yet when the investigation hit the airwaves Edwards caught some flak for having known about Braxton’s disputed actions for over a year and not getting him off the SPC.

But there’s only so much Edwards can do in these situations. SPC members, except for the employee representative, serve fixed terms appointed by the governor from a list of three names forwarded by the appropriate private university president (in Braxton’s case, Centenary College). He can’t fire them but does participate in impeachment hearings to remove them.

Even if Edwards then could have tried to jawbone Braxton out of office, that he apparently made no effort to do so does not come down to a matter of preference for a political ally. Braxton toured the political map; he donated to former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s campaign against Jindal and never subsequently gave to Jindal, only then to have Jindal appoint him not only to the SPC but also to the Southern University Board of Supervisors, a selection which carried no restrictions on gubernatorial discretion in the choice.

And, Braxton would appear as a member Edwards would feel little attachment to, as he defended Derbonne (perhaps not unexpectedly given the favors she did for him) from having her forced out. Riled past members of the SPC allegedly wanted her gone for her not squashing, if not aiding, the investigation into the LSTA donations.

If anything, this bizarre incident has confirmed the infestation of good-old-boy politics behind the scenes of the SPC. With all the turnover, Edwards has had the chance to make appointments who strive to minimize the politicization of its functions, although whether that can happen, given the attitude of at least one of his appointees who gave Edwards much money for his gubernatorial campaign, seems problematic.

Should political opponents wish to gig Edwards on his dealings with the body, they will have their chances if controversies continue to flare with his appointees controlling it.

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